Translated by Robert Fitzgerald
New York: Random House, 1983
404 pp., $20.00
By J. Jackson Barlow
Robert Fitzgerald's new translation of Virgil's Aeneid will not appeal to the casual reader or to the scholar accustomed to "critical editions." There are none of the usual devices intended to make classical works easier to understand and interpret: It contains no glossary, no interpretive essay, no plot summary, no introduction. Even the acknowledgments are in small print at the end of the volume. This reticence stems, it seems, from Fitzgerald's unwillingness to stand between the reader and the story.
The Aeneid's story is of course unfolded in the poem itself, and Fitzgerald lets the reader go directly to the story. The reader will find opportunity along the way (if he is so inclined) to make the observations customarily set forth in introductions. Virgil's intentions, his devices, his mastery of poetic form and language, all are revealed in the poem much more clearly than any introduction can do. Fitzgerald gives his readers the now-rare opportunity to learn, as distinct from being told, about Virgil's Aeneid.
Reticence is undeniably the proper role of the translator. He cannot assume that his own interpretation is best. His office is to stand aside and allow the reader to make his own judgments. There is, however, an obvious problem with this. The translator's judgments are embedded-hidden-in the text of his work. When Fitzgerald uses "warfare" rather than the more conventional "arms" to translate arma (the first word of the poem), it reflects his interpretation of the Aeneid. It is his judgment of what best reproduces Virgil's meaning and best captures the mood which Virgil tried to set. The disadvantage of Fitzgerald's reticence is that we begin the poem without his having told us what kind of Aeneid he will show us. Will Fitzgerald try to capture the gravitas of the Roman spirit, or will he try to make the Aeneid a story for modern audiences, audiences which demand "relevance"?
Fitzgerald's translation is unquestionably a fine one. He has struck a pleasing balance between pedantic literal-mindedness and poetic fancy, and produced a wonderfully readable version. Fitzgerald's choice of words is always apt, even if sometimes (as with arma) a departure from convention, and is faithful to the Latin text. Major credit for this version's readability goes to Fitzgerald's halving of Virgil's line; that is, for every Latin line there are two lines in the translation. This works very well most of the time-English versions that retain or try to reproduce Virgil's hexameter are frequently difficult reading and certainly not to be read for pleasure. At times, however, especially in the second half of the poem, the short line detracts from the grandeur of Virgil's theme and the majesty of his language. The effect is of reportage, rather than "singing"; of history, rather than myth. Despite Fitzgerald's judicious and admirable choice of words, the stateliness sometimes is missing.
The story of the Aeneid is of course the story of the origin of Rome through the efforts of the great Trojan warrior-hero Aeneas. His wanderings after Troy's defeat occupy the first half of the poem, while the second tells of his labors to establish the Trojans in Italy and his heroic fight with the Rutulian hero Turnus. But despite these and countless other similarities between the Aeneid and the Iliad and Odyssey, a difference of intention is manifest. To make only the most obvious observations, Virgil wrote in a skeptical age, in an age that was aware of the charms of philosophy. Homer's age was not skeptical and was not yet aware of philosophy. In Virgil's time, two philosophical schools contended for the soul of Rome, the Stoics and the Epicureans. The first great post-philosophic epic, Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, had been written not long before the Aeneid. Like the Aeneid, it traced Rome's origin to Venus; it too was a praise of Venus. But its intention had been to convince men of the ugliness and terror of human life, and persuade them that the only remedy was Epicurean philosophy.
Virgil's poem is not an attempt to answer Lucretius; it is certainly not a "Stoic" response to Lucretius' Epicurean teaching. As a mythical or poetic account of Rome's origins, it takes as its starting point piety or reverence for the gods. Against the skepticism of the Augustan Age, Virgil wants to reaffirm-indeed establish wholly anew-the nobility and the justice of Rome's founding.
All the ages of the city, from Romulus to Julius Caesar, have been episodes that divide two "golden ages," according to Virgil. The first golden age was the product of the heroic struggle of Aeneas, most pious of the Trojans:
As to our stalemate before stubborn Troy,
The sword arm of Aeneas, with Hector's, halted
Dominance of the Greeks for ten long years;
Both known for courage, both for skill in arms,
Aeneas first in reverence for the gods.
[Diomedes speaking, XI 285-92]
The second golden age will be the age of Augustus; i.e., Virgil's own time. But Virgil was aware of the powerful obstacles in the way of any restoration of the virtues of the Roman people such as a new golden age would require. Aeneas' heroic piety was not the virtue of the sophisticated Romans of Virgil's age-Romans whom Virgil avoided most of the time by staying in the countryside. Rome was a city grown sated with conquest; it lacked the leanness of a heroic race. In any case, the opportunities for heroism of Aeneas' sort in the Roman world seemed to have passed with Augustus' victory at Actium. Great warriors did not seem possible in a world where the conqueror was the man who could best administer. If nothing was left but administration, could this really be a golden age?
The Aeneid is a central element of the western heritage. Virgil was, for centuries, the only classical poet known first-hand in the West, and his influence continues to be felt in countless subtle ways. Fitzgerald's reticence permits student and scholar alike to approach the Aeneid afresh, and his fine translation is an encouragement to give the Aeneid the thoughtful attention it deserves.
JOYLESS ODE TO JOY
Schiller, Hegel, and Marx: State, Society, and the Aesthetic Ideal of Ancient Greece
By Philip J. Kain
McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982
179 pp., $25.00
By Fred Baumann
To see oneself as ugly is ugly. But it makes one dream of beauty-latent, future, but usually one's own. Philip J. Kain addresses the tradition of modern thought which reflects on modernity's ugliness in the hope of ennobling it. He does so to settle the vexed quarrel among students of Marx about the fundamental unity of his thought.
This argument hangs on scrupulous weighting of textual hints which I do not presume to judge. But Kain surely makes a strong commonsense case that Marx shifted his views, but that the shift, occurring gradually and never wholly consistently, still overlies a deeper level of "humanistic" consistency which concerns itself with human self-alienation.
Kain comes to understand Marx by comparing favorably his treatment of the problem of human fragmentation in modernity with that of his predecessors Schiller and Hegel. Schiller begins by turning nostalgically to the fabled wholeness of ancient Greece as a standard for modernity. Through a training in beauty, "aesthetic education," which will make men, now fragmented by their social functions, whole again, Schiller hopes to re-create a kind of fulfillment that science and the division of labor have destroyed. Yet he fails to move from nostalgia to practical policy because, according to Kain, he does not see how to make modern factory work beautiful or a whole man of a worker. Hence the "aesthetic state," which originally seemed to be a political state inhabited by the aesthetically educated, becomes at the end more a state of mind for an elite few than a social possibility.
Hegel, who in his youth had followed Schiller's glorification of Greece and therefore denigrated Christianity's negation of nature and its attempted transcendence of it, later reversed his views. He came to see in alienation a potentially positive force that, at the level of philosophy, could restore harmony to the relation of man and world that had, at the level of nature, been possible for the naive Greeks. That is, he saw the disenchantment of the world, the death of the Greek gods, as a sad but necessary step in human progress. This meant that the ideal of individual wholeness (of labor as playful self-expression, for example) could not be realized directly but would have to be established analogically, either in the philosopher's recognition that the apparently given and necessary was itself a product of his human freedom, or, for most of the rest of us, in the acceptance of the legitimate and just distribution of tasks in an order where each achieves full recognition as a citizen.
Like the young Hegel, the young Marx also followed Schiller in seeking, rather literal-mindedly, to restore man to wholeness by making work meaningful self-expression. As the development of the species is, under Communism, no longer distorted by need, and labor "gives rise to . . . the continuing actualization of the species, then the individual, far from finding himself either subordinate to this process or lost in it, will experience in it his own realization and development" (p. 90). Less abstractly, this seems to mean that (a) work will be pleasure because no one will be tied to one job and/or (b) the individual producer will not feel his individual work to be meaningless because, like the bee in the hive, he will not fundamentally understand it as his work in particular.
But the later Marx, in discarding the concept of "species-being" (i.e., the hope that man can become that hive-creature who lives for the social whole in all his life), also discards the hope that man can achieve the state of playful contemplation while on the job. Instead, he substitutes the possibilities of leisure-time cultivation as a way of ennobling all life, including, as much as possible, a labor already greatly improved by Communism. For Kain, Marx thus comes off best. He puts forward as practical a solution as possible, neither relapsing, like Schiller, into elitism and dreaming; nor offering, like Hegel, an essentially verbal solution wherein the facts of alienated, meaningless labor remain, but the laborers are told a story to legitimize them.
Crudely, this is Kain's account. To me, his book's considerable interest appears not when one reflects on this account directly nor in its relevance to the struggle for the possession of Marx's intellectual bones-a quarrel which, however high the stakes, always has its pedantic and otherwise unedifying sides. Rather, his book is most interesting as a treatment of the fundamental problem of the project of ennobling liberalism. Seen in this way, Schiller turns out to be more interesting than Marx.
Before one can judge solutions, one should have clarity about the problem. For Kain, there is one problem all three thinkers face: "human fragmentation"; its solution is to be an exercise in "humanistic" thought. Yet if we return to the originator of this entire line of thought, we can see how drastically the formulation of the problem has shifted between Schiller and Marx. Rousseau's demonstration that the pursuit of happiness creates misery established a dilemma for defenders of human freedom. Here begin the attempts to show that men can be free of despotic political and religious institutions and traditions without enslaving themselves to their own desires, without making a hell for themselves out of their artificially created desires and their consequent hypocrisies and dependencies.
It is in this context that Kant's discovery of man's freedom as a rational being and his complex effort to achieve an historical reconciliation with man's desirous nature gains political meaning. For Schiller, Kant, whether properly understood or not, was the great guide, temptation, and stumbling block. Schiller was enormously attracted by Kant's prospect of a free yet noble being who, on the basis of enlightened reason, might match the dignity of a naive Greek, secure in his ensouled world. He was nonetheless acutely aware that the triumph of reason over the desires was precisely a triumph of dignity and not of grace, of sublimity and not of beauty, because it was, in some measure, tyrannical. Laocooen's dignity comes from the sublime strain put on him as he exercises his moral freedom in the teeth of his natural desire to submit to his agony. The revolt of nature, of the desires, is at every moment possible. Even worse than dire revolt is the sly seduction whereby the desirers, like the disreputable adulterers of Lei Liaisons Dangereuses, begin to philosophize and convince man that he is following the dictates of unbiased reason when he is really, unknowingly, indulging in the basest desires. Some form is needed to overcome this perpetual overcoming, to bring harmony out of the teeth-gritting domination of the desire by reason.
