[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE for Spring 2014: Revolutions, partial review one.]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts reviewing or referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.][Some of LQ’s contents are available free. See Archives on that page for back issues.]
L.Q. posts are for READERS. And writers, who read of course. I try to keep the posts reasonably short for the sake of my own ADD as well as yours.
The bourgeois vertiginous ci-devants aspirant of risorgimento will enjoy Lewis Lapham’s Preamble on the theme. His command of the language, perhaps an attempt to drag hoi polloi like me to at least a microcosm of exposure to intelligent language and thought, never fails to give me pause to look up words to confirm or learn anew their meaning.
The full page photo facing the Preamble shows executions of counter-revolutionaries in 1979 Iran. It’s enough to tilt my aspirations in another direction.
Is this what Lewis means by his title Crowd Control? Not quite. As he notes in his first paragraph: “Why does no one have any use for it [the word revolution] except as an adjective, revolutionary, unveiling a new cell phone app or a new shade of lipstick?” (p. 17)
He notes today’s rebels find support from Thomas Jefferson:
“The hallowed American notion of armed rebellion as a civic duty stems from
the letter that Thomas _lefferson writes from Paris in 1787 (page 154) as a further
commentary on the new Constitution drawn up that year in Philadelphia, a
document that he thinks invests the state with an unnecessary power to declare the
citizenry out of order. A mistake, says Jefferson, because no country can preserve
its political liberties unless its rulers know that their people preserve the spirit of
resistance, and with it ready access to gunpowder.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of
patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.””
Au contraire says Hannah Arendt:
“Arendt’s retrieval of the historical context leads her to say of the war for
independence that it was “not revolutionary except by inadvertence.” To sustain
the point she calls on Benjamin Franklin’s memory of the years preceding the
shots fired at Lexington in April 1775: “I never had heard in any conversation
from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a separation, or
hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America.” The men who came
to power after the Revolution were the same men who held power before the
Revolution, their new government grounded in a system of thought that was, in
our modern parlance, conservative.”
Lapham notes the more advertent French Revolution quickly follows and Karl Marx in 1848 blames it all on “…free trade” resolving “personal worth into exchange value”. (p. 19) Uprisings proliferate from the 1940s on and the 60’s civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements are more reformations than revolutions intended to overthrow. Presumably good things (the Equal Opportunity Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, LBJ’s Great Society) and definitely bad things (the assassinations of Pres. John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy) happened during that tumultuous decade.
‘The impresarios of the armed circus [‘a descriptive phrase for what America has become over the last five decades’] match the gains of personal liberty… …with more repressive systems of crowd control.’ (p. 24)
Who does Lapham say is responsible for this Crowd Control? The MEDIA, for one.
“During the turbulent decade of the 1960s in the United States, the advancing
technologies of bourgeois news production (pictures in place of print)
transformed the meaningless magic word into a profitable commodity,
marketing it both as deadly menace and lively fashion statement.”
Whose frenzy is the media feeding though? That would be ‘us’.
(Thank you Pogo and Walt Kelly.)
Of course we are not responsible for our actions. Not in this day and age. The media and the government are DOING IT TO US. All we want is to be left alone and consume, consume, consume.
Don’t get me wrong. I love ‘stuff’ as much as anyone. Modern technology is amazing Gracie, and I want to use it.
Lapham notes that the media and frenzy combined to feed the ever-increasing ‘repressive surveillance and heavy law enforcement’:
“The television camera, however, isn’t much interested in political reform
(slow, tedious, and unphotogenic) and so, even in the first years of protest, the
news media presented the trouble running around loose in the streets as a
revolution along the lines of the one envisioned by Robespierre. Caught in the
chains of the cash nexus, they couldn’t do otherwise. The fantasy of armed revolt
sold papers, boosted ratings, monetized the fears at all times running around loose in the heads of the propertied classes. The multiple wounds in the body politic over the course of the decade- the assassination of President Kennedy, big-city race riots, student riots at venerable universities, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy-amplified the states of public alarm. The fantastic fears of violent revolt awakened by a news media in search of a profit stimulated the demand for repressive surveillance and heavy law enforcement that over the last fifty years has blossomed into one of the richest and most innovative of the nation’s growth industries. For our own good, of course, and without forgoing our constitutional right to shop.
God forbid that the excitement of the 1960s should in any way have
interfered with the constant revolutionizing of the bourgeois desire for more
dream-come-true products to consume and possess. The advancing power of
the media solved what might have become a problem by disarming the notion
of revolution as a public good, rebranding it as a private good.”
Who cares that we are watched all the time (‘I have nothing to hide!’) as long as we can CONSUME.
“To look back to the early 1960s is to recall a society in may ways more
open and free than is has since become, when a pair of blue jeans didn’t
come with a radio-frequency ID tag, when it was possible to appear for a
job interview without a urine sample, to say in public what is now best said
not at all. So frightened of its own citizens that it classifies them as probable
enemies, the U.S. government steps up it scrutiny of what it chooses to regard
as a mob. So intrusive is the surveillance that nobody leaves home without it.
Tens of thousands of cameras installed in the lobbies of office and apartment
buildings and in the eye sockets of the mannequins in department-store
windows register the coming and goings of a citizenry deemed unfit to mind
its own business.”
Enough of my fuzzy extracts. I am curious to read the historical perspectives on Revolution in this issue. Perhaps revolutions almost always have the best of intentions and the worst results. Time will tell, but who will ‘little note nor long remember’? (Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.)
Lapham’s Preamble is available free here. Enjoy.