On the Opposite of a Tweet & a Woman President (Sean O’Connor’s Public Comment Video Diary vlog– episode #20)

Yesterday I pledged to vote for a female candidate in the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Primary and this generated a lot of discussion and debate on Facebook so I want to delve into this deeper.

TRANSCRIPT:

“G’Day folks! Today there are two things I want to discuss with you.

First, I want to clarify my purpose for making these vlogs.

You see, YouTube recommends I work on a trailer to make this channel more enticing so you and so many other people will want to subscribe. Like a college student who wants to get a 100 percent on his senior capstone thesis, I’m trying to adhere to every bit of seemingly reasonable advice. It comes highly suggested that I explain to you my purpose, that I describe my content, the type of videos I produce, and what you can expect to get out of my channel.

Well, this is a video diary. What does one get out of watching such a thing?

In theory, greater knowledge of humanity, “the human condition,” “the human experience” as artists, philosophers and readers might say (?)… greater knowledge of….a RECORD OF what people, in their deepest depths, appear to be like.

The way I look at it…someone has got to do the record keeping of the so called soul searching, of the individual’s streaming consciousness, or thoughts, or mind… whatever you might want to call that phenomena which is that “inner life of the self.”

I figure it is logical for me to do this because I’m in love with uninhibited personal thoughts that seek clarity of meaning in life because I believe it leads to greater universal understanding, thus facilitating a deepening empathy among us.

Like my favorite essayist Michel de Montaigne— and I’m gonna quote the back of my book collection of his essays here:

he discussed subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience. But above all, Montaigne studied himself as a way of drawing out his own inner nature and that of men and women generally.

My goal is to follow in his footsteps, and explore humanity’s inner nature within the medium of the vlog which I believe is a most revolutionary form of self expression for its intense intimacy. Video hasn’t been around much longer than a somewhat over a century compared to other art mediums, and vlogging in particular is radically new.

I’d like these vlogs also to reflect…somehow…a spirit of unconventionality married to logic (as I think all good innovation is)–…. And since the medium of the vlog really still is in its early, early infancy, I think now is a perfect time to try it–I want do talk to you in a way that is (and forgive me for the brief oncoming  adjective storm here)…in a way that is philosophical yet artistic, theoretical yet practical, intellectual yet emotionally open, to utter the opposite of a tweet– I mean the opposite of fast paced, short, off the cuff thoughts on this and that. Instead, I strive for depth and the fulfillment of an aspiration I’ve clung to since I was 18 (I’m 33 now) which has been to do contribute to something culturally exciting, revolutionary and which makes the world a better place.

Some people that come to my mind: Like Michel de Montaigne, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Helen Keller, Dostoevsky, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Ariana Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama— they’re not the only ones but I hope they might bring to your mind a sense of what I aspire to.

Yesterday I pledged to vote for a female candidate in the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Primary and this generated a lot of discussion and debate on Facebook so I want to delve into this deeper. (I do want to also point out that I am not alone in this point of view, though I did think maybe I was as I hadn’t stolen this or adopted this opinion from anyone on tv or in the media. But I did discover this morning an article from VOX, written by Matthew Yglesias also calling for us all to vote for a woman president.

My friend William Scott Smith from West Texas deeply disagrees with me here and remarked that I “blame gender” in general for the fact that a woman has never been president of the United States.

To be clear, I do not and never said I do “blame gender.”

I do blame misogyny and sexism though.

Sadly, anti-woman thinking is all around us which is perhaps most evident in the anti-abortion laws emerging, especially the one in Alabama which outlaws abortion entirely, even when the woman is raped, unless the procedure will save her life. (It is ultimately a woman’s body, and I do think nature makes it therefore, quite clear that the woman should be in charge of what goes on with respect to what she does about her pregnancy. One could ask, “what about the body of a fetus, and what about when it can live outside the womb?” which I do think is a fair question however my answer to this, to the best of my thinking is that you have to ask, is a woman a slave to that which is unborn inside her and until outside of her, subject to her body?

Metaphysically speaking, the answer seems to speak for itself. I wonder then if it might be fair to suggest that constitutionally protected, defined person-hood should begin at birth. I would think, if we are contemplating from the point of view of moral theories, that the Natural Rights theory, properly applied would suggest as much.)

William Scott Smith also says I am “voting for a woman because she is a woman” which he adds is “identity politics.” Maybe it is identity politics but that doesn’t prove it’s illogical or destructive politics. When someone expresses something with greater clarity than I can I like to cite that person, so I’m gonna cite Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen here. She asks:

[what about] a form [of identity politics] that goes mostly unrecognized and unacknowledged. A minority with power and money — white men, mostly wealthy, often religious or pretending to be so — [which] has controlled societal and political norms so effectively that when those left outside simply insist on their rights, they are viewed as angry, resentful, demanding and divisive. When ‘identity politics’ is practiced in such a way that it allows a small group to access and maintain power, it gets labeled as ‘norms’ and treated as simply the way the world works.’

To that I say “amen!”

Part of understanding the well-being of the individual must include the well-being of the individuals within the wider society. In a society that fails to value inclusiveness and diversity sufficiently there is prejudice, bigotry, racism, sexism, classism, exploitation, elitism– unhealthy social trends run amok.

And in the interest of improving society and thus…to speak figuratively here…cleaning up and purifying the air on this earth which we ALL breathe,  we do need to ask, what actions can we take to bring more inclusiveness and diversity to our society, to our global community.

Does that mean I am voting for a woman simply because she is a woman?

No.

I am voting for a woman because there are so many candidates, men and women, who are in my estimation, equally qualified, (among the men for example, I think Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro are qualified) that it complicates the usual criteria and that we thus need to look to other criteria for how we elect a president and how we understand what it means to elect a president as well as what we understand the role of the president to be …(versus the question also of what the presidency ought to be. For example, I do not think a president ought to have as much power as the president has come to possess. Foreign Affairs and Washington Post have both written about how the excessive power of the president and the weakness of the congress– how this imbalance has harmed America on various fronts…)

But based on where we are now, as Matthew Iglesias puts it:

“One of the important ways electing a woman to the presidency would matter is by providing a role model. Role models make a large, quantifiable difference in life. Detailed empirical studies by the Equality of Opportunity Project show that girls who grow up in places where there are an unusually large number of woman inventors are unusually likely to themselves grow up to become inventors. Similarly, Amelia Showalter’s research shows that when women get elected to statewide office, more women start running for state legislature.”

(With respect to role modeling and the power of images in media I would also refer you to research I cited in my essay on Native AMerican writer elissa Washuta and her approach to bringing down stereotyping)

The bottom line is that in a pool of so many talented people of different demographic sorts, when the leadership position in this country has for so long exluded those qualified demographic sorts, it is fair to say it is time for us to open that leadership position up to those who for so long have been denied it.

I am going to leave it there for today and want to thank you for your time. Please let me know what you think in the comments below and I hope you subscribe to my channel!

Public Comment is a personal journal vlog where I share my free thoughts on politics, culture, and self.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me at sean.publiccomment@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter at 
https://twitter.com/sopubliccomment 


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Akhtar’s and Dostoevsky’s Examinations of Freedom, Reason and Faith

“There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting either

The Grand Inquisitor (From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov 254)

 

“…an attempt to liberate the more heartfelt metaphorical version of religious experience from the literalist dogma of the orthodoxy…”

                                    -Ayad Akhtar (From The Essential Ayad Akhtar by Natalie Hulla

of the Cincinnati Play House in the Park)

 

In the essay “How American, How Muslim,” Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ayad Akhtar says one of his inspirations is the late 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (Akhtar Appendix item 3). In both Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Akhtar’s American Dervish there are characters with complex views on religion. As complex as their views appear to be, in both novels there are characters who ultimately possess religious faith or lack it. What makes comparing and contrasting these two pieces especially interesting is that despite both authors examining different religions- Dostoevsky examines Christianity, Akhtar examines Islam-, writing in different centuries – Dostoevsky wrote in the 19th, Akhtar in the 21st-,  and in different countries- Dostoevsky in a considerably homogeneous Russia, Aktar in a considerably diverse and pluralistic America- their characters critically examine religion in similar ways. Both novels examine the importance of freedom (intellectual freedom, and the freedom to do what one wants), and the conflicts between reason and faith (for example, ‘can/should one have both reason and faith?’). Although they examine similar things, one notable difference is how each author’s characters define of reason.  In American Dervish an atheist adheres to a notion of non-contradictory thinking and shows how contradictory interpretation of the Quran leads to antisemitism. In The Brothers Karamazov, both a Christian monk named Zosima, and Ivan, a conflicted agnostic, fear that unchecked reason will lead to violence. Moreover, the monk, specifically, views Christ as the only way to save an otherwise rational mind from this violence. In other words, the rational character in American Dervish sees reason as a path to peace and religion as a path to hate, where as for Dostoevsky, reason leads to violence and only religion can bring peace and love.[1]

 

FREEDOM

 

Both Akhtar and Dostoevsky have characters who champion freedom. And in fact, both examine different ways to define the concept. For example, in American Dervish, Naveed is a staunch advocate of freedom- intellectual freedom of thought, as well as freedom to act as he wishes- who believes “Eastern women [are] mentally imprisoned” (Akhtar 160; italics are Akhtar’s). Hayat’s mother says implicitly that he thinks Eastern women are sexually imprisoned too. She says, “What the filthy man really means is that [white, ‘free’ women will] put their mouths anywhere, like animals. So he can put his mouth anywhere. Like an animal. That’s what they want and that’s what they like. It’s disgusting” (Akhtar 160-161; italics are Akhtar’s). A possible interpretation here is that Hayat’s mother, Muneer, is saying white women and Naveed both like oral sex but she does not, and Naveed thinks oral sex is sexually liberating while she thinks it’s “disgusting.” This would certainly explain (but not justify) why Naveed is motivated to sleep with women other than his wife- because he feels by holding herself back sexually she holds him back from experiencing what he wants to experience; to enjoy the freedom he wants to enjoy. If she wants to deny herself sexual freedom, to him, it’s her loss but he will not let it be his. It is important to note that it is not only “Eastern women” Naveed is critical of. It’s the Muslim community more broadly, which according to Naveed consists of “fools” and “sheep” (Akhtar 320).  “You can’t live by the rules others give you…you have to find your own rules,” Naveed tells his son Hayat, who is narrating the novel, when he’s explaining to him why he left a wedding they attended (Akhtar 320). A character in The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, is similar to Naveed though Ivan takes his belief in freedom to the extreme.[2] The topic of freedom comes up with Ivan because he and his brother Alyosha are having a conversation about “the universal questions” such as “is there a God, is there immoratality?” and ethics (Dostoevsky 234). When Alyosha learns that Ivan does not put his faith in God and Christ he asks Ivan if this means Ivan thinks, in terms of ethics, that people should be free to do whatever they want (Dostoevsky 263). “The formula, ‘everything is permitted,’ I will not renounce,” Ivan tells Alyosha (Dostoevsky 263). In both cases, these characters conceptualize freedom as an individual thinking and doing whatever it is he or she wants (though both characters have thresholds at which point things seem cruel which make them squeamish. Naveed cannot stand anti-Semitism [Akhtar 207] or the oppression of women [Akhtar 321]. Ivan cannot bear the “cruelty” of people [Dostoevsky 238]). What readers comparing these two novels may find interesting is that Naveed’s belief in freedom seems more meaningful- that is to say, there are clear, explicit, palpable things Naveed wants as a result of his freedom: namely sex and independence. With Ivan, freedom at its core does not seem to be what he actually desires. Instead it merely happens to be that the ethical justification for freedom is a consequence to the fact that he cannot say with certainty that God exists. In other words, Naveed thinks about freedom in a very personal and psychological sense, whereas for Ivan it is simply an impersonal, detached, philosophical deduction that there is no source from which it can be proven that there are things people should or should not be able to do.[3]

In both novels there is an entirely different conceptualization of freedom posited as well: spiritual freedom which characters in both novels appear to perceive as being based, at least in significant part, on humility. In American Dervish, Mina tells a story of a Dervish, which Mina says is “someone who gives up everything for Allah” (Akhtar 191). She does not call this, explicitly, “spiritual freedom.” She actually refers to it as “true humility” (Akhtar 103) and oneness (Akhtar 104). When we compare the Dervish she speaks of to the Christian monk, Zosima, in The Brothers Karamazov we see a striking similarity. The Monk, says

Obedience, fasting, and prayer are laughed at yet they alone constitute the way to real freedom: I cut away my superfluous and unnecessary needs, through obedience I humble and chasten my vain and proud will, and thereby, with God’s help, attain freedom of spirit, and with that, spiritual rejoicing (Dostoevsky 314; italics mine).

Also striking is the fact that both the Dervish and the Monk find connections between humility and nature. Of the Dervish, Mina says

“He realized he was no better, no worse than the ground itself, the ground that takes the discarded orange peels of the world. In fact, he realized he was the same as that ground, the same as those peels, as those men, as everything else.”

