I reworked and republished one of my classic essays over at the American Sun. It deals with the intersection between good art and good government: good imagery.
I reworked and republished one of my classic essays over at the American Sun. It deals with the intersection between good art and good government: good imagery.
The pernicious influence of puritanism: left, right, and secular. Check out my latest piece over at the American Sun.
Tanzania is a moderately sized nation on the east coast of Africa. It lies south of Kenya, north of Mozambique. A postcard of the country would no doubt display a glossy photograph that embodied every picturesque impression an American might have of East Africa: vast, tropical savannas populated by zebras and giraffes, Mt. Kilimanjaro standing in bluish-relief, a ring of ice around its peak. As far as geographical beauty is concerned, the nation is pure Africana.
The problem is that many other stereotypes about Africa apply to Tanzania, too. Most Westerners have seen images of little black babies starving on television; squalid shacks, corrupt bureaucrats, crumbling roads – Tanzania is no different in this respect. About one in three Tanzanians is malnourished. Roughly half the country lives under two US dollars per day.
The situation would be considerably worse if it were not for the foreigners who keep the nation propped up with charity. According to Wikipedia, outside donors provide 88% of the funding for Tanzanian water sanitization which is still among the worst water services in the world. The UN’s World Food Programme, the USA’s Feed the Future programs, and UNICEF are all involved in sending generous packages of food to the nation: empty carbohydrates, canned soups, and artery clogging vegetable oils that keep Americans so grumpy and blubbery. The key to making the nation better, the experts say, is to get the Tanzanian calorie count up to snuff.
It is the same conundrum that haunts every nation south of the Sahara: Africa needs aid more than any other region on earth, and yet, no matter how much charity is doled out, no matter how much material tonnage is distributed, Africa’s condition never improves in proportion to the aid given. By any metric, giving things to Africa is a bum deal.
This notion might seem odd to those raised in the West’s progressive-liberal zeitgeist. One can hear the Starbucks crowd ask in their snarky, nasally voices, “How can you expect a return on investment with charity?”
I would argue that a man should make sterner demands of his charity than his other investments. If charity is to be effective, if it is to make a lasting impact, it has to be as sharp as a Wall Street suit. If the charity isn’t effective, then a man might as well take that sum of money in coins and chuck it all into a fountain for good luck. Other investments might pay off in roundabout ways. Charity, without a little common sense to support it, is just an extravagant waste.
With this in mind, the rest of humanity needs to place Africa under a very strong convex lens. For years, we have given food to Africa, yet Africa starves; we have built the Africans electrical power generators, yet they can’t keep the bulbs burning; we send them condoms to stunt the spread of AIDS, and they might as well be blowing balloons with them; we send them doctors and they stone them. Ultimately, one must ask whether the results of a charitable act fall in line with one’s intentions. In fact, it seems that some intellectuals are already asking themselves this question and starting to have doubts about Africa – but more on that later.
Enter the Father
Tanzanians call a man named Julius Nyerere the “father of the nation” with no sense of irony whatsoever. In order to have a nation, I would argue that one must have more than a flag and an anthem – high schools have these things – one must also have a functioning government that is capable of doing more than begging outside nations for aid. Nevertheless, I’ll set aside these qualms I have about Tanzania’s competence and acknowledge that the people who live there consider Nyerere to be a foundational figure.
Nyerere was a short, boney man, with a bookish face and a mustache that went out of style in Europe after 1945 due to its strong association with Hitler. He preferred a plain suit without a collar. It was often of a single color and buttoned down the center with one broad pocket positioned on the left breast. Some observers have compared it to the kind of suits that Mao Zedong liked to wear. Although Nyerere loathed the comparison, his clothes do look curiously like Mao’s, and the comparison is apt for another reason. Nyerere, like Mao, considered himself to be a “scientific socialist.”
Like most socialists who consider their opinions to be synonymous with truth, Nyerere enacted policies, all ambitious and well-intentioned, that amounted to nothing. He tried to achieve self-sufficiency in Tanzanian agriculture by creating ujamaa, collectivized farming villages named after his socialist philosophy, and like farming collectives all over the world, the peasants had to be forced into them at gunpoint, and then agricultural production only decreased. One might reasonably ask how a nation that already had such paltry agricultural output could produce even less. But through socialism, a way was found. By 1979, these ujamaa contained ninety percent of the rural population and yet produced a measly five percent of the nation’s agriculture.
Nyerere nationalized Tanzania’s banks, insurance companies, import and export agencies, and the government became the majority shareholder in many of the nation’s most essential corporations. Religious schools, mostly Catholic, were seized and made non-denominational despite Nyerere having been baptized a Catholic in his youth. The much maligned British, derided as wicked imperialists by black separatists, had not been as oppressive as Nyerere and his cadre of meddlesome social scientists.
To his credit, unlike other socialist dictators, Nyerere did not often murder his political opponents – he preferred to imprison them without a trial. I write this, of course, with some degree of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm but it is a modest achievement on Nyerere’s part. It must have been tempting to execute his most stubborn opponents when he had the power to do so. Very few men with that kind of power are able to resist the temptation; perhaps he was at heart still a Catholic; perhaps he was just naturally timid. He encouraged democracy, but of course, it could only be achieved through his single-party state. He supported freedom of speech when he was on the soapbox, but of course, the most outspoken dissenters found themselves knocked off their own soapboxes and shoved into prison cells for being a “threat to national security.”
