Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2017: Fear – pt. I

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover and art from L.Q. Summer 2017: Fear.]
[Click photos to enlarge.]

A review, summary, preview?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is the first thought that came to mind when seeing the topic.  Lewis Lapham leads his Preamble introduction ‘Petrified Forest’ with the quote.

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It sounds like a WWII admonition but as Lapham notes “Speaking to citizens of what in 1933 was still a democratic republic, Roosevelt sought to strengthen the national resolve in the depth of the Great Depression…”

“…what in 1933 was still a democratic republic.”  That sets the pace.

We get through the Depression, win WWII, “…in the years since to bring forth the wealthiest society and the most heavily armed nation-state know to the history of mankind.”

The result is… we live in fear.

Eloquently he says : “The force of mind rooted in the soil of adversity didn’t take hold in the flower beds of prosperity.”

“Fear itself is America’s top-selling consumer product…”
“Diligently promoted by the news and fake news bringing minute-to-minute reports of America the Good and the Great threatened on all fronts by approaching apocalypse–rising seas and barbarian hordes, maniac loose in the White House, nuclear war on or just below the horizon.”

“How does it happen that American society at the moment stands on constant terror alert?” “…a divided but democratically inclined body politic finds itself herded into the unifying lockdown imposed by the networked sum of its fears–sexual and racial, cultural, social, nuanced and naked, founded and unfounded.”  (all, p. 13-14)

Lapham refers to Sigmund Freud’s piece later in the issue about real fear and neurotic fear: “…real fear invites action”, “…expectant fear induces states of paralysis”.

He asserts, I say, that “the newly enthroned masters of the universe in Washington” donned the mantle of American exceptionalism, ‘the belief… that Americans are, by divine right, true, kind, and good.” “…accepting America’s victories in World War II as proof of its virtue.”

Our ivory tower is soon disassembled by Soviet nuclear weaponry (the nuclear dominance honeymoon lasts from 1945 to 1949), the Cold War, and the standoff of Mutual Assured Destruction.  Fear is never far away, despite having God on our side.

“Expectant anxiety maybe weakens the resolve of individual persons, but it strengthens the powers of church and state.  Fear is the foundation of all government, the law, or the commandment that maintains peace on earth, the hold on property, goodwill toward men.” (p. 15)

Without expounding on fear, even my revered Ayn Rand Lexicon tends to agree:

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.” —“The Nature of Government,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 109.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the USSR nearly ruins the military-industrial complex but Lapham notes we turn our resources to an equally un-winnable problem, the war on drugs.  Vietnam is micro-briefly associated with expectant anxiety.  Wasn’t that war’s pretext the domino effect, all of Asia falling to Chinese communism?  (Some of my new oak furniture is made in Vietnam.  Times have changed.)

The attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11/2001, gives a new rally cry, and it hasn’t been the same since.

“We go forward,” said President George W. Bush, displaying the innovative and entrepreneurial genius for self-deception, “to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”

“Undertaken to prove the theorem of its world—dominating omnipotence, the war in Iraq has shown the American Goliath humiliated in defeat. Like the war on drugs, the war on terror is unwinnable because waged against an unknown enemy and an abstract noun. But while a work in progress, it is a war that returns a handsome profit to the manufacturers of cruise missiles and a reassuring increase of dictatorial power for a stupefied plutocracy that associates the phrase national security not with the health and well-being of the American people but with the protection of their private wealth and privilege. Unable to erect a secure perimeter around the life and landscape of a free society, the government departments of public safety solve the technical problem by seeing to it that society becomes less free.” (p. 19)

Obviously this preamble is a state of the world address as much as an issue introduction. It is Mr. Lapham’s pulpit and though I don’t agree with all his inclinations I’ve never found the contents of any issue to be similarly slanted.  He has his points.  There is much to fear in the world today.  Do we live with it and get past it or are we consumed by it?  I wonder, at almost any time in history has there been an undercurrent of disruption existing, subtle or pronounced, present or future pending, contributing to general unrest if not chaos?

The entire preamble is available free online.  It is worth a careful read.

I’m sure there will be much to learn of many different fears in this issue.

From whom?  Greeks and Romans such as Cicero, Epictetus, Aristotle, Aeschylus, and Suetonius. Darwin, H.P. Lovecraft, de Tocqueville, Joseph Heller, Dostoevsky, Orwell (George), Freud, Poe, Shakespeare, Vaclav Havel, Atiq Rahimi, Steve Biko, and James Baldwin.

81 extracts, 5 extended essays, 221 +2 pages, though the Art, Photography, and Illustrations list has been moved to the back, facing a page of generous donor names, the first time for both.  I suspect L.Q. is not a profit-making enterprise.  Pity.  It should be homework somewhere in the education system.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2017: Fear – pt. I

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