The political model to which all implicitly and explicitly refer and for which, it can be argued, all are seeking an improved substitute, is the "general will." That there is something elusive and even fictitious about it would be hard to deny. If it works it harmonizes individual interests by transcending them. Yet, in writing Letters on Aesthetic Education, Schiller had directly before his eyes an example of regime which thought that it embodied the general will: the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France. For Schiller, the Jacobins did not primarily pose the question of overcoming "human fragmentation" but, rather more fundamentally, the very possibility of rational liberty itself. We have left behind the "savage" who "despises Art and recognizes Nature as his sovereign mistress," but now, instead of cultured men, we find the "barbarian" who "derides and dishonors Nature, but-more contemptibly than the savage-he continues frequently to become the slave of his slave." Indeed, ". . . there seems to be a physical possibility of setting Law upon the throne, of honoring Man at last as an end in himself and making true freedom the basis of political association. Vain hope! The moral possibility is wanting, and the favorable moment finds an apathetic generation" (On the Aesthetic Education of Man, pp. 34-35).
If the general will is no guarantee against the revolt of nature, if the "sea-green incorruptible" and his ilk are actually the slaves of the vengeful desires they think they have enslaved to the general will, then the form we seek cannot be a rational one put upon the rebellious desires; it must become intrinsic to the desires. That is then aesthetic education: the training of the desires to desire the moral, hence the overcoming of dignity and the sublime in favor once more of grace and beauty.
That this proposal is breathtaking in its grandeur and subject to innumerable devastating criticisms is probably self-evident. Certainly it was plain enough to Schiller so that, as Kain notes, he seems as tentative about suggesting it as a practical solution as his conception itself is bold. To demand as much of reason as Kant does is already perhaps more than reasonable; to demand it of the desires, as Schiller does, is staggering. But Kain's criticism, that factory labor could not be made aesthetic, seems to me not one of the decisive ones, for in presupposing that of course there must be factories, producing with great efficiency consumer goods for the markets, he presupposes the givenness of precisely the uneducated desires, caught up in the throes of competitive amour propre. It is a criticism which suggests, in fact, precisely the failure to distinguish between what Schiller and Marx thought the problem was.
Schiller, faced with what seemed to be the impossibility of human liberty that was not enslaved, a la Locke or Madison, to the primitive appetites, sought, by direct and perhaps fantastic means, to ennoble, form, restrain, and make beautiful the appetites themselves. Hegel, by contrast, seems to have sought to universalize the general will in a state which would no longer be located in an out-of-the-way backwater like Corsica where the news of culture had not yet penetrated and where a Legislator could impose virtuous myths on the simplicity of the folk. Instead, after ingesting and digesting the poisonous fruits of culture, something like the general will could be established universally and perhaps unmythically. In undertaking this project, the political character of the problem, extremely and directly important for Schiller, is, no doubt deliberately, submerged. That is, after Hegel, it appears possible to dream of a human perfection in which all contradictions are overcome; no strain, no morality is required, either in reason or the appetites; no conflict need appear; and even death can be overcome, if not through medical technology then through "actualization" of our species-being.
This seems to be Marx's dream, and he offers us practical remedies (Communism, relatively meaningful labor, and the fruits of technology) to reach it. But, if by the overcoming of human fragmentation Schiller meant the training of the passions to an exquisite standard of moral restraint, what does Marx mean? For Marx the problem is that human beings cannot develop fully under capitalism. Of course, the standard for their development cannot be "nature." What is given, for Marx, are human "needs." As Kain says, "Human need, for Marx, is an indication of human nature, the species essence" (p. 82). But when the deformation of the struggle for existence is overcome by Communism, human perfection can be achieved, not by a final satisfaction of "needs" but by the free creation of ever-newer "needs." We have, it seems, moved 180 degrees from the origins in Rousseau. Human perfection does not come from restraint of the desires by Kantian reason or the general will or aesthetic education, but in their free development and infinite exfoliation. Marx has returned to the Hobbesian appetites with the news that the idealist Lent is over, now that capitalism has disappeared, and that they may therefore let themselves go, freer and more ardent than before.
Marx on Desire
Who can avoid thinking here of Callicles, in Plato's Gorgias, who asserted that natural justice and nobility is to allow one's desires "to wax to the uttermost" and to satisfy all one's longings, but who was ashamed to discover that he is committed to a life of perpetual itching and scratching, the life of a "catamite," as Jowett quaintly translates it? But Marx is not ashamed. It is not that his new "needs" will be nobler ones. When the standard for man is the having and satisfying of desires, intensity and quantity are the only valid measures; we need only refer to Freud's astringent estimations of the pleasures of art as a weak substitute for sex or drugs to disabuse ourselves of lingering high-mindedness in this regard. Rather it is that where Callicles is prephilosophical, Marx has philosophy to protect him from shame.
That is, Marx has it both ways. Both Marx and classical liberalism promise not only consumer goods but newer refinements on desire and satisfaction. And both Marx and the idealists promise us nobility. Only Marx promises us both. And that is the issue. It is of course true that, while the mad Fourier promised that under socialism the seas would run with lemonade and while Marx thus promises us new and tastier drinks, it is actually capitalism which, in fact, provides us with Diet Coke with new Nutra Sweet. And true, Adam Wazyk, a poet under Communism, writes, "They drink sea water,/ crying:/'lemonade!'/returning home secretly to vomit," but it is the vulgarity of Marx's promise that matters here more than its unfulfillment.
It is, of course, the common characteristic of modern utopianism that it confounds the high and the low. It is by now a cliché that you can tell you have met the Last Man when he introduces himself as Zarathustra. When we look at the problem of human fragmentation which Marx intends to solve, we see the city of pigs devising its own Olympus; not unnaturally it turns out to be Hog Heaven (only with obligatory leisure togas). One comes to long for the relative moderation of a John Stuart Mill, who merely wanted to turn the average Englishman into Pericles.
The "humanism" which seeks to trump Adam Smith's ace is a very different thing from the humanism of aesthetic education. The former is subject to the question "Why bother?" when capitalism works better than Marx ever imagined at the creation and satisfaction of desires. It is also subject to the even more scathing "What do you want, egg in your beer?" when it laments that, due to capitalism, men cannot enjoy (cf. Norman O. Brown or Herbert Marcuse) perpetual orgasm. Both in its Hobbesian vulgarity as in its longings for the infinite, it has the formlessness of a lingering dream. In that, it is precisely not "humanistic," not about human beings, but about the people of fantasy and nightmare.
Of course, Schiller's humanism has its problems. It is probable that the effort to ennoble liberalism, to reconcile it with antiquity, to cut it off from its vulgar roots in selfishness and trade, is fundamentally Utopian. Historically, the effort to raise a nation on Schillerian principles of culture and uplift ended in the most spectacular and decisive
failure possible. And long before the Nazis, perceptive critics like Nietzsche noted the strain, the pathos, the falsity of tone, of a culture that had sought to overcome strain and insincerity. But it may be said that, at its best, it created a kind of human being who was capable of a high degree of moral responsibility; that it originated in an awareness of the dangers of Utopian politics and sought manfully to restrain them; and that therefore, in its manifestly Utopian character, the Schillerian project of aesthetic education remains one
of the best entries into the question of the possibility of an ennobled liberalism. Finally, one should observe that Schiller saw before himself a real, not manifestly Utopian, problem: Could men be free without being utterly vile? He did not come to the problem of "human fragmentation" without a political context; he did not seek to have every
thing at once. His teaching is that of self-restraint by the otherwise unrestrainable. He did not seek to put the maraschino cherry of beauty on the hot fudge sundae of consumerist bliss. That he left to others.
HARRY V. JAFFA AND AMERICAN HISTORY: Philosophy Teaching By Example
1984 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Crisis of the House Divided.
Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates
Harry V. Jaffa
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982; with a new Preface; Reprint of previous editions by University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1973, and Doubleday, 1959.
451 pp., $9.95 (paper only)
By Herman Belz
One of the most important contributions to American history and political science in the past generation is the work of a political philosopher who, in a significant sense, is an "outsider" to both fields. In Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Harry V. Jaffa, Henry Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, rejects the historical canon that the past should be studied for its own sake, and the dominant assumption of modern political science that truth is relative to historical circumstances. Yet in this distinguished book, originally published in 1959 and now reissued by the University of Chicago Press, Jaffa combines history and political science in a uniquely effective manner. Writing about the slavery controversy that produced the Civil War, he is concerned with the past less for its own sake than as a source of instruction for contemporary politics. Denying that truth is historical, he nevertheless firmly grasps historical truth. In conscious pursuit of the principles of just government, Jaffa gives renewed meaning to the ancient conception of history as philosophy teaching by example.
A disciple of Leo Strauss, Jaffa approaches the study of history from the perspective of classical natural right. This view rests on the assumption that the validity of political and moral standards is derived not from convention, but from unchanging principles of right inherent in the universe. Like Strauss, Jaffa insists that any concession to historicism-that is, to the belief that the meaning of political and moral principles is to be found in the particular circumstances of the historical situation that produced them-is to accept the relativist, ultimately nihilistic argument that all right is positive right, determined by human will and agency. Rejecting the fact-value distinction that is the foundation of modern social science, contending instead that value judgments are true or false irrespective of historical circumstance, Jaffa asserts the importance of the perennial questions concerning man's place in the nature of things.1
Jaffa's defense of natural law and natural right, and his concern as a student of political thought to determine the meaning of the text in relation to the perennial problems of political philosophy, have placed him outside the mainstream of contemporary political science. Yet it is by no means clear that the "textualist" approach is as obsolete as it once appeared to proponents of the "new" history of political thought. Jaffa may claim a measure of vindication in the fact that the "contextualist" method of analyzing political ideas urged by Skinner and his followers, despite its self-conscious rejection of the "perennial problems" strategy, evinces concern for what are now recognized to be the perennial problems of political philosophy.2
Jaffa's scholarship has been vindicated in the study of American political thought. When Jaffa turned to the American Revolution and the American Founding, as the basis for understanding the antebellum struggle over slavery, theories of class conflict dominated the interpretation of revolutionary-era political thought. Jaffa by contrast viewed the Declaration of Independence as an expression of the classical conception of politics, concerned with natural right and moral and political virtue. Where others dated the abandonment of the natural-law tradition to Machiavelli and Hobbes, and considered American political thought exclusively in the light of modern individualism, Jaffa saw a continuation of the ancient tradition. The emergence in recent years of the classical republican interpretation of the Revolution, as in the writings of the Pocockian school, confirms Jaffa's insight in linking American thought to classical foundations.
Conflict and Consensus
Jaffa's interpretation of American politics is an illustration of sound historical conclusions resulting from an a-historical method. When Crisis of the House Divided appeared in 1959, the consensus view of American history prevailed. Emphasizing the relationship between the Revolution and the Civil War, Jaffa formulated an alternative outlook that acknowledged the valid features of the consensus point of view and yet placed conflict at the center of American political history.
