Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Golden Age of Good Times

High Modernism is summed up quite efficiently in these three photographs. The sharkskin suits (mind the socks!), the playful, pastel-colored furniture, and the Bauhaus[esque] architecture, born of the soft Marxism of Gropius. As Tom Wolfe told it:

Gropius was chairman of the Novembergruppe's Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Working Council of Art), which sought to bring all the arts together "under the wing of a great archtechture," which would be "the business of the entire people." As everyone understood in 1919, the entire people was synonymous with the workers. "The intellectual bourgeois... has proved himself unfit to be the bearer of a German culture," said Gropius. "New, intellectually underdeveloped levels of our people are rising from the depths. They are our chief hope." Gropius' interest in "the proletariat" or "socialism" turned out to be no more than aesthetic and fashionable, somewhat like the interest of President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Rebublic or Chairman Mao of the People's Republic of China in republicanism.

Wolfe then goes on to describe how, without any change in the social structure of the business of architecture, the term 'bourgeois' became just an all purpose insult for any style those who actually employ architects liked which the disciples of the Modern school did not. As such, during the High Modernist period we see the blending of "American" individualist values with the more Continental values of community and social justice. Here the notions of bourgeois comfort, already in their industrialized stages in America, coexist with European social democracy (evidenced by an adoption of their housing solutions) which at the time was seen as a sort of middle ground between the false narratives of the Cold War.

In both Europe and North America, the leisure industry was at it height. Air travel, hospitality and other related industries were booming. Relaxed moral codes combined with a sense of style made traveling, vacationing and general non-labor always seem as if it was on the verge of a raucous good time. Sexual mores were becoming more liberal yet not wholly commodified, as they would be in the Late Modern era. This era of sexual awakening before the sterile overexposure that politicized 'liberation' would bring (along with Feminist/Maoist puritanicalness) when combined with the acceptability of drinking during the day made for a generally enjoyable leisure atmosphere for most 'regular' folks.

Of course, the liberal preoccupation with niceties, comfort and safety, elevated to the point of being principles in and of themselves, would be a key ingredient to the downfall of Occidental culture. As Ernst Jünger wrote:

the securing of life against late, that great mother of danger, appears as the truly bourgeois problem, which is then made subject to the most diverse economic or humanitarian solutions. All formulations of questions at present, whether aesthetic, scientific, or political in nature, move in the direction of the claim that conflict is avoidable. Should conflict nevertheless arise, as cannot, for example, be overlooked in regard to the permanent tact of war or criminality, then all depends upon proving it to be an error whose repetition is to be avoided through education or enlightenment.

Now managerial mediocrity, matching furniture and the ability to talk about non-whites in a charitably patronizing tone are seen as the authenic expressions of contemporary Westerners. Think about the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's, when was the last time anyone saw people that age having that good of a time and be that well dressed while doing it? Now so called professionals stand around awkwardly and discuss their diets and psychiatric appointments. If you want something more raw and primal, how about a good ol' fashion Bacchanalian bonfire in the woods with all your mates and some birds? This taps into our heathen heritage and is fueled by a desire to shake off the shackles of school or work-a-day repetition, booze, and possibly some smokable plants. We all know this occurs in every suburban or rural town in the USA, but the point has been lost and has thus become an endless and futile search for the right level of "fucked up." As such, the means (general euphoria for not being at work/school, booze, weed, possibility of getting laid) becomes the aim rather than the desired outcome: an authentic good time within an authentic human community.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Bourgeois Liberalism Should Be, Part II

As a follow up to the quote from the previous post I wanted to make some points clarifying my position on Emersonian liberalism. The first is that despite the contrast I was trying to show between classical, Emersonian liberalism and contemporary neoliberalism, there are points of similarity and in certain cases a direct line of connection concerning certain attitudes. Primarily, the Transcendentalists' predating a key characteristic of Boomerism, that of: "condemning the social practices and behavior of a class with whom they were closely connected by birth and education and of speaking for an underprivileged group with whom they had little in common."(*) Despite this, here is what I find to be the heart of Emerson's ideals:

a. An understanding that materialism, the idea that this is it, so to speak, leads to moral decay, stagnation of will and babbittry. To counter this, Emerson offers not the stupidity of the Abrahamic religions which dictates that the crap of this world is tolerable and should be even put up with because the next one is just dandy, but rather a Neoplatonic belief in the One and the World Spirit. Those individuals who recognize that there are ascending layers of reality beyond the material world can commune with the One/"Over-Soul" not by prayer (i.e. begging to an invisible man), but by becoming more active within this world, thinking critically about both pratical and philosophical matters and creating positive contributions that will continue to exist after one expires, i.e. works of music, art, and literature or institutions and businesses which contribute to one's community.