Nyerere is everything one might expect of a Serengeti statesman: a self-effacing fop who loved to show off his unadorned suit; an African autocrat who praised freedom as he crushed critics under his knuckles; a promoter of self-sufficiency who left his nation in a state of abject dependence on foreign cash. He was a man of great flaws and contradictions, of strange loves and petty squabbles. He was, in short, a man like any other. Nyerere’s failures resemble what I expect would be the same failures of an everyday American or Englishman if he were given dictatorial powers; it is the failure of lofty intentions meeting violently with incompetence.
Like other African strongmen, Nyerere seemed poised for a well-deserved place in the dusty books of obscure and uninteresting history; another disappointing tyrant from a disappointing continent. That is, if the absurdity of modern politics had not intervened.
In May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI parted his white-gloved hands, cleared his hoarse but exalted throat, and with the wisdom of nineteen-hundred years of tradition, proclaimed Nyerere to be a “Servant of God.”
This unassuming title carries with it more significance in the Catholic tradition than one might expect. It signifies that the Catholic in question is being considered for recognition as a saint. It is the first step in a four-part process that leads to canonization. It signifies that Nyerere lived according to Christian virtues like faith, hope, and charity. Although being a “Servant of God” does not yet mean that Nyerere’s spectral presence should be accompanied by the sound of harps or that an angelic radiance emanates from around his bulbous black head, it is nonetheless more than Nyerere deserves. Any holy title seems too much for a man who has accomplished so little. Does charity in the Catholic Church now include receiving charity as much as giving it? Is it a miracle to make millions of Tanzanian tax dollars vanish? And what about all those Catholic schools that Nyerere’s government seized? Maybe the Catholic Church should consider the Suleiman I or Attila the Hun for sainthood next.
But Popes and cardinals alone cannot be blamed for such absurdities. Politicos have been lavishing Nyerere with praise for many decades. Nyerere has received the UN’s Nansen Refugee Award, the Lenin Peace Prize (the irony of this prize is perhaps more fitting for one like Nyerere), the Joliot-Curie Medal of Peace, the International Simon Bolivar Prize, the Gandhi Peace Prize. Nyerere assembled a shelf full of second or third-rate prizes like these. Academia kissed his feet, too. He received twenty-three honorary degrees from universities around the world. Let’s not forget the journalists. The New York Times, NPR, and Time Magazine all published adoring pieces.
By any standard not warped by political dogma, Nyerere did very little to merit recognition. One success that is often discreetly overlooked is that he led Tanzania to victory in a war against Uganda; and while this is a genuine accomplishment, perhaps Nyerere’s only true accomplishment, it hardly seems fitting for a man who had received so many peace prizes. He also orchestrated a successful coup in the Seychelles, which yet again makes his peace prizes seem farcical.
If one were to place Julius Nyerere’s life under a critical lens, it becomes plain to see that the same disappointments and catatonic expectations that mar all of Sub-Saharan Africa also apply to him. Just as the majority of the continent is dependent on Western aid, so is the career of Julius Nyerere dependent on the white man’s self-deception; he looks to a critical observer like a cardboard cutout, smiling stiffly and artificially, propped against a university gate or the window of an international aid organization loosely tied to Marxist causes. He seems more like a marketing ploy than a man. Nyerere’s career is the very definition of contrivance. Western intelligentsia were so desperate for an African poster boy that they were willing to manufacture one whole-cloth by taking a backwater mediocrity like Julius Nyerere and attempting, quite literally, to turn him into a saint.
The Big Conundrum
This is not the first time such things have happened. Nelson Mandela is another African with a checkered career that the intelligentsia praise to hagiographic excess. The question as to why the intellectuals are so desperate to beat an African hero out of the proverbial bush is not hard to answer. They need one, desperately. The whole structure of leftist philosophy is built around the idea of human equality: that people are fundamentally equal and that the institutions of this earth are what prevent this equality from being realized. If there is a disparity in one group of people over another, then according to the logic of the progressive left, this difference is attributable to racism, classism, sexism, or some other institutional phantasm haunting the halls of power. The problem, however, is that the nations of Africa have received so much help from nations that are considerably richer and more powerful, that this idea is becoming difficult to defend.
This is not to imply that Africa and its realities alone will be enough to put an end to leftist egalitarianism. I suspect such thinking will always exist. There will always be naïve people in this world as well as those who refuse to believe what is true out of a pigheaded resistance to the obvious. After all, there are still some people who think the earth is flat. But the intellectuals, the ones who are not dogmatic or naïve, are the ones starting to have doubts, even if just on a subconscious level. They need an African hero because they desperately need to justify their beliefs to themselves.
The alternative would be for them to admit that helping nations south of the Sahara is a waste of time not due to any trick of the weather, soil condition, colonial grievance, or lack of substantive investment, but because of the Africans themselves. And for a leftist, this is an unthinkable conclusion. Men must be made equal or the whole edifice of leftist thought comes crashing down.
