Because Pound was a leftist.

Pound was anti-U.S., anti-capitalist, and belonged to the Wordsworth/Thoreau/Emerson/Ruskin/William Morris tradition of small is beautiful: local materials, anti-usury, community-based economics, combined with a practical, factual, hard-headed, anti-Romantic aesthetics.  Pound’s disciple, Charles Olson, based his poetic career on a sprawling, grounded poem defending the small and local (Gloucester) against the big (development).

The whole issue is really quite simple, but has a certain historical complexity:  Just as the anti-Stalinist Left veered rightward, going from hard-headed liberals to sophisticated conservatives (neo-cons,) the anti-overpopulation Right veered leftward, going from conservation-minded Republicans to small-is-beautiful Democrats.

Small-is-beautiful became such a crucial component of Left thinking in the latter part of the 20th century, that Pound’s anti-capitalist, anti-U.S., small-is-beautiful fascism translates into a perfectly valid Left position.

The underlying philosophical issues support both the politics and the aesthetics; Pound’s modernism is essentially Nietzschean and dionysian: Platonism, Christianity, and Apollonian Romanticism are the enemies of Modernism, and the reason can essentially be found in one phrase: small is beautiful.



  1. Marcus Bales said,

    September 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Nietzschean and dionysian? That’s like jumbo shrimp. Nietzsche wrote that dionysianism was ok for the general run of people, who couldn’t do any better, but not for the people he was writing for, those who were beyond good and evil, who, because of their exceptional gifts, could be counted on to do the right thing without reference to the slave moralities, as Nietzsche called them, that he was critiquing.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 1, 2010 at 12:48 pm


      Nietzsche was explicitly attacking Plato/Socrates. Of course Nietzsche was dionysian. You don’t take that ‘beyond good and evil’ stuff seriously, do you?

      Here’s a man who defined music as “intoxication” and the visual arts as “dream.” Have you read “The Birth of Tragedy?”

      Nietzsche, more than anything, was an excitable philosopher. He began with Plato. But he was finally dionysian.


      • Marcus Bales said,

        October 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

        Nietzsche wasn’t dionysian any more than he was apollonian. In The Birth of Tragedy he argues for the balance between them, and argues that ancient Greek art is superior to other art because it sought and sometimes acheived a balance between dionysian and apollonian. Truth, Beauty, Justice, AND Proportion, remember. That wasn’t a casual connection, it was a necessary connection.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 1, 2010 at 5:46 pm


        I think I’m going to be ‘the new Nietzsche.’

        I will demand that art be ‘balanced’ between porn and prudery. I will insist upon this ‘balance’ for the good of art.

        The Greeks, I will say, occasionally hit upon this ideal ‘balance,’ and this, more than anything, is what I demand: ‘balance!’

        Yes! A good, healthy ‘balance!’

        What could be more reasonable?

        Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

        And to think that some will call me mad!

        Me? The reasonable man seeking ‘balance?’

        Pull down thy vanity, spake I.


      • Marcus Bales said,

        October 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm

        That reminds me: Romantic apollonian? Another jumbo shrimp. The Romantics were closer to dionysian, though, really, it’s hard to assign such ancient Greek notions to more or less modern poets. But to the extent that The Romantic is about surrender to natural urges governed by natural law, rebelling against the urban strictures and demands of civilization, that’s far more dionysian than apollonian.

        The Postmoderns, too, who reject science and logic in favor of, well, no one is really sure what they’re in favor of, are they — they’re just opposed to science and logic — are more dionysian than apollonian.

        And I think we can trace a lineage from Romantic to Postmodern through the Aesthetic movement, the Imagists, and the rest, all dionysian, Eliot, perhaps, excepted.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 2, 2010 at 11:43 am


        Shelley lovingly translated Plato’s Symposium; Keats, Shelley, and Byron, in their 20s, produced more apollonian sublime work than all the Moderns put together in every sense: prose, poetry, verse, popularity, and without any cheapness or vulgarity.

        Yes, Romanticism in general definitely has a dionysian, ‘bad boy’ reputation, especially among the French: a riot broke out in 1910 when some critic attacked the classical poet Racine, and that’s because the French equate Romanticism with the French revolution, the Red Terror, etc In the 18th century, Voltaire and Rousseau were weaving their diabolical magic in France; meanwhile the English were blessed with Swift and Pope. Wordsworth was surely no menace, and Coleridge and Lamb worked for the East India company; England exported trouble; the English were pretty good at keeping order on their home turf.

