Saturday, October 19, 2013

Marquis And Reprisal

Though he died two centuries ago, and has become associated with certain ugly practices, there's been plenty of interest in the thought of the Marquis de Sade.  There's certainly been a lot of debate over his work, mostly on the left, since he writes in favor in what some would call absolute freedom, others, license.  In a  piece in The Baffler, Hussein Ibish notes his influence on the modern world. (Ibish also has some questionable conclusions about modern American society--the piece is entitled "The United Sades Of America"). Still, to even bring up his name in polite company is asking for it:

...I visited one of D.C.’s landmark bookstores, Politics and Prose—a literary venue known, as its name suggests, for furnishing customers with the conceit that they’re browsing and shopping in a vaguely subversive fashion. But as I walked up to join the store’s cultivated and edgy communitas, I committed a terrible error: I asked a clerk where I might find the works of the Marquis de Sade. My request made its way up through an increasingly consternated group of shop assistants; I had to repeat it several times before they fully registered what I was asking for. At that point, I was told to leave the store immediately. [....] It was as if I had asked for a how-to manual for murder, kidnapping, or child abuse—or, at a minimum, the most objectionable form of pornography.

It's an interesting article, but really I bring it up to be rough on Ibish, since after exposing how small- minded one side (his side) can be, he goes on to attack the right--at least part of it--with a casualness and arrogance that's quite something.

It's threaded throughout the piece, but let me give you an example:

While many on the intellectual left have sought to grapple with Sade more directly, Sade also exerts a suitably perverse influence on the present-day American right. To take just one example, elements of Sade’s thought—via an embarrassingly reductive caricature of Nietzsche—thrive in the robust American cult of Ayn Rand.
Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan frequently cited Rand as his most important inspiration, and Rand’s unabashed championing of economic elites was also echoed by Romney’s own notorious dismissal of the 47 percent of Americans who don’t earn enough money to pay income tax and therefore needn’t be bothered with.

No matter what you think of Rand's influence on today's right (or de Sade's influence on Nietzsche, or Nietzsche's on Rand), she's still a fairly marginal figure among Republicans, even for Ryan, who may be inspired by her, but supports programs and budgets that put him well outside the world of Rand.

Then there's Romney's statement, which Ibish characterizes like a partisan rather than someone trying to understand it. It was certainly a gaffe (spoken privately to a group of supporters), and it did make him look uncaring. (Obama had a similar gaffe about voters who cling to guns and religion when he first ran).

But Romney wasn't dismissing the 47% who don't pay income tax as worthless human beings, he was mostly saying (in a conspiratorial way) that they weren't going to vote for him anyway so he can't worry about their votes, he needs to win the election with votes from the other 53%.  It still is an ugly way to put it, but the former governor of Massachusetts wasn't planning on punishing the 47% if elected, or getting rid of massive government programs.  He believed his style of governance would help the poorest, by making government programs smarter and helping those in need to become more independent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That just shows how sick you are, LAGuy, when you say Romney believed his lack of government programs would help those in need. Those clerks would chase you out lickety split and set the drones after you, before they closed up for the day, cleaned up, and attended the latest anti-drone protest.

Sad to say, though, I'm afraid you're right. Romney didn't believe in a lack of programs; he almost certainly believed his programs were smarter, or would have been. Oh, well. Can we thank our lucky stars he wasn't elected?

4:33 AM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

The most mysterious thing about Romney's comment is the way that so many people believed it revealed his true feelings.

Romney had spent decades telling various audiences what they wanted to hear. Perhaps a hidden microphone in his family's kitchen might reveal his true sentiments. But a hidden microphone in a fundraiser? Even the most honest politician tells people with money what they want to hear -- but suddenly everyone assumes Romney is revealing his true views to people he wants money from?

If you want to say that the 47% comment reveals what Romney believes rich Republican donors want to hear, then I will agree with you. But I'm tired of everyone thinking it's a window into Romney's soul....

9:55 AM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Btw, while "Politics and Prose" does have a pretentious title, it also has a really nice coffee house downstairs with free wi-fi, decent food (reminds me of a Seattle coffee house), and occasional folk singers too.

Because the cable company in D.C. has a monopoly, they took three weeks to hook up my cable when I first moved here, so I spent those three weeks at P&P a lot.

9:58 AM, October 19, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The people who were reporting that comment didn't give a hoot about his soul or Republican donors.

They just found it important and useful to say so. Can you imagine a campaign built entirely around Obama's arrogance and clumsiness? Of course you can--you saw it done with Romney.

2:31 PM, October 19, 2013  

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