Jaffa's critique of consensus history offers the most useful perspective for evaluating Crisis of the House Divided as a contribution to American historiography. Jaffa views the United States as historically unique-a nation founded on the universal principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The most important of these principles for him is the idea of equality, on which republican governments are based and which forms the nation's central theme; Jaffa concurs with the consensus view that agreement on national political ideals has made the American people homogeneous. This homogeneity has been manifested through political parties forming electoral majorities on the basis of their promise to maintain or fulfill the American creed.3
Within the national consensus, however, profound conflicts have occurred over the meaning and application of the equality principle. These conflicts have developed periodically as the result of social and cultural change, Jaffa points out, and they have been resolved by electoral realignments focusing on critical elections, as in 1800, 1828, 1860, and 1932. These critical elections have in turn been followed by extended periods of consensus. "The evangelical revival of the Revolutionary creed," Jaffa writes, "is the key to these great shifts in the structure of political power in the community." He concludes that in realigning elections, political parties achieve a "re-creation of the Revolution by a creative appeal to its principles," and restore the people's faith in republican freedom.4
The most critical election in American history placed Abraham Lincoln in the White House and led directly to the Civil War. But this election was critical also in the broader sense that it tested the nation's commitment to its Founding principles as no other event before or since. This turning point in national development is the subject of Crisis of the House Divided. In order fully to understand Jaffa's treatment of it, we must first consider his philosophical analysis of the Declaration of Independence.
Jaffa contends that the Declaration introduced ambiguities into American politics at the very outset. The relationship between equality and consent lies at the heart of the problem. The Declaration states that all men are created equal, and that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Most commentators have treated equality and consent as distinct and separate concepts.5 Jaffa, however, has always insisted on the necessary connection between the two principles. In his view, consent, and majority rule, which derives from it, does not constitute an ultimate or self-evident principle providing its own justification. Rather, consent derives legitimacy and justification from, and is dependent upon, the principle of equality. Jaffa argues that because all men are equal, in the sense that human beings occupy an intermediate place between God and the animal world, it is morally wrong for one person to rule another without that other's consent. The political institutions designed to express consent rest on no merely expedient or convenient basis, Jaffa reasons, but on the logically prior and morally superior principle of equality.6
Declaring all men equal and popular consent the ground of legitimate authority, the nation's charter of independence nevertheless contained fateful ambiguities that gave rise to political conflict. Jaffa describes these conflicts as the problem of the relation of the general to the particular, or the one to the many. The most prominent sources of internal discord, initially separate but eventually joined together as causes of the Civil War, were the relationship between the states and the federal government, and the relationship between Negro slaves and freemen and the political community of the nation. These issues were conflated in the question: Who were the equal and consent-giving people referred to in the Declaration of Independence? The Declaration pronounces the colonies "free and Independent states but it also refers to Americans as a "people" having a "Country." Hence arose the constitutional controversy over whether the Union was created pluralistically by the people of the separate states, or unifiedly by the people of the United States considered as a single nation. Similarly rooted in the Declaration was the question of whether slaves were persons or chattel. Did the equality principle comprehend Negroes as a class and entitle them to be regarded as members of the self-governing community?7
Confounding the Revisionists
In Crisis of the House Divided Jaffa shows how Americans in the 1850s attempted to resolve the dilemmas and contradictions inherent in the revolutionary principles of equality and consent. His approach, however, is not that of an orthodox historian, but rather that of the historian as moral critic.8 Jaffa seeks specifically to illuminate the nature of republican government and revive a political science based on natural right. His larger intellectual purpose, announced in his earlier study, Thomism and Aristotelianism, and pursued in all his writings, is to establish principles of moral and political judgment that can replace merely arbitrary opinions and provide guidance for right conduct in the light of eternal principles of justice.9
As a work of history, Crisis of the House Divided proceeds on the assumption that the historian ought to examine events from the standpoint of the participants themselves, according to what was known at the time, rather than in the light of subsequent developments. In adopting this outlook, Jaffa questioned the conclusions and methodology of the body of historical scholarship known as Revisionism, which had long dominated interpretations of the coming of the Civil War.
Influenced by the widespread revulsion against war in the 1920s and 1930s, Revisionist historians placed responsibility for the coming of the Civil War on political leaders of the 1850s, whose emotionalism, political ambition, and narrow sectional interests prevented the adoption of rational compromises and accommodations that would have avoided war. Revisionism also reflected the preoccupation of twentieth century liberals with economic interests and their corresponding insensitivity to political liberty. Although they were ostensibly impartial in blaming the Civil War on northern and southern extremists, the Revisionists' allegedly rational alternative of sectional accommodation, had it been adopted in 1861, would have had significant pro-slavery consequences. Revisionism, in other words, was not politically neutral.
Jaffa did not fault the Revisionists for the insensitivity to human freedom implicit in their treatment of the slavery question; they could hardly help being representative of the progressive temper in this respect. He did criticize them, however, for holding political leaders accountable for things they could not have known and for events that were unavoidable and beyond their control. Examining the sectional conflict prospectively through the eyes of Lincoln and Douglas rather than retrospectively through the eyes of later generations, Jaffa constructs an historical reenactment that respects the separateness and integrity of the past, yet is also relevant to contemporary concerns. Where Revisionists deplored a blundering generation for starting a needless war, Jaffa seeks to show how, "from good motives and with sober judgment," Lincoln and Douglas could "lead the nation down a road upon which war might become the only means of honorable resolution" (p. 8; all notes within the text are to Crisis of the House Divided).
Lincoln versus Douglas
Jaffa sees the conflict between Lincoln and Douglas as the central event in the coming of the Civil War because it determined whether the dual principles of consent and equality would be irrevocably sundered or successfully maintained in the face of the challenge posed by the existence of slavery. Crisis of the House Divided begins with a sympathetic account of the sectional struggle from Douglas's point of view. Acknowledging the positive elements in popular sovereignty, Jaffa regards Douglas's expansionist conception of republican freedom as the key to his statesmanship. Douglas sought to promote a rapidly expanding Union embracing a variety of peoples, cultures, and economic tendencies. After reviewing Douglas's disastrous attempt to resolve the organization of the Nebraska territory on the basis of popular sovereignty, however, Jaffa concludes that while the Illinois Senator was not personally pro-slavery in outlook, his publicly professed indifference to the morality of slavery and to its expansion into the territories effectively made him an agent of the slave power.
Douglas's conception of republican government was flawed, Jaffa reasons, by a refusal to place limits on the power of popular majorities beyond those expressed in the Constitution. Douglas treated majority rule as an end in itself, an embodiment of the revolutionary principle of consent. He also placed high value on the principle of equality, but, according to Jaffa, he separated it from consent and gave it a restricted, essentially tautological definition which meant that all men were equal who were created equal (p. 33). Jaffa concludes that Douglas's popular sovereignty recognized no higher moral standard, rested on positive right alone, and in reality defined justice as the interest of the stronger (pp. 33-37).
Jaffa places Lincoln, in contrast to Douglas, in the tradition of classical natural-right thinking. His interpretation underscores Lincoln's attachment to the principles of equality and consent contained in the Declaration of Independence. But Douglas sundered these principles and gave operational meaning only to consent. Lincoln, according to Jaffa, integrated them in a way that recognized the priority of equality. Condemning slavery on moral grounds as a violation of the Declaration's teaching on equality and consent, Lincoln said that for popular majorities to approve slavery was inherently contradictory and destructive of republican government. Recognition of equality did not mean that blacks were equal to whites in all respects, Lincoln reasoned, but it did mean that blacks were equal in respect of the right to personal liberty. The nation must therefore work toward this end, and must prevent the sanctification of slavery in national law by preventing its extension into the territories. Jaffa believed that Lincoln at the same time was ever mindful of the decisive role played by public opinion in a republican government, and sought the highest degree of equality for which popular consent could be secured (p. 35).
While Jaffa's analysis of the Lincoln-Douglas debates confounded Revisionist historiography, it harkened back to an older point of view that recognized the importance of the Declaration of Independence in Lincoln's antislavery thinking. The more distinctive historiographical contribution of Crisis of the House Divided is its unified interpretation of Lincoln's life and statesmanship. Jaffa argues that Lincoln consciously directed his life to the end of preserving the Union, adapting the principles of the Declaration of Independence into a political religion.
The major interpretive problem in Lincoln scholarship has always been to explain the relationship between the ordinary life of the Illinois lawyer-politician in the 1830s and 1840s and the heroic achievements of the wartime president.10 Using the historiographically unorthodox approach of political philosophy, which can perhaps not unfairly be described as based on the assumption that political actors say what they mean and mean what they say, Jaffa constructs a portrait of Lincoln as a far-sighted statesman who throughout his life anticipated and prepared himself for the work of political salvation that occupied him during the Civil War. Crisis of the House Divided treats Lincoln's Springfield Lyceum Address of 1838 and his Temperance Address of 1842 as illustrations of the coherence, consistency, and integrity of his life and thought.
The Lyceum Address, "On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," deals with the problem of preserving republican government in the face of the political passions of the 1830s. Lincoln questioned whether the rule of law could be maintained amid numerous mob incidents, many of them occasioned by abolitionist attacks on slavery. The danger was that popular rioting would encourage ambitious men, who would not be satisfied merely to support existing institutions. In a famous passage Lincoln said:
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. . . . It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor. . . . It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen.
To guard against this danger, the people must be united with each other and attached to the government and the laws. Lincoln therefore exhorted: "Let reverence for the laws . . . be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice . . . let it become the political religion of the nation" (pp. 210, 227).
Jaffa sees the Lyceum speech as a prophetic anticipation of Lincoln's wartime role as savior of the Union. Honoring the achievement of the Founding Fathers, yet distancing himself from them, Lincoln envisioned the necessity of re-creating the Republic in order to preserve it, by returning to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. After a period of Old Testament-like prophetic warnings from 1854 to 1860, Jaffa says Lincoln created a political religion for the nation during the Civil War that restated the revolutionary principles. In Jaffa's view, Lincoln believed the work of reestablishing the republic would bring distinction greater than that of a Caesar tearing down the government, greater even than the glory that attached to the original act of foundation.
Crisis of the House Divided studies the Temperance Address of 1842 for insight into the political moderation that distinguished Lincoln's subsequent career. Supporting the goal of the temperance movement, Lincoln nevertheless criticized its Utopian, moralistic spirit. By ignoring human imperfections and denying a legitimate scope to public opinion, this spirit was a potential threat to liberty. Prophetic in its own right is Jaffa's observation that Lincoln's teaching on political moderation provides "a diagnosis of the totalitarian impulse within the heart of modern egalitarianism. . ." (p. 272).
Jaffa's treatment of Lincoln's political philosophy as a young Whig, virtually a monograph in itself, guides his analysis of the debates with Douglas. Urging the people to keep faith with the nation's Founding principles, Lincoln successfully avoided the snare of popular sovereignty. Refusing after his election to accede to extension of slavery or recognition of the southern Confederacy, he led the nation into war-and created the political religion of which he had spoken in the Lyceum Address a quarter of a century earlier. Crisis of the House Divided makes only brief reference to the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, in which Lincoln developed his political religion. The book does, however, advance Jaffa's very important argument that Lincoln's political religion, based on the principle of equality and offered as rationale for the "new birth of freedom" signified in slave emancipation, transformed the original meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Whereas Jefferson regarded the principle of equality as the effective basis of political right, Lincoln treated it as a transcendent goal in an ongoing struggle to improve and extend republican freedom.11 According to Jaffa, Lincoln transformed the idea of equality from a negative, minimal norm prescribing what society ought not to be, "into a transcendental affirmation of what it ought to be" (p. 321).
