I am the Emperor and I Want Dumplings.

That title is a famous quote from Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria from 1835 to 1848. Ferdinand, I was not a particularly good emperor. This wasn’t his fault. Thanks to his Hapsburg ancestors’ predilection for inbreeding (his own parents were double first cousins sharing all four grandparents.) Ferdinand had inherited a number of physical and neurological issues. He was not as afflicted as the unfortunate Charles II of Spain, but Ferdinand did suffer from hydrocephalus, severe epilepsy, and a speech impediment. Ferdinand was not mentally retarded, as many in his court assumed, but his almost continuous seizures (as many as twenty pet day) made it impossible for him to attend to affairs of state or even to sire an heir.

One day, Ferdinand asked his cook to make him apricot dumplings. The cook replied that because apricots were not in season he could not possibly fulfill the Emperor’s wish. The Emperor, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, who was used to having every wish immediately gratified could not have a favorite dish because the ingredient was not available. The mighty emperor could only shout in frustration, ‘I am the Emperor and I want dumpings’.

He didn’t get his dumplings.

If you happen to be a resident in the United States of America or any other reasonably developed country and you desired apricot dumplings at any time of the year, all you need to do is go to the nearest grocery store and but apricots and the other ingredients. The store is sure to have apricots even if they are out of season at your location. Just think about that for a minute. You, an ordinary person has access to whatever treats you might want at any time of the year, regardless of what might be in or out of season. You have a better chance of having whatever cravings you might have than the most powerful people in the world only two centuries ago. You also have far better access to medical care than Emperor Ferdinand had. Any ordinary person with the sort of physical problems that afflicted Ferinand would have a fair chance of having his condition alleviated and of living a more normal life than poor Ferdinand ever could have, for all his power and wealth.

You would think that in a free country in which everyone had access to apple dumplings whenever they wanted, people would be happy, or at least content, but that is not the case. Instead, we see people protesting against the poverty and injustice they are living under. Yet, if we were to bring an ordinary worker or peasant from Ferdinand’s time to our own, he would believe that he had entered a utopia of plenty. He would be astonished that everyone had enough to eat, even too much. He certainly wouldn’t be used to seeing so many obese people. He would be mystified as Antifa protesters complained to him of the poverty and injustice they are suffering under.

America is by no means a perfect country. Our treatment of our Black citizens is surely the most egregious example of how we have failed to live up to our ideals. Is the left then correct in portraying America as a country beset with systemic, structural racism in need of a fundamental transformation, even a revolution? Well, despite every effort, Blacks are still not entirely equal to Whites, and yet, discrimination based on race has been illegal since 1964 and it has been the official policy of every level of government, along with academia and most corporations to do everything possible to uplift the African-American community. One might have doubts about the efficacy of many of the policies adopted, but there is little question that the intent is to help, not to oppress. Moreover, public opinion has swung decisively against any public expression of racism. Even a mildly racist remark is sufficient to destroy a career. Despite the Democrats’ characterization of President Trump as a racist and an open White Supremacist, the fact is that If Trump were the slightest bit racist, he wouldn’t have gotten two percent of the vote.

Our friends from nineteenth-century Austria, Emperor Ferdinand, and his humble subject would be used to life in a truly racist country. In the Austrian Empire, your ethnicity determined your entire life. German Austrians were at the top, Hungarians and some favored Slavs in the middle, most Slavs at the bottom, and the Jews even below the Slavs. Even people of the same race were not equals. The nobility expected and got deference from their inferiors. The idea that all men should be treated as equals, imperfectly realized as it is in our time, would seem unimaginable both to the Emperor and the worker.

Actually, this sort of ethnic hierarchy has been the rule in every multi-national state or empire, even our own republic until very recently. What some seem to regard as an evil unique to the United State is the norm in human history. What is not the norm is for the group on top to extend the promise of equality and aid to the formerly oppressed without the threat of a violent revolution. The United States is far from perfect on racial matters, but the progress we have made in recent decades is almost unique in human history and there is no reason to suppose that progress will continue to be made, without any need for riots or the threat of violence.

I do not want to come across as some sort of Pangloss, blithely assuming that everything is wonderful here in the United States. I know that we many problems here in the United States, yet life in twenty-first-century America is better than at any other time and place in history. We live in a remarkably successful country with a long history of dealing with its problems peacefully and without revolution. It seems to be madness for anyone to throw it all away to implement the ideology of a nineteenth-century crackpot. Maybe they don’t teach history anymore.

Intellectuals

In his Republic, Plato had Socrates arguing that in order to create an ideal city-state of perfect justice either philosophers must be kings or kings must become philosophers. In other words, the only rulers of a truly just state must be philosopher-kings. Only the philosopher has the inner vision required to rule justly.