Compare this with Dostoevsky’s monk: “Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are sinless” (Dostoevsky 319). This notion of spiritual freedom then seems to include even a freedom from sense of individuality, distinctiveness and uniqueness for the Dervish and the Monk see people as no different than orange peels and animals. It could be argued that both therefore deny the exceptionalism of human beings and are, ultimately, pessimists who can only experience spirituality via self denial. This is actually important because we see self-denial explicitly and viscerally in American Dervish. In fact, it is Mina- the one who tells us about the self-denying Dervish- who denies herself in the story. Instead of marrying the man she loves and exploring her sense of self and purpose she marries an abusive man she was pressured by family to marry and says it is “an expression of Allah’s will” (Akhtar 343) which in fact “she regretted” (Akhtar 348). Ultimately then, it could be argued that Akhtar portrays “spiritual freedom” through “self denial” as a negative and harmful thing. But compare this to Dostoevsky! In the case of Zosima the monk, what are the consequences of his self denial? When Zosima does not resist his desires (we are speaking of the time before he becomes a monk and discovers self denial), he is driven, in a rage, to take out his anger over the fact that someone else has won the affections of a girl he fancies on his servant who he beats so brutally that the servant bleeds (Dostoevsky 297). Zosima discovers this was wrong; he says “this is what a man can be brought to” (Dostoevsky 298). Instead of engaging in a dual with the man who won the affections of the woman he is fond of, he surrenders to the man saying he can shoot him if he wants but Zosima will not shoot at him (Dostoevsky 298). The point here is that in Dostoevsky’s novel self-denial leads to noble acts. But again, in Akhtar’s, it leads to harm.

There is a third notion of freedom the two novels examine: freedom from faith, or put another way, freedom attained as a result of no longer having faith. Again we see a contras with the two authors; this aforementioned kind of freedom being depicted in a positive light by one author, and negative by the other. In American Dervish Hayat eventually comes to describe losing his faith as a positive and liberating experience (as a young teenager Hayat is a devout, Quran-reading-and-memorizing Muslim) where as in The Brother’s Karamazov Ivan, who concedes God may exist, rejects this possible God and God’s world more broadly and for him this rejection isn’t a pleasurable experience, it’s simply necessary on ethical grounds. I shall elaborate.

In the prologue to American Dervish, Hayat tells us that “to lose your faith” is “So freeing. It’s the most freeing thing that’s ever happened to me” (Akhtar 10-11). Hayat does not fully explain the nature of his lost faith nor of this liberation however it is quite possible that the freedom he feels is a kind of inner-peace after rejecting his notion of Islam and the damage which Islam did to his family and especially Mina. Moreover it is possible he feels free of guilt too We know that when he sees her “two months before she die[s]” (Akhtar 337) he “had been giving up on Islam little by little for years, and…now there was barely anything left” (Akhtar 341). After he brings this up to Mina, asking what her “suffering” had “to do with finding God” she said “Even the pain… is an expression of Allah’s will” he never once hints with the slightest subtlety or implication that she has changed his mind (Akhtar 342-343). When we see two months later he loses his faith, and cites no other significant experience associated with his faith it is quite reasonable to posit indeed this faith is lost because he sees that virtually every example of Muslim faith has brought with it unreasonable, unacceptable suffering which was tolerated as a result of that faith.

In The Brothers Karamazov Ivan has a somewhat similar experience however his qualm is spelt out for us, and it is not mere religion that troubles him, or even Christianity. It is God and reality. For Ivan, if a God exists, God is evil for God has created a world of suffering, and Heaven, according to Ivan, does not make up for that suffering, thus he will have nothing to do with Christianity, even if there is a God (Dostoevsky 245). As he puts it, “I’d rather remain with my unrequited suffering and unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong…it is not that don’t accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket” (Dostoevsky 245). In what sense then is Ivan free? He is free,  at least thinks he is, of a certain kind of guilt[4]; he feels free in the sense that while God may keep reality as it is, and while God may think He makes up for the awfulness of life with Heaven for the good believers and Hell for evil non-believers, Ivan will not give it his moral sanction-  for he says: “it is my duty, if only as an honest man” to maintain his rejection of this (Dostoevsky 245). He is rebelling (“Rebellion” is in fact the title of the chapter. Strangely enough yet true to his sort of contradictory, paradoxical way, he says “One cannot live by rebellion, and I want to live” [Dostoevsky 245]) and saying God’s system is unacceptable to him, even hell for evil non-believers and heaven for the innocent is not enough. Speaking specifically about those who torture children he says “what can hell set right here, if these ones have already been tormented?” (Dostoevsky 245). Both Ivan and Hayat can be viewed as rebels here but they are rebelling against different things; Ivan is rebelling against reality[5] where as Hayat is merely rebelling first against his father when he deeply embraces Islam  and later against segments of the Pakistani community that his family sometimes associates with when he rejects Islam. He is also rebelling against the pain which these Muslims inflict on themselves, Jews, women, et cetera, as a result of their strict Quranic interpretations.

 

REASON VERSUS FAITH

 

What’s especially interesting about Ivan is that it is not reason which makes him agnostic and resentful of the universe and potentially God if there is one (at least, it is not reason according to him). Reason, or what Ivan in this instance, calls “logic” is something, first of all, left undefined, and secondly, loveless, or insufficient in terms of providing people with a capacity for love. “Sticky spring leaves, the blue sky- I love the, that’s all! Such things you love not with your mind, not with logic, but with your insides, your guts” (Dostoevsky 230). A little later Ivan says “reason hedges and hides. Reason is a scoundrel” (Dostoevsky 236). A possible interpretation, if we compare the two aforementioned quotes, is that Ivan perceives reason as a detached, over intellectualized, cold mental operation with no room for emotional experience, or sympathy. If reason “hides” it is perhaps more exactly, “feeling/emotion” which it hides, remaining cloaked only in detatched factual deductions.[6]

In American Dervish we get another interpretation of reason and that comes from Sonny Buledi- a Pakistani friend of Naveed’s who is an atheist. Sonny’s version of rationality is non-contradictory thinking. We learn this when he debates Quranic interpretations among fellow Pakistanis. Specifically they’re debating whether an interpretation has anti-Semitic implications.

“C’mon, man!” Sonny exploded. “God condemns them [Jews] in verse sixty-one, which    you choose to underline, and then follows it with accepting them in the next?! That’s an outright contradiction and unless you can explain it, it renders both versus utterly meaningless…” (Akhtar 131)

It would follow- if we apply Sonny’s epistemological standard- that Sonny is probably an atheist because as he sees it, there is no proof or logical deduction which can verify that a God exists.

But something else is interesting about Sonny’s rationality. It doesn’t only lead to atheism. It also leads to peacefulness and tolerance. Sonny’s rationality leads to a justification for Chatha’s anti-Semitism (which Chatha claims is based on the Quran) to be discredited and rejected. It is extremely noteworthy that in Akhtar’s novel, it is the rational atheist (or agnostics, or the spiritually ambiguous/open-minded) who reject(s) hatred and it is the religious characters who have hate in their hearts (whether it be outward hate for others, such as the anti-Semitic Chatha, or even Hayat when he goes through such a phase as a pedantic, literalist Muslim,  or what appears to be self-hatred in the case of Mina and Muneer who deny themselves of better lives where they could be less oppressed).

However, in The Brothers Karamazov, reason is associated with violence and is conceptualized as something that is of limited use for people. This relationship is really rather complex and is articulated by several different characters in different ways. For the sake of succinctness and focusing exclusively on the ultimate essence of this idea I shall bring up only the example of sentiment expressed by Zosima, the Monk. Zosima says:

These, following science, want to make a just order for themselves by reason alone, but with Christ now, not as before, and they have already proclaimed there is no crime, there is no sin. And in their own terms, that is correct: for if you have no God, what crime is there to speak of? In Europe the people are rising up against the rich with force, and popular leaders everywhere are leading them to bloodshed and teaching them that their wrath is righteous. But ‘their wrath is accursed, for it is cruel’[7]  (Dostoevsky 315)

Zosima assumes that rational thinking cannot lead people to goodness.[8]  Why does he think this? He says earlier of science (of which reason and logic are a part) that it consists only of “that which is subject to the senses” (Dostoevsky 313). Clearly than Zosima assumes ethics have no basis in “the senses” or that which can be abstracted from them; in other words, we see that classic notion of original sin inherent in Monk’s assumptions, i.e., Zosima thinks people are inherently bad and can only be saved by God and God’s standards- standards which could only even be first discovered by a God.

The deeper discovery we can make as readers then is that Dostoevsky and Akhtar appear to be at very opposite ends of the spectrum, not only when it comes to their views on reason, but of human nature itself, for there is nothing implied by Sonny, Hayat or anyone espousing rationality in American Diverish, that suggests they think humanity is inherently depraved. For Dostoevsky, religion saves humanity from its depraved self. For Akhtar, reason saves humanity from religion!  

While reason in the two novels is interpreted by the characters differently, religious faith is viewed quite similarly, even in the face of suffering. Hayat questions Mina’s faith at the end of the novel, when she is in the hospital (Akhtar 342).  He thinks “all these Sufis tales [are nothing] but fictions she’s using to shed a redeeming glow on a life scored with pain, pain I caused her, pain Sunil caused her, and that she should have sought not simply to bear, but escape” (Akhtar 342; italics are his). To her he says, “What did the suffering she had gone through over the past eight years at her  husband’s hands- and for that matter the suffering she was experiencing now, as she lay dying- what did any of this have to do with finding God?” (Akhtar 342). She answers: “this is how the divine is choosing to express Himself through me…everything, everything, is an expression of Allah’s will. It is all His glory. Even the pain…That is the real truth about life” (Akhtar 343). In other words, Mina herself, according to her thinking, is irrelevant. Mina does not even exist as Mina in her mind. She exists as a manifestation of God. So whatever God throws at her, including pain and dying, God throws at her. Mina’s submission to God is a dramatization of that haunting cliché that is so often sighed, “it is what it is.” And this for her is not just perfectly okay, but good and wonderful. As Hayat describes her as she is nearing her death in the hospital: “Her eyes sparked when she saw us. However sick she appeared, she looked no less alive” (Akhtar 338) (It is only in that light that we can really understand the significance of the final page of Akhtar’s novel when he feels inexplicable gratitude which he can finally discern, saying he “finally” is able to hear what he is grateful for: “my heart, silently murmuring its steady beat” [352]. Hayat acknowledges the fact that he has a self).

We see a very similar sentiment articulated by the monk- a sentiment the monk learns from his brother. Like Mina, Zosima’s brother is close to death and aware of it. In speaking of natural beauty, his brother says “there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone lived in shame, I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it all” (Dostoevsky 289) As Zosima is about to die before his visitors to whom he has given his final talk,  everyone notes how despite the pain he appears to be in, he is “still looking at them with a smile…bowed down with his face to the ground, stretched out his arms and, as if in joyful ecstasy, kissing the earth and praying…quietly and joyfully gave up his soul to God” (Dostoevsky 324). Both Zosima and Mina face death and pain and find spiritual satisfaction in surrendering to God. Despite the element of self-denial inherent in both Zosima’s and Mina’s surrender there is one positive thing: in their final moments, God, or their idea of a supposed God can provide comfort. Say what one might about all the various aspects of elements of religions, we see at least that belief in a God can be comforting when one is confronted with one’s mortality. Religion, as depicted by both authors, has at least something to offer.

There are two wider takeaways we can gain from comparing and contrasting the examination of religion in these two novels. First,  it is interesting that pain plays such a strong role in the characters of both novels as it pertains to their attitudes on religion, and implicitly on their views of human nature (are we inherently bad? Are we capable of being good? Do we need a God to be good?). This is not to say we learn anything universal about the experience of pain.  Rather, it has to do more with how each unique individual processes pain. In the case of the non-religious in both novels, it is specifically that pain that motivates them to rid themselves of their faith (Sonny, who seems to be an atheist most fundamentally as a result of drier, detached rationality, is an exception). Ivan, for example, is in so much pain he can barely deal with reality so he rejects God even if God exists. Hayat sees the pain that religion has caused him, his family, Mina, and Nathan. On the other hand, the believers in God see pain as almost superficial when compared to the glory of God. That or they are so humble and self-denying that it would be a betrayal of their values to deeply sulk or curse God. Spiritual characters on the verge of death in both novels (Mina and Zosima) both find tremendous pleasure and peace despite their pain.  A second takeaway is that just as each person processes pain differently, each person has different definitions for words- sometimes even multiple definitions- perhaps not even dictionary definitions, or universal definitions, further complicating these kinds of discussions. Most notably, we see different notions of freedom: spiritual freedom versus moral freedom, and the freedom that comes from losing faith. We also see different notions of reason. Dostoevsky’s characters- regardless of their broader theological differences- seem to agree that reason leads to violence yet in Akhtar’s novel, reason is shown to be supreme, even implicitly by the narrator who says, when discussing his loss of faith, that it did not bother him like other Arabs in his class on Islam when his professor suggested there was proof that the Islamic notion of “the Quran as the direct, unchanged, eternal word of God was a fiction” (Akhtar 7-11). His response, when his girlfriend asks him how he feels about the lecture is: “What’s to feel? The truth is the truth” (Aktar 9). By not putting his feelings into the validity or lack-there- of, he is being objective, i.e., he is using reason, and he grows compassionate (when he is no longer a Muslim he is also no longer an anti-Semite)[9] and is doing so in a way which it appears Dostoevsky could not imagine or fathom.

 

Works Cited

 

Akhtar, Ayad. American Dervish. Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time. Princeton University Press, 2010

Hulla, Natalie. “The Essential Ayad Akhtar,” Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 20 June 2017,

https://cincyplay.com/blog/cinncinati-blog/2017/06/20/the-essential-ayad-akhtar

Trepanier, Lee. “The Politics and Experience of Active Love in the Brother Karamazov,” Voegelinview, 20 January 2017,  https://voegelinview.com/politics-experience-active-love-brothers-karamazov/

 

[1] Both of these novels in my view are exceptionally complex and thus there is more they have in common, and there are more distinct differences however it would require a lengthy amount of time to be so comprehensive.

[2] To be clear, Ivan is complex because he is conflicted, wishy-washy, and contradicts himself. He says “everything is permitted” (Dostoevsky 263)  and yet loathes God’s supposed cruelty (Dostoevsky 235). Likewise, Naveed is all for freedom yet cannot stand how Muslim men oppress women (Akthar 321).