In an intellectual climate marked by changing race relations and heightened concern for civil rights, Crisis of the House Divided was recognized as a convincing statement of the centrality of the slavery question in the coming of the Civil War and a persuasive refutation of Revisionism.12 Taking what appeared to be a liberal view of slavery as a moral issue, it anticipated the favorable reassessment of Republican antislavery and wartime civil rights policies that emerged in the scholarship of the 1960s.13 On the other hand, a few Revisionist-minded historians considered Jaffa simply a partisan defender of Lincoln.14 Few critics appreciated the conservative philosophical framework of Crisis of the House Divided and its relevance not only for civil rights issues but also for the struggle against Communism.15
Jaffa's unified view of Lincoln's political thought and action was a major contribution to Lincoln historiography, which as I have noted had long been concerned to establish a meaningful coherence between the Illinois years and the later presidential period. In 1954 the literary critic Edmund Wilson, in a brief and acerb essay, had argued that Lincoln from an early date was conscious that he would play a significant public role; projected himself as the ambitious tyrant in the Lyceum Address; and vindicated this prophetic vision in the Civil War by crushing the southern foe.16 Studies of Lincoln in the 1960s emphasized his pragmatism and political realism, following the lead of neither Jaffa nor Wilson in the very different-interpretations of the philosophical or psycho-ideological unity they discerned in his career.17 Recently, however; several psychohistories have elaborated on Wilson's negative sketch. They argue that Lincoln identified with the Caesar-figure in the Lyceum speech, was ambivalent toward and ultimately rejected the teachings of the Founding Fathers, and was responsible for the Civil War and the imperialistic results and destruction of republicanism that it allegedly produced." One need only note that Crisis of the House Divided stands up very well in comparison with these rather lurid accounts, which may charitably be described as resting more on psychiatric theory than empirical evidence.19
Jaffa's scholarship has also had an impact on the study of American political thought. His argument about Lincoln's transformation of the equality principle led Willmoore Kendall to expound the thesis that Lincoln derailed the American political tradition from its legislative majoritarian course and steered it in the direction of modern egalitarianism.20 Criticized from the right for his emphasis on equality, Jaffa has been attacked from the left for his natural-right interpretation of Lincoln's political religion. Thus in a recent essay William S. Corlett rejects Jaffa's elitist and transcendental view of Lincoln and tries to assimilate him to the Pocockian citizen-participation model of republicanism.21
Jaffa's penetrating study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and his interpretation of Lincoln's political thought have earned him a secure place in American historical letters. Both in its philosophically grounded methodology and its conclusions about the role of political ideas in the coming of the Civil War, Crisis of the House Divided shows us philosophy teaching by example. Considered as political philosophy, as an attempt to restore the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence and establish a political science of natural right, Jaffa's views have not found ready acceptance. They have, however, been constructively controversial in a post-liberal period that is questioning many of the pragmatic-relativist assumptions that seemed the unshakeable foundations of the western intellectual world a generation ago. It is in stimulating this intellectual reassessment that Harry V. Jaffa, Socratic provocateur and moral critic, has made his most significant and lasting contribution.
1Jaffa, "In Defense of the 'Natural Law Thesis,'" in Equality and Liberty: Theory and Practice in American Politics (Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 190-208; Jaffa, "In Defense of Political Philosophy: A Letter to Walter Berns," National Review, Jan. 22, 1982.
2David Boucher, "New Histories of Political Thought for Old?" Political Studies, Vol. 31 (March 1983), pp. 112-21; Gordon J. Schochet, "Quentin Skinner's Method," Political Theory, Vol. 2 (August 1974) pp. 261-76.
3Jaffa, "The Nature and Origin of the American Party System," Equality and Liberty, pp. 3-10.
4Ibid., p. 40.
5See, for example, Donald S. Lutz, Popular Consent and Popular Control: Whig Political Theory in the Early State Constitutions (Louisiana State University Press, 1980).
6Jaffa, "Equality as a Conservative Principle," in How To Think About the American Resolution (Carolina Academic Press, 1978), pp. 39-43; Jaffa, "Theory and Practice in American Politics," in Equality and Liberty, p. 137.
7Ibid., pp. 131-39.
8I employ the concept developed by John Higham, "Beyond Consensus: The Historian as Moral Critic," American Historical Review, Vol. 67 (April 1962), pp. 609-25:
9Jaffa, Thomism and Aristotelianism: A Study of the Commentary by Thomas Aquinas on the Nicomachean Ethics (University of Chicago Press, 1952; reprinted, Greenwood Press, 1979).
10See G. S. Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream (University of Tennessee, 1978), pp. 291-311.
11Glen E. Thurow tells the full story of this ideological transformation in Abraham Lincoln and American Political Religion (State University of New York Press/1976). Jaffa has long promised a second volume on Lincoln dealing with the war years.
12See American Political Science Review, Vol. 54 (March 1960), pp. 225-26; Journal of Politics, Vol. 23 (Feb. 196i), pp. 152-54; Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 14 (June 1961), pp. 602-03); American Historical Review, Vol. 65 (Jan. 1960), p. 390; Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 75 (Dec. 1960), pp. 604-06.
13Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850s (Stanford University Press, 1962), is the best example of this scholarship which confirms Jaffa's interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
14See Review of Politics, Vol. 23 (Jan. 1961), pp. 116-18; Journal of Southern History, Vol. 26 (August 1960), pp. 400-01. Gerald D. Capers, reviewing Jaffa's work in the Journal of Southern History, very much liked his interpretation of Douglas, however, observing that no better case had ever been made for the Illinois Senator.
15An exception was Gerhart Niemeyer, who reviewed the book for Midwest Journal of Political Science, Vol. 4 (May 1960), pp. 197-99.
16Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 106-15, pp. 127-30.
17Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Changing Image of Lincoln in American Historiography (Oxford University 1968 lecture), pp. 19-20.
18See George B. Forgie, Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and His Age (New York, 1979); Dwight G. Anderson, Abraham Lincoln and the Quest for Immortality (New York, 1982); Charles B. Strozier, Lincoln's Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings (New York, 1982).
19An exception is Major L. Wilson, "Lincoln and Van Buren in the Steps of the Fathers: Another Look at the Lyceum Address," Civil War History, Vol. 29 (Sept. 1983), pp. 197-211.
20Willmoore Kendall and George W. Carey, The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition (Louisiana State University Press, 1970).
21William S. Corlett, Jr., "The Availability of Lincoln's Political Religion," Political Theory, Vol. 10 (Nov. 1982), pp. 520-40.
GOVERNMENT WITHOUT POLITICS
American Government: Origins, Institutions, and Public Policy
James W. Ceaser, Laurence J. O'Toole, Joseph M. Bessette, Glen Thurow
New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company 1984
vii + 696 pp., $24.95
By David B. Broyles
This new text has been eagerly awaited by generations of American government instructors forced to teach from texts that are not only insipid but fundamentally misleading, texts that are at best silent on the highest understanding of American politics. But a worthwhile American government text could be written by authors with the proper education in politics; i.e., an education in political philosophy. Hence this text held forth great promise, which is kept, for example, in the chapters on public opinion and civil liberties. Appendices contain the Declaration and The Federalist, numbers 10 and 51, as well as the Constitution. It is clear from the outset that this is the best text available.
But for all this, one's reservations are considerable and fundamental. The authors have compromised far too much with the established political "science" profession. Whether they did so out of pressure from the editors at McGraw-Hill, or from the necessity that the text be adopted, or from their own shortcomings is beside the point. Because the book's argument proceeds from the assumption that America was meant to be and is, in essence, a modern liberal regime, its understanding of the American regime-our way of life-is a false and even dangerous one. This is a most serious charge, which will have to be developed in both principle and particular.
The text's great flaw is its denigration of politics-its refusal to treat politics as the governing element in the American regime-and its subsequent elevating of "society" (the social or subpolitical) above the political. Accompanying the demotion of politics is an overlooking of the spiritedness essential to healthy political life. This failure to appreciate the effect of politics in forming our way of life, our regime, has critical practical consequences, as we shall see.
The problem is indicated in its first sentence: "This textbook combines the traditional and modern approaches to the study of American politics" (p. 5). By modern the authors mean not only the inclusion of voting studies and other "empirical" data. Consider the opening chapters on "The Fundamental Principles": American government is said to be "modern," a member of the species, democratic, belonging to the genus, liberal. It is characteristic of "modern government [that it] should ensure a sphere of free action of the individual." Hence, it does not "recognize responsibilities of saving souls and managing the economy" (p. 8). The student is advised to "go beyond the matters directly addressed in the legal document by which we are formally governed, the Constitution" (p. 6) and look to the larger whole, society. In fact, the student is charged with the responsibility to continuously reshape his liberal government-just as, the text alleges, the Founders and succeeding generations have already done. He must decide "what are the ends of society as a whole" and what the role of government will be in furthering those ends (p. 5). In the process, the authors appear to accept the Progressive critique of American institutions presented in the first third of this century.
In the early chapters one detects a subterranean theme; namely, that the regime lacks sufficient principles of its own. The authors' treatment of the societal goals of liberty and equality reveals the extent to which they regard these ends as sub-political, as apart from overarching principles.
The authors take as a prime example of liberty the Bill of Rights prohibitions against governments. Examples of liberty include speech uttered for any purpose that moves the speaker, a competing but equally whimsical demand for privacy, and women's campaigns for privileges that they deem "equal." To judge from the examples given, liberty is more than anything else a matter of spontaneous, inconsequential activity. Its exercise is described in language which makes it difficult to see that the acting individual has ties to anything beyond himself, least of all to the Declaration of Independence's "laws of Nature and of Nature's God." The acting individual is autonomous, achieving his best expression in the harmless and delightful world of society, where virtues and politics are irrelevant because pleasures are painless and innocent. The greatest threat to such an individual, other than government's restraint, is crude competitive materialism.
Equality is defined in two quite different senses. In one sense, it is the complement of liberty, an equal opportunity to enjoy individual autonomy uninhibited by political or social prejudice. In a more important sense, however, equality is economic. It is related to a kind of liberty, entrepreneurial liberty, which is apparently less desirable because it promotes materialism. Economic equality is a byproduct of the effort by modern nations to provide economic security. Security is the primary goal, but its achievement is defined by egalitarian standards. The drive for economic security and equality accompanied industrialization and other historic developments to which European countries are said to have responded more adequately than America. But economic equality is also said to have been an unattended goal at the Founding. It is the old ax-grinding, the double charge that, on the one hand, "The existence of poor people and the problems implied by their existence . . . were not in fact much on the minds of the Founders" (p. 540); and that on the other hand, the American pursuit of economic security "has developed more slowly and less comprehensively than it has in other western industrial states" (p. 569).