        You are wrong to say Romanticism is to blame for post-modernism. Post-modernism is merely a wacky extension of Modernism, which was already as wacky as it can get (read Gertrude Stein lately?). The best of Romanticism is admirable, but all of Romanticsm was reviled by Modernism, except for the dull and plodding Wordsworth’s ‘poetry should be like speech’ bit.


  2. October 1, 2010 at 12:07 am

    I think we’re stretching a bit.

    The left tends to be better educated and better read – exactly the kind of demographic more likely to appreciate a poet whose work is beautiful and important, but difficult to read (especially his Cantos – his earlier work is relatively approachable).

    The left has no particular love for Pound’s odious politics – though we will sometimes try to excuse him on the basis of loving his poetry (W.S. Mervin has written about this – about meeting Pound and learning from Pound the Poet, but denying knowing anything at the time of Pound’s politics).

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 1, 2010 at 12:54 pm


      Ah, I see, Merwin “denied knowing anything at the time of Pound’s politics…”

      This sounds to me the opposite of “better educated and better read…”

      “Beautiful and important, but difficult to read..”

      This sounds like one of those “educated” assessments which gives “education” a bad name…


      • October 1, 2010 at 11:53 pm

        At the risk of defending Merwin (who I am not a big fan of) – he was 18 when he met Pound.

        I have known many teenagers who went on to become very well educated but who were not, during their adolescent years, always the most knowledgeable people.

        And what is wrong with “beautiful and important, but difficult to read?” Just as we can fetishize things because of their difficulty, we can also go the other way and fetishize things that are easy to understand.

        But I guess it’s a matter of opinion – when writing is beautiful and moving, I find myself less concerned with whether or not it is difficult or easy to read. In fact, when I open myself up to it, I find it becomes easy.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 2, 2010 at 11:54 am


        My point, really, was that it’s a bit too easy to say the left is “better educated.” Better educated at what? becomes the question. Reading what is “difficult” should not win any prizes.

        Can you imagine scientists judging their formulas and discoveries based on the ‘difficult’ criteria? The universe may be ‘difficult’ to fathom—or not, but that’s not really the point, is it? Love makes us pursue whatever it is we are pursuing, no matter how difficult. Difficulty is not the goal. Only a lunatic would put value on ‘the difficulty’ itself. Ease of understanding is a virtue in poetry and literature; at least it was—until the crazy-ites took over.


  3. Jock Sillyman said,

    October 1, 2010 at 2:01 am

  4. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Gertrude Stein: “a blade of grass has the same value as a tree.”

    • October 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm

      What is meant by “better educated” is exactly what you would expect in a conversation about literature – we are talking about academics and culture.

      I am not denigrating other types of education, but we are talking about poetry here – when you talk about poetry and you say that someone is “educated,” I don’t think it’s assuming too to say that you know exactly what I mean by it.

      If we were discussing another topic, “educated” might have different implications – but this is about poetry.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 2, 2010 at 9:57 pm


        But can one isolate ‘poetry’ and ‘poetry-knowledge’ in this way, so that we can identify ‘education’ regarding poetry with certainty?

        I wonder what sort of ‘education’ you have in mind? You seem to be stuck in a circular reasoning loop.


  5. Mabool said,

    October 2, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Pound was a member of the hardcore of clinical insane.

    is a
    member of
    the hardcore of
    the clinical

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 2, 2010 at 10:00 pm


      Read Blast. They were all nuts.


      • Mabool said,

        October 3, 2010 at 8:29 pm

        I found something about BLAST on Wiki, and was led to the following essay, related to it, though a few years prior. Manifestos and schools of thought were appropriate 100 years ago. Not now, especially not on the Internet. Just do what works. Anything at all, as long as it works.

        Lecture on Modern Poetry

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 4, 2010 at 1:58 pm


        Thank you for that essay! 1908: and it’s Pound and Eliot and Imagism and Modernism and New Criticism in a nutshell.

        Poor Hulme died in WW I, but you can see here that he really was the spirit of the new poetry, and Pound and the rest believed every word he said.

        Of course, the argument he makes in this essay is bunk.

