Perhaps fifty years ago, the philosopher Eric Voegelin wrote that living in a modern western society often feels as though one is living in an insane asylum. That was true then, and is considerably more true today. But it seems fitting to take the underlying thought and its engendering experience in a different but related direction: If western societies had some of the feel of insane asylums, they also had and have the feel of becoming concentration camps, set up and run by quasi-totalitarian governments and their instruments of control. Specifically, who can be alive and conscious in our American society today and not realize that increasingly we see elements of totalitarian political culture growing up and firmly lodged in our society?
At the present time, the United States of America is not essentially identical to Nazi Germany, to the Soviet Union, or to Communist China; but are we not heading in a similar direction? The degree to which political power is amplified by mass media and by mass education is startling and disturbing. The political culture of our country is no longer republican, as we were at the time of our Founding in the late 18th century; nor are we the kind of largely egalitarian-democratic society that emerged in the era of Jefferson and Jackson; nor are we simply a culture dominated by plutocrats—already visible during and just after the Civil War. Increasingly, the political power of the Federal Government—and to a lesser extent, the power of the State and local governments—has grown to such enormous scope and magnitude that none of our Founders would recognize in our regime the spirit and essence of the Constitution of 1787. They would recognize certain names, such as “the Congress,” “the Presidency,” and the “Supreme Court,” but the institutions that have developed have dwarfed and virtually drowned out the institutions set up by the Constitution as it was written and promulgated. We have broken the spirit of the Constitution by amassing largely unchecked power in the hands of the rulers and the power elite.
Even more disturbing is what has happened to the body politic, and to individual citizens under the law. For the most part, we Americans have become a nearly lawless people, who refuse to govern ourselves. We are manipulated by media and “education,” dominated by governments and self-important politicians, and nearly impervious to the call of virtue and right living in our own souls. Indeed, most Americans today either do not know, or do not want to know, that they have souls—that they are ensouled bodies. The Hobbesian belief in man as a “body in motion” has become part of the uncoded civil religion. We interpret ourselves as a people in history, with no destiny beyond what is achievable on earth. “The new order of the ages” has swallowed up the life of the spirit in the United States; we are “new men,” not perhaps in Marx’s sense of “Socialist Man” who “creates himself,” but virtually the same thing in reality. Our society does not so much inculcate individual liberty grounded on individual responsibility and acquired virtues, but on the “right” to follow one’s whims and wishes and willing wheresoever they may lead. Observe the way we Americans act, and especially among those under about age fifty or so, and one finds that as a whole, we are a virtually lawless people. Or rather, we are a “law unto ourselves”—noisy self-driven actors governed by passions which are dominated and ruled, not by reason dwelling in one’s soul, but by the powers that be, especially in the mass media, entertainment world, manipulative corporations and their “social media,” and of course, the power of the elites, whether elected or appointed.
Thinking ourselves free and a “free people,” we are in fact enslaved to mass manipulators, and to our own lower passions. We Americans are enslaved. We are slaves to ideologies, to fads, to Hollywood, to Silicon Valley, to Wall Street, to K Street (in Washington, DC), to the noise and bombast of a degenerate mass culture that exists at an astonishingly low level. But worse than this, whatever good qualities we as a people possessed one hundred or even fifty years ago seem all but bleached out now. We need to ask ourselves: Can we sink much lower as a people in history? As a people under God? (“Under God!” some would scream. “Hell, you can’t say that. We are not under God because either there is no God, or God is irrelevant in our lives, and in the destiny of our country. We are free and equal! We are our own creators and rulers.”) Are we indeed our own creators? We are so “free” that many resort to violence or violent speech against those who disagree with them. “Freedom” apparently is becoming a synonym for self-slavery. Rejecting God and reason, we Americans are creating a godless concentration-camp society in our own image.
It is more than disturbing to see and to feel what America is becoming. Many of us in the second half of our lives are painfully aware of destructive changes. Rather than “making America great again,” by our actions, inactions, and words, we are becoming neo-totalitarians, generally driven by a godless “progressive” ideology, in which “nothing is real,” except what one “chooses to believe.” We are so blind, that, even with our science, we cannot recognize the image of God in the womb of a mother, or on the face of one’s political opponent. We see nothing of any genuine worth except what serves our own purposes, what enhances our own power, or what is “convenient,” or “politically correct,” or “acceptable” to the least rational elements among us. As a recent American President rather fiendishly advised his supporters, “Get in the face” of your opponents, and “take a gun to a knife fight.” Having preached in this manner, and had his effects, it is not surprising that we have an actual Fascist group that labels itself “Antifa” (short for “Anti-Fascist”) to hide its intent, to dupe people, but in reality uses tactics similar to the Nazis and Communists in Weimar Germany: threatening others, using violence against opponents, destroys property, deceives by slogans, and seeks to overturn and destroy whatever does not suit their criteria for being “progressive.” In other words, “Antifa” is a fitting symbol of the the New Society, the “Progressive America” that is emerging in our midst. It seeks to dominate, to destroy, to inflict its will on others just as completely as the abortionist inflicts his will on the unborn human being. Indeed, in the new Progressive America, abortion is in reality the model for the new society: whatever these people deem “inhuman” or “unwanted,” can be destroyed in the name of their god, “Progress.” Abortion, euthanasia, killing the “unwanted” or “socially useless,” such as the elderly, and destroying one’s personal or political opponents by “any means necessary” to achieve their end—these are their achievements. Their goal is complete domination of our culture and society, and in true totalitarian fashion, build a “new society” and a “new humanity.” And their dream is now far advanced.