Playing at Politics
In the end, the authors' brave claim to rise in defense of political principles reverberates with the hollow ring of modern liberalism's campaign for autonomous individualism and cradle-to-grave security. Or, as Leo Strauss put it in responding to Carl Schmitt, their campaign is to free the playful man and eliminate the dangerous. In this vision, man is most at home in an a-political world of international homogeneous culture.
The authors assert that equality is the "most ambiguous of America's fundamental ends" (p. 12). But assuredly, if equality is ambiguous, so then is natural right. Equality has always been the standard for measuring each man's natural right to pursue safety and comfort according to his own lights. It has also been the standard for men engaging in acts of "constitutive legislation." By such an act, repeated continuously, men consent to govern and be governed in a particular mode, and in the light of the political element and to the institutional framework which sustains it. It is remarkable that such scholars as Harry Jaffa, Paul Eidelberg, and Edward S. Corwin, who have developed such themes, are given so little attention in this text.
The authors' misunderstanding of fundamental political principles occurs in a chapter which nonetheless gives an excellent account of the major political events of American history. The chapter's conclusion reveals its problem: The several political events reported are regarded as instances of the development of constitutional principles. According to the authors, constitutional principles were in flux when the suffrage was extended, first to blacks and then to women, and when the social welfare state was adopted. Each of these changes has "added a distinctly new element to the original political system" (p. 144). This might come as something of a surprise to those who inaugurated the changes. Neither the various extensions of the franchise nor the welfare state was initially proposed as a change in the regime. Rather, their advocates claimed they were fulfillments of the regime's ideals. The authors are misleading, then, when the conclude this chapter with the observation: "We can see that each generation faces anew the challenge of constitution making-shaping, accepting, or overthrowing the understandings and choices it has inherited" (p. 86).
Right of Revolution
The student might never guess from all this that when Jefferson advocated a periodic exercise of the right of revolution, he understood it to be a well-defined kind of activity, a review of the legitimate powers of government. Moreover, he might never guess that Jefferson meant the right of revolution to be exercised under the guidance of a principle which he shared with his friend, Madison, who said in The Federalist, Number 47, that "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
This text recommends quite the opposite of what the Founders would have wished. It recommends taking a revolutionary posture toward constitutionalism itself in an effort to better approach the goals of society, or subpolitical interest groups. This kind of revolutionizing of the constitutional heritage is indeed anti-political. It lacks any forceful reference to man's position in nature, to his natural rights, or to his pursuit of nobility. For these it substitutes willful assertions of the "right of revolution." Nowhere are the arbitrary implications of this willfullness better illustrated than in the indiscriminate lumping of black rights with "women's rights." The authors leave in the dark the origins of contemporary feminism and the radical criticism of constitutional government which the movement has always implied.
With these flaws in its theoretical foundations, it is predictable that the text's second main topic is "intermediary institutions." It is only after these five chapters on public opinion, political parties, campaigning, voting behavior, and interest groups that the authors take up institutions of government-President, Congress, and Court. What impression is the beginning student to gain from this ordering of subject matter? Must it not be that the institutional arrangements are not decisively associated with the Founders' principles? Had the authors taken the Founders more seriously, they would have shown how the institutions developed from those principles. Instead, the institutions become somewhat awkward instruments for "intermediary institutions" such as pressure groups to achieve their purposes.
Part II begins appropriately with a discussion of what is held to be the source of political activity, public opinion. "Basic value systems" are said to constitute a national "consensus" (p. 106). These "value systems" are decisive in the sense that "opinion . . . sets the broad boundaries of acceptable public discourse" (p. 129). A "value system" is not, however, a product of constitutional arrangements. On the contrary, the Constitution was the means by which "the founders, although recognizing the legitimacy of public opinion as it would be expressed (indirectly) through elections, sought to place impediments on it as a direct force in the governing process . . ." (pp. 131-32). The authors fail to consider the possibility that voters may want the leadership of just and public-spirited men, and want to work within a system which has been structured for regularly honoring its "natural aristocracy." Thus the text's authors fail to connect the character of officeholders with the quality of the legislation they will produce
The text's point of view might be caricatured as follows: Opinion as Dr. Gallup structures it is real opinion, but opinion as the Constitution structures it is not. The authors do recognize, as did the Founders, that direct democracy will not work. But they offer no adequate alternative, no method for distinguishing the "basic value system" from other opinions, except to point out that "deep-seated attitudes" resist "quick or easy change." Thus the course is set for subsequent chapters which define society and its intermediate structures, parties and interest groups. These are portrayed as superstructures over the various idiosyncratic groupings to which polling is open: religious, economic, ethnic, ideological, etc.
As to political parties, the student learns that they are continuous transmitters of certain opinions, or "ideologies" generated by the culture's autonomous systems of thought; he does not learn that they are instrumentalities of the constitutional executive. Parties lend form to public opinion during critical periods. In between, the parties slacken into "nonpartisan" coalition builders, aids to promoting stability in government. Without very good reason for doing so, the text concludes by implying some dismay at "a steady decline or weakening of most structural and organizational aspects of the parties" (p. 176).
Low View of Institutions
The text's virtual reduction of the major institutions of government to instruments makes the separation of powers little more than an ingenious device for frustrating tyranny. It is not perceived as a means of ennobling government. As is characteristic of defenders of the subpolitical realm of society, the authors favor not executive but some form of legislative governing. The text simply ignores the distinctive qualities contributed to the Founders' government by their proud inventions, the Presidency and the Supreme Court.
The Part II chapter on Congress seems to be strongly influenced by the corresponding chapter in Martin Diamond's earlier text, The Democratic Republic. But it fails to continue his practice of showing how demands for structural and procedural changes in Congress which often pretend to be neutral really grow out of political partisanship. The authors insert instead, apparently unconsciously, their own partisanship. To cite one instance, they declare that the committee system adversely affects decision-making by contributing a "lack of coherence in national policy" (p. 303). On the other hand, "The greatest contribution that party leadership can make in Congress is to offset some of the defects of the decentralized decision-making of the committee system." Diamond would certainly have been quick to comment that such analysis grows out of a bias favoring "Camelot," or parliamentary democracy, over America's separated powers.
The same kind of sensitivity to partisanship that is missing in the chapters on Congress might well have enlivened the text's discussion of the other two branches as well. Unfortunately, such discussion is missing. Instead of a fascinating description of the struggle to dominate or transform constitutional officers, the authors seem merely to be going through the weary routine of incorporating every prospective on the separated powers that has ever been invented, from Berman's step-by-step description of how a bill gets through Congress to Barber's psychoanalysis of Presidents. The bored student would never know that, according to Federalist Number 78, the executive dispenses the community's honors. He would never know that the Presidency was designed, as Eidelberg says, to embody the Aristotelian virtue of magnanimity. Nor would he know from the chapter on the judiciary that it was designed, as Corwin tells us, to enforce a reasoned "higher law" on reluctant legislatures.
In addition to creating a bias in favor of legislative governing, the defense of society spawns a complementary science of society. This science is developed more fully in a Part IV chapter on the science of the "Public Policy Process" than in introductory chapters. In the course of developing their science of society, the authors are more forthright than they previously were in laying waste to any foundation for thinking that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are sources of American politics. The Constitution is represented as providing merely a neutral framework for policy: "The founders were more interested in setting up a framework that would prevent tyranny than they were in translating popular opinion into policy" (p. 521). Public policy is said to originate with autonomous sources in society, and it does not necessarily even reach fruition in acts of constitutionally established offices. According to the authors, we now have a pluralist system of policy origination, developed to energize the originally neutral machine.
When they treat of public policy, the authors report the successes of the muckraker reformers not as hard-won and still controversial victories, but as givens. Thus it is easy for them to view the formulation of contemporary policy problems as biased in favor of New Freedom and New Deal legislation. Anyone with reservations about the wisdom of this legislation and other associated legislation will be angered by some of the partisanship which is implied by the repeated reduction of controversy to fact, especially in the chapter on "The Social Welfare State."
A peculiarly a-political and technical quality is evident in the text's policy problem discussions. There are said to be three such technical policy problems: properly managing the social welfare state, ministering to new minorities, and subordinating international ideological tensions to keep the peace. The discussions are cast in the cool language of an analysis sterilized of all political passion. Of course, the student learns of controversies on the responsibilities of the federal government. But they are in-house disputes about the extent of the government's activity, not about its aims.
Just as the authors are freed of the necessity to engage in spirited defense of their view of what is right, so in their view is their government. It is a nonpartisan government, charged to act positively, especially in managing the economy, and negatively to prevent local governments from inhibiting freedom, especially in matters of civil liberties. In sum, the authors are committed to a paternalist government which will ensure material security and moral diversity. It is a state in which peaceful creativity will flourish, its playful activity unimpeded by harsh necessities of nature or of the human spirit.
It turns out, then, that the final word as to who governs is not with the "majoritarianism" to which explicit allegiance was initially given, but with those who teach the majorities about society's proper aims. Because these authors see no adequate basis for public-spiritedness, because they equate public-spiritedness with an altogether insufficient human capacity for self-sacrifice and altruism, they are unable to be really sanguine about voters' majorities. They are blind to the Founders' view that men may serve disinterested goals out of spiritedness. And they are blind to the fact that it is from the Founders' view of nature, and not from their own perspective of something resembling the homogeneous world-state, that rights of individuals arise and majority rule becomes a necessary inference. Thus, the authors find themselves at a loss to criticize the Supreme Court's anti-majoritarian activities favoring minority rights, the contemporary proxy for individual rights. "One hesitates," they say, "to call [this decidedly and peculiarly non-majoritarian process] elitist in any traditional sense, for while the decisions are made by a small number of persons, they have for some time now usually been made to aid a minority" (p. 597, emphasis added).
The pseudo-scientific premises of this text are what finally account for its approving a legislative log-rolling kind of activity which indiscriminately accommodates all public opinion, even when the various views are incompatible, or even mutually exclusive. Political opinions are not, however, simply tolerated. They are consistently treated with contempt. They are subtly transformed into what the authors consider a more acceptable form. Voter concern about unjust distribution and redistribution of wealth is transformed into a concern about whether individual security requires too much regulation to be compatible with pluralist society's concept of liberty. Similarly, voter concern about religious truths as they bear on personal and family integrity is transformed into a concern about how such "values" can be peacefully accommodated to their competitors. In short, this text is preoccupied with scientific public policy so much as to be simply inaccurate in stating what political issues are deciding important American elections.
