Trump as a Fascist Part IV: The Alpha Male, the Nation and the State

Trump as a Fascist Part IV: The Alpha Male, the Nation and the State

by

Howard Adelman

If you are an Alpha Male, there is no necessity that you will be a fascist. However, there is no example of fascism that does not have an Alpha Male as its leader. An Alpha Male as a leader of a fascist moment is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, of identifying a movement as fascist.

I thank God (colloquially and not ironically) that I come from a tradition that puts the stress on non-Alpha Males as political and spiritual leaders. Abraham was not an Alpha Male. Isaac was not an Alpha Male. Jacob was not an Alpha Male. The list goes on. Neither Joseph nor Moses were Alpha Males. Sampson was, but he was not a leader, but a martyr.

An Alpha Male has the following characteristics, often seen and promoted in ads or on internet sites as positive virtues. Those promotions are social and psychological equivalents to the ads I would read in comic books when I was a kid about the skinny guy on the beach being beaten up. But if he took the Charles Atlas exercise program, he would be the beater rather than the beaten. Further, he would get all the girls.

For a central characteristic of an Alpha Male is one who strives to win, not just by demonstrating superiority to a rival, but by whipping that rival. Winning versus losing is not enough. The victory must be convincing to all who watch. Hence, the pitiful display, both of the way Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton (“Lock her up”) and his need and insistence that he won with the greatest majority in history.

The advertisement for himself begins, always, with self-confidence. It is not that self-confidence is a vice. It is clearly not. But when at fourteen years of age as a student in a military academy when, in a baseball game, you hit a ball into left field and the ballplayer fumbles the catch, you not only boast that you hit the ball way into the stands, but insist that your teammate verify the truth of that claim. The self-confidence is not only physical, but vocal and revealed in both action and thought (not reflection, for the behaviour tends to be on auto—pilot).

Accompanying this form of self expression is a demonstration of perseverance. Again, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, is not a vice in itself. It is normally a virtue. But when that doggedness is accompanied by two other characteristics, it is without question a vice. Tenacity is insufficient. First, there is no second guessing. What is expressed must be reality. There are no social or intellectual checks and balances. However, a second characteristic is also present – the ease with which the Alpha Male changes his mind. But the change always comes from his mind and never the influence of others. He must be the genesis of all thought and action. He must define himself. No one else.

Until he changes his mind, he is immovable in his convictions. But if and when he changes his mind – and that will be often – there will be no admission of such. DT has never confessed that he was wrong in his insistence that Barack Obama was not born in America. He will go from being a professed supporter of LGBT rights to demanding that transgender individuals be kicked out of the armed forces virtually overnight without any acknowledgement that he has changed his mind.

As a result, this Alpha Male, afraid to be the victim of a bully, becomes the bully on the beach. After all, in his world view, there are only winners and losers, dominance or submission. That is expressed in every aspect of his body language which I have already depicted – from the pompadour hair styling to the upwardly thrust chin and the exposure of his neck as if he were daring anyone to come up to the podium and try to slit his neck. Exposing his neck is not an act of submission but of bravado. Don’t slump; thrust your shoulders back. Don’t fold your arms; display them and your hands, for you, as the Alpha Male, fear no one. Shake hands, if possible, with your palm down. DT took instructions from the best Alpha Male manuals.

This bravado is also expressed in his use of language – the repetitions, like the rattling of a gatling gun, the unapologetic way in which he interrupts a conversation or abandons it if he cannot prevail. It is why he is such a poor listener for he is in thrall to his own voice. When he speaks, he so frequently uses the device of the pregnant pause that he would make the believer think that he is the source of a brilliant idea every fifteen seconds. He stops in the middle of sentences, even the middle of a phrase, to communicate that everyone listening must “hang” onto his every word.

As everyone now recognizes, the crisis of the time may be North Korea developing nuclear weapons, but what absorbs 80% of his energy is himself and how he appears to others. He needs to stand out. He needs to say what he wants to say and insist that what he says becomes the centre of attention. When he is not the centre, he is very creative in interrupting the public conversation and turning the spotlight back on himself. Thus, he is not a simple Alpha Male, but one who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. He has to demonstrate that he can do what he wants, when he wants because he can. He does not ask. He tells. He must show that he is in the lead and ahead of the game all the time even when he is leading backwards and retreating.

If an Alpha Male is a leader, does he not have to demonstrate that he takes care of the people close to him, that he listens to them to find out what they are thinking? Does he not have to demonstrate that he can put his own ego aside to learn and grow rather than demonstrate defensiveness and insecurity about one’s own ego?  The answer to both questions is – Yes. The issue is the few that he allows to be close. In front of those few, he will demonstrate that he can sideline his ego, but only to allow it overnight to re-appear bigger and supposedly better by the next morning.

That does not mean that he lacks considerable social skills. He can laugh and tell a story. He can flatter and make others feel good about themselves. But only so long as those around are sucked into his construction of reality. When they demonstrate they are the agents of their own actions, even when those actions conform to his own wishes or, in the case of The Mooch, to his own style, he will not only be dismissive of them, but can resort to humiliation and denigration. DT’s treatment of Jeff Sessions is a case in point. Just because the norms of justice demand that any Attorney General recuse himself when the subject of an investigation includes him as a central figure, that is of no consequence. The only thing that matters is that Sessions acted without consulting him and getting his stamp of approval. The preeminent Alpha Male must make all decisions that may affect oneself.

Such an Alpha Male must not only be the star of the show, but the All-Star. However, that ego must be fed, fed by people who are in awe of him. At the same time, the Alpha Male must demonstrate that he goes into battle with a magical talisman that deflects both bullets and criticism. He firmly believes that nothing can harm his Ego.

However, the weakness of that ego, the insecurity behind the insistence on only self-validation, is the need to rely on others demonstrating an overwhelming sense of reverence and admiration. He must not only be imposing and impressive, formidable and frightening at one and the same time, he needs to be exalted and treated as a wondrous being. In turn, he doles out approval in superlatives – he is the best; isn’t she the greatest. But what about self-deprecation? What about admitting that you do not have all the answers? Any form of such admission is not a demonstration of superiority, but of inferiority and dependence on others.

What about honesty and integrity? DT is a serious serial liar. He can barely tell the truth even when he has no need to deceive. One could argue that the Alpha Male has no reason to lie because he is unconcerned with how others view him. But a super Alpha Male needs to create his own reality and suck everyone else into his vortex. Lying and insisting on its truth is not a mere tactic of never admitting you are wrong, but an ontological need for the only reality can be one that the Alpha Male creates.

What has all this to do with politics – especially in a democratic order? Everything, especially if the democracy has put itself at risk by removing barriers to the ascension of an Alpha Male to a throne of power. According to Giovanni Gentile, what made the world was not an objective understanding of it, but an imposition of the ideas of a subjective agency upon it. In objective thought, opposites in contention were the source of validating reality. In Gentile’s fascist world, the one who chose among opponents in contention determined leadership. Nothing exists external to the human mind and spirit and the most dominant expression of human will, therefore, defined reality. There was no empirical reality independent and capable of assessing and evaluating the predominant spirit. What that spirit must do is offer to “his” people, especially appealing to those left behind by the current direction and dialectic of history, was a vision of a totalized whole of society in which they could all be a part. All thought had to be subsumed by the state and independent media could only be a source of false ideas and untruths.

Thus, individual interests of divergent groups were to incorporated into one movement that in turn was determined to incorporate them into the state. That meant a state defined by humans and not by laws and a constitution. That meant a state based on a doctrine of, “L’état c’est moi.” The “stato etico” was to be the means of resolution of the problems of alienation. What about the conservative vision of a diminished state. No problem. The issue was not how much the state delivered services, but how much the state expressed that unified vision where efforts to balance and deal with various interests were anathema. The state may shrink, but no one can be free of its ever-presence and the omniscience and domination of its leader.

Thus, two propositions are identified with the theory of fascism. “The State is a wholly spiritual creation of its leader” and “the nation is also a creation of mind and not a pre-existing entity.” Make America great again means “make America.” The past is denigrated and the future becomes wide open and adaptable to the contingencies of the time and place. A dominant human will imposing its authority on the will of others must prescribe that reality with the message that he is the deliverer from the forces of oppression and the spokesperson for the historical expression of a pre-determined destiny. There are no independent laws and there is no independent reality separable from that vision and articulation.

Education may be privatized, but simply to allow the movement to capture control from the pre-existing state. Individualism, the idealization of the self-centred and self-interested self, must be idealized only to subsume that individual in the will of a nation and a state bound together by a common vision of a greater America that, at its ultimate, will demand the self-sacrifice of the individual for this duty to serve the higher expression of the larger community. For it is in the national spirit that the individual truly lives and experiences reality.

There is, thus, a rejection of materialism, a rejection of empirical positivism, a rejection of scepticism, for a vision of man creating through the exercise of that “free will” his own world. And it will be his world, a world he can own and not a world that is passing him by. To participate, he and she must become active agents in this project of self-creation accepting the vision of the leader as the maker of the new reality. And making that new reality will not be an easy enterprise. It will take work. It will take a sustained effort. It will take trust in the leader. Since the movement believes in the state and in the nation, but not government, the exercise of government is only instrumental to serving the vision. As such, the movement will have more of the characteristics of a mass cult than of a political party.

Its roots will be the family. Leadership will extoll the foundation of society in the traditional family, and, in turn, the social group in which one experiences a commonality of purpose. Diversity becomes a swear word in such a context. Instead, the stress is placed on a commonality of tradition, even as one reconfigures those traditions, such as the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, and, most of all, the commonality of language. Hence, the insistence that those recruited into the community share that language and those traditions.

How can man act on both society and on nature? With respect to the latter, denying both the importance and the relevance of nature’s laws. The problem with the concept of global warming is not the earth warming resulting from human activity, but the idea of the earth warming by forces almost out of human control. The exercise is not to conform to nature’s laws, but to insist that humans, more specifically, societies led by leaders are in control independent of such forces. If that means being a climate change denier, so be it.

Only in this way can liberty escape the prison bars of liberalism, escape the individual driven by drives and interests, in favour of a nation and a state created independently, indeed, in disregard of, such natural forces. Only then will the nation and the state express the free will of the individual to achieve a higher state of being through that nation and through that state. Contrary to the suggestion that DT is an anti-statist, he is anti-government. Chaos is not an accidental feature of his administration but its core. For only out of chaos will the new emerge.