[3] This is not to downplay the philosophical capacity, depth or nature of Naveed. This simply appears to be a manifestation of ,what appears to me, to be a stylistic differences between Akhtar and Dostoevsky: that Dostoevsky’s characters tend to deliver long, theoretical, sometimes even discursive monologues, whereas Akhtar’s characters are much more succinct.

[4] Noteworthy here also is that however free Hayat feels, unlike Ivan, he actually does not feel free of guilt. The same night he says he feels free, he learns that Mina has died, and says “Now that she was gone, how could I ever repair the harm I’d done” (Akhtar 12).

[5] Ivan’s denial of reality suggests psychological trouble far more complex and potentially problematic than Hayat’s disagreement with religious claims. Hayat is making a philosophical, and theological discernment. Ivan, it appears, is struggling to cope with what is for him the malady of existence.

[6] This of course, is a claimed notion of reason, and not necessarily the proper notion. After all, is Ivan not in the act of attempting to reasoning when he is essentially saying what is what and why what is what?

[7] According to the end notes the quite within the quotes comes from Genesis 49:7

[8] One could argue this is hard as a reader to reconcile since if we apply Sonny’s definition of reason (non-contradictory thinking) to Zosima’s application of it, his very act of reasoning is what suggests to him that reason is insufficient for arriving at ethical standards.

[9] And ‘oh, the irony’- it is the all-loving Christian writer Dostoevsky who, throughout his life was an anti-Semite. He once spoke of “Yiddifying” ideas as “third-rate” (Frank 744). Other disturbing examples abound in Joseph Frank’s comprehensive biography.

Personal Essayist and Memoirist Elissa Washuta Combats Stereotypes and Promotes Wellness Via Her Indian Identitity

-My Senior Capstone Essay

A 2008 experiment was conducted to gain a sense of the impact that stereotypes surrounding Native Americans have on Native American children.[1] Considered stereotypes “include[ed] the Cleveland Indian mascot, Disney’s Pocahontas, [specific] negative stereotypes [such as] dropout rates, rates of alcohol abuse, and depression rates.”[2]  The researchers discovered that “exposure to prominent media portrayals led Native American high school and college students to have more negative feelings about their self [i.e., decreased self-esteem] and community [i.e., decreased community worth], and depressed academic future possibilities [i.e., diminished achievement related possible selves].”[3] This suggests that stereotypes are harmful.

One seemingly obvious way to combat stereotypes (which overgeneralize our ideas about a group of people, ethnic or other) is to think of people not first and foremost as members of a group, but as individuals. As the Cowlitz Indian tribe member, personal essayist, Assistant professor of English at the Ohio State University[4] and University of Washington American Indian Studies advisor[5] Elissa Washuta says, “I still see people lock others into the same old, tired, damaging stereotypes of what a representative member of an ethnic group should be. But the massiveness of information out there online makes identity confusion hugely easier for me, and probably for a lot of others as well, because so many people have outlets for their stories that did not exist before. We have the good fortune of learning about individual experiences, which can break up false ideas of monolithic stereotypes.”[6]

Washuta is a compelling individual to contemplate with respect to identity and ethnic identity, not merely because she is an American Indian (both Cascade and Cowlitz)[7], or because she in fact, has a complex ethnic background (she is also a mix of Irish, Scottish, Polish, Ukrainian, German, Dutch, Welsh, and French)[8] but rather, because she is also a personal essayist.

Personal essays are especially unique in literature. As Columbia University professor of Creative Non-Fiction Philip Lopate[9] writes in an extensive collection of personal essays from the first century (A.D.) to the 1990’s written by authors from all over the world, “the personal essay has an open form and a drive toward candor and self disclosure.”[10] Lopate adds that “The unashamed subjectivity of the personal essay makes it less suspect in a mental climate in which people have learned to mistrust the ‘value-free, objective’ claims of scholarship and science.”[11] If by “unashamed subjectivity” Lopate means the freedom to include one’s most intimate and personal feelings, my conjecture would be that it is reasonable to infer from his definition/understanding of the personal essay, that this openness provides a place for a holistic, intimate, deep, qualitative examination which strictly academic sociology, psychology, and ethnic studies may not reach, due to specialized, technical disciplinary vocabulary, strict and delineated research methods, dropped context within statistics, et cetera. Moreover, Lopate’s distinction between “the ‘value-free, objective’ claims of scholarship and science” and the personal essay, seems to suggest his belief that the personal essay can offer a meaningful perspective that “scholarship and science” cannot, adding to a fuller understanding when all perspectives are considered.

In this paper I will argue that through Washuta’s memoir My Body Is A Book of Rules  (which she says can also be viewed “as a series of interlinked essays,”[12]) other personal essays she has published on websites such as the Chronical of Higher Education, Salon, and Buzzfeed, and interviews she has given, the complexity of Native American identity and personal identity more generally, are illustrated. I will show how, in particular, Washuta rejects the notion of quantifying what she often calls her Indianness[13] (in part as an opposition to the blood quantum concept, in part due to psychological harm that quantified Indianness has done to her) and yet still retains a distinct Indianness within her more holistic sense of self (the various aspects of her that make her who she is) that has evolved from a Catholic school girl turned anti-Catholic, to a traumatized rape victim,  to someone suffering from bi-polar disorder, to someone who comes to see herself empowered.  A final element of my thesis is that there is likely a relationship between the retention of her distinct Indianness and her sense of self-empowerment, in part because in sharing her distinctive Indianness, as I quoted Washuta saying in her own words earlier, it combats or attempts to combat stereotypes of Indians.

Rejecting the quantification of Indianness

A so called degree of Indianness was initially a British-North American- colonial concept,[14] not an American Indian one. As anthropologist Gregory R. Campbell[15] and Professor of Anthropology and Native American Studies, Dr. S. Neyooxet Greymorning[16] explain:

“kinship rather than biology was the core component of both societal composition and individual ethnic affiliation. Every indigenous society had sociological mechanisms for the incorporation of individuals and, sometimes, whole groups by adoption, naturalization, or other ethnogenetic processes…most indigenous nations…integrated people from other societies…[including n]umerous Europeans and Africans…without any phenotypic or cultural stigma.”[17]

British colonists in North America, while writing treaties with Native Americans invented a so called “blood quantum” concept which “defined ‘Indian’ in legal terms.[18] In her personal essay “I am Not Pocahontas” Washuta explains the concept of “blood quantum” as:

“the degree of Indian ancestry expressed fractionally, as a consideration when defining their [tribal] membership. Contemporary determinations of blood quantum often look back to base rolls, records of tribal membership, often created by non-Indians. Determinations of blood quantum are made by establishing proximity to the ancestors listed on these rolls.”[19]

Although Washuta does not explicitly say when the word “blood quantum” itself was first used, she does reference what she claims to be the first time American Indians were subjected to “ancestral fractionation,”[20] citing “a 1705 Virginia statute barring a ‘mulatto,’ or ‘the child of an Indian and child, grandchild or great grandchild of a negro’ from holding public office”[21]

This “blood quantum” concept underlying mainstream American notions of Native American ethnicity makes Washuta sensitive to questions about her Indianness. She writes that the question:

“‘How much Indian are you?’, however well-intentioned, implies that alive within me is only a tiny piece of the free, noble Indian that passed on long ago, a remnant from which I am far removed. The questions, individually, are borne from a place of curiosity, but the questions have embedded in a time when blood quantum was used to rob indigenous peoples of rights and, ultimately, lead to our being defined out of existence.”[22]

           

Here Washuta tells us she rejects any limit to how Indian she can be and at least in part rejects it on the grounds of the anti-Indian sentiments (she’s referring to that aspiration “to rob indigenous peoples of rights” and have them “defined out of existence”) she says fuels the concept of degree of Indianness.

The question “how much Indian?” can be problematic for other reasons too, which we learn when Washuta tells us about her personal experiences. In a podcast interview for Montana Public Radio Washuta discusses how upon receiving a “merit scholarship”[23] from the University of Maryland, some people suggested, with resentment, that it was because she was a Native American, not because she deserved it.[24] She told the woman interviewing her that “people in my high school and then in my university gave me a really, really hard time about it. They said some really repulsive things to me and then some more kind of passive aggressive things and I wondered for a long time whether I deserved that money.”[25]  Washuta elaborates on this incident in her essay “How Much Indian Was I?’ My Fellow Students Asked” published by the Chronical of Higher Education in  2013. She said:

“That money never went to white kids, they said, so I must be an undercover genius. I’m not all white, I said. What was my SAT score, they wanted to know. My GPA? Extracurriculars? How much Indian was I? The first thing I learned in college was that white boys don’t care if you’re legitimately Indian if they think you robbed them of $100,000 in scholarship money that they’d earned holding a tuba for countless hours on a high-school football field.”[26]

If Washuta had suffered from having too little self-esteem and was unable to defeat her sense of self-doubt she may not have maintained her perfect GPA,[27] received an MFA in Creative Writing,[28] became a professor[29], and a published author of articles and books. She, however, proved to be resilient.

Washuta’s Distinct Indianness Throughout Her Evolving Sense of Self

 

Washuta’s distinct Indianness must be understood as part of her, not the only thing that defines her. She makes it clear throughout her various writings that she possesses what one interviewer described as “different threads of identity [including] race, gender, sexuality.”[30] In her memoir,[31] Washuta reveals the context that establishes who she is more holistically.

As a child and young teenager she describes herself as a Catholic school girl who “couldn’t fit in”[32] and who, despite being “bookish”[33] and with good grades, cared more about “sex tips from Cosmopolitan” than God and religion.[34]  She shares an interesting episode during Catholic school that reveals somewhat the essence of her awareness as someone who was multiethnic. She says:

“When the nuns found out I was Cowlitz Indian, they offered me Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, as a spiritual guide. I knew nothing more than that she was holy and that I was to ask her to speak to the Lord on my behalf…I could not pray to Kateri Tekakwitha. She seemed more like one of my Native American Barbies than a saint. With her braids, and ethnically confused features, her prayer card image reminded me enough of myself that I found it impossible to venerate her.”[35]

Washuta does not talk much about her time in high school but said that “Sophomore year…I was the teacher’s pet.”[36]  She says also that “being the only Indian around got lonesome, so I took what I knew from my books and family and draped it in Indian-looking beads.”[37] Reflecting on how her sense of identity began to evolve, particularly while she was in college,  she says:

“It took some time to get the hang of being simultaneously white and Indian. But I had to be something [emphasis is Washuta’s], so I searched for an identity to sink into. Before I knew I was bipolar, and could settle into that, I had rape. It was bloody and violent and it was an injustice of the kind my [Indian] ancestors knew, I used to think.[38]

“For awhile I had to make the rape fit into my life as an Indian. It was nice to have a straight forward, academic explanation to fall back on, one involving a history of violent oppression and subjugation, something about inherited ancestral consciousness, something about how the guy who raped me was English and could trace his ancestry back to the first English settlers. Something I could tell myself so it wasn’t my own malfunction, neurosis, weakness, character flaw, not my own fault.”[39]

 

Washuta’s Distinct Indianness as Self Empowering and Combating Stereotypes of Indians

 

Washuta comes to realize however that she should not make her rape all about race.[40] Furthermore she also does not associate her bipolar disorder with some sort of inherited ancestral trauma. In fact, in reflecting on circumstances surrounding her rape, she writes fictional dialogue between herself, the rapist, and different people within the law enforcement and justice system based on her notions of the television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.[41] A take away here should be that in turning to Law & Order for comfort, as opposed to say, some “traditionally Native American” healing practices, Washuta is stereotype busting, showing that if there is a special way a Native American seeks dealing with rape, she does not even slightly imply it to be her approach to coping. Ultimately, Washuta deals with rape in no particular way other than Washuta’s own unique, personal way.

Washuta takes a similar action when she contemplates her bipolar disorder. She does not write about experiences of engaging in exclusively or distinctly or necessarily Native American therapies or understandings of mental disorder. Washuta does not suggest there are or are not distinct Native American understandings of mental disorder though she acknowledges there is a way some Native Americans cope when dealing with mental aguish and she does not restrict herself from contemplating it.[42] The broader point- a motif of this paper- is exactly the fact that Washuta does not restrict herself at all with respect to how much or how little ethnic influences dictate her approach to one thing or another. In one portion of her memoir, she catalogues an array of psychiatric drugs her psychiatrist had her try to treat her bi-polar disorder- documenting their technical, medical names, and describing their impact on her.[43]   In another section of the memoir she writes an imaginary letter which she pretends is from her college psychiatrist, explaining in very technical, clinical language, details of her bipolar disorder.[44]

In a rather interesting fashion, Washuta also compares her bi-polar experiences to the apparent mental anguish of two celebrities who fascinated her: Kurt Cobain, and Brittney Spears.[45] It should be noted that in this instance she relates here to white Americans, and makes no reference to relating to them for ethnic or racial reasons. To further demonstrate how she is not limited or tied down by a single cultural or ethnic group, or perception of how one should think, she makes a thoughtful remark on the infamous incident when Brittney Spears shaved her head.[46]  “Freudians consider long hair to represent the id and aggression, so they associate cutting long hair with killing sexuality… For many Indian tribes, cutting hair symbolizes a severance from the past, or mourning.”[47] Here she integrates what one might say is a “Western” way of interpreting an event, with a Native American perspective. That she happens to integrate does not make her more or less Native American. It shows one example of how a Native American would interpret events, which again, is consistent with Washuta’s belief that “learning about individual experiences …can break up monolithic stereotypes”[48] about American Indians and thus by implication, stereotypical thinking in general.