The authors-and those who think like them-need to take presidential politics seriously, including presidential leadership of parties and public opinion. There was, after all, a reason for George Washington's casting his only vote at the Constitutional Convention: to cement a majority in favor of the unitary executive. Repeatedly since World War II, presidential elections have provided an occasion for voter protests against their own Congress and the party dominating it. Those elections revealed a voter rebellion against the decay of moral standards and against the humiliation of America internationally. While genuine presidential politics has been historically episodic, it has in recent times been persistent, and this in spite of scholarly and journalistic efforts to ignore it.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the Founders were specific in assigning the military powers to the President. As they make clear in The Federalist, the connection between the power of the sword and the honor of the community is palpable to Madison's "gallant" Americans. It is fitting that an American Government text which persistently substitutes the activities of society for separation of powers politics should conclude with a chapter which seriously underestimates the totalitarian threat to political life. This presentation ignominiously treats the difference between freedom and totalitarianism as "an ideological split that exacerbates world tensions" (p. 634). And at a time when the free world is severely threatened by its inferiority of weapons, both conventional and nuclear, this text frets endlessly over whether sound domestic politics is compatible with effective international action. For the two to be compatible, these authors believe, it is necessary to overcome the Hamiltonian disposition to believe that "self-interest was the motive force behind the foreign policy of all nations" (p. 603). It is necessary, they say, to employ instead, the Jeffersonian view that standards of individual behavior can become the standards of nations. The inevitable consequence of following such a recommendation in a world of totalitarian aggression would be that citizens would receive a forceful reminder of the wisdom of the Founders, for they would quickly experience for themselves that very state of nature which the Founders posited in order to better assess man's natural equality. They would find themselves in such a state of nature because their government had, in the absence of real political life, opted to abandon its first object, the securing of public safety.
THE NEW SHAKESPEAREANS
Shakespeare As Political Thinker
Edited by John Alvis and Thomas G. West
Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1981
306 pp., $22.95 (cloth), $8.95 (paper)
By David Lowenthal
This collection of essays is meant to continue the Shakespearean studies begun by Harry Jaffa and Allan Bloom twenty years ago and added to since by Howard White, Michael Platt, Paul Cantor, George Anastaplo and others. Most of the contributors teach in English or Politics departments across the country; many, like Robert Heilman, Bloom, Jaffa, Cantor and Platt, have already written extensively on Shakespeare, and many in other areas of literature or philosophy. Of the fifteen essays, the first (by Alvis), and the last (by Jaffa) are the most comprehensive, and two others (by Heilman and Laurence Berns) have general themes as well. The rest are devoted to particular plays and, in one case, to a sonnet. The coverage is not as even as it might be: four of the ten history plays (from Richard II to Henry V), four of the seventeen comedies (Measure, Merchant, Tempest, and Troilus-if Troilus is kept in this category), and only one of the ten tragedies (Timon). Richard II and Troilus even receive two essays apiece, though to good effect. And the authors who open and close the volume not only make reference, often extensive, to many plays there, but also contribute an essay each on particular plays.
These and similar studies of great figures thought to be "literary"-Sophocles, Dante, Montaigne, Swift, Melville, Twain-are all traceable to the intellectual revolution wrought by Leo Strauss. Over several decades, Strauss had revived political philosophy in its classical origins and entire subsequent history, made discoveries about the art of philosophical writing, and extended his classical interests from Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle to the philosophical history of Thucydides, the philosophical poetry of Lucretius, and the philosophical comedy of Aristophanes. The new Shakespeareans maintain that the man generally considered the greatest of all poets and playwrights is in this tradition. He too uses his art to convey a systematic rational teaching, "arguing" its various facets, so to speak, play by play. And he follows Socrates and the Socratics in making politics the natural center of human life-the chief vantage point for displaying, and directing, human virtue and vice, happiness and misery.
Today, scant attention is paid to the undeniably political features of Shakespeare's plays, on the assumption that they are merely instrumental to the drama, and hence peripheral, even superficial. John Alvis lays this view to rest in his fine introductory essay explaining, in essentially classical terms, the significance of politics to Shakespeare. But he may have inadvertently gone a bit too far in giving the impression that all the plays are political, and perhaps equally political, that all raise human life beyond the level of the individual and family to show it in the context of the political regime (p. 5). Actually, judging by their outward appearance, the plays are very unevenly political, taking the word in the ordinary sense of pertaining to rulers, governments, regimes. The largest single group, barely a majority of the thirty-seven, is fully and directly political, like the history plays. Others, like Romeo, Timon, Merchant, have crucial political ingredients without being directly about politics, A third group-all comedies, including Love's, Twelfth, Comedy-has important political elements but seems to lack a serious political message. And a final two-Turning and Merry Wives-are comedies of private life, almost devoid of any political connections whatsoever. No doubt many of the apparently less political plays are actually more so, but the apparent range of the plays, extending well into the private and non-political, proves that the vast predominance of the political among them is entirely deliberate, confirming Alvis's main point.
Shakespeare knew, Alvis tells us, that the various political regimes exhibit different ways of life and direct their members toward them with a unique authority. These ways of life involve a partial view of man and his happiness, and must be examined in searching for the fullest human life and the society most akin to it. Like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, then, and the tradition they established, Shakespeare seeks the good and the right by nature. This is why the plays must also depict and examine other claimants to being, or providing, the supreme end of life-religion, philosophy, poetry, friendship, love. With regard to religion, Shakespeare's interest can hardly be said to be conventionally Christian. Close to a third of all the plays have pre-Christian or pagan settings, and even more are devoted to a critical appraisal of Christianity's effect on human life in all respects. As for the natural force of love or eros-a subject generally associated with Shakespeare's name more than politics-all its varieties are drawn, but usually in relation to some larger conception of things set by politics, religion, or philosophy. A nice example of this takes place in Antony and Cleopatra, the play depicting the transition from the ancient lovers of Troilus and Cressida to the modern Christian lovers of Romeo and Juliet. At precisely the moment when the natural force of eros is liberated from the political constraints of Roman mores, and about to thrive on its own, as we think, it dies, and is transformed into a non-physical, nonerotic form of love. To make sure we understand this great event, Shakespeare uses a marvelous device. Wishing to commit suicide and thinking he needs help, Antony calls many times for his servant and armorer, a man named Eros (he helps protect Antony's body), so that the name "Eros" rings out again and again. But Eros refuses to help Antony with his suicide and kills himself instead: the transition to Christianity requires the death of eros (IV, 12, 14).
That Shakespeare is a "political thinker" in the fullest sense-indeed, a political philosopher-is proven repeatedly in this fine volume. No one can read the longer and more systematic essays especially without being impressed by the human importance of their subjects, and at least intrigued by their evidence and reasoning. Whoever begins reading the plays in this way finds in them a whole new world, endlessly difficult, fascinating, even astonishing, but promising intelligibility. They are a liberal education in themselves. Jaffa's final essay tries to indicate the comprehensive view at which Shakespeare arrived-the summation of his philosophy.
Now anyone commenting on a book of this scope and importance should avoid loose talk and stick to what he knows. For this reason, I will have little to say of the essays by Cowan and Bloom on Richard II, by Flannery and West on Troilus and by de Alvarez on Timon, despite their obvious merits, and will even advert to only one part of Platt's argument about that bewildering Sonnet 94. Nor have I any thing useful to add to the reflections on tragedy and comedy found in the essays by Heilman and Berns. But I think I have a few things to say about the other essays, some geared to their particulars, some that cut across many, and some that propose a kind of defect in all.
Dain Trafton's "Shakespeare's Henry IV: A New Prince in a New Principality" is a beautifully written and consistent view of Henry Bolingbroke as a Machiavellian-impious, violent, deceitful-yet incapable of that "extraordinary virtu" needed to found a new order in a new principality (94). By now I imagine Alvis and Trafton have had a chat with each other, since to Alvis he is a "new prince in an old regime" rather than in a new one (101). Important as this disagreement may be, however, I am more interested in the fact that both authors think Machiavellian categories applicable to what Shakespeare had in mind. Since Shakespeare himself certainly knew of them, were they part of his intention when he wrote? Is it that his and Machiavelli's views happen to coincide at certain points? Did he write to confirm or disprove these views? Does he share Machiavelli's approval of "extraordinary virtu" If so, what becomes of the classical principles Alvis, Jaffa and others attribute to him?
Christ or Machiavelli?
This difficulty arises in several places among the essays. Bloom's "Richard II" ends by claiming that Henry remains a Christian (directly contradicting what Trafton concludes two chapters later); in fact, "so strong is his faith or his fear of hell fire" that he cannot accept the idea that murder-"as Machiavelli teaches"-can contribute to establishing earthly justice (60). Again, the disagreement between Trafton and Bloom is less important than their sharing the notion that citing Machiavelli is somehow appropriate to Shakespeare's intention. Later, Alvis speaks of Harry's demonstrating his virtu by his victory over Hotspur, and gives the impression that Shakespeare himself has adopted Machiavelli's praise of this "manly vigor" (102). Alvis thinks Harry is personally pious, meaning Christian (105, 119), but claims that his conduct as a ruler is neither Christian nor just, as shown especially by his favoring foreign war over domestic rule-again like Machiavelli. This time Alvis seems to be criticizing Machiavelli and claiming that Shakespeare, by disapproving of Harry, does too.
It may be too quick a judgment to regard Harry's private prayer to God, before Agincourt, as a sufficient proof of his Christianity. That prayer is directed to the God of battles, not the Prince of Peace; it says nothing of the afterlife, does not even mention his present belligerency in France (as Alvis notes), and asks God only to keep his soldiers from counting the superior numbers against them: The fighting they will handle on their own. Only in his contrition for his father's sin does Harry sound Christian. Otherwise, he seems to be praying to a God with political understanding, who, unlike Christ, sympathizes with the needs of political rule, and perhaps, therefore, also forbids the kind of political usurpation of which his father was guilty. Harry's soliloquy on ceremony does deny a royal duty of "moral stewardship," as Alvis claims (121), but not of stewardship per se: it is not Machiavellian. The speech is difficult to understand precisely because the king's sole and completely unrewarded purpose is to preserve the peasants' security (but
neither their religion nor their virtue), while on his side, the king is repaid by nothing-certainly not by empty ceremony, but not even by the honor of which ceremony is only an outward sign, and which Harry publicly and proudly says he covets. As far as I can see, this difficulty remains despite Alvis's fine analysis of this speech (96-97, 103, 125). Nor is it clear to me that Harry, by his devotion to security, "embraces the modern political premise," stressing peace and self-preservation (21-22). He certainly seems to have departed from classical and Christian standards, but he may have done so for complex reasons as yet unclear to us. It is not clear why the soliloquy pays so little attention to the nobility and to honor-just before the glorious "We happy few" speech to the assembled army, or whether it is correct simply to add the two together, as Alvis does (97). Even so, we are still far from the individual right of self-preservation with which modern liberalism begins in Hobbes and Locke.