        But he was obviously a smart man—and his essay is very convincing, as far as it goes.


      • Mabool said,

        October 4, 2010 at 8:13 pm

        His essay was exactly right, for its time. Queen Victoria had died a few years prior, it was time to move on. Kipling’s versifying was great for its day, but it was time to move on.

        The intervening century has marginalized the written word in a way that nobody could foresee in 1908. Radio, cinema, television, Facebook – these have taken over to the point where the written word has less than one percent of the total market.

        Today, if you are doing the written word, it makes little difference whether you are doing prose, poetry, fact, fiction. They are all the same. All you have to do is make the language sparkle, and of course nobody can do it.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 5, 2010 at 2:09 am


        Hulme is all “trend” and we ought to follow the “times” and we can’t have that “old” poetry, on one hand—and yet—on the other hand, he gravely intones great truths of what poetry must forever be. The moderns are all like this: they reject the timeless, they reject the essential—and yet put forth flux as timeless and essential. They are mean-spirited and illogical. It’s aesthetic criminality. Why does Hulme think image is the essence of poetry? And why does he think the old poets did not use image? He can’t possibly answer either one of these questions. His argument against ‘the big’ in favor of ‘the small’ is comical.

        Hulme’s own poetry is meagre. That’s why, even though he was the first real modernist theorist, no one reads him. One sees his poems fail in precisely the way he tells us, in his theory, it will succeed.

        Eliot was smarter than all this; Tom Eliot’s modernism is really half-to-three-quarters a rejection of Hulme and Pound and Blast, etc.


      • Mabool said,

        October 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

        I went over to Don Share’s blog which has a post related to Ezra Pound ( Tuesday, Oct 5 ). But that’s not my point. Point is, Share’s blog is getting about one comment per post these days, whereas a year ago you might find four or five comments per post. I don’t know why the change, but I think the deal is that we are all Facebook people now and we don’t comment anywhere except on Facebook.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm


        When I was banned from Harriet, I vowed to ruin Don Share. Ruin him! That’s why his blog gets no comments. It’s me. I did it.
        Ezra Pound, you say? Don Share must be reading Scarriet for his ideas. “I went to Don Share’s blog…but that’s not the point…” Exactly. I love you, man.

        Professors are discussing poetry on Facebook?? Really??


      • Mabool said,

        October 7, 2010 at 10:42 pm

        Don’t feel bad, Tom. I was kicked off Alsop’s Gazebo for writing the lifeboat poem.

        Life is but a lifeboat,
        which is sinking.
        Salvation is the helmsman
        who begins by throwing
        the weaklings

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm


        My. That poem is pure Nietzsche. Maybe even Blake.

        If Blake wrote it, it would win prizes, of course, not get him banned from anything…


    • Mabool said,

      October 11, 2010 at 11:43 am

      Tom, It’s not the lifeboat that is sinking, it’s the blogosphere. Even Google is in trouble. This idea did not originate with me. I first saw it on CE Chaffin’s blog more that a year ago, August 25, 2009. I repeated it on Harriet eight months ago.

      CE Chaffin


      “I have to wonder if Facebook participation has not only crimped my blog but many others. I’m sure the urge to such a platform began with teenage phone-texting, that telegraphic, concrete practice of the young ascending into the cyber-ether with trails of trivia in its wake. To blog, to my thinking, is to write a piece of some substance with enough room for language to do more than say, “I’m going to the store now.” “

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm


        Yes, Harriet didn’t listen.

        Even though ‘Commentary,’ Reviews, and Angry Letters to the Editor are by far the most popular sections of their print mag, “Poetry,” they killed their blog, explicitly telling us Facebook and Tweets are where it’s at now. They struck comments, preferring “I’m going to the store now.” Or: “I’m Travis Nichols, and I write boring pieces for Huffington, and I don’t have time for you now.”

        Not that I care about Harriet anymore… ‘Poetry’ is a lively little mag, when it’s sufficiently obnoxious, and not publishing those miserable contemporary sort of poems which have become a bane to the world…


      • Mabool said,

        October 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

        I don’t know what kind of troubles you had at Harriet because I didn’t get there until February, but in general there was nothing personal at Harriet or Silliman’s. Elimination of comment streams is part of the impersonal transition of the web to TV, to the boob tube. How many TV viewers are going to read a text-only comment stream?

