Progressives, Behold Your Forebears!

Gosh, but it’s been too long since I’ve posted here.

I have been downloading and reading books from Project Gutenberg. It’s a wonderful site, and you should explore what they have. Mostly old books, and some of them are gems (I’m currently reading Samuel Johnson’s rendering of The Illiad.). It’s how we’re keeping Jennifer in reading material right now. I download books and then put them on her Kindle for her. And she reads 40 or so in the span of about three weeks.

Me? I don’t read so fast. Today, however, I found this little book from 1899, Chicago, Satan’s Sanctum, by one L. O. Curon. The book doesn’t say who he is, but if I have to guess, I’d say he’s a Methodist or Presbyterian minister. And he spends the book railing against all sorts of things. Mostly, he is convinced that the City of Chicago is one giant den of iniquity, vice and corruption. I’ve not gotten to Curon’s conclusion, but if I had to guess, I would think he is in favor of the civil service act, good government, women’s suffrage, regular church attendance, prohibition, social and moral uplift, honesty, decency and good Christian living. I think he’s in favor of those things. So far, he’s more against than for.

Because it’s clear what he’s against: drunkenness, prostitution, bars open after midnight, houses of ill repute, gambling, dishonest policing (he spends a whole chapter, and a not so interesting one, on the corruption of the Chicago Police Department), dancing, street life, lesbianism, cockfighting (described as “the national pastime of the Filipinos”), and that constant threat to proper Christian life in America, negro music:

Strolling bands of negro musicians, scraping the violin and strumming the guitar and mandolin, or the home orchestra, composed of these dusky minstrels, add their alleged harmonies to the occasion, and, with nasal expression, roll of coon songs in the popular rag time, with their intimations of free love, warmth of passion and disregard of moral teachings. At times, with assumed pathos and mock dignity they warble a sentimental song with some allusion to “Mother,” “Home,” or “Just Tell Them That You Saw Me.” The spree goes on, with fresh additions from the bagnios. Women with the most repulsive signs of prolonged dissipation, of advanced disease, with the upper parts of the body exposed, not perhaps more than is customary at a fashionable charity ball, join in with salacious abandon.

(Perhaps Curon would have felt differently about “alleged harmonies” had they been singing “Nearer My God to Thee” accompanied by a harmonium in a church somewhere…)

My guess is Curon is probably opposed to race mixing, too. And if he’s the late-19th/early 20th century pastor I full expect him to be, he’s probably a progressive, in the way Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were progressives, believers in clean government, social uplift, labor laws, imperialism, and eugenics. Yes, liberals and progressives, these are your forebears. You may not have a problem with the “scraping of the violin and the strumming of the guitar and mandolin” by “strolling bands of negro musicians,” but this kind of prissy nonsense — that sought the eradication of anything remotely interesting in city life, and instead its replacement with “alleged” small town virtue (later combined with scientific management concocted at leading universities) — is part and parcel of the striving for a state-centered society in America.

Only Partly?

It’s nice to see someone on the Left take this issue on. Even as badly as it’s done by the author of this In These Times piece:

How did separateness, which the Warren Court understood as the root cause of inequality in America, acquire such intellectual currency and legitimacy? Liberals and progressives are partly to blame. We fetishize multiculturism—celebrating increasing diversity in government, universities, corporate boardrooms and popular culture—while tacitly tolerating rampant inequality, poverty and informal segregation.

No, not partly — completely. It’s easy to be a cultural radical on matters of race, gender and whatever, since that allows issues of class and social power to remain unaddressed. (And unaddressed they are!) It allows the cultural radicals to think they can and are truly changing a society even while they snuggle down comfortably in bourgeois professions and don’t actually challenge ways and means and ends of power. (Gramsci was wrong; radicals do not really change institutions when they march through them, they merely accept using institutional power for their own ends, which is just as exploitative and abusive as the ends they seek to replace.) It allows for the ridiculous to become radical — that all people are entitled to become bourgeois professionals (so long as they retain radical outlooks) with mortgages and health insurance and comfy managerial jobs pushing paper around.

Still, while I appreciate Davis’ gumption in writing this piece, I’m hardly inclined to accept his solutions, which are a state-centered society in which any mediating distinction between individual and state — and any intervening identity — is annihilated. Davis would likely be the first person to complain about rampant individualism (as the Left is constantly wont to), but his cure for the problem is the atomization of the human being to individual citizen alone and isolated before the state. Can’t have progressive citizenship without that, because you cannot have “the people united” without that. Not wanting individuals, all that is left is the mass of the citizenry — equally subject to the whim and caprice of the state.

Not an equality anyone should want.