Alvis does not seem quite willing to concede that Harry succeeded in providing something like what Trafton says his father needed-a renewal of divine right monarchy through the apparent miracle of God's intervention on the English side at Agincourt. Yet is this not why Harry so willingly commands all the glory for the battle to go to God, despite his promises only moments before of everlasting honor to the "happy few" who fought with him? Alvis likens him to the Biblical David's also gaining glory by giving it to God (118), and is emphatic in thinking the love of honor and glory his supreme object. All the more perplexing, then, is Jaffa's insistence, in his closing essay, that Henry ". . . does not act for honor as an end in itself any more than Falstaff," that nothing in him is honorable, that he is entirely Machiavellian in thinking of the art of politics as the art of war, and of war solely in terms of calculation: ". . . he would never face an enemy he could cut down from behind" (288-89). Alvis concedes Henry's calculation, his ability as an actor and a speaker, even much of his Machiavellianism, but he is far from denigrating his character so strongly. And it would be hard to square such baseness in Henry with the overall spirit of the play which, from beginning to end, seems to treat him as a great hero, celebrating him beyond the kings in all the other English history plays.
That he is "the mirror of all Christian kings," as the Chorus proclaims before Act II, Alvis gives us many reasons to doubt. Certainly there is little of the true Christian in his public life, and, generally speaking, few men have given so much attention to this world and so little to the next. He is an expert at deceit and smooth talk, and can be ruthless in politics as in battle, but there is no sign that he is vile or that he does not seek the public good of England, the peasant's security. He kills Hotspur in a perfectly fair fight, and even his ordering the death of his French prisoners occurs under duress-when the French had begun another charge and every Englishman was needed for the fighting (IV, 6:36-38). His honorable and gracious treatment of the dead Percy receives strong praise from Alvis (101). So Harry's character remains elusive.
Alvis ponders, and vigorously condemns, Hal's Eastcheap dissipations and scandalous escapades, only to conclude, with the prince himself, that his sole aim was to astonish and win glory by his reformation. This causes Alvis to write off Hal's tavern talk and his relation to Falstaff too quickly, and even to neglect the touching account of Falstaff's death (101). Elements of the deaths of two very great figures-Christ and Socrates-are combined in this account. On his deathbed, following Henry's insistence, Falstaff repents a life of sin-a life bereft of religion till then. But we should take seriously the implication that Falstaff was a kind of Socrates to Hal-he is actually called "a misleader of youth" (2H4, at II, 4:508)-and should consider why Shakespeare saw fit to dwell so extensively on their life together. By contrast to the world of the nobility, the world of honor, Falstaff and the tavern give Hal lessons in ignobility. Contrary to the kind of education Socrates prescribes for rulers in the Republic, Hal surrounds himself with low things and imitates the low rather than the high. His exchange with Frances, the tapster, and Poins is one of the best examples of such an actual imitation (1H4, at II, 4). Nevertheless, it would be hard to regard this as rising to the full vicious majesty of a Machiavellian education, and without a more comprehensive analysis of Henry's relation to Falstaff, in particular, it is hard to know exactly how Eastcheap contributed to his education, and hence to his later conduct.
Measure for Measure
There are several other places in the book applying Machiavelli to the study of Shakespeare. In Measure, the Duke arranges to let Angelo bear the onus of cracking down on a city the Duke himself has ruled too permissively, and this plan Jaffa thinks, resembles Cesare Borgia's use of de Orco in The Prince (189). He might have added the Duke's statement, as he tells all this to Friar Thomas, that he intends, in the disguise of a friar himself, to "visit both prince and people"-perhaps an even clearer reminder of Machiavelli. But in such cases it is important to discover exactly the extent of the similarity. Jaffa accepts as true the Duke's admission to the friar of neglectful and bad rule on his own part-and for a period of fourteen years (I, 3). But this is a long time to be neglectful, and the reader soon starts to realize that the Duke is a man capable of the most extensive and ingenious deceit; in fact, his coming to borrow the robes of a friar already shows such deceit. What the Duke cannot tell the friar is that Christian asceticism, in his eyes, poses as great a threat to the city as unbridled hedonism. In fact, it may have been a greater threat
Let us suppose that the Duke began by having the view that the chief danger to be overcome was Christianity itself, with its claimed superiority over the secular and political order, and its otherworldliness, of which sexual asceticism was a vital part. Now the similarity to Machiavelli deepens, but the solutions are very different. Imagine the Duke, an Aristotelian ruler who believes that, to counter the vice of asceticism (originally shown by Isabella's entering a nunnery), he must allow the opposite vice to flourish for an extended period, and then find a way of moving back toward the virtue between them. Knowing Angelo's character and past actions much better than he admits to the friar, the Duke deputizes him to rule in his place, suspecting what will happen-suspecting not only sexual severity but the possibility of sexual abuse from the man whose name (deriving from "angel") signifies his Christian background. Lurking around in his disguise as a friar will permit the Duke to detect, and prevent, the harms that might come from this plan. One might even-think that the Duke is more interested in catching Angelo, and making a public display of his hypocrisy, than he is in having the brothels closed. This punishing exposure accounts for the leniency with which the Duke is able to treat Angelo at the end, after he too (unlike the example of de Orca from The Prince) has benefited from the experience. In the great public exhibition of the finale, the saints and the sinners are all compelled to marry, with the Duke himself now setting the prime example, thus finding the mean in marriage Jaffa so beautifully describes in the course of his essay.
The problem is that, if we are not extremely careful in linking Shakespeare to Machiavellian ideas, Shakespeare begins to look like a combination of Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli, and hence like an inconsistent and unworthy thinker. In Measure, since the Duke does make use of considerable deceit and immorality, it is especially important to discover whether Shakespeare himself thinks of this as a form of Machiavellianism he and his protagonist have both adopted, or whether it is reconcilable in his own mind with the classical teaching. Jaffa combines speaking of the Duke's actions as "outside the bounds of morality," despite appearances to the contrary, and of the "classicism" that sets him apart in the play (192, 195). Then does Shakespeare want us to consider his actions just or unjust? What if they are the most benign way of conquering a formidable enemy, one that prevents a sounder morality and polity from coming into existence?
The Duke's name, mentioned only in the dramatis personae and never in the play itself, is Vincentio, and refers to conquering. Jaffa draws our attention to the names of friends of the Duke, "of whose existence we have had no previous inkling," called forth at the end of the play (194-95). Four of the five are Roman, and most seem to be the names of conquerors who failed, usually in wars against those they considered barbarians. In his war the Duke did not fail, and he wants these friends to "bring the trumpets to the gate" (IV, 5) and welcome his return. At the end, the Duke is not as mild as it might seem to those who have committed offenses, since public humiliation can be a very strong punishment. Nevertheless, what he does not do is give the simple "measure for measure" Christ calls for in Matthew VII-a principle hardly involving charitable forgiveness. He punishes and he compels, but in such a way as to conduce to the Aristotelian mean he seeks in the institution of marriage. The ending, therefore, is neither Christian nor Machiavellian (cf. 189), and the justness of the means used cannot be fairly estimated without a more accurate idea of the evil he sought to overcome.
Chastity in Politics
Apart from this difficulty, Jaffa's essay on Measure is straightforward, systematic, and filled with acute observation and intelligent reflection. Through an examination of the speeches and action, the importance of "Chastity as a Political Principle" is established beyond doubt. "Chastity" here means the preservation of the family as the basis of political society, with the consequent necessity of limiting sexual liaisons to those between husband and wife, and permitting them nowhere else. The play itself gives examples of commercial fornication, fornication between serious lovers bent on marriage, and a kind of mixed and semi-voluntary fornication, where one of the partners seeks marriage and the other thinks he is committing an act of fornication with someone else. The play begins with Angelo closing down the brothels, but it seems that those in the city (as distinguished from the suburbs) were not closed down, and it is not clear, by the end of the play, that the Duke means to finish the job.
I have difficulty following one final section of Jaffa's argument, where he says: "We have concluded that upon the basis of reason and law, Claudio's execution was certainly justified, paradoxical as that conclusion may seem to our moral taste" (211). Earlier he had shown that bringing bastards into the world is properly a public offense, and mentions that, apart from two of the loosest characters, no one in the play ". . . seriously questions that fornication ought to be an offense, or even that it ought to be a capital offense" (198). But this is not enough to prove that "reason and law" clearly justify the execution, and I can find no other place where it is proven. In addition, the view that reason "certainly" justifies capital punishment for fornication pits the Duke's final resolution of things against reason, since it violates this rule not once or twice but three times. Not only in the case of Claudio, but with that regular fornicator, Lucio, and that new covert fornicator, Angelo, the Duke requires only marriage. Incidentally, two of the moral people in the play do oppose Claudio's execution: it is Escalus' firm position (II, 1:4-40), and Isabella's first and spontaneous reaction, at least, only calls for what the Duke does ultimately-marriage (I, 4:4).
Jaffa tries to save the Duke by suggesting that, in effect, he does "kill" Claudio, only to resurrect him at the end and then order his marriage (211). This explanation is not only unlikely in itself but fails to consider the fate of the other fornicators. And the case is further strengthened once we consider the fact, mentioned only by Claudio to Lucio, that he and Julietta are at least half-married already. Knowing this weakens our repugnance at Mariana's fornication, directly devised by the Duke himself, since she had a few years back been Angelo's fiancée-a condition more distant from marriage than Claudio's. Why does Shakespeare introduce such facts if not to qualify the blanket condemnation of fornication? We must therefore conclude, contrary to Jaffa, that reason does not consider fornication an offense deserving of death. In short, the irresponsible creation of life is not the exact moral equivalent of the irresponsible termination of life (197-98). With this qualification, the main substance of Jaffa's argument about the connection between the family, chastity, political health generally constitutes one of the most original and solid parts of the whole volume and, particularly today, merits wide dissemination.
In Barbara Tovey's essay on Merchant, the philosophical theme of the play is taken, perhaps too quickly, to be the distinction between appearance and reality. Symbolized by the golden casket, this theme is extended, by the end of the essay, to Portia's only appearing to stand for the "lusty, gay, physical love" Bloom had once suggested, while her inner reality is Platonic philosophy. Along the way, Tovey makes many fine observations about the characters, action and meaning of the play, showing, quite originally, how Portia has to struggle for Bassanio against Antonio, his benefactor. But in some things Tovey does move too rapidly. She seems to concede that ". . . the casket choice is a silly way to decide between the suitors," and therefore concludes that Shakespeare uses it chiefly as a vehicle for the theme of appearance and reality (216). To do this, she must forget the way the casket choice is said to originate-as the will of Portia's dead father-and she can overlook the details attending each choice. She admits Portia knows how to choose the right casket in Bassanio's case, but did she know it in the other cases as well? The details accompanying the three main cases actually show that Portia has full control over the caskets and would therefore be in a position to manipulate them in such a way as to risk nothing in the choice, and to get only the suitor she wants-thus making this odd method far from silly. Bloom keeps Portia's subservience to her dead father before our eyes because he relates it to the larger Biblical theme of obeying God the Father, but the independence of mind he attributes to Portia is inconsistent with the final piety he also attributes to her. The only consistent alternative is that she only appears subservient to her father, while using a means of finding a husband that is essentially of her own devising.