All things that enter being must perish; everything that is born, dies. Political societies are no exception. America was born several centuries ago, and in time, it will perish, despite popular illusions and beliefs. Our task, however, is not to hasten our country’s demise, but to preserve and protect the best in us and in our political society, and to uproot from our own hearts the evil that hastens the destruction of all things good and beautiful. Our country’s fate is in the balance, and so is our own.
—Wm. P. McKane
27 July 2019
22 July 2019
I enjoy and appreciate a wide variety of music, and I spend a considerable amount of time listening, sometimes analyzing, sometimes following scores. As I’ve said, I use my time far more with listening to good music than to watching movies or TV shows. Time and resources are limited.
When listening to music within the Romantic genre, I often think about Goethe’s famous saying that “Romanticism is disease.” Much of popular music in the 20th century is within the Romantic movement. It is the bulk of music to which we are exposed, unless one makes a hard effort to listen to other genres (such as Renaissance, Baroque, Classical in the narrow sense (Haydn, Mozart), or ancient Chinese music, and so on).
Last night I could not sleep because of a noisy pool party two houses away, and a young man moving things into his father’s place at midnight, right next door to me, with much banging, as he was moving a pile of furniture legs and wood (his father does wood working). So I used AirPods for concentrated listening, and to hide the screams of children and the banging of unloading wood piles. I listened with a question in mind: What is there about Romantic music that would induce a mind such as Goethe’s to call it “disease”? And note, one finds similar thoughts in late Nietzsche, once he turned on that famous Romantic, Wagner, and labeled his music as “degenerate,” which I take to be a rough equivalent to “diseased.”
I listened to a number of Romantic composers with my question in mind. First, I focused on the slow movements, saving more outwardly expansive movements (such as the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Eroica) for another time (and because I have analyzed it previously, as the work of aggression and rebellion). I listened to some Shostakovitch, Rachmaninoff, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, and of course Wagner (using the central music of Tristan und Isolde, “O sink hernieder…”) There is indeed a similar quality in these composer’s works that marks them as unmistakably within the Romantic movement. My brief notes are not meant to be a criticism of the music, but analysis. In fact, I enjoy this music very much, and occasionally turn to it for its melodic beauty and emotional depth.
There seems to be what can be called a breach from reality in the Romantics, or a wallowing in excess. Listening to this music reminds me of something in Homer: explicitly, it brings to mind the passage in the Odyssey in which Odysseus has his crew strap him to the mast, so that he can listen to the Sirens without pursuing them into the waves to his own death. As you may remember, Odysseus goes wild from the Siren songs, so beautiful are they, and yet he cannot seek them out, as he longs to do. The best Romantic composers are geniuses at singing Siren songs that are so beautiful and enticing—but one enters at one’s risk. To listen in moderation (occasionally) should be no problem, but one can easily become in effect addicted to their seductive beauty. This applies to the great Romantic composers—and to no one more than to Wagner, whose aficionados / devotees are well known for being so addicted that some travel around the world to keep attending performances of the Ring or other of Wagner’s operas. (Or recall to mind how some youths followed “The Grateful Dead” from one location to another, so entranced were they by the music). This behavior displays excess.
If one listens closely to Schumann, for example, one falls in love with the beauty, and wants to keep listening. The music provides an excess of tenderness, a feeling of ecstasy, of a movement into one’s own private feelings and daydreams from which it may become difficult to escape. Pleasure is indeed addicting, and the pleasure given by the Romantic composers can be extreme, as they are geniuses of exciting chosen emotional responses.Haydn does not set out to overwhelm one’s mind with sentiment, with intense feelings (anger, love, grief, fear), but the Romantics do. And again, they are masters of engendering and one can say manipulating passions. Again, the masters in this regard are probably Beethoven (in some of his works, such as the Eroica) and R Wagner.
For example, if I listen closely (while doing nothing else) to the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, or to the andante of R Schumann’s Quartet for piano and strings in E-flat, I feel intensely drawn in, enraptured, and taken off by a kind of Erlkönig (Goethe’s symbol) into another realm. I am charmed to enter into my own private feelings and thoughts and memories. That pull and withdraw into oneself, if not balanced by a reasoned attunement to reality as a whole is, I think, the essence of the “disease of Romanticism.” It is like good wine: one can drink it responsibly; but one can be so taken in by the taste and its effects at “relaxing one” as to become a “wino,” at which point real damage is done.
In the wise words of the ancient Greeks, “Nothing over-much,” meaning “nothing in excess.” There is no substitute for a balanced, sane life, governed by reason. I think that this is what underlies Goethe’s dismissal of Romanticism as “diseased.” It traps one in the abyss of self.
Click on the above Poetry and Tanka tabs to read a variety of styles of poetry.