        Your critical take on Poetry Mag is about right. Your take on Ezra Pound half right. Pound, in his written output, didn’t have the gift of gab. He lacked facility. Eliot had it. Nevertheless Pound is historical. Are we to throw out the Declaration of Independence because Thomas Jefferson was a slaver and polygamist? Pound was a kook, but he recognized ability in others and more importantly, he did something about it. He went out to Chicago and swatted Harriet Monroe of Poetry Magazine with a rolled newspaper. You can’t assume that if Pound didn’t do it, somebody else would have.

        and it was
        and fitted
        and foeoiel
        haeuyorj &

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 13, 2010 at 3:36 pm


        Most modernist poets were manics, depressives and suicides: Jarrell, Schwartz, Plath, Sexton, Berryman, Lowell—because they bought into the ‘isolation of the modern poet’ idea: Poet v. Boob Tube and Boob Tube wins.

        So, to remain sane and happy, poets today choose Boob Tube, (Post-Modern inanity, Flarf, Facebook, etc) and so, Mabool, your criticism is apt.

        But who can blame poets today for choosing Boob Tube, really? The Moderns famously rejected the Romantics, and the Romantics embraced Nature in their protest against the ‘Boob Tube’ of their day, but to the Moderns, the Romantic protest was old, been there, done that; the Modernist protest was a psychological, nuanced one which finally faded into lyric, formless inconsequence–and major depression.

        The historical poets qua historical poets are stuck in a dead-end: in a very real way, Boob Tube is their only escape back to something vaguely ‘human.’

        One could argue poet/professors in academia are happy, but even teaching has to be somewhat relevant, and if you don’t feel relevant, you’ll get depressed.


      • Mabool said,

        October 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm

        I notice that the Harriet Blog hasn’t been updated in a week or so, that is, since the day I told Don Share that the blogosphere is dead. This probably has more to do with the Foundation moving its office in Chicago than with the reordering of the web, but don’t be surprised to see the Harriet blog shut down or moved to Facebook.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm


        Blog Harriet has no voice, no personality, no conviction, no truth, no opinion, no charm, no sense of humor, no identity.

        Blog Harriet is merely cut-and paste, seemingly by robots.

        Silliman does the same thing with some pizzazz, some life, and he gives us more links.

        What’s the point of Blog Harriet?


      • Mabool said,

        October 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm

        Silliman’s blog is focused, making it perhaps better than the Harriet blog which is all over the map. Just today Silliman put up a very interesting report celebrating his 3,000,000th visitor.

        What’s the point of blog Harriet? Indeed, what is the point of blog Scarriet? If there is only one poet on the web, can you focus on that one and ignore all the others? Harriet can’t.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm


        Re: Silliman and his 3 million; we get a visitor for every three or four he gets, so Scarriet is in the ballpark, and we offer far more original work (including our comments) than Silliman; the vast majority of Silliman content is in the form of links.

        In terms of visitor per orginal work, we have Silliman beat by a mile.

        We have a novel identity, conviction, voice, personality. Scarriet is the best on the web.

        We’re also fun.


      • Noochness said,

        October 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm

        Scarrieteers are tongue-in-cheek
        And fun and au contraire;
        Dragging poetry kicking and screaming
        Into the public square.

  6. October 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    You’re stretching. Instead of arguing the point, you’re making legalistic little jabs about “what do you mean by educated.”

    If we were changing the oil on my car, “educated” would most likely refer to “have you been taught about engines?”

    But we are discussing understanding Ezra Pound. If argue “what do you mean you say educated within the context of understanding Ezra Pound,” you are either disingenuous or have never read Pound.

  7. October 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    By the way, though I often disagree with what I read here (and often in very strenuous terms), I do enjoy this blog and the conversation it provokes.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    October 4, 2010 at 10:02 am


    But can we agree whether Pound is the engine, the oil, or something that destroys the engine?


    • October 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      I think that Pound’s politics were odious, but they are also discredited and not studied. Even contemporary, right wing nutjobs don’t actually reference Pound.

      I think that Pound now only exists as the poet, who gave us some marvelous poetry, and as the teacher and promoter who tirelessly worked on behalf of some great writers (such as T.S. Eliot – who also had some disturbing political views, but they are also fading into history, while “The Wasteland” remains).

