Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Selection: "Looking Backward" (and the socialist Pledge of Allegiance)

Tonight at Lolita Bar, a so-called “birther” will attempt to make the case that Obama isn’t really a natural-born citizen.  I, your host, will remain scrupulously neutral on the question during the proceedings — even while thinking Obama is something of a socialist.  But this much I can promise you: no one reading Edward Bellamy’s late-nineteenth-century socialist novel Looking Backward could possibly think that socialism itself is foreign to the American political tradition.

Looking Backward, in which a man from the benighted nineteenth century awakens in the twenty-first to find a well-run socialist society, was thoroughly rooted in the American experiences of the time — and is based on the idea that once large industrial, corporate combines arose, the natural and just progression of things would be for the whole country to fuse into a single corporate entity, ending divisions between management and labor and, ostensibly, ending deprivation, injustice, and inefficiency in the process.  It’s the usual naive century-ago socialist smugness, complete with people “realizing” that they don’t need that much variety when they shop, “realizing” that it’s irrational for their work output to be correlated to their wages, etc. — but it’s undeniably all-American.  You won’t find any arguments derived from Hegel or Marx here, nor praise of Europe.

Indeed, Looking Backward is one of the most popular American books of all time and was hailed by this nation of idiots as so insightful back in the day that hundreds of clubs arose across the land for spreading its message and its solution to the problem of industrial relations.  If an Obama — or, say, failed NYC public advocate candidate Mark Green — really wanted to impose socialism on the land without frightening people into thinking it was some alien force, Looking Backward would be as homegrown a precedent for it as Teddy Roosevelt — whose own thinking was influenced by some of the same Progressive currents inspiring Bellamy.

And speaking of nationalistic Republicans, I don’t think we of an anarchistic, individualist bent should ever stop reminding our more flag-waving, patriotic brethren that the Pledge of Allegiance they so treasure was written by Edward Bellamy’s cousin Francis Bellamy (my apologies for once referring to them as brothers in a comment on Jacob Levy’s blog).  And Francis Bellamy, far better than most of today’s conservatives, understood that cloaking the state in those sorts of ritualized, traditionalistic appeals — and aiming them at youth — was a means of fostering socialistic, collectivist servility.  That was the whole idea.

Every time you hear some nominal anti-socialist urging all the kiddies to say “…one nation, indivisible…” he might as well be urging Boy Scouts to chant “The state above all!  Communism plus a century equals tradition!  Oh, how we revere our socialist past!  Please use me as a cog in the corporatist-statist machine!”

I recommend scrapping all such statist displays amdist the current reaction against statist overreach.  The problem, after all, goes much deeper than Medicare or insurance mandates.


Todd Seavey said...

An afterthought: the core philosophical principle of the Bellamy _Brothers_, of course, is “Let Your Love Flow.”

Todd Seavey said...

By contrast, for those keeping track, Matt Bellamy of the UK band Muse is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, fan of nineteenth-century economist Henry George, and son of George Bellamy, rhythm guitar player of the band the Tornados, whose 1962 satellite-celebrating instrumental hit “Telstar” had a little silent moment followed by drums near the end that my father claims was as exciting as “In the Air Tonight” at the time (Dad was seventeen at the time).