No wonder that super Alpha Males and this notion of the nation and the state forge such a perfect marriage. Congratulating the scouts for the universal virtues developed and created as part of civil society is anathema, for the boy scouts must be harnessed by the movement towards an organic nation and state. Using a scout jamboree as if it is a movement rally is par for the course and not considered deviant behaviour. For there can be no virtues outside this spiritual movement thrust forward by the vision of a renewed nation and state.

Hence, fascism is and must be totalitarian even if, on the way to that end, compromise may be necessary. Therefore, individuals who fall by the wayside out of this cultish movement must be denied the rites even of a proper burial of their role and, instead, literally tossed under the bus. Because the rise of fascism is opportunistic. The absence of ethics as we know it in all these ways  is a telling revelation of the means and ends of the movement.

Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films

Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films

by

Howard Adelman

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda set in Spain in 1936

Ida (2014) by Pawel Pawlikowski set in Poland in 1962

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza set in New York City about 1980

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas set in 1990 in Bergen, Norway and Germany

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe set in this century in Afghanistan, Ireland and northern Kenya

Preamble

I have been AWOL for over a week. I have to finish writing about niqabs and oaths in Canadian domestic policy and I am desperate to write about my reflections on Netanyahu’s stupendous victory in the Israeli elections. I cannot say that I have been very terribly busy with my new grandson. Leo is so tiny, sleeps almost all the time, and his mother is so tired from feeding him every two hours that visiting makes you feel like you are taking precious minutes away from her needed sleep. Leo is on schedule of gaining two ounces per day. I offer to help but recognize that I am virtually useless and in the way. Nancy, of course, is more helpful because she can prepare them a good meal. So I spend my time catching up on six months of neglected business details and, what else, watching movies. I am like an alcoholic who has been attending AA for four months and suddenly gets to take a drink. One cuppa barely satiates. So of the twenty or so movies I saw, I have selected only five – all superb films and all incidentally with the common theme of betrayal.

Betrayal

Why is betrayal such a common theme in novels, plays and movies, but especially movies? Arthur Miller in The Crucible described betrayal as “the only truth that hurts.” That is correct for four very different reasons. First, betrayal is usually a shocking revelation that runs counter to what you previously believed. Second, the revelation is not only a reversal, but it causes enormous emotional and physical pain; betrayal is often depicted as the cause of the worst pain anyone could ever feel. Third, the penetration goes very deep. Finally, betrayal leaves visible scars. This is true whether the betrayer is someone close to you – a mentor, a family member or a lover – or even worse, when you betray yourself. Of course, the two may go together, betraying oneself when you betray another or you may betray yourself for another or another to preserve yourself. This may take place even when betrayed by a lover, friend or relative. For when the other betrays you, you feel that you have also betrayed yourself by having allowed yourself to trust another.

In romantic literature, betrayal is the most heinous crime. Rather than betray another or yourself, heroism prefers that you die. The adage, “To thine own self be true,” demands death rather than self-betrayal or betrayal of a comrade. In the real world, those who profess loyalty as the highest virtue are often the first to betray their friends and themselves. As Albert Camus’ character who professes loyalty as the highest virtue in The Fall says, “I don’t believe there is a single person I loved that I didn’t eventually betray.” Further, it is fiction writers and creators who have offered the greatest insights into the notion of “betrayal,” not philosophers. As Judith Sklar and Robert Johnson wrote (The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit), betrayal is more effectively understood through literature and, I would add, even more so, through the dramatic arts.

Not that philosophers have not tried – Sklar and Johnson are cases in point. And they are far from the only ones. Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s 2001 work Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty framed all forms of betrayals as breaches of trust with moral norms setting the standards for trust. But there is a dilemma and I put it forth in the depiction of trust that I try to establish with my readers when I review a movie. The general principle is that one does not give the plot away, or when one must, as a reviewer you forewarn the reader by putting in a text a “spoiler warning”. But that is akin to a seducer telling a seducee that he will eventually betray her, thus posing an extra challenge to and enticement for the one being seduced. Spoiler warnings are of little help unless applied to the whole review.

The problem is particularly acute in movies where the major theme is about betrayal. How can you describe the movie without mentioning the type of disloyalty and betrayal at work, who is betraying and who is betrayed? But the plot most often turns on such revelations. My answer is to write about betrayal movies in a cluster and talk generally about the theme with insights on that theme that the movie provides. In other words, the movie is used to inform myself and the reader about the topic rather than my informing the reader about the specifics of the film.

The Five Foreign Films

All films discussed are foreign films – Spanish, Polish, two Norwegian/German movies. Even the American movie, Entre Nos set in Queens in New York, is like a foreign film since almost all of it is in Spanish with English subtitles. All the movies are intensely political and social films, but not one of them is so directly. Indirection unites all five movies as each one focuses intently and intensely on the lives of individuals and their relationships with one another. They are all movies about families and the way the external world of violence and force impinges on the intimate moments of life. All, surprisingly, are coming of age films even though they deal with different ages (Butterfly – age 8: Ida – age 18; Entre Nos – ages 6 & 10; Two Lives about late teens and a 1001 Good Nights, though primarily about the mother is also about her older daughter of about 16 and their relationship. I review them not in the order in which I saw them, but in terms of the time in history in which they are set and primarily about the lessons each film teaches us about betrayal and loyalty rather than about the specifics of the film.

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda

The tongue of a butterfly, as the gentle teacher verging on retirement, Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernán Gómez), tells his fascinated and eager young pupils, is rolled up in a butterfly’s mouth like a spiral which you cannot even see with the naked eye but require a microscope to view. When a butterfly lands on a flower, the tongue unfurls in a fraction of a second to suck up the sweet nectar of the plant in its straw proboscis before it flies off. The butterfly’s tongue could be the unseen, invisible to the human eye without a microscope, tightly spiraled tension lurking below and beyond the life of this beautiful and beatific small town in Galicia, Spain in 1936, between tradition (the priest with a rod) and progress (the teacher with a book), between violent force and the tranquility of nature, between Monarchists and Republicans, between fascists and democrats. This tensed-up tongue only springs forth near the end of the movie, at the same time as the microscope supplied by the school board in Madrid arrives just as the army that has staged a coup to overthrow the Republic does.

However, I suspect the curled up spiral tongue of the butterfly has the very opposite symbolic meaning. The process of education, loving and appreciating, admiring the miracle of what we see and what we hear, is the invisible tongue that will spring forth and draw on the sweetness of life and, in return, deliver hope, peace and trust and not fear, violence and betrayal. So though betrayal takes place, the movie is primarily a paean to trust.

The central character is an eight-year-old boy, Moncho (Manuel Lozano), the son of a mildly republican tailor, a religious Catholic mother and brother of a saxophone-playing 15-year-old teenager, Andrés (Alexis de los Santos). In one of the three short stories of Manuel Rivas from which the film was adapted (“A lingua das bolboretas,” “Un saxo na néboa,” and “Carmiña” in his book Que me queres, amor?), Moncho learns that butterflies have their own language. (Moncho aprendió que las mariposas tienen su propria lengua.) Moncho, an asthmatic youngster who missed his first few years of school, is terrorized by the prospect of facing teachers who, he has been told, beat students with a stick. Initially, humiliated on the opening day, through the beneficence of Don Gregorio, he learns to love school, finds a close friend and becomes confident enough of his own self to tackle the rich man’s spoiled son when he rides his bike into the side of his best friend. The film is a voyage of his discovering how to trust the outside world and himself.

As a composite of vignettes, the film is, however, a drama building towards betrayal, to how one’s loyalty to one person forces upon us a choice and one where moral principles may be sacrificed to the need for survival. In real life, for the women who compose the Colombian Butterflies (Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro) and who earned the Nansen Refugee Award last year for their willingness to put their lives on the line to assist forcibly displaced women who have been subject to sexual or physical violence, the butterfly in the end is not a symbol of political and personal betrayal, but the symbol of an insect that flaps its wings with a motion that reverberates around the world. Though the film ends with betrayal, both political by the fascists and interpersonal, the movie itself brims with beauty and hope. Like Julia Alavarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies, also, like the Colombian butterflies, is about the courage of women in the face of Trujillo’s fascist regime of fear and intimidation, in the movie, Butterfly, warmth and vitality are left as promises that will eventually overcome violence, fear and mistrust.

Ida (2014) set in Poland in 1962

If Butterfly or The Tongue of a Butterfly is a somewhat nostalgic film set in 1936 in Spain on the crest of that country’s descent into fascism constructed into a film narrative through a series of vignettes, Ida, directed by the Polish-English director Pawel Pawlikowaski, is set in 1962 Poland under communism. Poland, no stranger to betrayal by allies and enemies alike, in the previous decade had witnessed the betrayal of its own resistance movement against Hitler’s regime by the communists, who took control as many if not most of the heroes of that resistance faced show trials and were murdered by the new red regime. One of the two main characters, Wanda Gruz or Red Wanda (Agata Kulesza), is based loosely on the historical figure of Helena Wolińska-Brus who was also a hero of the resistance but a communist one and a Jew who became a state prosecutor possibly in some of those show trials as the communists consolidated their power. If she did not personally betray her fellow resistance fighters, she was an enthusiastic participant in a regime that did.

But the political betrayals are only alluded to and constitute the background of the movie that evolves as a road movie, a continuous narrative rather than a series of vignettes, but told through film shots that have a canny resemblance to black and white photographs with the emphasis on light and shadow. The beauty of the film as photos rather than a moving picture is unmatched. Lucasz Żal, originally Ryszard Lenczewski’s assistant as the cinematographer, eventually took over when the latter became ill and both are credited with the absolutely marvelous cinematography. That evocation of the period is also helped by a film shot not in the customary wide-angled ratio, but the now unusual 1:33 frame or 4:3 horizontal to vertical ratio.

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novitiate in a nunnery who meets Wanda when her Mother Superior (Ida has spent all of her conscious life in that nunnery) insists, that before she takes her final vows, she go out into the wider world and meet her family, more particularly her aunt, Red Wanda, from whom she learns that she had Jewish parents (her mother was Wanda’s sister, Rose, whose married name was Lebenstein) and had been hidden in a nunnery to save her from the Nazis. The two travel together to locate and rebury the bodies of Ida’s parents.