b. When Emerson talks about men achieving greatness, sharing a common ground based upon participation in the World Spirit and becoming men of Reason, given the time it was written, we can rightfully assume that by default he means men of European extraction. Since Emerson's writings predate our era where one cannot write an essay or utter a sentence without making all sorts of preconditions to include and not offend the world's diverse ethnic groups and cultures, we can be assured that he was writing solely for us white folks. This is not to say that those not of European extraction are incapable of the Reason which Emerson implores us to achieve, merely that their Reason would be different from ours as it comes from a different ethno-cultural source.

c. While Emerson and his fellow Transcendentalists, thankfully, didn't dwell too much on strict political matters, from the short summary Aaron gives us we can see that their spiritual beliefs would be compatible and best suited to a populace living within a decentralized, minarchist republic where free markets, free association and free trade are the norm. Also, given the note about Jeffersonian and Jacksonian overtones, we can probably assume that central banking was looked down upon and a agrarian economic backbone, which brings with it the principles of self-sufficiency and self-ownership, was supported. Also despite the obvious individualism inherent in Emerson's beliefs, there was no contradiction with the more collective demands that community life entails. In fact, Emerson's insistence on men of Reason contributing to vocations such as the arts and philosophy to serve [European-derived] humanity shows that a healthy, national culture was strongly promoted.

(*) It has long been my belief that people are heavily formed from the backgrounds which gave them birth. Trying to transcend one's class (in the form of the principles it fosters in you) or ethnicity (bear witness to the idiocy of wiggerdom or dreaded Trustafarians) is never a good idea. It is even more insidious when people try and tell groups of people different from their own how they should run their lives. While these displays are usually seen with liberal do-gooder groups ("Save Darfur!"), their roots lie with Christian missionaries and the need to proselytize (liberal groups also believe in a Manichean dualism albeit in secular garb). As we all know, the outcomes of these "transcenders" has never been good. In short, be honest where you come from and people will respect you.

What Bourgeois Liberalism Should Be

In contrast to the statist, multiculturalist, interventionist, materialist, globalist, and culturally vapid liberalism of the day lets all take a look at the original American liberalism, the liberalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists. The following is from Emerson and the Progressive Traditon by Daniel Aaron and is featured in a collection of critical essays on Emerson edited by Milton Konvitz and Stephen Whicher:

Emerson's political philosophy-it might be called transcendental democracy-had marked Jeffersonian and Jacksonian overtones. Strongly individualistic, it spoke for equality of opportunity in economic and political affairs, and it lent support to the belief in laissez-faire and the necessity of the minimized state. But it was more spiritual and intellectual than the organized movements for political democracy and less concerned with political and economic considerations, less a matter of economic rationalization...

The men and women who made up this transcendental corps were mostly of New England origin, although a handful were born outside New England. As children of the professional or commercial classes or of the sturdy farming yeomanry, they recieved educational advantages above the average of their day, and for the most part they came from families distinguished neither by great wealth or by poverty. Almost all of them seemed to have been reared in homes where the business of life was taken seriously and idealistically. It was a group that, disgusted by the prevailing materialism of the day, turned to culture and to reform...

Emerson's political ideas emerged quite logically from transcendental principles. He believed in a divine power sometimes referred to as the Over-Soul, and he taught that all men shared in that divinity or at least were capable or establishing a rapport with it. Men's joint participation in this Spirit, their common share of the divine inheritance, made them brothers and gave the lie to artificial distinctions. In the great democracy of spirit that Emerson conjured up as a kind of Platonic archetype of the imperfect American model, all men were potentially great. Men were not great in fact (Emerson had no such leveling ideas, as we have seen), but every man could be great if he harkened to the admonition of the Over-Soul in himself.

Like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Emerson believed in a natural aristocracy, although his aristoi bore little resemblance to Jefferson's. Society divided itself into the men of understanding and the men of Reason. The former, the most numerous and most ordinary, lived in "a world of pig-lead" and acted as if "rooted and grounded in adamant." Sunk in this profound materialism, they lacked the imaginative penetration of the true aristocrats, the men of Reason, who plumbed the spiritual reality behind the world of fact. The men of Reason-poets, seers, philosophers, scholars-the passive doers, served humanity as the geographers of the "supersensible regions" and inspired "an audacious mental outlook." They formed no inflexible caste, but they wonderfully "liberated" the cramped average afraid to trust itself.

A Lil' Sumthin' for the New Englanders

A few months back, Vice magazine took a time out from showcasing American Apparel garbage and acting as tourism bureau for Williamsburg to show some True Blue New England style. The photos appeared next to an article on John Cheever. Cheever, of course, holds a special place in my heart as he attended Thayer Academy in my hometown (founded by the "Father of West Point") and grew up in Quincy (what was then part of my hometown in colonial days). So as a tribute to my beloved little slice of country I offer this bit of intentional(?) self-deprecation from the man himself, from The Jewels of the Cabots:

"Mr. Cabot was obliged to use a chamber pot, but since he came from the South Shore I don't suppose this was much of a hardship. It may even have been nostalgic."