This is why the intelligentsia have given us Julius Nyerere: an affirmative-action hero from an affirmative-action continent; a man who glows from head to toe with the holy radiance of inability.
 Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair. 2006.
 Smith, William Edgett. Nyerere of Tanzania. 1973.
February is coming to an end. The snow is vanishing. The mercury has risen ever so slightly higher in anticipation of March. In case you didn’t know, somebody, somewhere decided that February should be a month dedicated to black history. Even more surprisingly, somebody else decided that this would be a good idea and stamped their seal of approval on the proposition. No, this is not a month dedicated to the color black. We might fill several thousand pages on the merits of that often under-appreciated color. This month is dedicated to those of African heritage: a people whose merits are considerably fewer than the illustrious color they are named after. In keeping with the spirit of the times, let’s take a moment, then, to commemorate two black men, two proud men of African heritage. These men, more than any other black men in America, have shaped the media narrative of 2019 like a slab of wet, pliant clay.
The first proud black man I present is Gary Martin. This name is innocuous at first blush. It’s generic. It’s unpretentious. This name is so unremarkable that you can glean practically no information from it: it’s neither a white name nor a black one, it’s neither high class nor low class. It’s like one of those names that celebrities use when they want to travel incognito. If I were to mention the name to someone without also mentioning the words “Aurora” or “Aurora shooter” that person would have no clue who I was talking about. The media is, of course, highly grateful for the generic nature of this name because they would like for this name to be forgotten, like a name written into the sands of the Sahara; words one moment, sand dust the next.
Gary Martin, proud black man, went to work earlier this month at the Henry Pratt manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois. This day was not just any humdrum day at the factory. Martin brought a gun with him and shot five employees dead. He went on to injure five police officers before biting the bullet himself. The media released sporadic coverage of the shooting on the day of the incident, but there was a noticeable cooling of the fires as that very generic name, Gary Martin, turned out not to be a generic white man with a potbelly and a NASCAR hat, but was actually a black man. The fires were stamped out completely when one very pressing piece of information was brought to light: as it turns out, all five employees that Martin murdered were white. The cable was cut. Total radio silence.
Remember when Dylann Roof went into a black church in Charleston and started firing a Glock 41? Sure you do, it was headline news for weeks. For years, the media milked the arraignment and trial like a blubbery, hormone injected cow to suck every last drop of racial outrage out of the shooting. Martin and Roof both committed mass murder. Their casualty counts both stand at ten. Both men shot members of a race other than their own. But while Roof remains a household name years after the shooting, Gary Martin is carried off quietly and locked away in dusty box marked “historical obscurities.”
The second man worth mentioning is one who will not be shoved into a dusty corner so quietly. Jussie Smollett, proud black man, and also a D-list celebrity who is openly gay, claimed that he was accosted by two white men wearing MAGA hats. In downtown Chicago. At three in the morning. In sub-zero temperatures. And he fought them off, two against one, with his dainty, gay wrists. While being on the phone with his manager at the same time. And the men managed to slip a noose around his neck in the scuffle. To most rational people, this story sounds fatuous and airy. It sounds like a balloon full of farts. The media believed it unquestioningly. Good Morning America brought Smollett on air to lecture everyday Americans about the state of race relations in America. GQ ran an article entitled, “The Racist Homophobic Attack on Jussie Smollett is Far-Right America’s Endgame.” Corey Booker, proud black man with a little cream somewhere in his coffee, tweeted that it was a “modern-day lynching.”
As it turns out, the “attackers” were two Nigerian bodybuilders whom Smollett had paid a few thousand dollars to carry out the “attack.” They were caught on camera, faces clearly visible to the lens, buying ski masks, bandanas, sunglasses, and red hats. As they say, you get what you pay for. When you pay for third world hoaxers, you get a third world hoax.
Not coincidentally, the New York Times, in 2017, mentioned Emmett Till’s name in 72 articles that year. An estimated 92 times in 2018. If you want to read about this 1955 murder of a black man by two white men, I would recommend a quick perusal over at Wikipedia. I mention the case during black history month for a specific purpose: I mention it because I expect, with Nostradamus-like pomposity, to read more about it in the future. This is my prediction without the quatrains. This is one prognostication for which I need no sheep livers or goat bladders.
Steve Sailer calls it the “Emmett Till Effect.” I prefer, instead, to call it the “Holocaust Effect.” Just as how the Jews are able to deflect criticism and cow their critics with shame using a mere mention of the Holocaust, the media is helping blacks use the same tactic with Jim Crow and Emmett Till. It’s a familiar position for the media: most of the media is Jewish, after all. The tactic has worked so well for the Cohens and Kagans of America that they have decided to gift this atomic weaponry to others much like how Julius and Ethel gifted America’s atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.