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm


        I know what you’re saying: contemporary right wing nutjobs don’t cite Pound or Eliot, so they kind of ‘escape’ the ‘right wing nutjob’ label themselves, on account of being so intellectual, and so why not enjoy the poetry and let the politics ‘fade away,’ as you say?

        I guess I’m too fastidious about literatue; I can’t let that aspect ‘fade’ even though perhaps we only taste salt; for the Na and Cl are still there; I just cannot accept that mind, motive, or poetry is pure, nor do I believe that prose, belief, or poetry can be easily separated out. I feel the attitudes, tastes, and temperament of the individual poet are not finally the result of aesthetic taste or contemporary trends alone.

        I want as complete a picture as I can get.

        But I fully understand your position.

        I would never claim that my position is the correct one—it is just one to which I am personally inclined.


      • thomasbrady said,

        October 6, 2010 at 10:04 am

        “even contemporary, right wing nutjobs don’t actually reference Pound.”

        hey, coffee! uh…they do.

        Just saw this:


  9. October 4, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    If we can’t let Pound and Eliot’s unpleasant politics and love their beautiful poetry, we’re on a dangerous path.

    Will we throw out our Beethoven records because he could be such a misogynist jerk? Will we no longer read Larkin because Andrew Motion revealed that he liked porn? Should children no longer read “Alice in Wonderland” because there was something really creepy about Carroll? Or not admire Churchill’s actions during to hold back the Nazis in WWII because he was also an unreconstructed colonial cheerleader?

    We don’t forget or excuse Pound (or Beethoven or Churchill) for their misdeeds. But we don’t let those misdeeds get in the way loving what is beautiful inside them, we just choose to love not unreservedly, but also using our critical faculties to find what was good in them.

  10. thomasbrady said,

    October 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm


    I see your concern, though I never said “throw out” Pound and Eliot, or any artist.

    If I wish to hold in my mind ‘what Pound was’ while I read Pound, I don’t think anyone should tell me what I may ‘hold in my mind’ while I read. (I know that’s not what you are doing; I know you are guarding against a possible slippery slope of censorship—understood.)

    However, do I think Pound is an overrated poet? Absolutely. Eliot I find much more valuable, though I have my issues with him, certainly. For instance, Beethoven is a 10 on a scale of 1-10 among musicians, while Pound is like a 2 on a scale of 1-10 among poets. There are thousands of poets better than Pound, and no one reads them. (The irony is that Pound is mentioned over and over as being ‘generous’ to other poets—great. He helped his friends. But this doesn’t make him a great poet.)

    Churchill was a horrible man. Don’t get me started on Churchill.

    I understand your point: if we start judging the personal lives of poets, the art of poetry will suffer.

    But I don’t think it will suffer. I have enough faith in people that the ‘truth of the poets’ will not destroy love of poetry.

    I have slightly less faith that people will not jump to conclusions about the ‘the truth’ of poets, however. Poe has been libeled as a monster, a drunk, etc etc and this HAS damaged his reputation as a POET. But the answer to this sort of thing is not to talk LESS about who the poets actually are, but MORE, so that perhaps a better picture will emerge.

    The “aesthetes” need only drop an ugly rumor, or two, and ruin the reputation of a rival—all the time professing their “pure” love of “pure” poetry.

    Let us embrace it all—the aesthetics and the personal/social history.

    We can handle it.


  11. October 6, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    The link to the Atlantic article is a nice addition to the thread, but also displays some typical muddle-headed thinking by professional liberal intellecuals of the affluent class, right off the bat, when that jack ass starts talking about “Federal Reserve” conspiracy theories. The Federal Reserve is a conspiracy hiding in plain sight–it is an unelected group of elite bankers who sell the United States Government its own currency at interest. Given that the dollar is still the global reserve currency, these unelected, secretive members of the economic elite do very much control the entire planet.

    The fact is, questioning the Federal Reserve is far from an exclusively right-wing game. Bernie Sanders, the only socialist to hold federal office in this country, has been at the vanguard of trying to audit this outrageous affront to democratic government. And I would challenge anybody to listen to Ron Paul on this issue and find any kind of a hole in his reasoning on the matter. Moreover, Andrew Jackson, viewed as the populist father of the modern democratic party, was a hero to the common man primarily for his bold move to dismantle the Federal Bank, which had been established under the influence of Alexander Hamilton, an unapolagetic elitist who wished to institute a monarchy (and a man who is enshrined with a monument to this very day on Wall Street).