Before the end of the film, even as the two learn to trust one another and prove that blood is deeper than belief (communist or Christian) or radical differences in lifestyle, Wanda will come face to face with her betrayal and Ida will herself betray her “calling” before she decides on her future identity. And both will come face to face with the many sides of betrayal that are part of Polish history but which are very understated in this very constrained, compact, concise, careful and caring minimalist movie. There is an interesting parallel between Butterfly and Ida in the complementary role of jazz and, in particular, the saxophone, an instrument in dream theory that usually represents both closeness with another and expression of the deepest notes in your own soul. Ida, however, is a leben stein, a living stone, a symbol not of self-expression, but of that which has been left unsaid, of impassivity and inscrutability, of austerity and serving as a mute witness to horror and disintegration, characteristics very foreign to today’s 18-year-old girls. The actions take place through the eyes as windows into the soul with notations via slight movements of Ida’s mouth. This is an ambiguous movie, not only as it unfolds, but in its very ending.

This movie needs no additional praise from me. David Denby in The New Yorker called it the year’s best film. At 2013 TIFF, it won the special presentations award, one of many accolades received including Best European Film Academy Award, the People’s Choice Award, the Best Film Award by the British Film Academy of a movie not in the English language, and the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Award.  It is a movie that has to be seen and can be enjoyed in full on a television screen at home watching Netflix.

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza

This film is painful to watch and you will never observe people collecting bottles and cans from your or your neighbours’ trash cans without wincing and recalling it. Though at first viewing it might seem to be foremost about society’s betrayal of those at the bottom of the rung, especially immigrants and more particularly women abandoned by their husbands, the film is primarily about loyalty and trust, between the mother (Mariana) and her children (Andrea 6 and Gabriel 10) and between the siblings themselves. Paola Mendoza, who plays the mother in the film and directed the movie as well as co-wrote the script, is in reality the young girl in the movie. The film is a tribute to her own mother. Further, if it were not for the help of some strangers – a Latino woman who owns a food truck, an ostensibly hard-headed south Asian landlady, a competing Black can collector – it is hard to see how an abandoned mother with two young children could have made it on the streets of Queens. So although the movie is about betrayal, in the end it is a movie about trust and hope and dreams. The film is itself a testament to the belief that dreams can and do come true. It is a movie not to be missed.

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas

Two Lives could more accurately have been translated as A Double Life, for it is a movie about spies, inherently betrayers by definition, but set largely in a context of the family members with whom the protagonist relates – her mother (Ase (Liv Ulmann), her husband, Bjarte (Sven Nordin), a Norwegian naval officer, and her daughter (Julia Bache-Wiig) and young baby. Katrine (Juliane Köhler) is a happily-married mother living in Norway whose past role as a Stasi spy catches up with her as a result of circumstances beyond her control. The paradox of this film of betrayal at all levels is that the very profession of spying depends on and demands absolute loyalty and allows no deviation. And we know of this betrayal very early in the film as the mother sneaks off to Germany disguised as “Vera” to attempt to destroy the record of a second life whose identity she stole. Those are the two lives of the film’s title, the one cut short and the other who lived to have a very fulfilled and loving life until it all came crashing down with the revelations of betrayal.

Like the first two films reviewed above, the film depends on real historical events set in pre- and post-WWII. The Nazis with their Aryan racist theories promoted its SS officers to seduce blond blue-eyed Scandinavians. In occupied Norway, the children born out of wedlock were sent back to Germany and raised in orphanages. After the war, the mothers were doubly betrayed, first by the Nazi fathers of their bastard children and then by their own nation which persecuted them as traitors. But it was the children who suffered most of all.

The film is set in Norway just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of communism. The search for truth that followed, a search that itself will serve eventually to betray everyone, the mother, the “daughter”, the husband and the two children. As Arthur Miller in his reflections on the McCarthy era in his play, The Crucible, noted, “Betrayal is the only truth that sticks,” or, as I would now word it, in such a context, the search for “truth” can be the ultimate betrayer and betrayal is at the heart of the search for truth.  In this movie, betrayal wrecks love and trust and leaves behind only a horrible mess. The irony of the film is that the central betrayer is also viewed as the one most betrayed both by history, by the state and by her own family.

This is not a movie that will leave the viewer with a deep belief in trust, hope and love, for the outcome of betrayal is to learn to distrust trust and regard trust as the primary mistake, not betrayal. In the end, the contest is really not between evil, disloyalty and mistrust versus goodness loyalty and trust, but between competing loyalties and the way evil manipulates those tensions to seduce individuals to betray both themselves and those closest to them.

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe

This Irish-Norwegian co-production is also an award winning film having won the Special Grand Prix of the jury at the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival. Of the five films reviewed, this movie is set in the most recent history and is the only movie of the five in English. It is located in both Ireland and the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya sometime in the last 10 years, but opens with one of the most horrendous openings set in Afghanistan as a female suicide bomber is filmed going through the preparation rituals and the actual self-detonation with its many casualties.

Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca, herself a prize-winning photojournalist determined to expose the truth with pictures, first of the horrors of Afghanistan and then the evil of civil war in now independent South Sudan and the relative failure of intervention by bystanders, including the hapless and helpless idealistic humanitarian Norwegians working in the Kakuma refugee camp that has been a refuge for those fleeing the Sudan civil war or, possibly, the civil war currently underway in newly independent South Sudan. Having been in Kakuma, the setting is as accurate as the violent action and the film does not betray the actual refugees in the camp.

Of the five movies, this is the one that is most gripping and deeply visceral both in terms of action and in terms of emotional conflict within and between the main protagonists as well as in the violent action scenes set in the camp. It is also the film that is about betrayal both as a backdrop and about the tension between personal loyalty to one’s mission in life and one’s creativity versus loyalty to family, both husband. Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and children, the young emotionally-troubled teenager, Steph (Lauryn Canny) and her younger bubbly six-year-old sister (Adrianna Cramer Curtis). Which will Rebecca choose – her family or her life’s mission to expose human betrayal of other humans? Since the viewer is also watching the photographer vicariously, then the movie-goer is both the passive bystander and an individual caught up in the family emotions as well as the conflicts of our age. Sometimes we see what Rebecca sees. At other times we watch Rebecca as she sees and reacts to what she experiences.

But the ironies abound. When Rebecca chooses her family and surrenders her career in the face of family fears, this inadvertently thrusts he back into the centre of violence. As viewers, we all know it is coming and this anticipation adds to the edginess of the film. In Butterfly, survival trumps mission. In 1,000 Times Good Night, the personal mission appears to trump personal survival and she is as dedicated to her mission as the female suicide bomber is to hers, both willing to sacrifice themselves and the ties with their family members. If betrayal is to be measured by the willingness to sacrifice oneself for another, then Rebecca is the greatest betrayer, for she is willing to sacrifice herself in being a witness to the truth even if it causes great pain to her family

Post Reflections

The problem with philosophers dealing with betrayal as a concept – or, for that matter, most academics – is that they are wedded to clear and distinct ideas whereas the best movies are married to subtlety and ambiguity. Avoiding the simplistic dichotomy, the real issues are whom to betray and for what, to tell the truth even if it causes enormous pain to those closest to you or to try to perpetuate a lie to protect loved ones from that pain and conform to their hopes and expectations of you. For true and deep betrayal requires a prior trust. Thus, the Nazis did not betray us or the German people. They delivered what they promised, except for the ultimate victory of evil over good. The real conflict underlying betrayal is whether one should be loyal to one’s personal mission in life or sacrifice that quest for personal fulfillment for the obligations one owes those closest to us. To thine own self be true or be true to another.

It is the simple romantic version of betrayal to which scholars and philosophers are wedded. Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a renowned professor at Hebrew University, is a case in point. He is not only an expert on the concept of betrayal, but almost single-handedly in the pursuit of truth (Sacrificing Truth) destroyed the Zionist myth of Masada and the belief in self-sacrifice for a nation in the name of slavery rather than death. For his scholarship proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Sicarii who committed suicide on Masada were not much different than today’s ideologically-driven suicide bombers. They were just as willing, even more willing, to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Hebrews as their Roman enemies. They were not heroic resistance fighters but cowards who took their own lives rather than fight the Romans to the last one standing. In his scholarly pursuit of the truth, Ben-Yehuda, in service to that truth, betrayed a fundamental myth of his own country and one of its founding heroes, Yigal Yadin, a former chief of staff of the IDF and an archeologist who distorted evidence to fortify a founding myth of the state.

In this way, movie reviews and politics connect.

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

by

Howard Adelman

In Evan Osnos’ article on Samantha Power, David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, who is a very prolific author and had just published National Insecurity (2014), was quoted on Samantha Power as follows: “Here is the person who wrote the best-reported, analyzed cri de coeur on genocide, in an Administration that has effectively said, in the face of humanitarian disasters, we’re going to do very little, whether it is the continuing catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria or the brewing problem with Rohingya – Muslims persecuted in Burma.” Note Rothkopf’s careful depiction of Samantha’s famous 2002 book, not as the best, which is the way the quote is often recalled, but as the “best-reported” book. Further, Rothkopf does not even say it is the best-reported analysis of genocide, but it is the cri de coeur that has been analyzed and been widely reported. And the end of the quote is precious; it is a stiletto indictment of the Obama administration for both hypocrisy and passivity. (I will expand on this at the end and in later blogs.) The issue is not Samantha Power’s acuity and ability at dissection, but her ability to cry with utter outrage and get widespread coverage while not being dismissed simply as a bleeding heart.

The quote aptly captures the strength of the book. It is not a careful dissection of genocide or of particular genocides. It is not good scholarship. It is a moving account driven by a powerful moral impetus that captures and captivates the reader while, at the same time, providing a heartfelt rather than pugilistic advertisement for herself. I will not dissect and analyze her whole book. Instead I will focus on her one chapter on bystanders to the Rwanda genocide, a subject on which Astri Suhrke, a Norwegian colleague, and I undertook the first international analysis.

Yesterday, in dealing with Evan Osnos’ essay on Samantha Power in the recent New Yorker that focuses on the relationship between influence and power, I concentrated not so much on her influence on those in power but on the influences on Samantha – psychological, personal, political, experiential. I stressed the importance older men might have assumed in that development. Samantha certainly sought out such links. In one very minor example that I know from my son, Jeremy, who wrote a biography of Albert Hirschman (which, coincidentally, Samantha Power’s husband, Cass Sunstein, reviewed extremely favourably in the New York Review of Books), Samantha had sent Albert at the institute for Advanced Study in Princeton a signed copy of her 2002 book with a fairly fawning note that she had been personally very much influenced by and very appreciative of Albert’s 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. In her intellectual development, she had always been torn between the pole requiring loyalty in service of an administration and adopting a role trying to influence an administration (that is, exercise a voice).