So, as we round out black history month, do remember the contributions our African American compatriots have made so far in 2019. As black crime becomes more apparent in dystopian America, as blacks gun down whites at work and as blacks carry out boneheaded hate hoaxes with the kind of wafer-thin foresight produced by an IQ score one whole standard deviation below that of whites, the names Martin and Smollett will recede into the dim and dusty corners of our collective memory. One name that will stand out, however, in buzzing red and blue neon, flashed with epileptic regularity, will be the name of that proud black man, Emmett Till.
History is not always kind. In fact, it often isn’t. There is no era that can claim to be unique in this regard; suffering is as old as life itself, and suffering on a large scale is just one aspect of civilized life. It is hardly any different than traffic jams and polluted waterways: just as man finds ways to make his life more comfortable, he will also find ways to kill his fellow man more efficiently. It’s one of the laws of life that as technology progresses, man’s ability to inflict suffering on his enemies progresses along with it. Rome apocryphally salted the fields of Carthage and the Mongols showed the Muslims of Baghdad a thing or two about how to inflict mass terror. I’m not reveling in this kind of cruelty, I’m not encouraging it, I’m simply acknowledging that it exists and, human nature being very nearly immutable, I’m admitting that it is sure to happen again.
With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the topic of the day, the 27th of January, the “International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
It’s a curiously named holiday. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue nor does it conjure up any warm, familiar tropes like a bearded man in a floppy hat or a basketful of brightly painted eggs. The holiday, if we can even call it that, did not arise organically like true holidays should — it was imposed.
This fact can be easily proven by just examining the world “remembrance” in more detail. When the Hutus swung their machetes into the heads of the Tutsis, I highly doubt any of them paused for a moment to remember Elie Wiesel. The Khmer Rouge did not hold hands around a menorah before strangling reactionaries out in the rice fields. I, however, as a little American boy in a state that has fewer Jews than Croatians had to learn about yarmulkes and dreidels and Passover in school. Human nature is not going to be fundamentally changed by this “remembrance,” so we have to ask ourselves what is being changed by it.
The answer does not require too much reflection. It only requires a little bit of intellectual honesty. Genocides are still happening, so clearly that has not been changed by this grand act of “remembrance.” What has changed, however, is the way that Western civilization deals with uncomfortable questions about the presence of Jews in the West. There was a time when asking why there are so many Cohens and Goldbergs at Harvard would not have raised too many brows. It is a logical question, after all.
But how times have changed! Today this simple question will get you called many different words, none of them good, by many different people and no matter how many thousands of words these people hurl and shout at you, none of them will actually address the question itself. Perhaps, then, this is the effect of our society’s “remembrance” — silence. It is the deafening silence of a man with his fingers plugged firmly in his own ears.
The word “Holocaust” is in itself a rather poetic exaggeration on the part of those who coined the term. It comes from the Greek holokaustos, a noun that denotes animal sacrifice by means of a total consumption by fire. It is this notion of a total consumption, a searing inferno, that lends such terror and finality to the word. It’s a questionable choice given what the standard Holocaust narrative asks us to believe, namely that the Nazis sent millions of Jews to death camps and then gassed them en masse. There was an attempt, of course, to fit fire into the narrative in the form of crematory ovens, but it feels mostly like an afterthought, as if it were tacked on at the end of the story because it had to be.
I don’t care to dwell too much on the questions raised by the standard Holocaust narrative. Let’s not think too much about how those ovens could not possibly dispose of as many bodies as the narrative claims. Let’s not dredge through the many revisions and amendments made to the official narrative’s death count. If you think it’s still six million, you might want to brush up on the literature. There are plenty of resources available on this subject for inquiring minds. I prefer, instead, to focus on this act of “remembrance.”
Let’s remember, then, a much less ambiguous mass murder that has no international days of mourning dedicated to it. The Holodomor, which sounds rather similar to the word Holocaust, is not nearly as exaggerated as its Jewish counterpart. It’s a Ukrainian word, derived from a Ukrainian phrase that means, “to kill by starvation.” It is, in short, an accurate description of the events that took place in 1933 along the Dnieper river basin. Forced collectivization on the peasantry coupled with Red Army requisitioning of food for export led to millions of people starving. Soviet incompetence in this regard led to the deaths of millions of people throughout the Soviet Union, but Ukraine was hit especially hard.
This was by design. The Ukrainians were not given grain shipments for famine relief like other regions of the Soviet Union, nor were they allowed to receive outside food shipments, nor were they even allowed to purchase food from other regions of the Soviet Union. They were forced to stay and starve.
One curiously unmentioned aspect of this genocide is that it was masterminded by one of Stalin’s most decorated henchmen, a Jew named Lazar Kaganovich. The UN’s modest death toll estimates the Holodomor to have taken 7 to 10 million lives. The irony here is that a Jew killed more Ukrainians than there were Jews killed in the Holocaust, and yet on the 27th of January the entire world, Ukraine included, is supposed to commemorate that ever-decreasing number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.
We can thank the United Nations for such an absurdity. And the Holocaust industry, too. If you are, by chance, Ukrainian, Armenian, Polish, Kurdish or Cambodian, if you are the survivor of a genocide or the descendant of a survivor, please be sure to mark your calendars: January 27th is reserved for the Holocaust. Your suffering is no doubt acknowledged and mourned by the UN, but that suffering certainly does not deserve its own dedicated day. You have to be Jewish to be granted such a privilege. This “remembrance,” then, is really just a signifier, a marker of some greater principle at work. Exactly what is being signified here is does not require too much reflection.