Combating stereotypes of Native Americans is important to Washuta. She elaborates on this in an interview when she is asked if she would change how “Native Americans [are] being depicted incorrectly.”[49]   Washuta responds:

“Certainly, I would like to see representations of Native people as complex humans with our own trajectories, differences, and values independent of settler lives and aims. Movies with Native characters usually take place at least 150 years ago, and Native characters appear in support of (or as a threat to) a white character’s goals. In most Hollywood depictions,[50] Native characters get to be brave, noble, savage, lusty, doomed, unintelligent, or bloodthirsty, but they don’t get to have complexity. Most representations of Natives in books and movies are created by non-Natives. I wish that were different. I wish the book-buying and movie-watching public had more interest in Native stories–the ones we tell about ourselves.”[51]

 

The issue of stereotypes is not one to take lightly, nor is the role our culture plays in perpetuating them. As was found by Peter A. Leavitt et al. : “Close examination of the population statistics and media portrayals of Native Americans reveals that they are largely invisible in contemporary American life”[52] To confirm this, the researchers “examined the first 100 image results for each of the terms ‘Native American’ and ‘American Indian’ returning 200 images total from both”[53] Google and Bing, and “found that 95.5% of Google (n = 191) and 99% of Bing (n = 198) images were historical representations. These search results highlight the extent to which media consumers are inundated with a narrow set of historical images of Native Americans.”[54]

One major psychological consideration that Leavitt et al. point out is that research suggests that stereotypes or images of racial/ethnic groups matters; that vulnerable minds associate public/media images of people within their own demographic and see within the range of stereotypical/prototypical images available, the options they may be able to identify with.[55]  Leavitt et al. explain, for example that:

“when groups who experience stereotypes about their academic abilities (e.g., women in math, Black students and intelligence) think about self-relevant role models who demonstrate competence and success, the performance-inhibiting effects of negative stereotypes are diminished. Similarly, reading about or identifying self-relevant role models increases school motivation and belonging.”[56]

Naturally, when this is lacking, psychological benefits may as well. Leavitt et al. further elaborate:

“What self-stereotyping demonstrates is that members of underrepresented groups may be motivated to identify with any available representation simply because one representation is better than no representation (i.e., absolute invisibility). The one representation, no matter how unfavorable or inaccurate, provides answers to the ‘Who am I?’ questions that people are motivated to answer and provides a reference point around which to negotiate one’s identity with others.”[57]

Just how problematic this may or may not be, I would argue, depends on certain other factors. For example, does a person who belongs to an ethnic/racial minority group only imagine him or herself based on stereotypical images of his/her ethnic/racial minority group that he or she is exposed to, or does her/she conceptualize him/herself beyond that very limited scope?

What does ethnic/racial self-consciousness “beyond that very limited scope” of stereotypical images mean? Washuta offers us a good example. As opposed to conceptualizing her Indian self stereotypically, she conceptualizes it in part by gaining an understanding the history of where she comes from.[58] As she writes in her memoir:   “I became increasingly frustrated with the notion of Indianness, feeling so far away from the reservations I so clumsily fictionalized…I thought that if I read more about the history of Native Americans…I would almost get my blood boiling enough to reduce it down to a steaming, potent syrup that would contain some legitimate Indian essence.”[59]  She adds to this later, “The story is in the details, the traumas, the histories, not the titles and labels we apply and try to pass down without context. I’ve been searching for the story, the whole beast, the blessing, the burden.”[60]

It is noteworthy that as interested in the history of her tribes as Washuta is, in her first memoir and the essays she makes available on her website, she does not make much mention of other Native American writers or contemporary thinkers throughout Native American history. One exception is a quote she cites from University of Kansas Professor of law comparing colonization to rape.[61] Colorado College[62] and University of South Dakota[63] Assistant Professor of English Natanya Ann Pulley makes this observation herself. The theme of “Native American identity,” Pulley writes, “ is not…fully developed, which one may take as a sign of a forced theme or perhaps the work of a promising, but first book writer.”[64] Pulley however questions her own criticism saying “I began to question why I, as a reader, think there is a work—one book or essay or line—out there clearly about Native American identity.”[65]

Whether Washuta’s sense of Indian identity is sufficiently explored may be open to debate but she does nonetheless explore it and does so beyond identifying with stereotypes. This kind of racial/ethnic self-consciousness, is believed to be a healthy thing, particularly among racial/ethnic minorities.[66] Researchers Yetter and Foutch write: “although ethnic minority youth tend to experience more stress than the population at large, the extant research suggests that a strong ethnic identity may moderate the effects of stress and strengthen academic and psychosocial functioning.”[67]

In Washuta’s case this appears to be true. The connection she has to her Indianness, which she shares with us in her writing illustrates a display of her affirmed self-esteem.  She writes:

“I do not think I was predestined for brokenness- this world of ours has shown itself to have no sense of order to make such a feat possible- but I’m leaning to talk to the ancestors, listen for answers, stay awake in dreams, and let those loved ones erase the muddy corners of my brain so I might learn all over again how to know anything at all.”[68]

Subsequent to the publication of her memoir Washuta described herself in this new context in an interview as a “self healer.”[69]

Washuta has used the essence of individuality inherent in a- “personal essay”-/memoir not only to combat stereotyping, but to illustrate indeed how “personal” all aspects of identity are, whether ethnic/racial, religious, sexual, career, et cetera, and further, how that ethnic aspect or element of self-identity is (for example, her Indiannness), like self-identity more broadly, complex. Washuta makes it clear that her Indianness is not in anyway to be misconstrued as having a necessarily biological component.[70] When asked in an interview what she considers the “most irritating myth about Natives” she answered “That our identities are based completely in what a DNA test might say about us (bullshit) or in what we present that’s in alignment with something someone saw in [the movie] Thunderheart (bullshit) rather than in our relationships and our roles in our communities.”[71] In light of these themes Washuta addresses it may be well worth the while to ask ourselves every now and then: are we ever stereotyping others without realizing it? Perhaps we are quick to be defensive, but as was pointed out by Leavitt et al, which I mentioned a little earlier[72], we are quite inundated with caricaturized and more historical images of Native Americans, as opposed to real, modern, holistic images. What if our inclinations to think about Native Americans in a certain way have been developing somewhat subconsciously and inaccurately because of what we have and have not been inundated with? What comes to our mind when we stop to think about Native Americans? Do we think about someone like Pocahontas or someone like Elissa Washuta?

END NOTES:

1) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015)

2) Ibid., 44

3) Ibid

4) “About Elissa,” Washuta.net, accessed April 29, 2018, http://washuta.net/about-elissa

5) Elissa Washuta, “AIS Adviser Elissa Washuta Reads from My Body Is a Book of Rules on the UW Campus,” February 27, 2015, https://ais.washington.edu/news/2015/02/27/ais-adviser-elissa-washuta-reads-my-body-book-rules-uw-campus

6)“Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

7) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 157

8) Ibid.

9) “About,” Philip Lopate, accessed April 7, 2018, http://philliplopate.com/

10) Philip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay (New York, Anchor Books-A Disvison of Random House Inc., 1995) xxiv.

11) Ibid., xliii

12) Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

13)  Brief comment on Washuta’s use of the term “Idnianness.” That this should be addressed was brought to my attention upon reviewing feedback to an earlier draft of this paper. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists “Indianness” as a word but does not define it. (“Indian,” Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed April 29, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Indian) The  Oxford Living Dictionary does the same. (“Indianness,” Oxford Living Dictionary, accessed April 20, 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/indianness) To keep from digressing, it seems the point to be made is that this term does not appear to be a widely defined term among prominent dictionaries. Washuta uses the term often in her writings but does not explicitly define it. Upon reviewing a vast body of her work it is my guess that she means, implicitly, Indian identity.

14)  Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/

15) American Indian Nations (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK, Altamira Press A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007) 315

16)  Ibid., 317

17) “What’s in a Label? Native American Identity and the Rise of a Tradition of Racism,” American Indian Nations (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK, Altamira Press A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007) 23

18) Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/

19) Ibid.

20) Ibid.

21) Ibid., quoted in Paul Spruhan, A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935. South Dakota Law Review 51.1: 2006.

22) Ibid.

23) Cherie Newman, “Memoir Reveals Student’s Struggles With Bipolar,” Montana Public Radio, January 12, 2015,  http://mtpr.org/post/memoir-reveals-students-struggles-bipolar

24) Ibid. aprx 5:06-5:32

25) Ibid.

26) Elissa Washuta, “How Much Indian Was I?’ My Fellow Students Asked,” The Chronical of Higher Education, June 9, 2013, https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Much-Indian-Was-I-My/139639

27)  Ibid.

28)  Ibid.

29) Ibid

30) “Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

31) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014)

32) Ibid., 16

33) Ibid., 24

34)  Ibid., 16

35) Ibid., 22-23

36) Ibid, 42

37) Ibid., 49

38) Ibid., 178

39) Ibid.

40) Ibid., 179

41) Ibid., 95-114

42) Ibid., 136

43) Ibid., 53-58

44) Ibid., 9-14

45) Ibid., 130-152

46) Ibid., 136

47) Ibid.

48) Interview with Elissa Washuta,” Elsewhere Lit, accessed April 7, 2018, http://www.elsewherelit.org/elissa-washuta/

49) Elizabeth Ogle, “Authors: Stories Behind The Books, Elissa Washuta,” March 10, 2016, http://www.elizabethogle.com/blog/2016/3/elissawashuta

50) In this particular interview Washuta does not give any specific examples of “Hollywood depictions” however, in her essay “I Am Not Pocahontas” she lists several, including but not limited to Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Indian in the Cupboard and Pocahontas. One of her criticisms is that “these films relegated Native peoples to the past” (Elissa Washuta, “I Am Not Pocahontas,” The Weeklings, September 4, 2014, http://theweeklings.com/ewashuta/2014/09/04/pocahontas/)

51) Ibid.

52) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015) 44.

53) Ibid.

54) Ibid.

55) Ibid., 46

56) Ibid (qtd in)

57) Ibid., 47

58) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 155-156, 170

59) Ibid., 155-156

60) Ibid., 170

61) Elissa Washuta, “Apocalypse Logic, ” The Offing, November 21, 2016, https://theoffingmag.com/insight/apocalypse-logic/

62)  “Natanya Pulley- Assistant Professor,” Colorado College, date accessed: April 29, 2018, https://www.coloradocollege.edu/academics/dept/english/people/profile.html?person=pulley_natanya_ann

63) “Creative Writing Workshop,” University of South Dakota, July 21, 2015, http://calendar.usd.edu/cal/event/eventView.do?b=de&calPath=/public/cals/MainCal&guid=CAL-406ca799-4e43fa52-014e-4549ac9f-00002631demobedework@mysite.edu&recurrenceId=

64) Natanya Pulley, “Natanya Pulley’s Review of My Body Is a Book of Rules,”As/Us, Accessed April 29, 2018, https://asusjournal.org/issue-4/natanya-pulleys-review-of-my-body-is-a-book-of-rules/

65) Ibid.

66) Georgette Yetter, Victoria Foutch, “Investigation of the Structural Invariance of the Ethnic Identity Scale With Native American Youth” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19, No. 4, 435-436

67) Ibid., 436

68) Elissa Washuta, My Body Is A Book Of Rules (Pasadena, California, Red Hen Press, 2014) 180

69) Samantha Updegrave, “Rewriting the Rules,” Bitch Media, August 13, 2014, https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/interview-elissa-washuta-body-is-a-book-of-rules-feminism

70) Nichole L. Reber, “Native Voices Won’t Be Silenced,” Electric Literature, November 1, 2016, https://electricliterature.com/native-voices-wont-be-silenced-aede8c2adc6b

71) Ibid.

72) Peter A. Leavitt, et al. “’Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding” Journal of Social Issues 71 no. 1 (March 2015) 44

JACKSON: PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR SOME, THEFT & DEATH FOR OTHERS

-A Critical Examination of President Andrew Jackson’s Economic Policies-

jackson-2
photo via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:78yo_Andrew_Jackson.jpg

PART 1- INTRODUCTION: IMPORTANT, FUNDAMENTAL, ABSTRACT QUESTIONS ABOUT ECONOMIC RIGHTS

*PROPERTY RIGHTS*

What entitles a person or a country to land? What entitles a state, county, or town to land?

It is an extremely important question because land is a resource and a resource is valuable and thus is worth money, and moreover, land and money are both properties- things people can possess. This only leads to further questions.

Should a person be allowed to claim and keep his or her own property?

If not, why?

If so, under what conditions, and why?

The degree to which a person cannot claim and/or keep his or her own property is the degree to which either rampant slavery, theft or government regulation defines a region’s official or unofficial economic policies, and there are various factors which determine these policies.

Are we talking about a region that does not acknowledge property rights, doesn’t enforce property rights, or doesn’t fairly recognize and enforce property rights?

In the case of the United States, from a historical perspective, we must start with the fact that Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1776)

Further, in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, it is stated that its purpose was to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”(1787) (Tragically though, we must add that this most sacred right of “Liberty” (so sacred a right that our founders capitalized the “L” in the word) was not fairly secured even slightly until the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteen Amendments (the prohibition of slavery, the guarantee of equal protection under the law, and equal guarantee ((but only among men)) to vote) were passed.

It took until the 20th century for women to have the right to vote, and until the 21st century for homosexuals to have the right to marry. To this very day, the clash of Native American culture and Capitalist American culture remain an issue. It is one of the more tragic truths of the human condition that moral enlightenment of a society is an evolutionary process, no matter how self evident it may be to some, and no matter how self evident some may say it is while not practicing what they preach.

But this is really only half of the complexity of economic policy.

There is the morality of property rights, and then there is the politics of it.

After all, a government cannot operate if it cannot tax the citizens. Sometimes the government is short of money and needs to borrow. Moreover, the government has to decide whether or not there should be a federally mandated universal form or currency of money and whether or not the government should have any hand in the circulation of any given currencies, which means, should it have a central bank, or should banking be an entirely free enterprise?