In Osnos’s article there is a discussion of the problem of the Obama administration not hearing her pleas over the three years of the Syrian crisis. Her answer was that, as long as she was heard, even if not listened to, as long as she could possibly influence policy, she would serve the administration. It was clear that she had paid no real attention to the issue of “exit” in Hirschman’s book even though, as a journalist, she had urged resignation for morally committed but frustrated individuals in an earlier crisis. She had praised the actions of a young foreign-service officer who had resigned from the National Security Council to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970. She lauded his moral sensibility and his choice of “exit” as the correct one. But when it came to her own choices, exit, loyalty and voice were not the three points of a triangle. Rather voice and loyalty were simply poles of a dichotomous tension. It seems clear that she herself had never seriously considered the option of an “exit”.

The issue raised above should not be confused with a sense of post-service loyalty following exit that restrains the exercise of voice. After one exits from a position of authority, civic duty requires a respectful period of silence. In an op-ed, Samantha’s husband, Cass Sunstein, praised George Bush for resisting all efforts to induce him to comment on Obama’s foreign policy. But Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, in his book Worthy Fights, and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, in his book, Duty, had no such compunction. Panetta revealed private debates that were expected to remain private, at least for the term of the president. Gates charged Obama with losing his way and that the White House was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
In an interview promoting his book, Gates concluded that, with respect to Afghanistan, Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” As Cass Sunstein argued, “former Cabinet members owe a duty of loyalty to a sitting president, not least because they have been able to participate in internal discussions. In those discussions, officials generally deserve to be able to speak on the understanding that what they say will not appear in a book — certainly not while the president remains in office.” When you first exit from office, both voice and influence are temporarily trumped.

Confidentiality and loyalty do have limits. If a former official was exposed to genuine wrongdoing — for example, in the form of illegality, as opposed to policy disagreements — he or she may have a duty to speak out. Neither Panetta nor Gates point to any such wrongdoing. They did lack grace; gracelessness is indeed an insufficiently acknowledged vice. But Samantha is guilty of the opposite – not simply fawning loyalty at the sacrifice of principle, but becoming an apologist and spin doctor portraying disastrous policies as valiant efforts. (I will return to develop this theme in subsequent case study blogs.)

Hence, Samantha’s focus on loyalty and voice to the exclusion of exit. This is as an example of her simplistic and dichotomous thinking, the thinking of a moralist, even when dealing with Albert Hirschman who was anything but one. In 2002, Samantha and my path crossed over this issue, but focused specifically on Rwanda. I and my Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke, in 1995, with the help of a team of eighteen other researchers, had written an in depth study for an international consortium of 19 states, including the USA, and 18 international agencies, on the role of bystanders in the Rwanda genocide. Samantha’s book had not yet been published when we met, but she had written an article in The Atlantic in 2001 that presented an early version of her book chapter on Rwanda

From that article, it was clear she had not relied on French, Belgian or the other scholars who wrote companion volumes to ours on the actual conduct of the genocide, but had relied on Philip Gourevitch’s bracing, very moving and well-written, though also not always accurate, account in The New Yorker. (See his subsequent book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.) Samantha was writing, not so much about the course of the genocide itself, but the role of bystanders, the very topic we had studied and recorded in such detail.

Her focus was the United States, not the role of other states – France, Belgium, Canada, or international agencies, primarily the UN. She asked: “Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?” In fact, most of the questions she raised remained unanswered in her chapter on Rwanda. Her general interpretation alleged that the inaction was primarily due to a lack of focus on the ground in Rwanda and a failure to communicate what was happening to the highest level. When she joined the Obama administration, this interpretation – or misinterpretation – became the foundation of how she personally carried out her role upon moving next door to the pinnacle of power.

She began by an initial falsehood. “So far people have explained the U.S. failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew there was nothing useful to be done.” But our study had offered none of these answers. In our initial account, we had explained that the Mogadishu syndrome, as we had dubbed it, the American experience in Somalia in 1993, made so vivid by the film, Blackhawk Down, had traumatized the US with respect to intervening in Africa. Later, based on further research, but much before Samantha Power undertook her research between 1998 and 2001, we had revised our original thesis to argue that the October 1993 Somalia incident was not the instigator for turning a blind eye to intervention, but the nail in the coffin of intervention that had already been set in place as a result of the Clinton administration’s struggle with Newt Gingrich’s Congress over funding. Bill Clinton had already determined to limit his exposure to criticism from the Republicans about wasteful expenditures in overseas ventures. The Administration determined not to become involved in funding peacekeeping ventures, let alone deploying any peacekeepers.

Admittedly, Samantha had the advantage of just having accessed previously classified US documents that we had not seen, but, as we had said in our report, American administration personnel had been extremely open with us, including a key person in the CIA, a State Department analyst who shared with us a report he had prepared on the run-up to the genocide, and the American ambassador in Rwanda. We had also exchanged with our colleague, Michael Barnett at the University of Wisconsin, his knowledge and inside information as a member of the United States UN delegation; he had been responsible for the Rwanda file when he was on a one year leave from the department. His book, Eyewitness to a genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda discussing the United States and the UN roles, appeared the same year as Samantha Power’s book, to general academic acclaim, but none of the wide publicity that Samantha’s much more anecdotal account had received. He had already published an article that she could have accessed while she was undertaking research for her book.

Samantha drew the same conclusion that we had much earlier and Michael had drawn contemporaneously with her book. The U.S. government “knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to do so.” What she had presented as an original finding was the consensus of earlier studies, not an amazing and original insight. Samantha also echoed our earlier conclusion that the U.S. not only failed to send troops, but “led” in the effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers, an account we corrected in subsequent studies well before her interpretation had been published. She made this claim in spite of the evidence already published by representatives on the UN Security Council and the fact that, although the United States was a leading voice, and Michael Barnett had joined the chorus of non-interventionists, the majority of the Security Council were of the same mind. This interpretation was also the one made by both the Nigerian and the New Zealand delegates on the Security Council who had opposed the draw-down of peacekeepers.

The issue was not an error in interpretation, but that the error was made in spite of other prior scholarship that undercut that analysis, positions which the writer failed to acknowledge and challenge. The problem was not that she wrote a journalist account, but that she wrote one claiming original scholarship without evidently reading the other scholarship available. Further, the important focus was to tell a moral tale of virtually exclusive American perfidious behaviour.

Samantha was correct that the U.S. aggressively undermined the effort to send reinforcements once the genocide became widely known three weeks after it started. For example, as we had documented, the U.S. had agreed to supply armoured personnel carriers once the UN reversed its draw-down policy, but the U.S. military ended up in a dispute with the UN that lasted five weeks over who should pay the costs of painting the vehicles in the white and blue of the UN. It is also true, as we documented, that the U.S. had assiduously refused to use the term “genocide”, however, not because use of the term would obligate the United States to become involved in the genocide as Samantha claimed in a very prevalent misunderstanding about international law, but becaause the use of the term might encourage public pressure, which was unwelcome, to get the administration to act. But, in general, Samantha was correct: “staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.”

Samantha, however, made other mistakes. She claimed that during the “first three days of the killings [6-9 April 1994] U.S. diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington that well-armed extremists were intent on eliminating the Tutsi.” There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, months before, primarily through Canada’s General Roméo Dallaire’s January cable to the UN, U.S. diplomats had been informed of these extremist intentions. In fact, even before Dallaire wrote his infamous cable, a lowly policy analyst in the U.S. State Department had written virtually the same thing in his report. On the other hand, in spite of pleas from the political officer in the Swiss delegation in Rwanda and from the Papal Nuncio in Kigali, the American ambassador in Rwanda, David Rawson (who happened to be one of the rare diplomats in Rwanda who spoke Kinyarwanda because he had been the son of a missionary in Rwanda and Burundi and had also written a PhD thesis on Burundi), had been very complacent about the events building up to the genocide and had been blindsided and struck silent by the events as they unfolded when the genocide broke out on 6 April 1994. Further, in the first days, senior American officials simply viewed what was taking place as a coup. President Clinton on 6 April 2014 said that he was “shocked and deeply saddened … horrified that elements of the Rwandan security forces have sought out and murdered Rwandan officials.”

In the first few days after the outbreak, all diplomats in Kigali, not just the Americans, were primarily concerned with getting their diplomatic corps and their families, as well as the ex-patriates out of the country. With rare exceptions, they were not focused on the atrocities taking place but on exit. The diplomats in Rwanda were far too busy dealing with the exodus to undertake a political analysis of what was taking place in Rwanda. As President Clinton himself said on 8 April 1994, “I just want to assure the families of those who are there that we are doing everything we possibly can to be on top of the situation to take all the appropriate steps to try to assure the safety of our citizens there.”

As far as the American press is concerned, the first report of the atrocities taking place in Rwanda in North America – earlier accounts appeared in the Belgian and French press – was three weeks after the genocide started. It was an op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Alison des Forges who later that year published the classic Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda under the auspices of Human Rights Watch. Samantha does not cite any of the press reports in the first three days that she claims, “spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians”, though, of course, there had been reports of the hunting down of the moderates in the government by the extremist military and Hutu militias. But that could be a military coup, not genocide. Samantha is correct that, by the end of the second week, Alison, and others, badgered the U.S, government insisting that a genocide was underway in Rwanda.
If Samantha had read Michael Barnett’s critical analysis of his own work at the UN, it is clear that he, and many others, did allow genocide to happen, but they did not do so passively; they actively urged that the U.S.A. not become involved. So why did Samantha come to conclude, in line with her future husband’s views but before she ever knew him, that “without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices”. Our study had concluded that the American leadership was actively promoting risk-averse policy choices as were many others lower down in the hierarchy. Barnett’s impressive study was an analysis of why this was the case.

Samantha also wrote that, “We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on—and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding—the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved.” The fact is that deploying American troops to Rwanda was not even a consideration. The subject was never on the table. This was a UN peacekeeping force. Americans did not provide UN peacekeepers. They just helped pay the costs. And America was no longer willing to pay those costs. That had been the established policy a year before the Rwanda genocide broke out.

The United States was not inattentive because the deployment of American troops was an undesirable consideration. That possibility was never considered. The American government was deliberately inattentive. As one CIA policy analyst told the UN when American surveillance photos of Rwanda were requested, “We do not have any. Why should we waste our money taking aerial pictures of Rwanda? It is not a security interest of ours.” Americans were not, as Samantha claimed, asserting that they were doing all they could or should. The issue was not the choice among possibilities, as the title of Osnos’ article suggests, but choices among very different objectives which issued from moral norms. American officials were insisting that they were doing all they were willing to do, a very different proposition than all they could or should do, for it was not a proposition based on moral imperatives but on realpolitik.