It only requires a little bit of intellectual honesty.
Last weekend, to distract myself from writing, I decided to watch a livestream broadcast. In the end, what I chose to watch was not just any livestream; it was not your typical self-help video, game walkthrough, or how-to guide for some inane thing like putting on sunscreen or building a birdhouse. What I settled on was a little harder-edged than all that, a little manlier, something that might make my facial hair grow a few fractions of a millimeter thicker — I decided to watch a yellow vest protest.
I had read the favorable reports online. I had seen the images on Gab that assured me these yellow vests were middle-class men and women who were fed up with unchecked immigration and were protesting against their national dispossession. The more libertarian inclined observers claimed that the yellow vests were protesting high taxes. The mainstream media and Marxists incorporated have assured all of America that this is a protest over a hike in fuel prices; or maybe a hike in fuel taxes; or maybe a fight over a reduction in pension payouts. The Marxists haven’t quite gotten their story straight yet.
The most remarkable thing about these theories is how every one of them is almost certainly wrong. I’m skeptical by nature, but even if you aren’t as inherently skeptical as me, if you know nearly anything about the French, then you know these theories have to be bogus.
The French don’t care enough about their fellow man to protest mass immigration; they love their country passionately, but they don’t love their fellow countrymen very much. If you think the French are protesting high taxes, then you’re especially deluded. The French love taxes. They love state intervention. They love boards, committees, collectives, and all the inefficiencies that accompany them. What the French dislike, however, is having their particular class or industry taxed. They do not as a whole feel any ideological sympathy with low taxes and limited government in general. That’s Anglo-Saxon government. French governments stick their fingers into everyone’s business and that’s the way the French like it; provided, of course, that it’s always someone else’s business and not their own. They love to protest, but it’s not to stop taxation, it’s to transfer taxation like a bad cold onto some other group. This inevitably leads to a situation where the rich are taxed much more than everyone else and so they flee to foreign shores that are more tax friendly. There are more French in London these days than Paris. I exaggerate, of course, but it’s not far off the mark.
After doing a bit of research, it seems that my initial doubts were justified. The protests are not being organized by a single organization. They’re not being urged on by one charismatic leader. This means that it is nearly impossible to find a consistent set of ideals that the protestors universally share, but there is one point that seems to stick in the gullets of all the protestors: they want to keep the wealth tax, the impôt sur la fortune, that their president, Emmanuel Macron, had reduced by 70%.
Like any sensible former banker, Macron cut the nation’s corporate tax and rolled back taxes on total wealth in order to generate some investment in the nation and to tempt some of its rich citizens into returning home from their foreign tax havens. It worked. Macron also reduced public welfare spending to make up for these tax reductions. His entire budget was formed around the idea that, in his words, was to “celebrate those who succeeded.” It was, in short, a very right-wing budget plan. He cut welfare spending and tried to revitalize the economy through private investment.
The protestors don’t seem to care that France’s wealth tax did not seem to raise much revenue. It doesn’t matter to them that the wealthy had all fled or cleverly hidden their gains. The French have grown accustomed to being miserable and to cope with their misery they have decided that everyone in France, rich or poor, old or young, must be miserable, too. For the French, being wealthy is worse than a crime, it’s a success. And you can’t be miserable if you’re successful. This is why the wealth tax is so important to the French, it’s a symbolic middle-finger extended in the direction of those who have the audacity to succeed in their miserable nation. Since 1789, the average Frenchman is either a Jacobin in hiding or a Jacobin in the streets, but make no mistake, he is always a Jacobin.
All of this was immediately apparent when I began watching the livestream. The protestors were, by and large, feckless twenty-somethings. They milled around beside a bridge guarded by riot police and blared loud techno music and threw bottles and rocks from time to time at the officers. The protestors set a wheelbarrow on fire. Then it was a boat they had set fire to. There were several North Africans running around. There was a black man and an old woman holding up a banner together in front of the police, which said something vague about liberty and Macron being a puppet of the rich. When they decided to depart, the black man kissed the woman’s cheeks a few times in French fashion, and they ran away in different directions as the police started to fire tear gas into the crowd.
There was nothing middle-class about any of what I saw. Hardly anyone there looked old enough to have worked for very long, if at all, and there were plenty of immigrants there agitating, no doubt, for their slice of the redistributionist pie. If I were a website that published right-wing news, I’d veer far away from stories romanticizing the gilet jaunes. This is not a new France in the making, nor is this a middle-class revolution, nor a cry against immigrant abuse. This is more like a gathering of sharks that smell blood in the water; there’s free food and they want some of it. It’s sad but from what I can tell of the yellow vests, these are just surly Jacobins doing what surly Jacobins do.
(Note: This article was originally published at Thermidor magazine, but it has gone inactive since then. I have decided to republish the work here.)