Money is not just currency exchanged or deposited in a bank. Money is, or buys, resources.

One of the greatest resources on Earth is land.

When European Colonists came to America they faced a tremendous land conflict because there were already Native American Tribes living on the land.

And on the one hand, the Native Americans claimed the land first.

On the other hand, Colonists were introducing, albeit in a very sloppy, totally inconsistent way, an official and capitalistic idea of land ownership, whereby a person purchases land that may be his or her own to do whatever he or she wants with it.

Many Native American tribes did not share that view of handling land.

When two cultures have such fundamentally different different views of land ownership, what is to be done?

These are just some of the economic policy questions that early American politicians faced. But that’s only the more intellectual-philosophical part of it.

*POLITICS

What about the politicking part of it?

That is to say, what about that part where, in an American context, politicians have to:

1) please enough of their constituents to get and remain elected, which is a horrendous task if that constituency base is bigoted, biased, or generally ignorant, which means that in the realm of campaigning the politician’s rhetoric may resort to entirely betraying his or her real conscience just to get perhaps, a chance to suddenly flipflop and use the power of his or her vote/authority in the legislature or within his or her office to promote a policy he or she truly believes in (I am not necessary saying I condone this so much as I am saying it is a clear reality much of the time)

2) get a majority of fellow politicians with a wide range of different perspectives and different constituencies to agree on rules that everyone in country must follow. This means, I am willing to assert, that just as the moral enlightenment and education of a country is an evolutionary process, the politicking of a country is a messy and fundamentally imperfect, contradictory process.

Tying all of this back to economic policy, I’ve offered the above context, not in defense of American history’s immorality and totally unacceptable politicking and policy, but rather, as a framework from which we can at least objectively evaluate economic political reform from the perspective of the political and cultural and economic climate  that politicians have had to work within so that at least we might gain something legitimate to appreciate.

So far as reforming economic policies go, I can think of no other politician who addressed them so comprehensively than former United States President Andrew Jackson.

It may be true that Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson may have given us some basic principles of economic philosophy, and it may be true that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson may have uplifted the poor with the “New Deal” and The “Great Society” policies but each of these men I have mentioned tended to have particular focuses. In contrast, so far as economic policies in the United States goes, President Andrew Jackson took on virtually every aspect of it.

Andrew Jackson’s comprehensive economic policies, in each case, surely addressed the issue of property rights, but with the exception of paying back the federal debt and lowering tariffs, it was not the property rights for all that he concerned himself with; as his mandated increase in the supply of land was at the expense of Native American rights and tragically their lives; his increase in the circulation of gold meant a loss of purchasing power for those who owned mostly silver; and finally, his decentralization of the banks in the name of taking on the monopoly on the money supply only empowered and enriched those heading his so called “pet banks”, leaving many to fall prey to loosely regulated state chartered banks or free banks; each case being a matter of either upholding or violating property rights.

By looking back and critically examining each of these treatments of property rights, it is my hope that at the very least, it will be perfectly clear that Andrew Jackson was no hero for “the people”- that instead he was a hypocritical, extremely dangerous megalomaniac who used the seductive pretense of protecting property rights to simply bask in his own power, act vindictively towards others, impoverish some, authorize murders, and enrich his friends in his pet banks.

PART 2: ANDEW JACKSON’S FISCAL POLICIES

*PAYING BACK THE DEBT

Some historians, at least those participating in the publication of Robert Divine’s America: Past and Present, Volume 1 either are generally uneducated historians (very doubtful considering the depth of its scholarship in many aspects of its chapters on United States History) or are ones so entirely and terribly biased that they want to completely evade the monumentally historic fact that in 1835 President Andrew Jackson paid back all of the United States’ federal debt, which was, according to John Steele Gordon, “about $58 million.” (2011, 3) Gordon also notes that no president ever had paid back the debt before, and never has since. One might think that in Devine’s textbook, somewhere in the index, under “D” and “debt” one would find, among the following:

Debt: for American Revolution, 142; attempts to reduce England’s, 109–113; growth in colonial period, 89; Hamilton’s solution for national, 161–162; Jefferson’s policy on paying national, 184 (Divine 2012, I-3)

…some mention of ‘Jackson’s complete repayment of.’  Alas, it is not there. But the event did occur and as I stated, it was quite momentous but not only because Jackson was the only president in our history to do it.

Governmental debt is, in almost every situation, an unjust taxation on future taxpayers without even a democratic say in having it bestowed upon them. Moreover, it is quite literally a liability. It was debt which destroyed the Ottoman Empire. It was debt which so weakened the United Kingdom that it sought to usurp money from the American colonists. In the words of President Jackson, in his first inaugural address, debt is “incompatible with real independence.”  (1829) He is quite right about this if one will think about it literally. When a country needs money from or owes money to another country, it is to that degree, dependent on it. When a country owes no money, it is literally independent, and the amount of its surplus represents the degree of its economic strength.

Unfortunately, governmental debt alone is not the sole cause in a country’s thriving, mediocre, or failing economy and thus while Jackson may be exceptional for extinguishing it temporarily, it did not make him a savior of the United States economy. Noteworthy as it certainly was, in the context of improving the U.S. economy, ultimately it was simply a single achievement, buried under an list of failed, immoral economic policies.

LOWERING DUTIES AND TAXES

When Andrew Jackson entered the Presidency the United States was suffering from “tariffs [that were] at their highest level in American history.” (Whaples 2014,11) In 1832 Jackson approved a reduction in tariffs. (Divine, 10) A year later Jackson lowered tariffs even more. (Ibid) Tariffs went down from “an average of more than 50 percent to less than 20 percent—a rate that was well below the nineteenth-century norm.” (Whaples, 11)

It should be duly noted that historians appear to agree generally and implicitly at the time, tariffs were the main form of taxation in the United States, however it should be likewise noted that historians tend to be ambiguous about the exact particularities of early tax policies. According to Policy Almanac “in the late 1790’s, the Federal Government imposed the first direct taxes on the owners of houses, land, slaves, and estates [but then w]hen Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1802, direct taxes were abolished and for the next 10 years there were no internal revenue taxes other than excises [until] the War of 1812, [when] Congress imposed additional excise taxes, raised certain customs duties, and raised money by issuing Treasury notes [which i]n 1817 Congress repealed …and for the next 44 years the Federal Government collected no internal revenue [i]nstead…receiv[ing] most of its revenue from high customs duties [i.e., tariffs] and through the sale of public land. (History of the US Tax System; The Post Revolutionary Era)

This is more or less corroborated by Charles Adams who tells us that the earliest federal taxation policies were 1) a tax on whiskey (which was ultimately repealed by Jefferson); 2) tariffs, 3) a “direct tax” (which is left undefined, but also referred to as “Hamilton’s taxes” which were ultimately repealed) (Adams, 2006)

Syracuse University Historian Andrew Wender Cohen also confirms that taxation in the nineteenth century “meant tariffs…” (When Americans Loved Taxes, 2015) The significance of emphasizing the notion of tariffs as the main prey of taxation is that when we think of how property taxes, and income taxes affect us, this is how people would have viewed the tariff rates, which, by the late 1820’s and early 1830’s were viewed as so intolerable that Vice President John C. Calhoun and the South Carolina declared them unconstitutional and nullified! (Divine, 235)

To realize then that Jackson cut the tariffs, i.e., the tax rate, by about 30 percent, is to further realize that he gave the American people a lot of their money back!    Just as paying back the federal debt was no small gift for the United States, neither was this massive tax cut! Say what one will about taxes and the need for various government programs, there is a point when taxation turns from a necessary revenue for financing the government, to a point of abuse and theft.

When folks are taxed up to fifty percent, in other words, half the value of their product or service, or income, or property, that is utter abuse as it is depriving a person of half their assets. But even if one wishes to criticize Jackson for giving the people more of their money back, one cannot deny that his tariff reductions, just like his debt elimination, were acts of protecting private property rights.

Unfortunately Jackson’s two major fiscal policy achievements, which more or less served the American population universally, are more or less undermined in the broader scope of things as his monetary policies proved to bring tragedy to Native Americans, deprive owners of silver their due purchasing power, and demonstrate that at his core, however much he wanted to give Americans some of their money back, he was ultimately a megalomaniac, which his banking policy proves.

PART 3: JACKSON’S MONETARY POLICIES

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Image Via Boston Public Library- https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/19475865226

INCREASING LAND OWNERSHIP AT THE EXPENSE OF NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS AND LIVES

If history is to have any meaning whatsoever then its most horrific episodes must to some degree haunt us; we must feel so angry with those who committed the gravest of evils in the name of our country, that as part of our tradition we condemn them passionately, we teach every generation about the evils perpetrated, and although we cannot change the past we can at least know it and out of contriteness and self esteem constantly improve ourselves morally, and politically. True, it is ultimately insufficient but in a universe where humanity can’t be omniscient and perfect, settling for improving upon our consciences and making something out of it is better than not. I say this because one of America’s ugliest and bloodiest money grabs occurred at the expense of the Native Americans, and although Andrew Jackson was not the only American President or politician or official or person to partake in it, (in fact some of the state legislatures were arguably crueler) he nonetheless led a fair share of it.

It would be inaccurate, incomplete, immoral, unjust, ugly, useless and I think even crazy to discuss Jackson’s monetary policies without discussing the Indian Removal Act. Land is an extremely valuable thing and bloodbaths over it have plagued humanity from its earliest days even up to the present. One need only to look at the crisis in Ukraine which is really a dispute between the American-Western European Alliance and Russia, or to look at the dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

As is stated in Divine’s textbook, in 1830 Jackson “called for the speedy and thorough removal of all eastern Indians to designated areas beyond the Mississippi.” (2013, 234) After the Indian Removal Act was passed he “us[ed] the threat of unilateral state action to bludgeon the tribes” as means of coercing the Native Americans to leave their homes and migrate West. Divine adds: “[b]y 1833, all the southeastern tribes except the Cherokee had agreed to evacuate their ancestral homes.” In response, the military “forced them to march to Oklahoma.” (Ibid.) The event has been termed the Trail of tears because a quarter of the Cherokees who marched died.

The Seminole Tribe was also reluctant to be coerced by Jackson and his accomplices. This resulted in what historians call The Second Seminole War (1834-1841) which Divine tells us lasted seven years and was America’s “most expensive Indian war” in its history. (Ibid.)

hunting_indians_in_florida
Image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hunting_Indians_in_Florida.jpg

With Native Americans now forcibly removed from their land the government had vacant land to sell, which means the government now had 1) a massive-although immorally, unjustly obtained- source of revenue and 2) a massive amount of property to give, mostly to white males. Such an explosion in newly own land was an explosion of new capital, that is to say, an explosion in newly valuable and/or exchangeable, sellable property. Speaking strictly in terms of money supply and material wealth America was greatly enriched.

I grant that a complexity in the matter was the fact that not all Native American tribes were capitalistic and speaking economically, for perfectly valuable, money-making land to have its economic potential frozen when there were people willing and able to make the most of it economically, it amounted to a legitimate political conflict. To say that some kind of deal should and could have been struck where Native Americans could keep the land they inhabited while American capitalists could have found a way to profit is obviously easier to state, than to show how it could have been done. But in hindsight that is what should have been striven for. Instead, the Jackson administration committed massive theft and genocide against the Native Americans and cashed out tremendously. This demonstrates how wickedly racist and hypocritical Jackson and his accomplices were.

On the one hand, Jackson was supposedly about property rights. He lowered the tariffs and reduced the debt. He enacted policies that let people keep more of their money; and not only let them keep more money- he even increased the supply of money they could gain and not with fiat money but with actual assets: land. But what about the property rights of the Native Americans? What about their money supply? 

Suddenly one has to grow suspicious of just how pious Jackson was about property rights and economic prosperity. Clearly this principle did not apply to Native Americans and American history is forever damned by Jackson’s evil, racist exception. But was racism the only stain in Jackson’s supposed protection of property rights?

INCREASING THE CIRCULATION AND VALUE OF GOLD AS AN ATTACK ON THE NATIONAL BANK

While Jackson was increasing the money supply by stealing land from the Native Americans he was also stealing purchasing power from owners of silver in favor of owners of gold. To be contextually fair though, there was more to this political move than Jackson merely having an extreme bias in favor of owners of gold over owners of silver. The Founding Fathers of the country had unfortunately and inadvertently set the stage when they passed the Coinage Act of 1792.

The Coinage Act of 1792’s currency policy and the rationale behind it and relevant history are all a bit complex, mainly because prior to the act there were several competing currencies in America.

As the very famous economist, professor, and contributing force behind the establishment of the modern Federal Reserve, Laurence J. Laughlin, writes in his classic book The History of Bimetallism in the United States: “[i]n the time before the adoption of the Constitution the circulating medium of the colonies was made up virtually of foreign coins.” (I.II.1, 1885)

Among them, he tells us, was the English guinea, the French guinea, the Johannes, the Half Johannes, the Spanish pistole, the French Pistole, the Moidore, the English Crown, the French Crown, and the English Shilling. (Ibid.) Laughlin adds that: “[f]rom 1782 to 1786 the colonies began seriously to consider the difficulties arising from the variety of different coins in circulation, and their deleterious effects on business and methods of accounts.”  (I.II.2) This, he tells is, is what propelled American leaders to seriously contemplate the establishment of some kind of official currency policy. (Ibid.)

And so the issue was debated among Robert Morris, the Super Intendant of Finance, and Jefferson, and Hamilton. (I.II.2-8) Although it was ultimately determined, based on Hamilton’s advice, that the United States Dollar would be backed by both silver and gold- a policy called bimetallism, Laughlin tells us, Hamilton did have a bias towards gold. (Ibid) To enforce this policy would of course require determining how much gold is worth how much silver.

