Friday, February 06, 2009

Mending the Fabric

A respondent to "An Inauguration of Tyranny" (January 20) chided me for writing so much about current political trends and events, such as Barack Obama's election and his and Congress's plans to "socialize" the country by hook or by crook -- chiefly by crook.

"What possible gratification can you find in following, articulating, and decrying the decline and possible fall of the United States of America under Bush...and now Obama?"
What gratification, indeed? Some "gratification" occurs when I have identified something that imperils my life and that of the country. It occurs also when I am able to articulate my observations and concerns. Writing about such matters is an invaluable aid to grasping the fundamentals of any issue. I do not envy the many individuals I encounter who share my awareness and concerns (not only about Bush, Obama, Islam, etc.) but who are unable to articulate them. The only alternative to focusing on such matters is to install a governor in one's mind and to say nothing.

There is another value to dwelling on the ubiquitous sordidness, political folly, and venal conspiracies in our culture: catharsis. If I could not or did not actively identify and articulate my concerns, I should go mad. Therefore, I purge myself of frustration, helplessness and anger by pointing fingers and saying that the king wears no other clothes but a swastika armband or a hammer-and-sickle toga.

Or, I write fiction. In the Sparrowhawk novels, I set out to do justice to the pre-Revolutionary period, to better dramatize why the American Revolution happened. The series is also an allegory on our own times. I have been told by parents, teachers, and students that there is more history in the series than what is being taught in schools today, and this is aside from the literary value they see in it. Just the other day I was informed that Book One: Jack Frake of the series has been chosen for an eighth-grade English class of 75 students. I have lost track of where else the series is being used in schools.

Sparrowhawk is making its mark on countless minds, all seven million words of it. It is making a difference.

However, one may as well scold any commentator or columnist for discussing the state of things, whether he be Left, Right, or rational. For example, a regular reader of Rule of Reason will know that the Social Security system was a fraud from its inception. Walter Williams on February 4th addressed this subject in "The National Ponzi Scheme," brilliantly and succinctly explicating the mechanics of the system. He values the truth about it and wishes to communicate it to his readers. That truth is not forthcoming from the federal government, of course, nor will it be reported by our patronizing, Sesame Street news media. Who would take up the lamp of knowledge for any reason other than for wanting to know? Williams seeks to debunk all the propaganda about Social Security and let his readers know exactly how they are being cheated, defrauded, and chained.

It does not matter that Williams' revelations have not sent Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank and all their ilk scurrying for cover all the while stammering denial. Williams has added titanium-jacketed dumdums to the arsenal of those who choose to lock and load their arguments for freedom.

The respondent went on to say:

"Your clarion calls in defense of national ideals are inspired and melodic, but such noble efforts seem wasted given the apathetic, deaf and decadent context of the times; indeed, I have an impression of you valiantly, but foolishly, trying to pitch a tent in an avalanche."
Such a compliment inadvertently puts me in the company of Cicero, Galileo, Patrick Henry and many others in history who pitched their tents, if not on an avalanche, than in its path. Would we be better off today if they had remained silent about the growth of tyranny or the suppression of the truth? Or judiciously taciturn about how such a crime can be committed? Wallflowers do not ignite revolutions. Nor do they save them. Cicero lost his fight and his life by indulging in such "foolishness." Galileo was forced to recant. But Henry won his fight, twice, first by uniting the colonies for the first time in a common cause with his Stamp Act Resolves to oppose Crown authority, and then by campaigning for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

"Why dwell on and deplore the frayed American fabric? I say: disburden yourself now and bide your time to mend it."
If I had disburdened myself long ago, would I have anything to say at all, or any talent to say it? Practice makes perfect, and if I had not practiced I would be hard put to identify and articulate my likes and dislikes, contentments and concerns, pleasures and fears, the is and the ought. Would I have written fifteen novels and innumerable dozens of published essays, book reviews, and articles?

An element of bitterness and despair redounds throughout the respondent's advice, which I have often felt in my career, perhaps more poignantly than he has experienced, for I have been in the front lines for decades. I have been rebuffed, ignored, and derogated more times than he could imagine. The antidote to such bitterness and despair is to act, regardless of the expected outcome. The only action open to me in today's circumstances is to write. To allow apathy, deafness, and decadence to discourage and silence me would be to surrender existence and my life to them without a fight.

Why should I bide my time to mend the American fabric, when I need to teach myself how best to baste, sew, and stitch that fabric? At the eleventh hour, could I count on the Muses of Declamation and Exposition to suddenly inspire me to speak? Doubtful. The Muses do not bother to disturb those lost in the resignation of quietism.

The respondent asserts that only physical coercion by the government will cause Americans to revolt.

"Yes, I think American government MUST sink THAT low before widespread public alarm and indignation will blaze up, inspiring legions of individuals to reclaim, champion, and demand their fundamental American rights."
Who and what will alarm the public? Who and what will move it to indignation? Who and what will inform the public that "now is the time"? Who and what will inspire legions to rise up, not only against the oppressors, but against the philosophy that sanctioned their power? Are not Americans being coerced now? Why do they tolerate it? Taxation, regulation and prohibition are all indirect but legalized forms of coercion. Who and what are to remind Americans that this is theft by stealth, and that it has the same consequences as undisguised armed robbery, serfdom and penury? Who and what will tell them that it is a republic they have lost and must reclaim?

Writers, and their words. Or, as John Milton put it in Paradise Lost:

"Thus Belial with words clothed in reason's garb counseled ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, not peace." (Book 2, line 226)
Now, what could Milton have meant by those words?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

By the way, the Milton quotation at the end is a teaser, employing a stolen concept.