I have been told that Oscar Wilde was a clever man. In books of quotations I have found hundreds of quotes attributed to Wilde on a variety of topics, and some of them do indeed strike me as being quite clever. They have a certain wit and porcelain white charm that makes them excellent for impressing people when spoken at the right time and the right place. If your prime ambition in life were to delight your friends at dinner parties, I suspect that the only quotes you would ever need on the tip of your tongue would be Wilde’s.
But, fortunately for us all, life is not a hoity-toity tea party. Those great things that drive the engine of civilization, things ranging from electrical engineering to consumer spending models, are considerably more complex than a few punchy one-liners could do justice to. It seems that Oscar Wilde suffered from that very common and very human ailment of not knowing one’s limits. As long as his specialty remained dinner party banter or elegant prose, Wilde was firmly in his element; this was where his genius was able to soar with outstretched wings. The problem, however, comes from Wilde’s fumbling with politics.
I am referring to one 1891 essay in particular, the curiously titled, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” To Wilde’s credit, even if one disagrees with practically every point he makes, the essay is still an enjoyable read. Wilde, much like George Orwell, was one of those men who had such independence of thought that even if one despises his conclusions, one might still find his reasons intriguing. It is for this purpose alone that the essay, despite its flaws, is still worth reading on a rainy afternoon with not much else to do.
Let us begin by analyzing the most commendable bits of this essay. That is to say, let us start where Wilde himself would most likely want us to start: by displaying the finest China in his collection.
The things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public opinion is of no value whatsoever.
Public opinion whirls like a pinwheel. It is favorable one day and the very next day it might be scathing. A deed, however, remains forever the same deed as the day it was done. And if we consider a man to be the sum of his actions, then we can say just as confidently, a man is what he is. On the worthlessness of public opinion, Wilde was spot on.
High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
Any red-blooded reactionary can agree to this. Democracy means that a feckless mob can set aside its clubs and torches and use its votes to bludgeon people into obeying the herd. In this respect, democracy is superior to anarchy, but only slightly.
In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.
The press is awful today and there is no reason for us to assume that the press would have been any less awful in 1891. What the rack can do to a man’s joints the press can do to a man’s reputation through lies, fallacies, exaggerations, and cherry-picked truths.
A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.
This is a truism but it is well-phrased and well-intended; overall, an excellent dinner party quote.
Now that we have looked at the best that this essay has to offer, let’s roll up our sleeves and begin a slow dissection of the nitty-gritty details. It is time to deal with the worst.
Wilde makes it abundantly clear from the beginning that he despises private property. He says that private property is comparable to slavery in that the solution to poverty is not to be more charitable to the poor any more than it is to be more charitable to one’s slaves. The solution to poverty is a thorough detonation of the institution that, according to Wilde, caused the poverty in the first place. Private property must go.
It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.
Wilde goes on to make the case for socialism as a kind of quinine pill against the evil infection that is poverty. There will be no more beggars hunched in dark alleys, no more barefoot children with holes in their trousers, no more stinking, choleric slums. Most importantly socialism will not only strike a death blow to poverty but it will also lead to the birth of a never-before-seen Individualism. This is individualism that is so grand, so original that Wilde saw fit to give it a towering capital I. We have reached levels of individualism that even Yoko Ono cannot reach.
Property, Wilde tells us, is really just a nuisance. It requires work and work is degrading and an incredible bore. It is amusing, of course, to read an essay by a flamboyant socialite who came from monied parents and was educated at Oxford telling his audience what a nuisance property is. But back to our summary.
It is from this terrible nuisance that mankind has grown into a disobedient creature, and that is, in fact, our greatest virtue, since disobedience is a natural response to the oppressive reality of private property. Wilde writes, “Disobedience, in the eyes of any one who has read history, is man’s original virtue.” The agitator is, therefore, a kind of virtuous gadfly who buzzes angrily in the hair of society to remind it of its sins.
Wilde assures us the Individualism that has been lying dormant in man, building up pressure like constipation in a man’s bloated gut, will come spewing out thanks to the glorious laxative of socialism. We will see things in our soul that we never imagined before. Private property has obscured Individualism by making one-half of the world’s population underfed and the other half overworked. The true personality of man would astound us all, it would grow “naturally and simply, flower-like, or as a tree grows.”
Wilde then goes on to draw connections between his notions of socialism and Individualism with the teachings of Christ. The poor are praised because Christ understood that only among the poor has Individualism reached fulfillment. Christ had urged his followers to give up their cloaks, their cares for the future, and their pride. All of this was so that they would not be burdened with property and so their true Individuality would never be compromised.
I cannot help but interrupt here to say that it is easy to give this kind of advice when you have a closet full of feathered scarves and woolen coats, like Wilde did, and it is no trouble at all to give one or two to the poor when the mood strikes you or on the rare occasion that you get mugged. But I digress.
Jesus, at least in the eyes of Wilde, also renounced family life in much the same way as socialism encourages us to renounce it. Christ shrugged off his obligations to find a wife, to have children, to even bury his father formally which led to his uttering of those famous words, “Let the dead bury the dead.” It was all for the purity of his individual personality. It is in this existential realm that Christ intersects with great men like Wagner and Shelley, who we are told, are saintly for their non-conformity and unshakeable Individuality.