    It is typical, though, of cozy-class “liberals” to continually frame attacks on the Federal Reserve as if they were simply the paranoid dellusion of John Birch Society folks. I don’t think such liberals as part of an active conspiracy, so much as being simply ignorant. To them, the American finance system has been generous. They are secure within the pyramid, if nowhere near the top, and they just can’t imagine the machine is as ruthless, bloody and tyranical as it really is for the great mass of humanity stuck on the bottom.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm


      The Federal Reserve shouldn’t get a free pass, as you say. You are absolutely right that we shouldn’t be scared off by labels.

      Hamilton was a flawed man, but, like Byron, who died fighting for Greek independence, I think Hamilton’s heart was in the right place. There was a U.S. Central Bank before the one closed down by Jackson—it was closed down by president Madison; the First Central Bank of the U.S. was signed into law by George Washington, supported by Hamilton, and opposed by Thomas Jefferson–a man who was something of a fraud, and who cared only for himself. Madison, who with Jefferson, opposed a Central Bank, later changed his mind, and wanted one. Madison came around to Hamilton’s point of view. Hamilton was murdered by the treasonous Aaron Burr, a Jeffersonian ally.

      Plus here’s the thing: there’s always going to be a need for a central banking system. Its rationale—to prevent runs on banks, panics, etc is a good one. If there’s no central bank, what’s to prevent the most powerful private banks and other entities from secretly getting together and causing havoc? It’s one thing to oppose a central bank in principle, and quite another to suspect members of the Board as bad persons.

      I’m not an economist, but that’s my take.


  12. October 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm


    I would argue that “getting together to secretly cause havoc” is exactly what the current Federal Reserve, (established in 1914?) is all about. It IS a private bank, controlled by private bankers. Because they call it a “Federal Reserve” and present a dog and pony show of the head of the Fed testifying to Congress from time to time, a charade of “public” is maintained. But it is absolutely not answerable to any democratic process at all. They can’t even seem to audit it.

    The argument that some sort of central bank needs to be in place to prevent panics and runs on the bank is legitimate. But the current Federal Reserve system is tyrany writ large. Why should US tax payers pay interest to private bankers to “buy” our own currency from them? Why should a small group of unelected, almost entirely hidden bankers have power of issuing as much or as little fiat currency as they wish? It is a corrupt system by definition. I’m not exactly opposed to a central bank in principle. I suspect the members of the current Reserve of being “bad people”–i.e. vicious elitists who are willing to let huge percentages of the world population suffer in abject misery for the sake of manipulating profits for Wall Street Banksters and other international finance gangs. But then, I have no way of knowing for sure if they are bad people because they hide behind their private club. It’s impossible to even know exactly who “they” are.

    I don’t share your blanket hatred for Jefferson, though I think the general thrust of your criticism of him is well founded. However, what on earth makes you believe Hamilton’s “heart was in the right place?” He operated as something akin to Karl Rove during the Washington Presidency. That’s a vulgar analogy–Washington was a great man in many respects, and Hamilton as well, for that matter, whereas GW Bush is a sociopathic boob and Rove a sociopathic manipulator–but it is not entirely off base, either. Hamilton tried to manipulate Adams in a similar manner and then double crossed him and undermined him when it proved impossible.

    Burr was not exactly a Jefferson ally–he tried to steal the election out from under him. And he was “treasonous” from the point of view of his political allies, who had more power than he did. Just how treasonous he truly was seems debatable to me, since he was able to spend his old age working as a lawyer in New York. I don’t consider shooting another man in a duel to be exactly the same thing as murder, unless you believe the dubious romanticism that noble Hamilton “missed on purpose.” But I admit to getting my primary information about Burr from Gore Vidal’s novel. I think Vidal’s historical novels about the U.S. are the most overlooked great literature of this century. They are meticulously researched and as entertaining as any best sellers.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 6, 2010 at 9:29 pm


      Ah, yes…Edgar Box. I saw Vidal speak at Harvard, once. He said the U.S. State Department was in control…U.S. presidents didn’t matter. Yet Vidal spent so much energy hating Reagan, almost as much as Hitchens hating Clinton.

