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April 2012

The historical record is replete with haters. The closest I have ever come to them, happily, is in a small museum in Topeka Kansas, Wizard of Oz country there in tornado-land. A superseded public school is home to the Brown versus Board of Education Museum: http://www.nps.gov/brvb/index.htm.
It is a National Park historical site. I have been there several times.

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Each time I have an involuntary, visceral reaction to the one of the displays. Each time I think about it long afterwards.

The display is a narrow hallway in darkness. On each side are flat panel TV screens nearly life size projecting the segregationists of the day defending their ways and shouting abuse at half a dozen black elementary school children. I saw those images on the family television as a lad, and they were distressing then, but to experience it now – sound track turned up – is, nearly, frightening.

There they are, the proud white men and women, screaming – cords distended in their necks – and shouting, gesturing and posturing to compare blacks to apes, and inevitably they have Bibles in hand. The original footage is black-and-white, but I imagine their faces red. These are the haters. Once seen, never forgotten.

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Where are they now? They are all around. Do not doubt it.

There are plenty of other haters then who were less visible, but these haters did us the favour of revealing themselves for what they were. Haters. There is no other word for it: H A T E.

These days the Haters seldom assemble for network television cameras to rant the rant. But surely they are still among us, no less numerous, and no less venomous. Full of hate, they still have a Bible at hand.

Perhaps it is an example of a long fallout (pace geology) that the object of so much hatred now is the government itself. Attorneys-general, Presidents, and National Guardsmen enforced integration, all agents of government, that demonic force ruining lives far and wide.

Are they Timothy James McVeigh’s brethren and sisteren? When they lift their eyes from a Bible, they see the world through the cross-hairs of a rifle sight.

I said “a” Bible twice because it is their Bible; it is not mine. Theirs is a book of hate, betrayal, fire, vengeance, righteousness, and more righteousness, and again righteousness. Mine, the one I read in Sunday school, chapel, New and Old Testament Religion at the church school I attended, this is a book of charity, faith, loyalty, sacrifice, endurance, compromise, fidelity, concession, compassion, hope, kindness to strangers, and the like.

I am not at all sure what conclusion to draw from any of this, but I see a connection in that hard continuity of hatred, which is readily to be found on the Internet and contemporary politics. It is there but not on prime news television this time around.

In the quest for office in the last generation the politicians everywhere have tapped that vein of hatred. They no longer run against rivals. They no longer have opponents. Rather the rivals are manifestations of evil. They are Satan’s hand. They are God’s enemies to be smote. When the educated, privileged, political class descends to this hatred, it is not surprise that such debasement is spread further by others.

Hatred is the only explanation I could think of for the vituperation heaped upon Bill Clinton years ago. At my remove Clinton seemed to be a harmless cracker who joshed and joked his way past an incumbent, patrician President who had no interest in people. Clinton continued to ah-shucks his way past a very competent but out-moded opponent a second time. In the first instance in 1992, Clinton was mightily aided by the loose canon of a third party. That was Ross Perot for those of fading memories.

The public and published vituperation of Clinton for those eight years gave me pause for thought, but that was only the part above the waterline. A few friends seemed to think I would be interested in the Internet traffic in trashing Clinton, and so for a time in the 1990s I had a daily dose of the bad things smart people could think of to say about him. He, of course, gave them plenty of ammunition. It wore thin quickly and finally I did ask these friends to cancel my subscription to their feeds. But it was an insight into the minds of smart people who took the time to hate. It went way beyond rationality. It was emotional, Mr Spock! That Cracker Clinton had not right to be president, votes or no! That was the nerve that flinched beneath the daily tirades. They got their wish when that draft dodger, the junior Bush, restored the dignity of the office by wearing cufflinks.

But Clinton’s constant bath in the hatred was as nothing compared to the cyber malevolence now spewed out about Barrack Obama. It is unbelievable. It goes beyond the Blue Dogs and Swamp Rats that now typify Congressional debates.

The Haters are still there and hard at the unending work of hatred, but they do not gather quite as conspicuously for the cameras. Not yet anyway. And when they do gather the message is coded. The Bible seems to have been supplemented by the Constitution, but like the Bible before it, it remains largely unread by those that shout the loudest about it. The totemic reading of the Constitution in Congress in 2011 was a sorry spectacle. Surely somewhere in there it says no black man can be president was the coded message. It did do that in its original form with its affirmation of slavery. The United States Constitution is a noble document, one written before the Industrial Revolution, before ‘electricity, the train, telephones, radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, rockets, nuclear weapons, satellites, or space exploration. There's a lot they didn't know about. It would be interesting to see what kind of document they'd draft today.’ Indeed. The quotation is from Ross Perot, by the way.