What, then, is the state to do if both Christ and Marx have declared private property to be void? The individual is to “make what is beautiful” while the state is to “make what is useful.” Wilde imagines the state not as a code of law and its enforcers, but as a labor board, which through voluntary associations alone will organize workers and produce what needs to be produced. The harshest, most brutal labor is to be done by machines. This might put some men out of work until they can find alternative jobs that strike their fancy, but they need not fear, because under socialism a man will still be provided for even if he does not work. Why any man would work under such conditions is another matter, and it is one that Wilde does not bother addressing.
Once machines have taken over the worst jobs, man can set about fulfilling his purpose in life: to make beautiful things. Wilde then goes on a long, meandering analysis of art and its relation to public opinion. As you might imagine, Wilde sees public opinion as art’s most daunting hurdle; it seeks to trample the kind of Individualism that Wilde cherishes. It deforms art into a pitiful imitation of the whims and opinions of the herd. Art will overflow like the fertile banks of the Nile once private property is abolished because, we are told, art will then be freed from the evils of public opinion.
In this respect, public opinion is considered to be a form of authoritarianism, and according to Wilde, all original thought is ruined by authority. Just how the abolition of private property is supposed to prevent the public from forming opinions, and then sharing it with one another, goes unexplained.
The essay proceeds to link different artistic mediums such as theater, literature, and the decorative arts to the tyrannizing influence of authority. The prince, the pope, and people are all tyrants and, according to Wilde, the art that is born from their authority can never be very good. The essay concedes that especially in the case of princes and popes, good art has sometimes been made, but we are told that it was only from men who were wholly bad at being princes or popes. This is, of course, not very convincing when one realizes just how much fine art, perhaps the majority of the world’s fine art, came from the meddling of princes and popes. But Wilde must have his soapbox.
In fact, let’s cut the summary short. We have the gist of it by now. To the modern reader, Wilde’s essay seems anachronistic and naïve and hardly worth much consideration at all. I do, however, see the value of studying it in relation to the attitudes of modern progressives. Despite how much progressivism has changed since 1891, despite how many dreams were crushed with the collapse of the Soviet Union, progressives truly are the same as they have always been.
The first dogma of the progressive canon that Wilde endorses is one that underlies the entire essay. He places an emphasis on capital-I individualism, or to speak more precisely, he promotes individualism to the exclusion of all else — individualism taken to such an extreme that it disrupts the order of society. Agitators are held up as heroes. Rabble-rousers are anointed as the new saints. If disobedience is a virtue then the most unruly, the most troublesome men in society are also the most virtuous.
It is not surprising, then, that if disobedience is a virtue, Robin Hood becomes the quintessential hero of the progressive. He is the eternal fantasy that the progressive seeks to live out in his own life, or rather, he is the fantasy the progressive creates to shroud his violent subconscious in more appealing drapery. Robin Hood robs from the rich to give to the poor, mostly because the progressive cares more about robbing the rich than he does feeding the poor. Robin Hood is touted as virtuous precisely because he is disobedient; he shuns taxes, plowshares, tedium, hereditary titles and just about anything else that does not involve a “noble cause.” But what happens when Robin Hood kills the sheriff and becomes the new ruler of Nottingham? He will have to ruthlessly suppress any man who would disobey him, just as the original sheriff had done, in order to prevent being ousted. And if he stood on his principles, and refused to punish the new masked man hiding out in Sherwood Forest, he would be out of the job in short order. It is quite clear that if a man cares about civilization at all, disobedience for its own sake can never be a virtue. It is thoroughly self-defeating.
This leads me back to a point that I have mentioned before in other writings and will certainly go on mentioning in the future: the left is a perpetual opposition party. It can never build civilizations with its philosophy, but it can most certainly tear them down. I am sure Wilde would agree with me when I say that the progressive aim is to eventually reach anarchy. The difference, however, is that I would curse this anarchy whereas he would cheer for it.
Moving on to the next point, Wilde falls prey to the most common failure of all progressive thought; it is the one shortcoming that hounds every word a progressive speaks or writes. The eternal enemy of the progressive is his own misunderstanding of human nature.
When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist.
I think that if I were to gather all human naïveté into one place, at one time, and then concentrate it into one single quote, this would be the inevitable result. Why is it so painfully naïve? It presupposes that all crime has a financial motive and overlooks entirely the role that irrationality plays in the formation of deviancy. What if your neighbor wants to murder you, not because you have a lawn mower and he does not, but because he does not like the way that you wheeze when you laugh? What if a man took your daughter to bed but did not bother to make sure that she approved first? What if, after all of the means of production are made public, the government caretakers keep most of the property for themselves and do not distribute it as equitably as you imagined? Irrational obsessions, power dynamics, sexual fetishes, sadism — there are innumerable causes for crime that Wilde, in his Victorian innocence, reduces to a mere balance book. He could not have been more mistaken. Private property is just a passing variable whereas crime is a constant.