      I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction because the drama of history is more interesting to me than any drama that might be invented and inserted into the mix…plus I’m a purist and a bit paranoid…I don’t like my history being messed with…mess around and be inventive if you will, but leave history out of it…give me the facts and I’ll supply the drama if I need to, thanks. That’s my attitude.

      Wiki quotes Gore as saying this in 1999:

      “A characteristic of our present chaos is the dramatic migration of tribes. They are on the move from east to west, from south to north. Liberal tradition requires that borders must always be open to those in search of safety or even the pursuit of happiness. But now with so many millions of people on the move, even the great-hearted are becoming edgy. Norway is large enough and empty enough to take in 40 to 50 million homeless Bengalis. If the Norwegians say that, all in all, they would rather not take them in, is this to be considered racism? I think not. It is simply self-preservation, the first law of species.”

      Gore hated Republicans, but he wasn’t necessarily a Lefty…this sounds exactly like something Winston Churchill would say…


  13. October 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I think Vidal overstates the insignificance of the President, but not by a lot. The Presidents have become figure heads for the military industrial complex, and even more so for the financial sector in recent decades. Exactly WHO is president doesn’t matter. Obama and Bush are widely different in terms of style, but in practical terms their policies have been essentially the same. Obama dodges slightly left because that is what’s required to keep the charade going right now. I’m not a conspiracy theorist–I don’t believe their are six lizard/alien families scripting reality. But very rich, powerful people, mostly entirely hidden from public view, do actively manipulate the global economy and political system in order to concentrate as much wealth and power as possible into the fewest hands. The Federal Reserve, which completely controls the flow of dollars into the international markets, is a primary mechanism for this control.

    You are right that Vidal is not exactly a lefty–his first political involvement was in college as a member of the “America First” movement aimed at keeping the nation out of World War II. I have heard him describe himself as a republican–not a member of the political party, but somehow who believes in the republic as opposed to the sprawling, blood thirsty global empire that the US has become. Vidal’s series of historical novels seems primarily intended to chronicle the historical arc the United States from burgeoning Republic to global Empire. The seeds of that were present from the start–Burr clearly hungered for Empire; Vidal doesn’t present him as a hero, so much as he muddies the sentimental view of all the Founders.

    Vidal of course also wrote those books to make money and a number of them were legitimate best sellers. I am sympathetic to your paranoia over keeping history pure. But honestly, what version of history do you really think is pure? I’m not a hardline Foucault guy, but I don’t believe there is any such thing as a pure, unbiased historical record, and I doubt you do. Vidal’s view of the current state of society is pretty close to mine, even if I don’t exactly share his view of what would be ideal (although I doubt either of us believes an “ideal” is exactly possible). I think his novels are very well researched explanations of how we got here. It’s not hard to track down the primary sources he relies on. But he does invent, obviously.

    I think the quote you’ve attached is more complicated than you are trying to make it. I would argue that it is absolutely racist to deny assylum to refugees who are culturally and ethnically different. But simply relying on traditional liberal critiques of racism are not necessarily going to advance the situation. What he’s talking about in that quote is what is going to be one of the fundamental challenges of life in the coming decades, as global warming makes more and more of the planet unfit for human life. I am hoping human consciousness is going to evolve beyond are older, hard-wired tribal mentality–whether or not that will prove possible is hard to say. I chose to be optimistic because it’s the only way I can tolerate facing another three or four decades on this planet. I think somebody Vidal’s age is more prone towards pessimism.

  14. thomasbrady said,

    October 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm


    I was thinking of how feasible it would be to take 40-50 million Bengalis and put them in Norway. 40 million would be a quarter of the population of Bangladesh and would change the population density of Norway to that of Denmark. In terms of pure numbers, very possible, though Norway’s northern sloped woodland topography is not very habitable. You’d have to crowd people into cities–which is still the way most of the world lives, and metropolitan populations have a much higher standard of living than their rural counterparts. (Look this up, and you find ‘standard of living’ comparisons between countries, or ‘cost of living’ in cities; it seems the idea of ‘higher standard of living in cities over rural living’ is not an attractive subject–not sure why.) In two generations, you’d have 40 million Bengalis speaking Norwegian. I really don’t see why the idea should be voiced in tones of foreboding and dread. To do so, as Vidal does, seems to me misguided and alarmist.


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