Had the Framers, as those who participated in the writing of the Constitution are reverentially called, today might have spent their time praying over the Magna Carta before going out to shoot a soft target.

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Alexis de Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch (2010)

A superb book this one. It brings out much from Tocqueville's notebooks and letters, which is then related to Democracy in America, volumes I and II. The comparison is always informative, as we see Tocqueville refining the ore, and at times arresting to see the conclusions he wrestles from the raw material. He laboured to suppress snap judgements when he saw something different and even offensive to his sensibilities. Not common that restraint.

Impressive research underlies the book, as the author compares Tocqueville’ experiences with that of other European travellers in the United States at the time. This cross section of European travel writers is quite striking. He was not alone in making the trip, but he alone made a lasting work from it.

Following Tocqueville’s trail also makes the reader aware for what he missed. Tocqueville missed meeting Abraham Lincoln by a few miles. Tocqueville made nothing of the differences between Canada and the United States. He only saw in Canada the ghost of its French past. Though Tocqueville was travelling at a time when Associationism was a current in American intellectual life he seems never to have encountered any of its advocates or adherents. That is strange since Associationism, though now a relic in the museum of dead ideas, was a cut-down version of Frenchman Charles Fourier’s theories of humanity. It peaked about ten years after Tocqueville’s visit but its seeds were there at the time of the visit. Nor did Tocqueville encounter any of the other utopian colonies like Nashoba in Tennessee, though he passed close by. It was ended at the time of his trip, but only just, and no one seems to have mentioned it to him. It was a Southern experiment in interracial living.

The long chapter on the three races was abridged from student editions of the Democracy in America for many years. But that chapter is powerful on every point. Slavery is pernicious, degrading both parties. Tocqueville talked to red men, but never to black as far as I can tell.

Harvey Mansfield, Jr. Tocqueville: A very brief introduction (2010) is a concise account of Tocqueville’s whole life and work. It is quite remarkable in condensing so much into so few very well chosen words. It is highly recommended. I cannot say the same for The Ideal of Alexis de Tocqueville (2000) by Manning Clark. Sheldon Wolin’s rambling Tocqueville between two worlds (2001) glitters now and again, but mostly it rambles.

To return to Damrosch’s Alexis de Tocqueville’s Discovery of America, it is superb on the paradoxes that Tocqueville embodied. Genius is sometimes defined as the ability simultaneously to hold contradictory ideas. By that definition Tocqueville was certainly a genius. He was democrat and anti-democrat at once. He was a liberal and a conservative. He admired energy and daring and valued calm order. Would that there were more geniuses less inclined to simple labels with even simpler conclusions.

http://www.amazon.com/Tocquevilles-Discovery-America-Leo-Damrosch/dp/B0058M75UI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334627754&sr=8-1

Lawrence Scaff, Max Weber in America. Princeton University Press, 2011

http://www.amazon.com/Max-Weber-America-Lawrence-Scaff/dp/0691147795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334464504&sr=8-1


Max Weber and his wife Marianne spent four months travelling in the United States in 1904.

The visited New York City, Boston, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Chicago, Evanston, St. Louis, Muskogee, Fort Gibson, New Orleans, Tuskegee, Knoxville, Asheville, Greensboro, Mount Airy, Richmond, Washington D. C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Providence, and more.

They went to libraries, high schools, universities, factories, alms houses, work houses, settlements, German communities, stock exchanges, land auctions, abattoirs, stockyards, union meetings, committee meetings, receptions, breakfasts, chambers of commerce, and so on, and on. Both Max and Marianne gave talks and lectures and listened to many more. He solicited contributions for a German sociology journal.

When a scheduling conflict gave him the choice of attending a Presidential reception and meeting Teddy Roosevelt or going to the Indian Territory to meet red Indians and see the remains of the frontier, it was an easy choice. Off he went to Muskogee.

The presidential election campaign was on during his visit and he read much about TR. He may have seen TR in Germany, which Roosevelt visited more than once. TR spoke a passable German. When applying the concept of charisma to politics, TR was an example Weber used.

Max took a particular interest in race relations and formed a lifelong friendship with W. E. B. du Bois. That is why he made a point touring the South.

The book is heavy going. The tour is only about a quarter of the book. The remainder includes the background of the conference in St. Louis that was the initiating factor in making the trip. German influence on American intellectual life at the time. The impact of the trip on Weber’s ideas, and the translation and publication of Weber's works into English.

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