A reporter had asked Samantha after she had been instrumental in creating the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in the White House, how the Board’s work became operational in crises like Syria or the Central African Republic. Samantha, then Ambassador to the UN, answered that the board was “a symptom of his [Obama’s] larger commitment” to discover new tools to bring to bear on these crises. As tools she mentioned sanctions on people using new technologies to commit atrocities, the Rewards for Justice for tipsters to help arrest Joseph Kony or focusing on the Central African Republic “that history shows would not necessarily rise within a bureaucracy on their own”. Of course. Joseph Kony has not been arrested. The sanctions on users of technologies preceded the creation of the APB. Finally, the precise problem was that the Board was just symbolic. There was so little evidence that anything had been delivered on the ground, but more on this in later blogs.

Contrast the APB with a program funded mostly by the American government – FEWER, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response under the auspices of IGAD in East Africa. I have been unable to find out whether she knows about this early warning system and the parallel early warning system in West Africa, CEWARN. The latter led to the arrest of Charles Taylor and prevented the resumption of a civil war in Liberia. FEWER led to preventing low level outbreaks of atrocities in the criminally-organized tribal rustling of cattle, but has thus far been ineffective either in inter-state or large-scale inter-ethnic conflicts within states such as in Kenya and, more recently, in South Sudan. There have been concrete operational successes by American-funded programs that she could have cited, but they both preceded and had nothing to do with the high profile symbolic APB and its enormous focus on bureaucracy rather than detailed work on the ground.

When she almost boasts about the administration uncovering the Christian-Muslim violence unfolding in CAR, I want to scream. Much to our surprise, this was the first revelation of our first early warning trial run in Nigeria in the late nineties. Tom Axworthy told us that he could not renew our funding because the results did not present any findings that were “actionable” by the Canadian government. When Samantha boasts that, “We’re trying to get an African Union force in there [CAR] as quickly as possible and to sound the alarm in venues like this one,” I want to guffaw, for the African Union, with American financial support, has been active in early warning and intervention for over a decade. As much as I am a supporter of Barack Obama, there is little evidence, unfortunately, that his administration has done anything significantly different or on a larger scale in this arena. I would have loved to be proven wrong in probing Samantha’s accomplishments, but the evidence is not there and she has done little to supply it.

The fact is, Samantha is just dead wrong. Rwanda did not fall through the cracks in the bureaucracy during the Clinton administration as she contends. It is an example of sloppy research and analyses leading to misplaced policies. The focus on organization, messaging and constituencies of this administration may be very useful for spin, but it does almost nothing to help the people on the ground and ameliorate the humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq, CAR or South Sudan. What is the good of hearing the complaints of the NGOs if there is nothing that comes out the other side? Further, the problem in Rwanda was not that Alison des Forges lacked access, but that there were other agendas; the ears of government were deliberately closed.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

by

Howard Adelman

This is NOT a review of the series. NO SPOILERS HERE! I have only watched two of its very many episodes in their entirety, the first one of the first series and the third of the second series. My wife, Nancy, has been smitten. She has finished two seasons in just three days. A number of our close friends have watched the series and recommended it enormously. So why do I dislike it? My initial sense was my rejection of emotional repression parading as reserve, shrapnels of sophistication buried in the body politic of the family, death in the Midlands rather than in Venice, servility served up with a dash of snobbery on stunning dinnerware, permeated, I suspect, with autobiographical insider intimacies from which the viewer is excluded and senses that exclusion.

How can I make such a judgment when I have only seen these two episodes, the first introducing the abbey, the family and the servants as well as the villainous maid and footman, and the third episode of Series II in which the estate is converted into a convalescent hospital during the Great War in which the aristocracy have to suffer the shrinking of their physical space and the intrusions of the real world into their protected enclave, in which the shifts in hierarchies, both in the upstairs and the downstairs, disturb the standing order, romantic intrigues upset both the servants quarters and the daughters of milord, and everyone is faced with the horror of women waiting on the family in the drawing room instead of footmen?

Who really cares about the fortitude of a piece of flotsam from history? Who really cares about the physical and emotional legacy of this deluxe family period melodrama? Obviously a great number of people seduced by the diverting dilemmas and the high production values of the series. Nancy has taken to doling out two white chocolate bob bons in fancy cellophane as periodic treats that are not real chocolate and have soft rather than the hard centres I love.

Downton Abbey is a magnificent gorgeous costume drama. The sets, the dresses, even the chauffeur’s uniform, are absolutely exquisite. The setting is glorious, better than any tour of the great estates of Britain. Further, nothing beats British acting skills. The script is somewhat uneven, sometimes sparkling with sharp wit – especially when delivered with pointed barbs and a knowing look by Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, but at other times with clichéd homilies, and in between, a great deal of asides and whispering to advance the conniving and scheming of both the villainous and the mixed characters. The fuller characters, whether in the minor roles of a scullery maid and a cook, or the major roles of all the members of the Crawley family, are intriguing. They engage in shape shifting sufficiently to maintain our interest and convince us of the fictional reality of their personalities. But the most important character in the plot is Downton Abbey itself, to whom everyone, the nobility and the servants, the pretenders, the envious and the rebellious, are all in thrall. Sometimes the abbey looks exquisite and classical but at other times dowdy and forlorn when seen from a distance. I was never able to reconcile these two very different visuals of the estate and ascertain whether it was intentional.

The worst is the plot with conniving, scheming, plotting, terrible and accidental coincidences drawn from nineteenth century novels as the series transitions from the Edwardian era into the modern world. Plot elements are held back and in reserve like regiments in a battlefield. What happened to the homosexuality to which we are introduced in the first episode? You have to stick with the series to await its re-appearance I assume. Or is it dropped? I suspect not. From a postmodern period, it is a matter of great curiousity to encounter an upstairs/downstairs world as electricity, the motor car, the telephone and, most and worst of all, the Great War intervene to corrode and destroy the illusionary stability of the nineteenth century class system and Downton Abbey as its architectural symbol.

Perhaps tales of treacheries untold and secrets unfolded like the fine sheets the maids use to make the beds, narratives of reverses of fortune and fortunate inversions of those reversals so critical to the success of any soap opera, scandalous scheming and scurrilous actions all topped off with mounds of rich cream to make the medicine go down, have far greater appeal to most than a great smoked beef sandwich. Emotions are announced and pronounced or allowed to seep out under the closed doors and reserve, especially of the servants. It is not how I like to treat my imagination or taste buds.

However, what is most apparent are the absences. There is no glimpse of religion in the two episodes I saw, either of High Anglicanism or even rebellious noble Catholicism, though I overheard a minister say prayers and offer condolences at a funeral in another episode. How could Robert, the Earl of Grantham, the most enslaved milord I have ever witnessed, played brilliantly by Hugh Bonneville, the most devoted servant to the well-being and continuity of Downton Abbey, a man of great tolerance even if ridden with deep Tory values, a man kind and generous with a deep understanding of the foibles of others in spite of his marriage to tradition, a Tevye in formal wear, how could this man who supposedly attended both Eton and Oxford and possesses a supposed great love of reading, though we see him mostly reading the newspaper in the library, demonstrate so little self-consciousness and such a vast ignorance of literature and philosophy even as references to the classics are strewn at random through the two episodes as the petals that fall off dying indoor plants that I saw? How can a man of such ostensible reason and reasonableness be so lacking in knowledge and insight, learning and true understanding of the working of money and power? But I had no sense that this was the question driving Julian Fellowes.

Cora, the Countess of Grantham, is sometimes terribly naive, especially when dealing with her conniving maid, and at others very cunning and a formidable American opponent and sometime ally of the Dowager Duchess. In the third episode of the second series, the maid and Cora plot together to bring back the villainous footman into a position of power in Downton Abbey at the same time as the Dowager Duchess and her daughter-in-law conspire to undermine Lavinia, the fiancé of Crawley who is the true legal heir of the estate.

Events conspire and transpire, and they happen with great rapidity to suit a postmodern sensibility, but it is not their causes or their circumstances that intrigue, but their effects, not historically, but on the personal lives of the characters whether they reside upstairs or downstairs. All humans are born equal because, whether man or woman, whether servant or master, we are all buffeted and tossed about by the unexpected, by the icebergs that drift across the north Atlantic and can even sink the unsinkable Titanic, the symbol for Britain introduced in the very first episode.

There is another value I noted in passing – a worship of evidence, of proof, a commitment to empiricism and confirmation  that presumably will ultimately save the Brits as they muddle through these radical changes. Perhaps empiricism did but it is so little in real evidence itself that allusions to such values seem to be a folly in itself.

But the greatest absence is any political depth. There is, of course, the socialist and anti-war chauffeur who is so obviously in love with and protective of one of milord’s and his only modern and worldly daughter, but the references are absolutely superficial lest the politics of the day undermine the centrality of the politics of the family and the central issue of inheritance – inheritance of property and wealth, inheritance of manners and a sense of civility, and inheritance of a propensity to make errors of judgment. What a surprise to read in yesterday’s paper that the rule of primogeniture of aristocratic inheritance restricted to male heirs is now about to have legislation introduced in the British Parliament. So there is a reality behind this obsolete system of privileges and positions, of misplaced rights and rites, of a world that once ruled Brittania but is now left to being ruled by its rules.

There is an absence of the antisemitism that permeated the upper classes of Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, but of this we get not even a whiff. Perhaps it is being saved for a later episode when the effects will be shown to dramatic effect in the thirties. And where and when will racism be introduced, racism that was integral to the Boer War and was so central to the exploitation of India that made all that wealth and pomposity possible. Perhaps the producers are waiting until the more contemporary anti-Black racism takes the center stage in world history.

However, the absence that bothered me most was when General Stutts, a stand-in for General Haig, the so-called hero of the Battle of the Somme (???), visits Downton Abbey in the episode that I watched when Downton Abbey was being used as a convalescent hospital for the unwalking wounded and the walking unwound as casualties of the Great War convalesce. Nothing is said. There are allusions to the large number of casualties, but no comment is offered on the 60,000 casualties General Haig sacrificed to “break through”, fight a modern tank war and gain six miles of territory. How can one cry and empathize with a world of class and privilege that brought about its own destruction in its blind drift into the follies of massive deaths with the barest glimpse of what the role of blind loyalty – the highest and noblest value upheld by the whole system and epitomized by Mr. Bates, a British Jean Valjean, milord’s batman from the Boer campaign, his personal valet and “man” in the series?   