To determine the how much gold was worth how much silver our Founding Fathers researched gold and silver values across the world, with a keen eye on Spain.

“[Hamilton] announced that the later issues of dollars from the Spanish mint had contained 374 grains of fine silver, and the latest issues only 368 grains, which implied a current market ratio in the United States (if these dollars exchanged for 24¾ grains of fine gold) of from 1:15.11 to 1:14.87, or a mean ratio of about 1:15. Of this ratio Hamilton says it is ‘somewhat more than the actual or market proportion, which is not quite 1:15.’ But, throughout his inquiry, no one can doubt but that he was honestly seeking for a ratio as near as possible to that existing in the markets of the United States. He certainly can not be charged with an intention of underrating gold.” (I.II.16)

In other words, it was Hamilton’s point of view that fifteen ounces of silver should be worth one ounce in gold. This in fact was the standard determined by the Coinage Act of 1792. Unfortunately it led to unintended consequences: a devaluation of gold by the mint and an overvaluation of silver. This was so problematic that, in the words of Laughlin, “gold coins were seldom seen during the largest part of this period from 1792 to 1834. Even when bank-paper was used, the reserves of the banks were generally in silver, not in gold. Whatever the cause of the change in the relative values, certain it is that gold disappeared, and that the United States had but a single silver currency as early as 1817, and probably earlier.” (I.II.31)

President Andrew Jackson and his allies understood that this was a consequence of a bimetallist monetary policy and reasoned that if silver could overtake gold, as it did, under such a policy, then by changing the ratios, gold could overtake silver. Writes Laughlin: “the majority [of those debating a change in monetary policy] were evidently aiming at a single gold standard, through the disguise of a ratio which overvalued gold in the legal proportions. In the market an ounce of gold bought 15.7 ounces of silver bullion; when coined at the Mint it exchanged for sixteen ounces of silver coin. Silver, therefore, could not long stay in circulation.” (I.IV.17) Indeed the Coinage Act of 1834 was passed and the new standard increased to 16 ounces of silver for one ounce of gold. Was this change in a policy merely an appeal to owners of gold who had been essentially ripped off for decades, or was there yet more to it?

Economist Paul M. O’Leary writes: “[t]he real forces back of the ultimately successful effort to establish a coinage ratio of 16:1 were immediately political; what looks like a friendship toward gold was really more a case of animosity toward the Bank of the United States with its circulation of bank notes.” (1937, 84)

An expression of this animosity was published in The Washington Globe, as cited by O’Leary, stating that pro-silver members of congress, and the the bank favored silver because “the United States bank can then get nearly all the domestic and foreign gold, to sell to Europe and the West Indies for a premium.”(89)

Jackson most certainly agreed with

this perspective, saying in his Eighth Annual Address to Congress that “[a] value was soon attached to the gold coins which made their exportation to foreign countries as a mercantile commodity more profitable than their retention and use at home as money.” (1836) ( In other words, a bimetallic policy that favored silver, according also to the Washing Globe, O’Leary tells us, empowered the Bank, being a super rich entity compared to average Americans, would have the upper hand in gold purchases, and not for the purpose of circulating it within the American economy, but rather, for the purpose of enriching itself by selling to foreign interests.

Andrew Jackson did not stop after the Coinage Act of 1834. He also instructed the Secretary of the Treasury-Roger B. Taney- to stop depositing federal money into the national bank and to in fact withdraw federal money that was presently deposited in the bank. Then the newly withdrawn money was to be deposited into preferred state banks that were referred to by anti-Jacksonians as “pet banks.” (Divine, 238-239)

Further, in 1836 he passed an executive action named “The Specie Circular” which required that all purchases of public land be made in gold or silver. (Divine, 240) In defense of this policy, Jackson stated:

“By preventing the extension of the credit system it measurably cut off the means of speculation and retarded its progress in monopolizing the most valuable of the public lands. It has tended to save the new States from a nonresident proprietorship, one of the greatest obstacles to the advancement of a new country and the prosperity of an old one. It has tended to keep open the public lands for entry by emigrants at Government prices instead of their being compelled to purchase of speculators at double or triple prices. And it is conveying into the interior large sums in silver and gold, there to enter permanently into the currency of the country and place it on a firmer foundation. It is confidently believed that the country will find in the motives which induced that order and the happy consequences which will have ensued much to commend and nothing to condemn.” (Jackson’s Eighth Annual Address to Congress, 1836)

While it may appear that Jackson was heroic by taking gold away from the national bank’s self enrichment, devaluing its silver thus in the process, making gold more valuable than silver so that the people, and Jackson’s pet banks may enjoy gold’s newly increased purchasing power, and while it may appear that Jackson took on the evil of fiat money, logical analysis will show, I contend, that it was not quite what it seemed to be.

It is true that central banking is always a suspicious activity.

After all, left unchecked, it has the power to devalue the national currency by putting more money into circulation, backed either by something fundamentally less valuable than another commodity (as in the case of silver coins as opposed to gold ones) or fiat money, while still having the advantage of being the institution in charge of the money supply, and thus being the institution with the most money which could be used to manipulate policies domestic and foreign- everything from handpicking politicians to cashing out on instigating wars by lending money to arm two opposing parties. That being acknowledged, it would be foolish to assume that private, or free banks would not necessarily climb to the same position of corrupting power.

The only difference is, at least in theory, that a central bank can actually be held more accountable, whereas a series of free/private banks, by virtue of being totally free, or separate from the government, again at least in theory, could be subject to less scrutiny since they would be free, and separate from the government.

It should be noted emphatically here then that the current central/national bank of America- The Federal Reserve- is NOT an example of what a good central bank should and could be as is evidenced by the fact that it has not been audited in decades and is shrouded in secrecy and is significantly independent of the government, functioning almost like a federally sanctioned private bank that can do virtually whatever it wants. (One could I think argue that it is a regulated central bank in name, but a free and independent one in practice which is further arguably how it gets away with its evil and exuberant inflation)

By taking on the national bank, Jackson did not really do anything to reform actual banking so much as he took power away from particular bankers, suggesting that his famous war against the central bank was more like an act of personal vindictiveness than any kind of political heroism.

As for increasing the value of gold and decreasing the value of silver, ultimately it ripped off and served as an act of theft towards anyone in possession of silver or seeking possession of silver as it was unnaturally devalued. Now, if Jackson had the wisdom to do away with the bimetallic standard and instead establish an official monometallic gold standard, nobody would have lost out. But that he did not do.

Even Jackson’s “Specie Circular” is not really impressive since the country was under a bimetallic standard, not a fiat money standard.

In other words, paper that could be redeemed for gold or silver wasn’t fundamentally a bad thing. It was not of less value and so it really was totally unfair for Jackson to grant land purchasing rights exclusively to those in immediate possession of the gold or silver.

Granted one could argue to a holder of paper money at the time ‘just go to the bank and get your gold or silver’ but what is the point of possessing money, paper or metallic, if it cannot buy?

It might be one thing if paper money could not at all be redeemed for silver or gold but such a policy should either be universal or not at all. It is obvious by the exclusiveness of the policy (it only pertained to purchases of public land) that Jackson was seeking to grant the government’s new pet bankers with gold and silver- especially gold. After all, we must consider the fact that it was they- Jackson’s pet banks- who were now receiving deposits of money from the U.S. Treasury-in other words, money (gold and silver) that went from the hands of purchasers of public land to the U.S. Treasury then to Jackson’s pet banks.

To clarify it even more so: it was the undoing of one system of crony-capitalism which had been orchestrated by the former national bank, and the creation of a new system of crony-capitalism, which had been orchestrated by Jackson and his pet banks. The bottom line: Jackson was a hypocrite and megalomanic. His monetary policies were not about ‘the people’, they were about manipulating the people, appeasing cronies, and getting to be the man in charge.

PART 4- THE CONCLUSION: A THOUGHT FOR HISTORY TEACHERS

A portrait of Jackson’s economic policies is a highly complex one. It is also highly controversial. Within it are actions so controversial even to historians today that those with biases that federal debt is good will not even mention in their history books that Jackson paid back all of the federal debt and was the only one to do so. Some other historians with a more libertarian or nationalist leaning bias might portray Jackson as a man who took on on the evils of the institution of the central bank. James Perloff writes in his book Shadows of Power, for example: “the Bank of The United States (1816-1836), an early attempt to saddle the nation with a privately controlled central bank, was abolished by President Andrew Jackson…American heeded Jackson’s warning for a remainder of the century.” (1988, 20-21) What Perloff does not mention is that, first of all, if any credit is to be granted to anyone in curbing crony capitalism it was actually President Martin Van Buren who fought for an Independent Treasury so that government money wasn’t benefiting certain peoples’s banks. Secondly Perloff fails to mention that the country was subject to the instability of fairly unregulated banks.

Larry J. Sechrest reports in his book on free banking that nearly fifty percent of free banks (of which there was about 709. 678 of which had sufficient records for historians and economists to evaluate) failed! ( 97-98) And among the ones that didn’t fail immediately, on average, they failed to remain in business for even a decade. One could debate the significance of those statistics for a long time thus I shall not pursuit it longer.

The point is that this is just how complex Jacksonian economics was: it is a topic worth the examination of countless books, but still a bottom line about the essence of it can be succinctly stated: Jackson’s economics amounted to property rights for some, but theft and death for others.

Yes, he paid back the debt (a wonderful thing!) and yes he lowered tariffs (in other words, taxes- another wonderful thing) but it really wasn’t all that meaningful in the grand scheme of things since he stole land from the Native Americans, many of whom were murdered and died as a result, which he then sold to people only with gold- which had been newly granted a higher value- and silver-which there was less of and which had less value, amounting to theft committed against owners of silver- all of which ultimately enriched Jackson’s pet banks since federal money received for purchase of land (again, stolen by native Americans) in the form of gold (again, at the expense of silver owners).

Ultimately, the notion of protecting property rights seems more like a means to an end for President Jackson; it seems, in conclusion, to have served as nothing more than an attractive political principle that he used to appeal to and seduce the people as to remain powerful in a newly and highly democratic culture. It would have been different if Jackson had refused to force the Native Americans from their land, if he had passed an official monometallic gold standard instead of a bimetallic standard that favored owners of gold and Jackson’s pet bankers. It would have been different if instead of moving power from one banking system to his preferred bankers, he had just reformed the National Bank and sought to forbid it from conducting self enriching activities that were not fair to the American people. But he did not do those things so as lovely as his debt elimination and tariff reductions might be, they were not done in the context of integrity.

Humanity is not perfect and politics is extraordinarily messy but John Adams did not need to fit in with his peers by owning slaves. Lincoln may have tarnished his name by being a racist but he still fought for the end of slavery- and won! Jackson does not have, as an excuse, that people just tended to dislike Native Americans.

And while, again, politics is no doubt messy, if messy politics can at least lead to good policy- to justice!- at least then, we the people could feel somewhat less cynical about it all.

But Jackson did not bring more justice to America. In fact, his presidency brought to America more injustice, and not solely “more”, but great injustice, using the beauty of the protection of property rights as mere bait so that he could commit his atrocities.

Let us note that President Elect Donald Trump appears to have learned from Jackson, not about how Jackson’s actions were evil though, but rather, how Jackson used the promise of justice to enjoy his own power at the expense of his fellow Americans.

One need only consider Trump’s recent attack on the First Amendment, when he suggested that those who burn the American flag should go to jail or lose their citizenship, to know this much. (Nelson, 2016)

With that in mind I must close by stating emphatically and very seriously, that a critical examination of Jackson’s economic policies tied to a critical examination of current US politics, makes it very obvious that history teachers need to do a much better job teaching their students about the real nature of the evils of Andrew Jackson.

Bibliography:

Adams, Charles. “A Brief Tax History of America.” lewrockwell.com. October 7, 2006. Accessed December 3, 2016. ((https://www.lewrockwell.com/2006/10/charles-adams/a-brief-tax-history-of-america/))

Cohen, Wender Andrew. “When Americans Loved Taxes.” Politico. 2015. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/when-americans-loved-taxes-smuggling-213126)

Divine, Robert A.; Breen, T. H.; Williams, R. Hal; Gross, Ariela J.; Brands, H. W.. America: Past and Present, Volume 1 Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Gordon, John Steele. “A Short History of Debt.” American History. Volume 46. Issue 4. pp. 58-63. Accessed December 3, 2016. <a href=”https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=64393590″>A Short History of DEBT.</a>

Jackson, Andrew. First Inaugural Address. (1829) Accessed December 3, 2016 http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jackson1.asp_

Jackson, Andrew. Eighth Annual Message to Congress. December 5, 1836. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.wpunj.edu/eds/detail/detail? sid=1beeb4ce-6c63-430b- af28-7b83d64b714e@sessionmgr4006&vid=4&hid=4210&bdata=#AN=21212761&db=fth

Jefferson, Thomas. 1776. Declaration Of Independence.

Laughlin, J. Laurence. The History of Bimetallism in the United States. D. Appleton and Co. 1885 (First Publication.) 1898 (4th Edition) New York. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/Laughlin/lghHBM4.html#I.IV Change of the Legal Ratio by the Act of 1834

n.a. n.d. “History of the US Tax System” Policy Almanac. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.policyalmanac.org/economic/archive/tax_history.shtml)

Nelson, Louis. “Trump calls for jailing, revoking citizenship of flag-burners” Politico. November 29, 2016. Accessed December 3, 2016. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/trump-flag-burning-231920

O’Leary M. Paul. “The Coinage Legislation of 1834.” Journal of Political Economy. Volume 45, No. 1. February, 1937. The University of Chicago Press. Accessed on December 3, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1824056

Perloff, James. Shadows of Power. John Birch Society through Western Islands. Appleton, Wisconsin. 1988.