Ed

Burgess Laughlin said...

Ed,

Thank you for an impassioned defense of fighting for objective values--each one of us in his own manner.

Anonymous said...

Burgess:

You're welcome. That comment by Anonymous kept me up at nights, so I decided to give it some Tylenol.

Ed

Katrina said...

"...whether he be Left, Right, or rational." What a fabulous phrase. I'm going to use it all the time, if you don't mind.

I'm glad you discussed Sparrowhawk, because it finally gives me the opportunity to tell you that I recently read the first book and WOW. For one thing, you are one of very, very few people with a better vocabulary than me. I kept seeing these bizarre words and every time thought you must be using them in some metaphorical, non-exact sense, but no. The only writer I've ever seen use language that precisely is Ayn Rand. Go you!

Secondly, I learned so much history. I didn't realize how much I didn't know about life and law in 18th century England. I found myself stopping every few pages wondering if it was all true. After above-average public education K-9, private 10-12, and a detailed, primary document-based 18th-19th century American History course at the University of Chicago, I still felt a sense of revelation and clear understanding of the causes of the Revolution at the end of "Jack Frake" that I never got from any of my academic work. Again, go you.

Lastly, and most importantly, it's an amazing story, beautifully executed. You show so clearly the kind of men and women who are rewarded and the kind who are punished under the mercantilist/authoritarian system, always with an eye toward the more moral system that lies in the future. I'm so excited to read the others.

I don't quite have the right words (although I'm sure you do), but THANK YOU.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, thoughtful essay, Ed, and a very important topic for those who see and understand what is happening to what's left of the free world.

The questioner of your intellectual battle implies that you should stop casting pearls before swine and await the great reckoning. I agree with you: there will be no reckoning without intellectuals who are willing to analyze critique and battle the collectivists who are overwhelming our country by default.

9/11 got people upset and where did it get any of us? Without the intellectual guidance of a rational philosophy that instructs men in how to live (not just avoid death) even more deadly mushroom clouds in our future will do little more than destroy us. Disseminating a rational philosophy is what your essays do.

Is Germany today, after WWII and utter defeat, in any fundamental way ideologically different from Germany in 1930? Well, instead of sacrificing every country around them to themselves, they are now in the process (as are all European countries) of sacrificing themselves instead. They have traded in the immediate, actual crematoria of human sacrifice for self-sacrifice on the installment plan.

You are so right: without the work of analyzing reality and writing about what you see, how are you, or anyone who understands and cares about what free men had achieved in the U.S., to be able to see bad ideas and their consequences when they do happen? Just who is going to save the world for us? And why should they?

In the words of a friend, freedom is not a no-cost option.

Roxanne

Lisa said...

Thank you for writing this. I've been feeling a bit discouraged, but this article gave me a real boost!

Owen said...

Mr Cline,
Thank you for this, it's powerful fuel. Inspirational stuff.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cline,,

Thank-you for yet another wonderful commentary -- like other respondents, I feel intellectually and morally refreshed after having read your words.

As for Mr. Milton, my reading of that quote is that Belial, while claiming to be a rational advocate for "peace", counseled actions or, rather, non-actions (ignoble ease and peaceful sloth), that would make it impossible or destroy it if it existed. He pushed an effect, while failing to recognize or denying its proper causes. Is this what is meant by the fallacy of the stolen concept? If so, chock up another one for the "Prince of Lies" (Belial).

fortruth said...

Thank you for writing this.

Jeff said...

There can be no true peace in sloth and indolence.

Anonymous said...

Jeff gets a shiny red Washington State apple.

Ed

Teresa said...

One of your best, Ed!

Teresa

Anonymous said...

Inspiring. I'm with you.

shahnawaz said...

huzzah great ed!you are no summer soldier or sunshine patriot.

djr said...

Ed, Without your writing (and the few others of your caliber), some of us – at least me – would be further suffering from muddled analysis. I wish there were more positives than negatives to write / read about in the world today.

Andrew E. said...

""Why dwell on and deplore the frayed American fabric? I say: disburden yourself now and bide your time to mend it.""

Why? Because not all of us have lost our minds and not only do we choose to speak out, we must.

Thanks again Mr. Cline for a truly invigorating read.

Andrew

Tim said...

Hi Ed,

I really liked this post (I notice I'm not the first either).

Brent S.A. Cowgill said...

Ed,

Great post. Long Live Lady Liberty and a post like this is Artificial Respiration for her to carry on after her recent blows.

Eliot said...

As I remember it, Belial's speech in Hell stands in contrast to Moloch's before. Whereas Moloch advocates a return to Heaven for another battle with God, Belial uses his superior intellect to justify the conditions of Hell and recommend inaction. Through Belial and the Devil's debate in Hell, Milton was underhandedly criticizing politicians of his day, whose propositions "clothed in reasons garb" deceived the public. In other words, he was attacking the political elite who manipulated public opinion through rhetoric disguised as reason. Reminds me of Tara Smith's "menace of pragmatism."

Jeff said...

J. Adams said of Milton that his mind was "distended as wide as creation."

Your quote has inspired me to read Paradise Lost.

“Errors, like Straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for Pearls must dive below.”
-J. Dryden

Joe said...

Dear Ed,
Your passionate defense of liberty (and why you defend it) stands as inspiration and fuel for many others... which is NOT a reason to continue your efforts, but I believe Ayn Rand said that if you fight for the future, you live in it today.

Thank you for your words.
Joe