Mankind must accept that there will never be a lasting solution to crime. Humanity will never reach a point where we can throw up our hands and say that we are done with crime now and forever. Crime is the human equivalent of entropy: the crime-stoppers exist not to solve the problem of crime, but to keep it perpetually in check, to prevent it from overpowering a civilization and ending it. Crime is like a disease waiting patiently for the immune system to weaken so that it can overwhelm the body and silence the man forever.
Now that we have dealt with the issue of crime, let’s deal with the issue of private property. The crux of this essay, and as far as I can tell, the crux of socialism in its broadest sense, is the vilification of private property. Nothing can mar a philosophical principle or aesthetic insight faster than basing it on a superficial observation. One of Wilde’s quotes in particular will illustrate this point.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
This is a seemingly brilliant sentence. It is timeless wisdom and speaks to those of us who try to have some special perception beyond just the everyday surface level understanding of things. When placed in its proper context, however, this quote is not so profound at all.
With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Here is where Oscar unfortunately botches it. He correctly identifies a universal problem of the human condition, namely that most people just exist and do not live with any vibrancy or perception. Wilde has forged a diamond out of dirt which he then scratches up horribly by suggesting a very childish solution to this problem. He might as well have said that the solution to lightning strikes is to abolish bad weather.
Private property is the basis of all civilized society and we have to admit that such an outcome is not coincidental. It is something fundamental in human nature. There are different degrees to which a society might embrace private property, some might regulate it, some might leave it alone entirely, but all societies, if they are to be civilized, must admit the necessity of it.
For my final complaint with this essay, I have to depart from the political commentary that I have provided thus far and stray into the deep and shady thicket of aesthetics. It might seem counter-intuitive to discuss aesthetics in a political essay on socialism, but considering the vast proportion of “Soul of Man” that Wilde devotes to aesthetics, and how tightly bound his aesthetic notions are with his political views, it would be a shame not to mention it.
Much like we observed with Wilde’s politics, Wilde’s aesthetics are tragically colored by his obsession with capital-I individualism. He seems to admit no possibility of tradition or common culture; all art is either individual or it is not art at all. This is a sentiment frequently echoed by our post-modern art institutes and architectural schools, much to the detriment of civilization. As art has veered steadily away from tradition to individualism, art has turned from polished marble statues and Biblical irony to pink vaginas dangling from a ceiling and canvasses smeared with manure. This will never be art. Undoubtedly, a man who loved glamorous things as much as Wilde would agree that such buffoonery could never be art. I would like to know, however, whether Wilde could admit that his own aesthetic philosophy helped contribute to this decline.
The artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
This quote of Wilde’s exemplifies the modern attitude toward art. Even though it might seem strange to speak of aesthetics in a political way, I put forward that this attitude toward art is distinctly leftist. Only a leftist would place so much emphasis on the individual that the artist is permitted to overshadow his art. But this is exactly what has happened in our era: men like Picasso, Warhol, and Pollack are remembered solely for their personalities, not for their art, because their works are simply an extension of their personalities. There is no artistic value to these works once the egos of these men have been removed.
If we contrast this attitude with that of the Renaissance masters, we find that the opposite is true. Even if history knew nothing of Michelangelo or Raphael, even if their names were lost forever and not one fact was recorded about their lives, their works of art would still be as magnificent and awe-inspiring as ever. We might lament the fact that history forgot such talented men, but we would always treasure their work. If history were to forget Picasso and his colossal ego, however, his work might be regarded with some amusement, in the same way that clowns in brief encounters can be mildly amusing, but it would never rise above that level; it would never be anything more than a gimmick.
There is also another approach to criticize this quote of Wilde’s. It could not be more wrong once historical evidence is evaluated. Wilde rightfully regards Michelangelo as an artistic genius of the highest order. Yet, according to Wilde’s own definition of an artist working solely for his own pleasure, even the likes of Michelangelo would not be considered an artist. He would be just another hack fashioning beautiful things on behalf of those tyrannical princes and popes that Wilde mentioned earlier in the essay. Even though the tale about Pope Julius II chaining Michelangelo to some scaffolding to force him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is probably apocryphal, there is one thing that is true: Julius made Michelangelo an offer he could not refuse. Julius was not the type of man who would suffer being refused by a pipsqueak sculptor. Michelangelo’s life itself proves Wilde wrong. Despite the papal authority pressing down firmly on Michelangelo’s shoulders, despite Michelangelo’s own incessant moaning, “I am not in the right place — I am not a painter,” can anyone say that the Sistine Chapel is not top-notch art?
Perhaps authority plays a much more significant role in both good government and good art than the progressive will ever admit. Perhaps human nature will never fit into the little idealistic cage that progressives have built for it. For the time being, we have poked a sufficient number of holes in Wilde’s essay to let the pus drain. Unfortunately, however, we will never be done poking holes in bad theories. As long as eloquent and clever men like Wilde fall prey to the progressive virus, there will never be an end to the sores and pestilence that society will have to suffer.
I would like to conclude this paper with one of Wilde’s finest quotes. It was spoken originally in reference to drinking absinthe, but it can just as easily describe the progression of the human mind from adolescence to adulthood, or rather, from a progressive to a reactionary.
After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second glass you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.