“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, October 02, 2006

satanic historiography

De telles contradictions apparentes n’embarrassaient guère un jeune artiste, de foi arreteé, mais candide, and sans calcul, sentant peu le peril d’être tendre pour l’ennemi. – Michelet, preface to L’histoire de France

(Such apparent contradictions hardly embarrass a young artist, with his closed, but candid and uncalculating creed, barely feeling the danger of being tenderhearted for the enemy.)

Comment y arriva-t-on. Sans doute par l’effet si simple du grand principe satanique que tout doit se faire à rebours, exactement à l’envers de ce que fait le monde sacré. – Michelet, La sorciere

Another truth: I said that Michelet is not concerned to describe the rites themselves; he deals rather with their destination, their effect (summoning the dead, curing the sick). This suggests that he makes little differentiation between rite and technique, a correspondence ethnology has adopted in its assertion that magical gestures are always sketches of a technology – Barthes on Michelet’s La sorciere.

In my last post, I sketched half of the history I promised – and even that history is simply another promise, the detour getting us back to the question: what is Bush and Co. so afraid of? Our first step is to draw a map of the peckerwood dialectic of Southern history. Our second step is to understand the reversals that have characterized the Republican party. The meeting of the twain is the goal. But remember, while the steps of all the players are dyed in the white magic of power; LI, taking the advice of Michelet’s witches, doesn’t just want to analyze – we want to vivisect this living history until it bleeds. Tout doit se faire à rebours – a rocknroll motto of resistance to the criminal state we woke up in this morning, a morning like any other, the state like any other.

Okay. In for a penny, in for a pound of flesh. The other half of the story I started with Peckerwood Dialectics concerns the theodicy of the Republican party. It is rather amazing to look at what happened to the Republicans. Here we have a party that, in 1868, is the closest thing America has ever had to a Jacobin party. And here we have a party that, by 1900, assumes its modern form as the political aspect of the corporation, the party of the chamber of commerce.

How we get from one point to the other is a puzzle. Again, as so often in American puzzles, the keys are race and money.

The party system was a surprise to the Founders. It wasn’t what they expected, even though it was obvious that it was coming. It wasn’t just the jealousies and powerhunger of personalities, although that is probably the way Adams and Jefferson looked at it – it was a natural outgrowth of a system that required some internal organization of the representatives and even of the executives. LI has never read a good account of why this should be so – why do the alliances between representatives, and the competition for posts, lead to the party system? In fact, in the fifty years from 1800 to 1850, the party system was obviously being forged in the states, and one of the key motifs around which parties coalesced was race. Race and xenophobia.

I’m not going to bore anyone with stories of the Know Nothing party. But here’s what interests me – the tension in the Republican party between, on the one side, the incipient Northern reformist culture – the prototype of contemporary liberalism, with its comfort with issues of identification (race and gender) and its discomfort with issues of class – and, on the other side, the business strata. To understand why the business class would migrate into the Republican party, you have to see how the issue of class and race operate – not, as liberal myth would have it, in happy tandem, resistance to racism and sympathy for the working class going hand in hand. Rather, the working class/immigrant faction was claimed, quite early, by the Democrats, and formed partly in open opposition to blacks. Racism so often acts as a unifying force in these here states, allowing opponents to forget about their differences in the face of their big hatred. But, as in a screwy game of Chinese checkers, it was just that mob of the immigrant kind, and the Democratic working man, that made the business class seek refuge in the Republican party –with reformers who were, themselves, not exactly pleased with working class lifestyle habits, from the way the kids were raised to the spread of Catholicism to the drinking. (Drinking – the trans fats of the 19th century!).

And here the black Other had a different function. As is pretty well known, the majority of the abolitionist crowd, while opposing slavery, did not exactly welcome the black man into a relationship of equality. In Kansas, for instance, the Freesoilers who fought the pro-slavery paramilitaries wanted no slaves – and no blacks, period. They wanted laws to keep any African American from living in Kansas.

Okay, I’ll return to this in my next post. Got to go to work.

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