Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Ever the Twain shall we read...

I'm in the process of finishing up a book by Thomas Sowell, “Conflict of Visions,” in which this conservative fella explains the difference between those with Constrained and Unconstrained visions. Sowell claims that this division is roughly the division between Right and Left, respectively.

I'll report on that more later. One comment I have now is that Sowell quotes William Godwin, John Dewey and Justice Earl Warren as speakers for the Unconstrained/Left. One of my initial thoughts was that no one I know on the left lists these folk as role models or advocates of our positions. My question to the gent
(Koby) who suggested I read it was, “Where are the folk that I would identify as speaking for the Left, philosophically?”

"Where were Thoreau, Emerson, Wendell Berry, MLK, Mark Twain?" I asked.

To which Koby asked, “Twain? Thoreau? Emerson? Speakers for the left? How so?”

And so I offer a small sampling of what they didn't teach us in school about Mark Twain. It's a great way to start the year.

Mark Twain on capitalism

Who are the oppressors? The few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat.

...on vivisection

I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn't.... The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.

...on revolution

I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute.

...on laborers

When all the bricklayers, and all the machinists, and all the miners, and blacksmiths, and printers, and hod-carriers, and stevedores, and house-painters, and brakemen, and engineers, and conductors, and factory hands, and horse-car drivers, and all the shop-girls, and all the sewing-women, and all the telegraph operators; in a word all the myriads of toilers in whom is slumbering the reality of that thing which you call Power ... when these rise, call the vast spectacle by any deluding name that will please your ear, but the fact remains a Nation has risen.

...on the US

But it was impossible to save the Great Republic. She was rotten to the heart. Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home; multitudes who had applauded the crushing of other people's liberties, lived to suffer for their mistake in their own persons. The government was irrevocably in the hands of the prodigiously rich and their hangers-on; the suffrage was become a mere machine, which they used as they chose. There was no principle but commercialism, no patriotism but of the pocket.

I could go on and on. Twain is one of our great writers, which everyone knows. But he was also one of our great philosophers, seems to me. A fact that I think has gotten lost (or hidden?).


Eleutheros said...

Twain being a model for liberalism is a stretch, much like holding up the Bible as source of liberalism. The examples would be numerous but I can cite one from your own quotes where Twain refers to the ills caused by the 'soft-handed and idle'. Capitalism is mentioned in passing and during Twain's time socialism and communism had not yet reared their ugly heads to any extent. And yet it is socialism that has produced far, far more soft-handed and idle than capitalism ever has.

What would Twain have written about the modern clergy, social worker, professional hand-wringing do gooder? No doubt he'd have identified them as our own collection of soft-handed idle who eat bread from someone else's labor.

Twain also said:
"Man is kind enough when he is not excited by religion."

Dan Trabue said...

Twain was his own person and I hesitate to say what he would or wouldn't do today. He is, though, someone whose words those on the progressive left find inspiring and educational.

I suspect he'd give a good number of social workers and clergy a hard way to go, but clearly when Twain was talking about the "soft-handed" at least in this quote above, he is talking about the wealthy profiteering off the workers.

And I suspect that Twain would find W just as troubling a threat to democracy as ever existed. Can't prove it, of course. It's just an educated guess based upon his writings.

Dan Trabue said...

And perhaps I ought to clarify my position on liberalism a bit. I don't necessarily consider myself a liberal. I acknowledge that liberal is how I would be identified by many on the right, given some of my positions. Just as some would look at my relatively clean-cut life, regular church attendance and suspect that I'm a conservative.

As I've said before, I identify with/support many, perhaps most, so-called conservative philosophical points. I also identify with/support many, perhaps most liberal philosophical points.

We are all opposed to war, we all want peace, we all want the "truly needy" to get the best help possible, we all want safe homes and most of us want safe homes for our neighbors around the world.

These are both liberal and conservative ideals. I'm convinced that the difference between the two is less philosophic and more in the practical application. Talk to me about policies and I'll tell you my position.

I may have conservative or liberal reasons (or both) for my support of a policy, but the differences between us arise in the design and application of these policies moreso than philosophy.

It is my argument that people such as W are neither Left nor Right but instead representing a corporate interest that is a separate thing altogether.

For what it's worth.

Eleutheros said...

W is indeed not conservative or liberal and is better defined as 'fascist' in that his political MO uses the power of government to favor certain businesses. Howerver this also fit Clinton as well. In my review of things, it started in earnest with Bush I and has continued unabated. Neither Reagan nor Carter were quite so eaten up with it and might be charaterized as genuinely conservative and liberal respectively.

In your list of things the right wants, abortion is no one's business but the people involved and the whole Gay marriage thing is a red herring, it is as genuine as the creationist trying to disguise their true agenda by calling it 'intelligent design'. Those on the right will have to please themselves on those issues. But as to welfare ... the right could easily say that they are following Jesus' teaching and the 'progressives' are not. Welfare is harming and debilitating and has a dismal track record. It is a case of certain people perpetuating an institution which gives them a job and makes them (falsely) feel good about themselves at a cost of ruining the lives of millions of people.

There are many stories in our mythos about two groups who are nearly identical and yet when you dress them in different color shirts (for example) they vilify and demean each other as the lowest of humanity based on cosmetic differences. That's the utter right winger and the progressive. The right winger holds that it is HE who is taking care of the poor while you (as a progressive) are exploiting them. After all, if it weren't for his corporation and job, the poor would have nothing! He uses the same parlance and literary devices as you do to make himself out to be savior while you are the Devil.

I belive it was Pat Buchannan I heard recently say that the right wing and left wing were simpy the two wings of the same bird of prey. I reckon that's about right.

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

01 05 06

Good post. I think I will highlight this one for my next one:)

Dan Trabue said...

Welcome to Payne Hollow, Mahndisa. Y'all come back now, y'hear?