So what bothers me? I love westerns, even crappy ones, so why does such a brilliant melodrama upset me? Because, like the aristocracy it portrays, the series not only has pretensions but, next to loyalty, reveals pretence and appearance as the central virtue of the class system. And I despise pretence except when it is espoused as the highest virtue by Maggie Smith. Then it is both an expression of true belief and a marvellous send up. As I overheard in another episode in a line of Maggie Smith’s that is ironic rather than full of pithy wit but perhaps summarizes the interpretation of history: “The war may be at an end but the upheaval is only beginning.”

What seemed to permeate the episodes I saw was not description and insight but depiction and painful if fatalistic regret. What is the perspective of Julian Fellowes who created the series? I did not have the sitzfleisch to discover. How could Fellowes write such brilliant lines for an actress playing an acerbic and condescending presence who can deliver them with dripping perfection? Though torn a bit, I had the impression that Fellowe’s overwhelming nostalgia for this period and those values that penetrate the two episodes I saw. were and remain the deep values he upholds. Next to pretence, nostalgia is its repugnant kissing cousin for me. But not, I had the impression, for the series.

I regret I have so little use for both.

Pity!

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1

Prophets, Priests and Politicians: Parashat Korah, Numbers 19:1 – 22.1        15.06.13

by

Howard Adelman

Repeatedly, Moses is described as the greatest leader the Jewish people ever had. There was also no one like Miriam. Without Aaron, would Moses have reached his great success? In this segment, both Miriam and Aaron die in that order; shortly thereafter it will be Moses’ turn. All three die in that final year in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. What an illustrious and mutually complementary leadership the trio had made. As it is written in Micah (6:4), “I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” (See also I Chronicles 5:29) 

Moses was the rabbi, the teacher/leader (Moshe Rabbenu מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ) rather than a high priest or a thundering seer. He was also a man of action who assassinated an Egyptian slave taskmaster and had to flee. He knew when to get out and when and how to get his people out and then traverse enemy territory successfully. 

The Torah speaks of Moses and the prophets; rarely does it suggest that Moses was a prophet. Yet most Christian and many Jewish commentaries assert he was the greatest prophet that ever lived.  He was not only not the greatest prophet, he was not even one at all contrary to Maimonides’ claim. He was the greatest political leader. However, a great political leader does not a prophet make.

Moses’ older sister was the prophet. Moses recognizes and acknowledges this. (Exodus 15:20) He does not refer to himself as one. Dubbing Moses a prophet confuses the different leadership roles of politicians, prophets and priests. For one, Moses, like Jonah, was called by God to assume his role. He did so extremely reluctantly. Upon her mother’s suggestion, when only a child herself, Miriam decided to rescue her younger infant brother from the edict of death and float him down the Nile to be rescued by the Egyptian princess. It was as if she could foresee how, if raised among the Egyptian nobility, Moses could emerge with leadership skills that would allow him to rescue his people as she had rescued him. That is why, though named by his father, Chaver (father), and called Avigdor by his grandfather, he would henceforth be known by the name given to him by the Pharoah’s daughter, “he who is drawn out”. At the same time, Miriam was clever enough to ensure Moses was instilled with loyalty to his people by convincing the princess to hire Yocheved, his natural mother, as his wet nurse.

Aaron, though also chosen by God for the position of High Priest, in contrast to the selection of his younger brother, Moses, exhibited no reluctance to serve. However, unlike Moses, he was not trained on the job but isolated and given a specific course of detailed instructions in priestly practices. That position was to be continued as part of a dynamic succession rather than by self selection or a call in spite of one’s own desires or self-conception. Miriam would have no part in choosing the prophets that succeeded her. Moses was able to choose his disciple, Joshua, as a successor. Aaron passed on his role through inheritance to his son, Eleazar.

Prophets, politicians and priests not only differ in the way they are selected and how their successors are chosen, they differ in how they exercise their leadership. A politician who thinks the office makes the President (or the Prime Minister) is suffering from a deep and severe delusion. His or her personal authority makes the office. A political leader accumulates and dispenses personal authority, one which is tremendously enhanced when he believes that God is behind him. When Moses leads the Israelite males and sings to the Lord his praises for their deliverance from the Egyptians, he sings as an “I”. (Exodus 15:1) When Miriam sings, she does so in the name of “We”. She was a prophet of and amid the people. Moses was an elitist who delegated power.

A priest has no personal authority at all. He is only an expression of his office and derives his influence from the formal authority granted to that office. In contrast, a prophet or prophetess has neither formal authority nor personal charisma but exercises his or her persuasive power by means of her authentic authority. She has neither coercive power nor the power of high office to give her legitimacy.

Moses needed the early practical training as distinct from a training in practices and procedures. However, without the requisite prudence and the forty years in the wilderness tending sheep to learn what was required to be a shepherd of his people, he would not have been the success he was for he began his active adult life as a very rash and volatile young man. A politician is a legislator. He appoints judges to administer and interpret the law. But it is the law, and not he, which must rule, a law certainly backed by coercive power, but coercive power that backs the rule of law and does not undermine it. A prophet or prophetess operates only through persuasion and not through legislation, persuasion even about how a law itself or an edict or even a leader may have exceeded the bounds of fairness. A priest operates through repetition and making sure the second order rules which maintain the structure of the social system are adhered to with precision and exactitude. That is why, from their very different perspectives, both Miriam and Aaron revolted against Moses and suggested that his power had gone to his head, as much as God may have backed him up, for God continually had to learn to limit His exercise of His power.  

Miriam in a Greek world would have been dubbed a goddess of water. Though she was not a goddess, she was the source for divining water in the desert, a source that dried up when Miriam died in Zin in the last year the Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. She was an original not to be duplicated. But even her water, so important for cleansing and purification, had its limits as chapter 19 makes clear. Sprinkling water on someone who could not be cleansed of a ritual sin was useless. But when the water was not forthcoming from the rocks after she died, the commonwealth of Israel once again turned against the leadership of Moses and Aaron (20:2) moaning that Moses had led them only to allow them and their cattle to die in the barren wilderness.

Moses fell on his knees and begged God to intervene. God instructed Moses and Aaron to assemble the people with their rods and speak to the rock to ask it to give forth water. (20:8) But instead of speaking, Moses smote the rock with his rod, not once but twice.  (20:11) Water finally gushed forth. But God reprimanded both Moses and Aaron for not doing precisely what they were told. Sometimes, a politician’s skills at improvisation and creativity are crucial, but not when commanded by God to do precisely one thing, something which Aaron understood, but the latter allowed himself to play second fiddle to his brother at precisely the time when detailed obeisance was required. Moses was punished for his actions and Aaron for his inaction in not following a precise protocol and procedure when God gave a direct order. Aaron would die five months after Miriam passed away. Prophets could be original and spontaneous. Politicians had to improvise with prudence while priests ensure the rituals that are the prerequisites in order for a society to enact laws, determine policies and carry out actions are followed in meticulous detail.

Miriam was buried in an anonymous place in Kodesh. She is honoured in name only. Aaron died on Mount Hor. Chapter 20, verses 25-29 read: “25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.’ 27 And Moses did as the LORD commanded; and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” 

The respect for Aaron and his infamous compassion (andrachamim) was expressed in the long period of mourning. In comparison, Miriam had been known for her personal kindness (chesed) and Moses for his righteousness (tzedek). As I explained in an earlier blog, Miriam largely disappeared from the story until the challenge over Moses’ Cushite wife. Miriam, along with Aaron, had not challenged Moses because, as many commentators suggest, he married a dark-skinned woman, a Cush, as if they were both racists. Rather, Miriam was concerned with the hurt and neglect Moses had caused his wife as he dedicated everything to his political cause. The different roles require very different strengths of character which receive, in turn, very different responses; Miriam’s deepest essence was to be considerate of others even if it meant going against a furious, vindictive and punitive God. And the people of Israel remained loyal to her because she always remained among them even as Moses and Aaron rose up to their exalted positions.

For a prophet is a visionary while a politician has to be pragmatic and a priest must exhibit the greatest purity. That is why it is Miriam who has to remind her two brothers that leadership requires and embraces different voices and why God, the defender and expression of the singular commanding voice, punishes her so harshly because He mistakenly believes that His form of leadership can be replicated in human society. That is why each of the three leaders expresses his or herself so differently, Miriam through music, dance and drama, Moses in what he writes and Aaron through his long silences and articulate interventions. For each operates in a different temporal dimension, the prophet as an articulation of eternal time expressed through constant change. A politician like Moses lives in historical time while a priest lives in obeisance to repetitive cycles – the week, the year. Though God spoke directly to Moses and confronted Moses face-to-face, God spoke to Miriam through visions and dreams. It was Miriam who led the women of Israel in song and dance using timbrels to celebrate the Israeli escape from their Egyptian pursuers. (Exodus 15:20-21) “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” As it is written in Jeremiah (31:4), when Israel once again marches forth out into the world, Israelis will go forth with drums, dances and merrymakers rather than swords and guns.

My daughter, Rachel, wrote a poem entitled, “The Song of Miriam’s Well” with a prefatory credit to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

Through the wasteland, I traveled with them.

So there was rock and also water.

A spring, a stone that rolled,

Where no moss grows.

The sound of water and cicada,

And the dry grass singing.

When the Clouds of Glory settled,

I lay on my side,

And dug myself deep into the desert sand.

Date palms sprung up around me,

To shade the noblemen with their buckets,

Singing:

            “Rise up, O well, (And in chorus, they’d answer)

            Ali be’er.

            The well our forefathers dug

            Maces, staffs, striking the flint face.”[1]

And like a beehive, spewing swarms of bees,

I would spout water for their dry mouths.[2]

They knew how to suckle on rock,

Honey cakes and oil from the flinty stone.[3]

 

But when my mistress died…

Miriam, who sang at the Nile,

Not knowing if her brother, among the Reeds, was to live or die,

Miriam, who sang at the Reed Sea,

When we emerged alive out of water, this time.

Well, I could sing water no more.

They came with their buckets in the Wilderness of Tzin,

Saying Kaddish for her, named of bitterness,

Miriam, mayim marim.[4]

Stone-faced, I could not even cry.

What does it take to weep sweet water?

This time Moshe’s staff struck twice

And yet no drop.

 

Now, you are leaving the desert behind.

You are thirsty, your people crying for water.

But I have no mind to roll on with you.

A new water-out-of-rock must be found.