Sechrest, J. Larry. Free Banking. Quorum Books. Westport, Connecticut. 1993. Accessed December 3, 2016.(https://mises.org/system/tdf/Free%20Banking%20Theory%2C%20History%2C%20and%20a%20Laissez-Faire%20Model_2.pdf?file=1&type=document)

Whaples, Robert. “Were Andrew Jackson’s Policies ‘Good for the Economy’? Independent Review. Spring 2014. Volume 18. Issue 4. p545-558. Accessed December 3, 2016. <a href=”https://ezproxy.wpunj.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=94846602″>Were Andrew Jackson’s Policies “Good for the Economy”?</a>

A BRIEF ON THE SUPERIORITY OF NATURAL LAW

-An evaluation of the major theories of jurisprudence, with an explanation as to why the ‘natural law’ theory is the best one

naturallaw
John Locke. Philosopher & Advocate of “Natural Law”. IMAGE VIA SIR GODFREY KNELLER VIA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Godfrey_Kneller_-_Portrait_of_John_Locke_(Hermitage).jpg

(Note: I originally stated in this post that I wanted to be a philosophy professor. That is no longer the case. I want to concentrate on advancing a Social Democratic agenda via activism and commentary.)

 

All questions pertaining to politics and law, in my view, are a result of one question that is so consequential that its answers can cause genocide, or protect the freedom of individuals so that they may thrive.

The question is: “what should people be allowed to do, and not allowed to do?”

Answers to this fundamental question give us political philosophies and theories of jurisprudence. As someone who aspires to be a philosophy professor, and has run for political office three times, I have had much to say about political philosophy, and yet little about that branch of philosophy called jurisprudence.

Now I shall for the first time say a bit on the topic. In my opinion, the “natural law” theory is the superior theory of jurisprudence, and is so because it is based on reason (a word with many different definitions. For the purposes of this paper, when I refer to reason, I refer to non-contradiction) and morality.

That being said, there are some valid criticisms of other aspects of the theory, in particular, the assertion by some, that natural law is necessarily based on a God, and also, the fact is, some proponents of natural law theory have misapplied it.

Before I elaborate further, I shall be clear about exactly what natural law theory is said to be. In an academic outline on the term “natural law theory,” where it is also referred to as “classical naturalism,” it is defined as “a group of theories that contend, in a variety of ways, that law is to be identified by reference to moral or ethical (as well as formal) criteria of identification.” (Principe, 1)

I think it is worth adding that most proponents of classical naturalism- including Grotius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and John Finnis (Banks, O’Brien, p. 82) (as well as Locke, even if merely by implication) to name just some- believe that inherent to the discovery of morality and natural law is the application of reason.

The standard of reason that is upheld by so many ‘natural law’ theorists is, in my opinion, its most important and fundamental element, for, as I view it, everything in life should be and absolutely can be approached via reason. (As Aristotle would say, A is A, i.e., a thing is itself, therefore A cannot be B, or C, or D, ad infinitum, i.e., a thing cannot be both itself and not itself.)

In my view, the very proof for this lay in the fact that it is empirically verified when one sees, or hears, or even feels with his or her skin, the letter “A,” and not any other letter, and thus, no other standard of knowledge should be used, as it would be incorrect, irrational, illogical, contradictory.

This is an epistemological idea, however, that every other major theory of jurisprudence introduced by Banks and O’Brien in their textbook on the American Judicial System, refuses to accept, either by a most obvious and fundamental misapplication of reason, or the complete disbelief that reason is the correct standard, or even a possible one.

For example, consider what I believe to be the profound irony and most basic contradiction of legal positivism.

We are told that according to legal positivism, “law is empirically discovered by reason,” yet on the other hand, we are told that law is “free from moral judgements about what the law should be.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 85)

But a person cannot be both rational and legally amoral.

In fact there is no such thing as legal amorality.

That which one calls “moral” is how one thinks he should fundamentally treat himself and others, or put another way, what is a right action, and what is a wrong action.

For example, in my view of morality, right actions are ones that a person takes in order to thrive, which means he or she must take care of him or herself first, out of self-compassion, and should, further, do for others, out of compassion for them, whatever he or she is best equipped to do, when he or she can.

I call this the “morality” or “ethics” of “compassion.”

This necessitates political action- specifically, the protection of individual liberty, with safety-nets, to protect the integrity of individual liberty, i.e., protection against a laissez faire state where the utterly immoral people exploit the highly virtuous ones.

But all moral views necessitate political/legal action. Quite literally, a legal view that claims morality should be kept out of law merely confesses that one thinks implicitly that it is moral for the law to allow and prohibit particular actions, but, at least as I see it, either they do not recognize the implication or they are being dishonest.

 

At least legal positivism claimed to be rational. American Realism, according to the outline referenced earlier, is fundamentally skeptical, and “play[s] down the role of established rules (or the ‘law in books’) to discover other factors that contributed towards a judicial decision in order to discover the ‘law in action.’” (Principe, 2)

Moreover, American Realism claims to discover “what is empirically and pragmatically ‘realistic’ about judging” based on “sociological and psychological factors.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 95) The empirical and the pragmatic and sociological and the psychological however, apparently have nothing to do, fundamentally with reason, only skepticism, which simply means chronic uncertainty.

To be fair to American Realism, at least it can be argued that empiricism could suggest probable guesses based on consistently observed things; at least it makes some kind of appeal to a notion of a more likely truth versus a less likely one, and/or maybe there is a truth, however not graspable by people.

At least then there is a sort of reaching for a semblance of logic. The theory of “critical legal studies” however, claims to “destroy the notion that there is one single ‘truth,’ and that by disclosing the all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system, a multitude of other possibilities will be revealed, all equally valid.” (Principle, p. 2)

If analyzed we see that the claim that there is no single truth is a contradiction in terms. Taken at its word, we must somehow accept it as singularly true that there is no single truth (that A is B, that a thing is not itself) when we are told that there is no single truth.

That is like saying I am not a cat but I am a cat.

That being said, I do concede that this theory of “critical legal studies” has at least one logical concern (although I guess adherents would not describe it as logical in my sense of the term)-  “all pervasive power structures and hierarchies in the law and legal system” should always be scrutinized because application to logic is not automatic and guaranteed, even when the application is referred to as logical, and it has resulted at times in racist, classist, elitist actions. Similarly of feminist legal studies: chauvinism and misogyny can be problems within the legal system and elsewhere which is irrational and immoral which is why I would argue that an honest and consistent application to basic natural law theory would treat all fairly.

Although I have touched on the moral element of natural law briefly already, I believe it deserves more attention. It is one thing to say that it logically follows that morality must dictate law, but it would sell natural law theory short not to also mention in a bit more detail the nature of just how, in my interpretation, consistent and logical natural law theory would inject morality into law, and contrast that with how others might interpret the role of morality in natural law.

Nowhere in the texts I considered upon doing my research does it explicitly say that Natural law theory necessarily posits that all moral principles must be codified into law. In contrast, if we consider how natural law is the basis for “individual natural rights” such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 83) it follows that it is a right thing to do, i.e., a  moral action that the law be made to permit and prohibit certain things- specifically to permit freedoms, and to prohibit violations of freedom.

That does not mean however, that an action which might be immoral, say prostitution, should therefore be illegal.

The moral claim is that the law should protect freedom, i.e., self determination, and thus prohibit coercion; only immoral acts which are coercive in nature require legal prohibition.

Adherents to natural law, throughout history, unfortunately, have not always understood this, despite it being the very meaning of their premise.

For example, in my view, it is a totally misguided idea of morality, based on a totally erroneous reasoning, how, “the Court appealed to natural law principles in asserting that blacks were not citizens entitled to constitutional rights in Dred Scott v Sanford (1857) [and] [i]n Bradwell v Illinois (1873), [when] the Court ruled that women could not practice law because it was ‘in the nature of things’ for them to remain relegated to the ‘domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood’ [and further, how] [m]ore recently Justice Clarence Thomas cited natural law and the Deceleration of Independence in criticizing the rationale in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark case ending racial discrimination in public schools.” (Banks, O’Brien, p. 84)

Those are completely irrational moral claims that do not represent a proper application to natural law, but rather, forms of statism, altruism, collectivism, racism, chauvinism, and misogyny.

Although it is my opinion that classical naturalism, in its most general and popular sense – being explicitly based on the application of reason and morality- is the superior theory of jurisprudence, that is not to say the theory is perfect.

For example, many of the proponents of classical naturalism ascribe, with certainty, that its ultimate basis is in a God. As Banks and O’Brien write, “Natural Law is thought of in divine terms as God’s law.” (p. 81) Now, it very well may be, as I personally speculate, that a God does exist and that all truth is God’s creation, however, if so, it’s yet to be proven. Logic only tells us that there is no proof that a God does not exist but that nevertheless, one could. But a “could” does not justify a “does” and thus those classical naturalists who assert with certainty that a God does exist and that natural law is to be thought of as God’s law are, in my view, being hasty.

Briefly, on other theories of jurisprudence I have deemed inferior compared to classical naturalism, they at least have fair points regarding aspects of law they are critiquing- for example, American Realism, although “skeptical” at least leads us to question that which is asserted as moral-legal fact, and at least Critical Legal Studies dares to question the sometimes corrupting roles of power and higher status within the legal system- where economic status or race or sexual orientation, et cetera, is sometimes a factor when they should never be, and at least feminist legal studies dares to call out where the judiciary has unfairly treated women.

If classical naturalism could be revised and stripped of its contradictions, and if the mistaken applications of it could be made clear, I believe we would have a theory of jurisprudence which would be as perfect and logical as Aristotle’s laws of identity, and non-contradiction.

REFERENCES
Banks, C.P, O’Brian. D.M. (2016) The Judicial Process [Adobe Digital Editions] Retrieved from https://play.google.com/books
Principe, M. (2016) The American Judicial System POL226 Outline #2 Classical & Contemporary Theories of Jurisprudence. William Paterson University  

IDEAS THAT KILLED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE

  • HOW THE PHILOSOPHY OF ROMANTICISM CAUSED THE RISE OF HITLER, THE NAZIS, WORLD WAR 2 AND THE HOLOCAUST

How does one lost and lonely, unsuccessful artist named Adolf Hitler become responsible for the sadistic torture and murder of nearly 11 million other human beings? (Schwartz, n.d.) Moreover, how does the population of a country with a rich intellectual, individualistic culture where major industrialization, liberalism and democracy (even inclusive to women at a time when women’s suffrage was a new thing yet to sweep the world) have taken effect, freely and voluntarily give dictatorial powers to a man who openly spewed racist anti semitic comments such as “it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity,”(Hitler, Mein Kampf) and “[the Jew] is and remains a parasite…the effect produced by his presence is also like that of the vampire” (Ibid.) and threatened violence on his fellow Germans, saying in a court hearing that “I may assure you that if the Nazi movement’s struggle is successful…there’ll be some heads chopped off…[and] we will fight…with all the means at our disposal, even with those which are illegal from the world’s point of view”(Sax, 1992); how does a country of seemingly intelligent people surrender itself to the psychotic fury and totalitarianism of an openly racist and violent man?

To provide a comprehensive answer to these questions is an extremely complex undertaking, thus many books on the subject have been written. There are many angles and contexts one can investigate to gain hindsight into how Germany was hijacked by Hitler and his Nazis- there are economic factors (Germany suffered hyperinflation and a depression), and political factors (Germany had been defeated in World War One, and so its economy and military were downsized as a result, and Germany was just beginning as a democracy and it was an extremely divided democracy at that) and there are also crucial philosophical factors.

As Dr. Leonard Peikoff wrote in his article “Nazi Politics”: “[Hitler and n]azism triumphed because Germany was ideologically ripe [italics are Peikoff’s throughout], because the intellectual groundwork had been prepared, because the country’s [fundamental- philosophical] ideas- were ready.”

Dr. Peikoff goes on to explain that ideas spread across individual cultures and that the dominant, trending ideas essentially determine the philosophy of most of the people in the country and the basic philosophy of the country, and its government. Throughout The Objectivist Peikoff writes a series of articles on this topic defining and explaining the body of philosophical ideas that primed Germany for Hitler’s Nazi takeover. Of the various philosophical ideas that Dr. Peikoff discusses (pragmatism, dogmatism, collectivism, subjectivism, romanticism et cetera) the one that stands out to me as the most consequential, and responsible for Hitler’s tragic rise is “romanticism”.

In this article I will argue  that the spread of the philosophy of romanticism in Germany from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s is largely to blame for not only creating the monster that was Hitler and the Nazi movement, but that it was also responsible for creating within a significant portion of the population, a vulnerability and even an openness by default, to Hitler and Nazism.

To Support my argument, I am going to analyze what I believe to be the three elements of romanticism most relevant to Hitler’s rise: the romantic aesthetics, romantic epistemology and education, and romantic ethics, each, not merely as intellectual ideas, but ideas in relation to their manifestations in the history preceding Hitler’s rise.

Before I elaborate on exactly what romanticism is, and discuss its aesthetic, epistemological-educational, and ethical ideas and their impact, I think it must be noted that my assertion that romanticism is to blame for Hitler’s rise is a controversial one.

First of all, among philosophers and historians who do concede that romanticism played a part in the rise of Hitler and Nazism, they disagree on the degree in general, and in relation to other philosophical ideas (also in varying degrees) they also think are to blame.

As I mentioned about Dr. Peikoff, he emphasizes a range of ideas. In fact, more so than any specific idea, Peikoff seems to think the influence of philosopher Immanual Kant  and the idea of collectivism were more to blame than romanticism (which is not fundamentally Kantanian).

In his own words, “It is Kant who made possible the sudden mushrooming of the Platonic collectivism  and statism in the modern world, and especially in Germany,” (Peikoff, Nazi Politics II) even though Peikoff admits that Kant was not actually a statist.