The example of history seems to have shown that rule by philosopher-kings is more likely to be the worst and most tyrannical form of government. There have been few, if any, actual kings who have been philosophers or philosophers who have been kings, to be sure, but governments ruled by an inner vision of perfect justice have proved to be devastating in terms of human lives and freedom. The history of the twentieth century ought to have proved that beyond any doubt.

Despite the example of history and common sense, there remains a class of individuals who believe that they and they alone, possess the inner vision needed to reform or remake society into a utopia of perfect justice. These individuals have seldom possessed political power, but through their writings and thoughts have had an enormous influence on the society around them. These individuals are often referred to as intellectuals.

Paul Johnson profiles a few of these overly influential people in his book Intellectuals. As Johnson notes at the beginning, there have always been people who have held themselves as having a special capacity to determine proper behavior and beliefs and to use this capacity to enlighten their neighbors. These intellectuals, generally priests or teachers were limited by tradition or official doctrine. A preacher could try to create heaven on Earth, but his view of Heaven was determined by scripture or tradition. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the influence of religion in the West declined, and the cleric was gradually replaced by the secular intellectual.

intellectuals

These secular intellectuals were quite different from their predecessors. Rather than upholding traditional rules and authority, these new intellectuals sought to tear down the old to make way for a new world based upon their inner visions of justice and reason. It is these people that Johnson writes about. He begins with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and continues with such diverse individuals as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others. These individuals have been very different in their ideas and lives, yet there are some striking similarities, as Johnson notes. These intellectuals all believed that they should not be bound by the same rules as others. Instead, they needed complete freedom from mundane cares to work out their ideas. They professed to be great lovers of humanity, yet didn’t seem to like the people around them very much, often using their associates as tools.

Some might object that Paul Johnson spends too much time on his subjects’ scandalous private lives. One might argue that a thinker ought to be judged by the quality of his ideas rather than the sordidness of his private life. To a great extent, this is true, yet a person’s private and public life cannot really be separated that easily. The private lives of these intellectuals were either a reflection of their philosophy, in which case that life shows the real-life effects of that philosophy, or they were unable to live up to the ideals of their philosophy, which implies that perhaps no human being could live up to such ideals.

Most of the people profiled by Johnson might be considered somewhat “left wing” in their politics. This might be because of Paul Johnson’s own political prejudices, but I think that it is also likely that the sort of person who wishes to remake civilization according to his own wishes is far more likely to be drawn to progressive politics. A conservative intellectual, would perhaps, be more inclined to defend and preserve traditional institutions rather than tear them down to be remade. One exception to this rule might be the example of Ayn Rand. She was not a defender of tradition despite her defense of capitalism and she sought, through her Objectivist philosophy, to undo the past two-thousand years of “altruist” Judeo-Christian ethics, so perhaps she fits the pattern of the intellectuals better than it might appear at first glance. It is a pity that Paul Johnson did not include her with the intellectuals since the unreality of some aspects of her philosophy and her wretched treatment of most of her associated made her a better example than some of the people he did include.

I have no complaints about Intellectuals, however. It is a book that anyone who believes that the right sort of ideas or the right sort of people could usher in a perfect world would do well to read this book.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Forward!

I gather that the Obama campaign has decided on “Forward!” for their slogan. Considering that Obama’s policies are rapidly taking us to fiscal Armageddon, perhaps the Romney team should use “Back Up” for their own slogan.

And, it would seem that Forward! has a Communist Origin.

The Obama campaign apparently didn’t look backwards into history when selecting its new campaign slogan, “Forward” — a word with a long and rich association with European Marxism.

Many Communist and radical publications and entities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries had the name “Forward!” or its foreign cognates. Wikipedia has an entire section called “Forward (generic name of socialist publications).”

“The name Forward carries a special meaning in socialist political terminology. It has been frequently used as a name for socialist, communist and other left-wing newspapers and publications,” the online encyclopedia explains.

The slogan “Forward!” reflected the conviction of European Marxists and radicals that their movements reflected the march of history, which would move forward past capitalism and into socialism and communism.

The Obama campaign released its new campaign slogan Monday in a 7-minute video. The title card has simply the word “Forward” with the “O” having the familiar Obama logo from 2008. It will be played at rallies this weekend that mark the Obama re-election campaign’s official beginning.

There have been at least two radical-left publications named “Vorwaerts” (the German word for “Forward”). One was the daily newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany whose writers included Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky. It still publishes as the organ of Germany’s SDP, though that party has changed considerably since World War II. Another was the 1844 biweekly reader of the Communist League. Karl Marx, Engels and Mikhail Bakunin are among the names associated with that publication.

I guess that when your political mentors are Communists and domestic terrorists, it is only natural to use an extreme left-wing campaign slogan.