Be the overflowing spring,

Or a cistern that doesn’t lose a drop.[5]

Be the one who digs deep into desert sand.

Be water-out-of-rock.

 

In Albert Hirschman’s terms, Miriam was the exemplification of loyalty, both in what she gave and what was returned to her in turn by the Israelites. In contrast, as I wrote above, Moses was the exemplification of the exit and not the entry; though he led, he lacked a fluent tongue. Instead, his older brother, Aaron made up for Moses’ speech impediment with his soft and sensitive voice. Together, the three made up one of the greatest leadership teams in history.


[1]Num. 21:17

[2] An image based on Midrash Tanhuma Parashat Hukat (9).

[3]   From Deut. 32:13, the image is based on a midrash in TB Sotah 11b.

[4] She is named for the verse in Ex. 1:14, “for the Egyptians had embittered their lives “.וימררו  את חייהם

[5] Based on Pirkei Avot 2:8.

 

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 2: Loyalty and Disloyalty

Assimilation: Culture & Economics; Family Politics and Cover-ups

by

Howard Adelman

 

My father came to Canada from Poland when he was six years old just after the end of WWI. One of his earliest memories was being in a parade in Warsaw when the Kaiser came and he waved a German flag. He always had a strong positive view of Kaiser Wilhelm, reflecting even the Ostjuden view of Germany as the leader of European enlightenment culture. In Jeremy`s first paragraph of chapter 1 of his biography of Albert Hirschman, he writes that Carl Hirschmann (Albert`s father) “was a patriot; he loved Beethoven, Goethe, and the values of the German Enlightenment, as well as the German nation. In the wake of the naval Battle of Skagerrak (known as Jutland in English, May 31 – June 1, 1916) he gushed to his wife, `What do you think of our victory at sea? How wonderful it would to have been there!`”

The problem is that the battle was not quite a victory. In the largest naval battle of the war and the only confrontation between battleships, both sides lost. When we were taught that battle in high school British history, I recall that as schoolboys we discussed whether the British admiralty were competing with the British generals of the ground forces for a medal for the worst performance, though we generally agreed that it would be hard to beat the British army officers in their horrific leadership.

Both the British and Germans wanted to lure the enemy`s fleet into a trap to destroy their capacity by sinking or damaging enough of the other`s warships, in the British case, to remove the threat to their mercantile navy and, in the German case, to break the British blockade and allow the German mercantile fleet to operate freely and open the supply lines to Germany. Using intercepts, the British learned of the German plans, sailed from Scapa Flow in Scotland when they learned the German fleet had left port and caught the submarines unprepared. However, the British were nevertheless caught by German Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper`s superfast five modern battlecruisers and drew them into a battle with the German High seas fleet. Before the British could get back to their own main fleet, they lost two battlecruisers in the battle between Hipper`s five fast ships and the British navy`s six battlecruisers and four battleships. In that sense, the navy battle was a victory for the Germans.

On the other hand, the Germans had been lured into an open battle of the fleets with 250 ships engaged altogether. Eleven German ships were lost but at great cost to the British who lost an additional twelve ships. Further, the Germans managed to escape their encirclement and return to port when the British failed to press their advantage. The British also lost far more sailors. Nevertheless, the British succeeded in deterring any future naval engagements by the Germans and the German fleet remained blockaded in port, but the process also tied down the British fleet and limited its protection of the Atlantic sea lanes.

As is usual in wartime, both sides claimed victory. The difference is that in Germany, the public believed the German military propaganda. In Britain, expectations had been high of another Trafalgar, but the British were not only disappointed that their great fleet had been unable to destroy the German one in open battle, but also at the greater losses on their side. They also learned of the design flaws in their own ships and even questioned the naval commanders` conduct of the battle as we as high school students had. In contrast, Carl Hirshmann, the German loyalist who secretly came from Ostjuden stock but named his son Otto after Otto von Bismarck, the Great Prussian chancellor and founder of modern Germany, accepted that the battle as a German victory and faithfully served the wounded and sick and even eventually the starving as the British blockade lead to cold, darkness, starvation and death in Germany. Carl Hirschmann in his self-deceit was unprepared for the overthrow of the German monarchy.

Jeremy summarizes the key events of the latter all too succinctly. After the flu pandemic which killed 5,000 in Berlin alone, “the Spartacist uprising a month later ended in savagery. Rosa Luxemburg`s body was dumped in the Landwehr Canal, Karl Liebknecht was shot in the back in the Tiergarten Park, and right wing thugs patrolled the city to stop the Soviet influence from crossing into German lands. From this mayhem was born the Weimar Republic, the political and cultural setting of Otto Albert`s upbringing.” What Jeremy does not write in his caution in not drawing forth generalizations unless clearly indicated by the evidence is that these key events not only reinforced the self-deceit and mindblindness of Carl Hirschmann on the political as well as personal level, but adumbrated the path of compromise and betrayal that would be the end as well as beginning of the Weimar Republic.

Although the thugs of the proto-Nazi Freikorps carried out the murders, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Chancellor Friedrich Ebert in particular, most probably ordered them. The SPD, now in government in league with the conservative party, was, like the Chinese government today, wedded to the rhetoric of Marxism but driven by the revisionist nationalist theories of Edward Bernstein which made loyalty to the German state a priority rather than international solidarity. The SPD backed the Kaiser`s war, turned on those leftists who had split away from the SPD and, in my conviction, specifically ordered the assassination that took place on 15 January 1919 of Luxemburg (who, incidentally, initially opposed Liebknecht`s call for an insurrection) and Liebknecht, the leaders of the breakaway faction of the socialists in Germany. The process legitimized thuggery as a political tool at the same time as it sewed deep schisms of distrust among leftists in Germany. Luxemburg`s call for “spontaneity” in revolution to which Albert Hirshman was initially attracted was left undeveloped and without her charismatic leadership. Perhaps this allowed AH to abandon Marxism long before his ideological sister was able to free herself.

Jeremy writes: “He (AH) carried throughout his life many of the precepts and values he had inherited as a boy and picked up as a young man in a vibrantly cosmopolitan, civil, bourgeois – republican – upbringing, steeped in the view that things could be made better, that out of the ashes of the old, new worlds could be made. But throughout his life, he knew equally well just how precarious this world could be.” (pp. 18-19) I would argue that he learned more than simply precariousness. Long before his participation in the Spanish Civil War, before he was even politically aware, his upbringing had been steeped not only in the values of civility, meliorism and republicanism, but in the absence of solidarity, loyalty and unity on the left. He had also learned that the resort to street violence was as integral a part of German culture as Goethe and Wagner. 

But German contemporary culture of Dada artists, Bauhaus architect, Berlin expressionists, and avant-garde filmmakers was perhaps the greatest influence on AH. Jeremy writes: “Berliners turned to culture…Perhaps best known was the flourishing of a distinct Berlin movement in theatre, film, and criticism, especially with the collaboration of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, whose Three Penny Opera presented industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin. Berlin`s first talking movie, The Blue Angel, made Marlene Dietrich famous around the world.” For Jeremy, the image of Dietrich of her memorable walk down a broad staircase in tuxedo and a top hat stands out as does the family lore told by Eva, AH`s young sister, of AH`s father, Carl Hirshmann, spotting Marlene Dietrich at a resort and then jumping up when an opportunity presented itself, draping Dietrich`s fur coat over her shoulder and whispering in her ear, `Meine beste Freudin,` the name of her hit recording from the film. In fact, the song was called, “Wenn die beste Freudin” and it did not come from the film, My Blue Angel, but from the duet she had sung in 1928 with Margo Lion from the musical revue, Es Liegt in der Luft. Since the song was not included in the 1964 albums of Berlin songs by Marlene Dietrich, it is not well known. However, the song can still be heard on YouTube and I personally heard many of them as my German teacher in high school played recording after recording. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOvHdAcdHA.) The song became an anthem for the risqué lesbian movement at the time, but it is unclear whether Carl Hirschmann was being ironic when citing the song as he flirted with Marlene Dietrich.

More significantly, although the book is very long, I think it would have been helpful to briefly unpack those two splendid examples of avant-garde German culture to reveal the tensions between the passions and interests that so dominated Berlin cultural discourse at the time and remained ever present as a theme in AH`s thinking and was, of course, the name of one of his most important books. I wrote a theatre review for the Threepenny Opera (as we wrote out the title) in the early sixties and do not recall thinking of the musical as presenting industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin even though the plot was taken from John Gay`s The Beggar`s Opera, but rather as an interpersonal struggle set against a tale of ostensible class warfare between a peachy father and his daughter. The father is ironically named Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum who is a Fagin character running a troupe of beggars. He is governed solely by self-interest but, unlike Fagin, disguises his main occupation through respectability, civility and religious cant. His daughter, Polly, is a naïve creature driven by passion and desire who falls in love with a charming new thief, Macheath, hired by her father. Macheath has coated his pursuit of both self-interest and desire with an attractive quality of charm and goodwill that serves as a cover for the ruthless murderer beneath. The musical with its wonderful ironic music plays on the tension between two forms of ardent self-interest in juxtaposition to desire and various forms of cover ups for that tension so it would have been helpful to learn whether AH saw the musical when he was fourteen or, at least, how he regarded it, especially its deus ex machina ending when Macheath ends up with a pardon for all his crimes and a pension from Queen Victoria.

The Blue Angel, Germany`s first talkie in 1930, is such a contrast to Hollywood`s 1927 The Jazz Singer which told the story of the tension between tradition and modernity between a Jewish cantor`s son and his father loosely based on the life of its star, Al Jolson, my favourite singer as a kid. The Blue Angel based on Heirich Mann`s novel, Professor Unrat (garbage), is the story of a bourgeois, prudish and stuffy teacher in a gymnasium much like the one AH attended who goes to a cabaret to catch his boys watching the torch singer, Loa-Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich, and falls deliriously in love. It is a movie about passion overwhelming reason and common sense leading to the destruction of bourgeois values of civility as the professor is reduced to the humiliation of playing a clown in cabaret as Marlene Dietrich cavorts with her latest lover. The surprise is how well this trite and simplistic plot works so powerfully and how much more powerful the film must have been in Germany where the theme of the tension between unbridled passion and rationality has such a deep resonance. 