In contrast, Lawrence Birken, argues, quite to the contrary that it was not romanticism that is to blame, but actually what romanticism was an opposition to. He writes that the philosophical problem “was actually a further development of the Enlightenment, a revolutionary Enlightenment which used fanaticism to destroy an older but weakened fanaticism, terror to destroy an older but milder  ‘terror’”. (Birken, 1999)

So then, what, in the most general sense, is this ‘philosophy of romanticism’ that philosophers, historians and commentators are debating about? There is not a consensus here.

Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert contends that there are types of romanticism, and that the romanticism of Germany is a specific “German Romanticism” and that even that can be divided into phases. (2004) For example, she focuses on what she terms “Early German Romanticism” which she defines as a philosophy that opposes the notion that a philosophy can have a basic, primary, fundamental principle, and one that posits that “an introduction to philosophy can only be a critique of earlier philosophy.” (Ibid.)

Dr. Leonard Peikoff agrees that there is a specific “German romanticism” but does not provide terms for different stages of “German Romanticism”. (Nazism Versus Reason) He defines “German romanticism” as “the open revolt against reason and the Enlightenment” that had its “greatest influence- in Germany…and that man’s true source of knowledge….is: feeling- or passion, or intuition, or instinct, or faith, or the subconscious.” (Ibid.)

I believe that Dr. Peikoff’s definition is accurate for as I analyze the romantic aesthetics, epistemology-education and  ethics, the most central theme throughout will be the primacy of “feeling”, especially the feelings of “passion” and “intuition.”

Indeed, I contend that a significant number of the German population, as a result of the spreading romantic philosophy, were quite literally lost in a plague of unchecked passion, and were so enthralled by Hitler’s extreme, out of the ordinary passion, that many had an intuitive feeling that his incredible passion could save them, and so they submitted themselves to him.

ROMANTIC AESTHETICS

I think it is a very important point that, to a considerable degree, romanticism was first developed by philosophers who were contemplating art and poetry in the 1790’s  and, in fact, throughout the so called romantic movement in Germany and even at the onset of the birthing political Nazi movement, the political activism was led by very artistically minded men.  (As many know, Hitler himself was a failed artist).

I say this is important to note because one may not typically think of something as esoteric as art and aesthetics as a catapult for political movements. 

In any event, of romanticism’s origin, Millan-Zaibert tells us that in the 1790’s, “[in the very early stages of [the romantic] movement [the term romantic was used in Friedrich Schlegel’s] literary criticism to denote…subjective [poetry as opposed to] classical poetry [which] was objective…”and then later, in reference to “an appreciation for the subjective elements in art [more broadly], [and] a developing interest in viewing and understanding art in terms of its history.” (2004)  

This romantic aesthetic spread, developed and endured for over a century, and in fact, remained very key to romanticism as such, as well as the beginnings of the Nazi movement.

One very influential German thinker, for example, who wrote the bestselling Rembrandt als Erzieher in 1890 (Author Fritz Stern tell us “in the first two years the book went through thirty-nine editions”) said of art that it was “the highest good, the true source of knowledge and virtue.” (Stern, 1961) However, he added that “great art could spring only from the volk(The Aryan Germanic people as a unified community and state) and that from such art knowledge could be intuitively gained. (Ibid.)

The popularity of this book, according to Stern, which I am willing to grant, indicates that a significant number of Germans either agreed with him or were open to or interested in those key ideas.

The meaning to gain here from this romantic aesthetic is that it made reason an unpopular thing in Germany, and intuition the popular replacement, but also we see an aesthetic idea that embraces racism- most notably a view of Germanic/ Aryan supremacy and the idea that good art is dependent on adhering to that racist tenant. Moreover, art, and this view of art in particular, is posited as a something like a religion- but on what grounds? This leads us to romantic epistemology.

ROMANTIC EPISTEMOLOGY AND EDUCATION 

As romanticism developed and spread as an aesthetic philosophy, so to did the importance of subjectivity- the notion that knowledge (to whatever degree a subjectivist even believes in knowledge) is to be gained by feeling, and especially intuition and not by reason.

One necessary consequence of any given epistemological foundation is going to be the education that the youth of a culture receives. If parents, teachers, and professors agree that knowledge is to be gained one way or another by feeling, then curricula and pedagogy would of course follow suit and indeed it did. As we have seen from the romantic aesthetics, an emphasis was placed on the idea that good art can only come from communion with the volk. This general obsession with the Volk in aesthetics, and in other aspects of philosophy, was called Volkish thought and was a huge element of German education in the 1800’s.

Writes George L. Mosse: “Schools were founded according to Volkish blueprints and principles. In the state schools the ideology infiltrated into the minds of the students through books, curricula and teachers. [And then the teachers and students]…spread the ideas they had picked up.” (1964)

Mosse adds that Volkish ideology in the schools was the rule, not the exception.  (Ibid.) Also, as a result of Volkish ideology in schools, antisemitism began to spread; it was believed that “[Jews] could not be expected to have sufficiently deep or sacred feelings about [the Volk, and the Volk landscapes, the Volk History] to appreciate the message.” (Ibid.) Further, it was believed and propagated that the Jews were too intellectual for German Volkish schools.

Through these romantic Volkish schools, as is evidenced by a new racism, it can further be seen how a romantic ethics can be established and taught.

ROMANTIC ETHICS

Just like romantic aesthetics, and romantic epistemology centered on “feeling”, so too did romantic ethics.

In fact, it is the romantic ethics that are the most dangerous, because it is one’s code of ethics that mandate what essentially one is going to do with one’s life, and how one will treat one’s self and others.

By saying the romantic ethics are most dangerous I mean that perhaps through a subjective epistemology at least a universal compassion is a possible direction, or even, one could intuitively feel that at least sometimes there is a time and place for reason. (For example, it could be argued that American culture of today is pragmatic-existential and allows for degrees of subjectivity, but still concedes a value in science ((which absolutely depends on reason and empiricism)) and maybe even sometimes a degree of rational consideration with respect to treatment of others. Existentialists are by nature supposed to allow tolerance towards others as it posits that everybody can define their own meaning and values.)

Unfortunately, the romantic ethics essentially dictates a worship of feeling- especially of intuition and passion. I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned that art, and romantic aesthetics was viewed somewhat religiously and as superior to science.

Bertrand Russell writes that romantics had a “proneness to emotion…the emotion of sympathy…[which was] direct and violent and quite uniformed by thought.” (1945)  (I contend that this sounds quite a bit like Adolf Hitler. No, I do not mean to say that Hitler was actually sympathetic, but I would argue that he thought he was sympathetic to the cause of the aryan race and providing them living space and making them strong and that that which he believed to by his sympathy was arguably a major motivating factor.)

It is not just an obsession with emotion, and sympathy or perceived sympathy. It is an obsession with passion. Russell adds:

“It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences…..most of the strongest passions are destructive- hate and resettlement and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardor and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism…is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.” [Emphasis mine] (Ibid)

Upon reading that assessment of the romanticist’s obsession with passion, I contend that a person with a basic understanding of Hitler cannot help but think of him again, as Hitler was violent, anti-social, and a tyrant.

But were the German people in general violent, anti-social tyrants? Some clearly were because they voted for the Nazis and became Nazis and participated in mass genocide. Other Germans leaned towards the other kind of passion obsessed type that Russell mentioned- the anarchic rebel.

I say that because Germany, when it was the Weimar Republic became a near de-facto anarchy, which Benjamin Sax and Dieter Kuntz describe as a “severe crisis over the distribution of power…which destroyed the parliamentary system in 1930.” (1992)

Another property of the romantic ethics was the idea that one should cultivate a strong personality. As Mosse tells us about romantic-volkish education: “The strong personality was important for the school, not the strongest intelligence.” (1964)

 Robert W. Lougee calls this a “romantic individualism” which “ stressed the uniqueness of individuals, a uniqueness which placed them beyond conformity to any general law or principle” and “Man became a law and measure unto himself” and further yet, “developing one’s own individual nature is a primary objective.”(1959) 

I would make the argument, that here too, we see the manifestation of Hitler, who was obsessed with his personality- so obsessed that he had to be the captivating, charismatic center of attention and of control and his fellow Germans were to idolize him, and never question him. Also, I believe it is true that one could see that in a culture where passion, and a strong personality, and intuition are like moral imperatives, how would one not be vulnerable to Hitler?

After all, Hitler had a strong personality, and he was extremely passionate. For a person who views such concepts as moral imperatives, and sees a man so methodically and extremely practicing them, what vision other than Hitler’s would be able to compete for their- it hurts me to say- love and worship?   

Romanticism is an extremely complex, systemic philosophy. As a philosophy that was perhaps first developed with art in mind, i.e., in the philosophical branch of aesthetics, I believe, it should make one pause for a moment, for how often does one think of theories of art as potential precursors to something like the Holocaust?

In contrast, traditionally, perhaps, at least in western, or American culture, we think of art as the realm of a safe, free self expression, or maybe we think about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa.  But isn’t even that possibility quite telling of art and art theory- that is- that it has, at least, a kind of political implication.

If a certain kind of art and/or a certain kind of aesthetic becomes popular, perhaps we ought to question what the implications might be. But a subjectivist aesthetic alone, although I think it is at best a bad habit, does not have to mean a subjectivist epistemology- that is to say, perhaps one might think that in the realm of art, one should be subjective, but in matters regarding “what is knowledge?” and “how do I gain knowledge” one could still be an objectivist, or at least partly. The romantic epistemology however, does away with this possibility.

In truth, the romantic epistemology is actually extremely complex if fully examined, as it not only upholds ideas such as ‘knowledge comes from intuition, not reason”, but it further holds complex ideas as to how ones ‘intuition’ can be informed.

In fact, it is so complex that I do not believe it could be fully explained in this specific discussion, however, I would emphasize, as I mentioned earlier, that the romantic epistemology holds that intuitive knowledge comes from a religiosity towards art, and, at least according to the German romanticism, from oneness with the Volk, which thus breeds racism and did breed especially, anti-semitism, and a general culture of basic irrationality, and the German romantic volkish schools truly indoctrinated these bizarre ideas and taught what would become a truly deadly, destructive system of ethics that worshipped extreme emotion, irrational passion, and “strong personality” above intelligence and intellect.

As I have said, it is no wonder, not only that an Adolf Hitler entered the German scene, but moreover, it is also no wonder that enough German people were duped by him and democratically elected him thus enabling him to do away with the democracy he used to gain power and impose his evil tyranny. 

This is important to keep in mind because Manfred Frank claims in his book The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism that the historical connection made between romanticism and Hitler’s Nazi Germany is an “invented” one and a “cliche”, because the Nazis “hated the protagonists of early German Romanticism.” (2004)

 That some Nazis may have hated philosophers who contributed to romanticism for any reason, or that they may have rejected some aspects of various versions of or takes on romanticism is to totally miss the point: that romanticism created, within German culture, enough people with the mentality-  the obsession with irrational art, the obsession with intuition, passion, racism, irrational, whimsical as opposed to intellectual and healthy cultivation of personality (or cultivation of personality for its own sake, as opposed to truly knowing one’s self and cultivating a good self)- that could be easily become or be swayed by Hitler and the Nazis and for any one who discusses this romanticism-nazism relationship and overlooks that and/or tells others to overlook it as “cliche” and “invented” is to literally ignore facts- which is exactly what the romantic epistemology called for, thus, such a person has fallen prey to it.

REFERENCES

1 Terese Pencak Schwartz, “The Holocaust: Non-Jewish Victims” in the Jewish Virtual Library (n.d) http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/NonJewishVictims.html  (accessed July 1st, 2016)

2 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf  (London, New York, Melbourne: 1939), Kindle edition, chap 11 (Kindle Location 4548)

3 Hitler, Mein Kampf. (Kindle Location 4806-4808)

4 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, “The Triumph of National Socialism, 1929-1933” in Inside Hitler’s Germany (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992) , 108-109

5 Leonard Peikoff, “Nazi Politics” in The Objectivist original ed Ayn Rand (Irvine, Ca, Second Renaissance Inc., 1990) 599

6 Peikoff, “Nazi Politics”, 560

Peikoff, “Nazi Politics II” in The Objectivist, 625

Lawrence Birken, “Prussianism, Nazism and Romanticism in the Thought of Victor Klemperer.” The German Quarterly, Vol. 72 , No. 1 (Winter 1999)  33-43,  http://www.jstor.org/stable/407902 accessed July 2, 2016

9 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction: What is Early German Romanticism” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 1

10 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction” , 11

11 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 10

12 Peikoff, “Nazism Versus Reason” in The Objectivist, 724-725

13 Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert, “Introduction”, 12

 14 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” in The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study In the Rise of The Germanic Ideology (Berkley, Los Angeles and London: 1961, 1974, 1989) 109

15 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 98

16 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 138

17 Fritz Stern, “Critic as Failure” 119

18 George Mosse,  “Education Comes to the Aid.” In The Crisis of German Ideology,

(New York, NY: First Howard Fertig, Inc. 1964, 1998) 152      

19 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 154

20 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 155

21 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” 166

22 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement.”  In The History of Western Philosophy. (New York, NY: A Touchstone Book- Registered Trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945, 1972.) 675

23 Bertrand Russell, “The Romantic Movement” 681

24 Benjamin Sax, Dieter Kuntz, Inside Hitler’s Germany 13

25 George Mosse, “Education Comes to the Aid” , 161

26 Robert W. Lougee “German Romanticism and Political Thought.” The Review of Politics 21, no. 4 (1959):  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1405644. 638-639

27 Manfred Frank, “On Early German Romanticism as an Essentially Skeptical Movement: The Reinhold- Fitche Connection” in The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004) Adobe Digital Editions, 25