I know Jeremy`s book is very long, but I would have appreciated a bit more expansion on the possible effects of such German iconic cultural products on AH himself. I also missed some more unpacking of the tension within Albert between tradition and modernity set against the tension between self-interest and emotional attachments. We are told the parallel story of his very wealthy cousins who take self-interest to the extremes of hedonism and the implied rejection by Albert of those values. We are told of the family`s conversion to Protestantism along with another half million German Jews, but it was Lutheranism and not just Protestantism established by the ardently anti-Semitic Martin Luther to which they converted.  The family observed Christmas and although Albert was converted, he never took up his vows as a Christian. The family really worshipped at the altar of German respectability.

We are told of Carl Hirschmann`s rejection both as an applicant to become head of neurosurgery at a gentile hospital and his rejection as head of surgery at the Jewish hospital and the conviction by himself and his family that his conversion was the reason for the rejection. Other than a loss in status for Carl, especially in the eyes of Albert`s socially aspiring mother, we are not told of how the inner turmoil played out in the life of his father, or, more importantly, within AH other than the statement that Albert wore a “carapace of invulnerability” that even his daughter, Katia, who returned to Judaism, could not seem to penetrate. I wanted Jeremy to make a greater effort to penetrate that carapace that stood in such contrast to the themes of voice, of exit and of loyalty, for the lifelong drama seemed to have the smell of a son trapped, even if in a less auspicious way than his own father. I suspect that his daughter sensed that rather than simply accepting the inherited line that, other than in a sense of humour and a sense of compassion, his Jewish heritage was worn very lightly to be discarded at will with no consequences.

Further probing of Katia on this question would have been helpful in gaining a greater insight into AH. Though I am getting ahead of the story, in chapter 3, Jeremy quotes AH. “`The question of a `return` to Judaism never came up for me (ne s`est jamais posée por moi),` he explained many years later to his grandson Grégoire on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. `First of all, it was never instilled in my upbringing…and above all I would have sensed that an embrace of Judaism as a reaction, as something history imposed upon me which I then had to live (persecution), and for me the question was how not to submit to this miserable history created by Historic Laws (because there are none).`”

What a dramatic revelation written in a note to his grandson in 1989! But in chapter 1 and 3, Jeremy leaves the superficial and indeed silly explanations that simply dress up his carapace unexamined. Look at what he wrote. The history of the Jews is simply a “miserable” history and not a story of both mistreatment and glorious achievement. The issue is not whether the question of return to Judaism was relevant for him, but why return was viewed as a reaction and not a choice. Why was this option regarded as an imposition rather than an option? And what in any rational universe does the history of Judaism have to do with the issue of Historic Laws? Judaism is, if anything, in its deepest roots opposed to the conception of fate whether in the form of Historic Laws or any other expression. This is simply a statement of ignorance and prejudice unbecoming to a man of probing intellect so it raises questions about why stupidity prevailed in this area when AH was so brilliant and wise in so many other areas of his life.

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman Conversation – Instalment 1: An Overview and the Introduction – Mots Justes & petites idées

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 1: An Overview and the Introduction

Mots Justes & petites idées

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

The only critical review of Jeremy’s biography of the many that have come my way is by Robert Kuttner. I have sent it out as a separate attachment. Though Kuttner loved the book, he had four main criticisms, all having to do with the second half, the intellectual biography. The criticisms are:

1) Style – too slow going and bogged down in detail so the forest of Hirschman is sometimes lost in the details;

2) The chapter on Latin America “is one of the weaker parts of the book” because Jeremy became bogged down in the detail of Hirschman’s endless trips, and because a) his “discussion of Hirschman’s intellectual debate with other development theorists is somewhat murky” and (b) he neglected “to address how Hirschman’s views have stood the test of time;”

3) Jeremy’s emphasis on Exit, Voice, and Loyalty as a “hyphen linking an ‘early’ Hirschman concerned with economic development in Latin America to a ‘later’ Hirschman working from a broadened intellectual palette” “leaves out the formative Hirschman—the voracious student of political classics, resistance fighter, and refugee scholar who unmistakably makes a reappearance in the later philosophical works.”

4) He critiques Jeremy’s take on The Passions and the Interests – arguing that Hirschman sided with Enlightenment political philosophers who “hoped that passions, explosive and nonnegotiable, could be tamed into interests available for brokering and compromise.”

 

Is Kuttner correct in his critique?

 

I will deal with his comments on the Latin American chapter when we get to it. The same goes for The Passions and the Interests and in what sense Hirschman was an Enlightenment philosopher balancing passions and rational self-interest. The subject matter does change as a matter of course, but I did not find the style or pace did. The criticism of style is, in my mind, the critique of an intellectual journalist versus an historian who demands that evidence be put out on which to base conclusions rather than indulging in interpretations based on inadequate empirical research and the insertion of subjective beliefs in place of empirical reasoning. On the style, I think that Kuttner is just dead wrong. The book reads wonderfully. When Jeremy calls Exit, Voice, and Loyalty a “hyphen linking an ‘early’ Hirschman concerned with economic development in Latin America to a ‘later’ Hirschman working from a broadened intellectual palette,” he adopts Hirschman’s own emphasis on “linkages” rather than a large scale integration of the broad scale of the life as lived with the later intellectual development instead of the usual all-encompassing integration so characteristic of most historians.

 

To get a deeper understanding of that linkage, let me fall into the inevitable trap of discussing the themes of “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” for all three themes come up in the introduction. My emphasis will be on Voice but let me first deal with Exit and Loyalty.  The book is called an odyssey, but it is an odyssey made up of many exits, from one language to another, from one country to another, from one war to another, from one institution to another. The real story begins with a major exit, from Germany as the Weimar Republic is abandoned as a spate of anti-Semitic violence sweeps through Berlin as Hitler takes power, from his father as Carl Hirschmann is lowered into his grave after being stricken by a brain tumour from which surgery could not save him, and then Albert himself as a militant anti-Nazi student at the University of Berlin at the age of seventeen flees from the new wave of intolerance and persecution for the safety of Paris. 

 

While he leaves, he remains loyal to his overbearing all-too-bourgeois mother, but especially his sister Ursula and his younger sister, Eva. But it is loyalty without nostalgia ready for new beginnings. As Jeremy portrays Albert, he possesses the Nietzschean ability to reinvent himself and to do so by living outside any single cultural tradition or intellectual genre, not by cutting any of them off, including his own weakly rooted Jewish heritage, but to artfully combine them, though all he inherited from his Jewish past was a kinship with a certain sense of humour, a critical mindset and a predisposition for compassion.

 

In chapter 25 of The Prince, Machiavelli insisted that fortune only rules one half of a man`s fate. The other half was determined by will, or what AH termed choice. Fortune was simply a challenge to figure out artful ways to wriggle out of a convoluted, contradictory or bad situation. The complement to fortune was not fate but virtus, strength of character. AH remained loyal to hope and what he called possibilism in contrast to the catastrophism depicted by Hannah Arendt in her introduction to The Human Condition. He always remained steadfastly opposed to any kind of predictivism that he saw as really having its roots in the magic of astrology and the ability to come up with a mathematical formula to predict the future. Fortune was the situation that confronted you not the determination of your fate.

 

The way to become master of your fate required developing your voice. That voice is developed by attending to anomalies, what I have called incongruencies. If we are simply mesmerized by the myths we are fed and the images projected on the cave wall, then we cannot free ourselves from being tied to a log and facing only one way. But if we can shift and slide and see something from different angles so that it reveals its contradictions, then we need not depend on others to free ourselves or depend on the god of Reason delivering an all encompassing revelation that can provide us with certainty.

 

That is why literature is so important. For good literature “summons the power of small details and anomalies to uncover something new about the whole.” Contrast this with Plato`s myth of the cave which was just a narrative way of representing the geometric formulation of his famous divided line in which reason: understanding = true opinion: false consciousness = critical thought: belief. The two parts of the divided line, each divided by the same ratio meant also that understanding was equivalent in value to true opinion of the experienced artisan except only that the former was closer to reason. Thus 4:2 = 2:1 = 6:3. Reason: understanding = true opinion: mythological opinion = Truth: Opinion, and understanding and true opinion have the same value in the degree of truth they possessed. With all his studies of statistics and correlations and innovations in understanding the influences on and relations of trade to prosperity, AH could find no way to represent thought and its creative parts through a mathematical formula, even one so simple as the mathematics of ratios.

 

If Plato insisted that one had to know geometry to enter through the archway into his academy, Aristotle shared a greater kinship with Hirschman with his love of equivocation and exploring the multiple and often contradictory meanings of the same term. So AH was in love with vivid metaphors, memorable images and poetic phrases. True to his subject, Jeremy pursues the anomalies, surprises and power of unintended effects as he explores the life of AH to elicit the spirit of the man and how that spirit was influence by and shaped in turn the spirit of different times. Hence, the appropriate emphasis on the mots justes and petites idées.

 

Let me introduce one mots justes drawn from Jewish folk culture and not the greats of European literature. The word is “yekke” and the puzzle I want to pose is why Albert Hirschman was not much more of a yekke. He was always a yekke in his sartorial attention to the well crafted suit and to his famous punctuality. Certainly he was the epitome of the best values of the yekke  –  good citizenship, reliability, meticulousness, cleanliness, orderliness, courtesy, consideration and, most of all, cultural and intellectual creativity. But Jews from other regions often use yekke in a more derogatory sense to refer to the condescension and sense of cultural superiority of German Jews, best exemplified by AH`s social climbing mother and striving for social status. Yekke in its negative sense also suggests inflexibility, a characteristic that cannot be pinned on AH.  In contrast, Micha Limor, the editor of Yakinton, the Israeli Yekke newspaper, proved that inflexibility when, after the publication of the Goldstone Report on Gaza, described Goldstone as a perfect replica of a Yekke with a clean conscience, uncompromising integrity, tenacity in dealing with bureaucracy, comprehension of reality and precision of language. Limor was not being ironic and refused to retract or amend his comments in response to all the criticism and evidence to the contrary. AH was not a Yekke like Limor.

 

Further, the Yekke is said to be obsessed with questions like, “Warum? Warum ist die Banane krumm? Why is the banana crooked?” Though there is a scientific answer related to its chemical constitution which makes the banana bend to catch as much of the sun as possible, the reference suggests stupid and unanswerable questions. AH was the epitome of asking sensible, answerable but often overlooked questions. AH seemed to embody the best traits of the Yekke while leaving behind the worst characteristics. Jeremy`s answer is that AH managed to hang onto the best of his German culture, weave it into the impoverished residue of his Jewish culture and then to artfully combine it with the best of Italian (Machiavelli), French (Montesquieu, Montaigne, and Foucauld), English or rather Sottish (Adam Smith) and even American pragmatic culture.