In explaining Antonio's willingness to execute a loan with Shylock guaranteed by his own flesh, Tovey astutely suggests that Antonio wants Bassanio to appreciate that his friend will risk everything for him. But she seems to have overlooked the fact that Antonio did not have to borrow from Shylock at all. Antonio had begun by promising Bassanio that his "extremest means," his "uttermost" were at his disposal, and this after admitting in a conversation with other friends: "Nor is my whole estate upon the fortune of the present year" (I,1:43), meaning that he did not have to worry about possible losses from his ships at sea because he had prudently kept sufficient money uninvested. Only after hearing Bassanio's harebrained request for a considerable sum to help him win Portia's hand-and wealth-in marriage does Antonio completely reverse field and tell him that all his fortunes are at sea, adding: "and I no question make, to have it of my trust, or for my sake" (I, 1:185). That is, either by his credit or from his friends ("for his sake"), Antonio will get the money for Bassanio and spare himself the outlay until his ships return. Immediately thereafter, both Bassanio and Antonio end up at Shylock's place, thus compelling the conclusion that Antonio's friends had failed him-visible proof, incidentally, justifying Shylock's occupation, that of a nonfriend who lends money as a business. Tovey quotes George Keeton's criticism of Antonio for not simply going to his friends before Shylock's note is due to borrow the principal and save himself. But this misses the point on two counts, for if Antonio had been able to rely on friends, he would not have had to have recourse to Shylock in the first place. What is worse, he has put himself in the position of not even being able to save himself with his own funds since, having falsely told Bassanio he had none, he could not suddenly produce the needed money without totally discrediting himself with his friend.
Tovey is undoubtedly right in maintaining that the play contains "a veiled criticism of Christianity" along with an open one of Judaism-in fact, the latter may be said to conceal and make possible the former. The criticism, she says, is embodied in Antonio's defective love for Bassanio-defective not as the love of one male for another, but because it is possessive: "It is not wholly directed toward the well-being of the beloved one; it aims instead at securing from him the maximum return of love and gratitude" (233). It is hard to ask of love that it be wholly for the good of the beloved, especially in this play. In fact, discounting or renouncing the inevitable selfish elements of love, and particularly sexual love, is a demand of the Christianity Shakespeare criticizes. Even the struggle Tovey describes so well-of Portia for the soul of Bassanio-is hardly lacking in selfish motivation. Not even possessiveness, as such, can be rejected as a part of love, and is certainly present in sexual love. But Antonio's passion for Bassanio falls under the heading of neither sexual love nor friendship. Its defect is that it substitutes money-giving for the things that either sexual love or friendship naturally give and, without knowing it, wants gratitude, love and dependence in return. On the surface it is the very model of Christian charity-of unselfish giving, to the uttermost; in reality, it feeds a vice of Bassanio's, his prodigality and constant need for money, in order to win love. Behind it seems to be Antonio's conviction that he himself is not lovable without his money-giving, or that there is something wrong with ordinary sexual love-perhaps its direct pleasure-seeking. Otherwise, why would Antonio say "Fie, fie" to the suggestion that he might be in love, and later compare himself to a "tainted wether of the flock," fittest to die; i.e., to a castrated ram? These attitudes connected with his Christianity drive him toward trying to win the affection of men only, and hence toward his unusual relationship with Bassanio.
This brings us, finally, to Tovey's interesting speculations about what Portia and Belmont stand for. She is right in finding Bloom inconsistent when he has Portia stand for physical love while the residents of Belmont, her home, are pictured as glimpsing "the only true beauty, which lies somewhere beyond the heavens for a happy few" (234). Yet it is impossible to dismiss the former as mere appearance in favor of the Platonic reality of the latter. In fact, the notion of a beauty beyond the heavens misreads Lorenzo's famous speech about the heavenly bodies. These bodies, he says, not only exist and move in a harmony (he describes them as golden, like the casket and Portia's hair), but send forth a musical sound only pure souls can hear (V, 1:54-65).
This view of the heavens does not refer platonically to a beauty "which lies somewhere beyond the heavens." On the contrary, the beauty, the harmony are in the heavens, in the visible universe itself, and not separate from it. Soul is in body-perhaps associated with or identical to the harmony within-bodies. Indeed, the separation of soul and body, spirit and matter, is the major source of the Christian defects to which Bloom and Tovey both refer. To show what he has in mind in this sense, Shakespeare has recourse to a little joke, involving lines that always puzzle the critics. It is nighttime. Lancelot, now Bassanio's servant, enters (at Belmont) to tell of his master's coming. He keeps yelling "Sola" four times, then three times again, and finally says, "Sola! Where? Where?"-to which Lorenzo responds, "Here!" Now in the text it seems that Lorenzo only means to give his own location to Lancelot, by saying "Here," but Lancelot (of all people) had really asked-and here is the joke-where is soul, and to that Lorenzo had answered "Here," meaning here in physical things, in the earth itself, in the heavenly bodies.
This is why Shakespeare has Lorenzo bid Jessica sit-that is, attach herself more fully to the earth itself-while he describes the visible heavens to her. And it accounts for the name Belmont too-a beautiful mountain, not a conclave of souls existing beyond the heavens, in some pure world of ideas. The world of Belmont is therefore closer to what Aristotle meant by soul and cosmos-unless one thinks Plato himself did not believe in a separate world of ideas. As a society of friends, it needs neither morality nor politics, and hence has an artificially thin cast. Apart from open erotic love, it is devoted to appreciating the beauties of nature, poetry and music rather than the wonders of philosophy. And it bases the good for man on man's nature and nature generally, rather than on the command of any father or father-like being. This is the play's alternative to the Bible, and this is the philosophy on which Portia acts, whether or not she herself is meant to be thought of as a philosopher.
Paul Cantor shows that the proper background for understanding Tempest is Plato's Republic, and its rule of philosopher-kings. Permitting his brother to rule while he gave himself to "secret studies," Prospero, the philosopher-duke of Milan, is ousted when his brother combines forces with the king of Naples against him. Now, marooned on a Mediterranean island with his daughter, Miranda, and a deformed human named Caliban, he devises a way of returning to Italy. With new-found magical powers, and working through a spirit named Ariel, he takes advantage of his enemies' ship nearing the island and casts them ashore through an artificial tempest. We learn, with Cantor's help, how Prospero proceeds to influence the various individuals and groups on the island, each with different virtues and vices and at different levels of humanity. This is the only Shakespearean play in which all the action, from beginning to end is planned by one man, and, in four hours of action, Prospero proves he can rule with wisdom and justice, made effective through Ariel, who transforms the philosopher's natural weakness into strength. But the plan has a flaw that Cantor misses: it makes no provision for the king's butler and jester, and so their coming ashore alone and then meeting with each other and with Caliban, is all due to the purest chance and indicates the necessary limits of even the wisest human rule.
Cantor remarks that "In many respects, Prospero shows greater political wisdom in dealing with Ariel than with Caliban" (247), and he is right. After Prospero himself, Caliban may be the most interesting character in the play. He is a mixture of bodily wants or earthiness, timidity, perceptiveness, poetic sensitivity, natural piety, and an inclination to serve a master. In many ways his traits link him with poetry, and his name-far from being an anagram of cannibal, as commonly thought-is more likely a combination, from the Greek, of bios and banousos-beautiful and vulgar. After his attempted rape of Miranda, Prospero loses all hope for him and makes him a slave. But Caliban's education and improvement, even in the course of a conspiracy to murder Prospero, is one of the play's most absorbing themes, and it is important to discover whether Prospero learns of this by the end of the action, as the audience certainly does. If Prospero's name is any indication, we can expect everything to prosper and turn out for the best. In a play more optimistic than the stubborn realities of matter and chance in the real world will allow, Caliban and all he stands for will be able to rise from a kind of subhumanity to serve the philosopher-duke voluntarily and well. In short, he will prove capable of being integrated into civilized society and brought back to Italy with everyone else, rather, than left on the bare island.
Cantor's fine sustained analysis should be undergirded by one broad political point. The king of Naples is not acting impulsively or vainly in gaining hegemony over Milan far to the north, nor in insisting that his daughter marry the king of Tunis to his own south-and against her wishes and his counselors' advice. The one part of Italy not mentioned in the play lies between Milan and Naples. It is Rome, much more famous than either and now the location of the Papal States and the heart of Catholic Christianity. Since the middle of Italy must begin to bow to any power capable of pressing it from both sides, we must begin to suspect a very ambitious secret plan on the king's part-a plan to unify all of Italy, including the Papal States, under his rule, If this is so, Tempest becomes among other things, Shakespeare's answer to Machiavelli's call for the unification of Italy in The Prince, which, perhaps not accidentally, mentions only two places in its first chapter: Milan and Naples (Thanks, Dick Cox!). The two men seem to agree-Shakespeare very quietly-to the need for subordinating the church to secular rule, as shown by the fact that Prospero makes no attempt to return to the status quo ante, involving Milan's independence, but instead arranges for his daughter to become queen of the united Naples and Milan. On the other hand, Prospero's devotion to Miranda, and his bringing her into the highest levels of political life, shows the stark difference between the Shakespearean and Machiavellian approach to politics and to the unification of Italy as well.
I would also ask Cantor whether there are not important differences, as well as similarities, between Tempest and Plato's Republic. Perhaps the most famous speech in Tempest is Prospero's "Our revels now are ended. . . ." delivered to Ferdinand and Miranda as he sweeps away the temperance-teaching spectacle he has arranged for them and prepares to meet Caliban's conspiracy on his life. The Republic tries to anchor our knowing and being in the eternal forms, and especially the form of the good, yet the entire point of Prospero's speech is universal transience. What accounts for this difference? Is Prospero a Platonic philosopher without the forms? Are they omitted for some other reason? And was it wise of Prospero to counter so completely the hopes and expectations of prosperity and stability that he had been fostering in Ferdinand and Miranda only moments before? Is the speech really as cheerful as Cantor makes out (255)? Finally, I must confess to some disappointment at reaching the end of this essay without finding an analysis of the enchanting and mystifying Epilogue, where Prospero, Shakespeare and perhaps Caliban as well all seem to merge their identities, and-very un-Platonically, it would seem-plead with the audience to be released from bondage.
The capstone of this volume is Jaffa's essay on "The Unity of Tragedy, Comedy and History: An Interpretation of the Shakespearean Universe." This tour de force, filled with original insights, is occasionally, and at times seriously, marred by hasty judgment and unclarity. Starting from an analysis of Shakespeare's unique combination of these three forms of drama, Jaffa ranges through the following topics in separate sections: the comedy Tempest; the tragedy Macbeth; a comparison of Macbeth and Richard III; Shakespeare's relation to Christianity, Machiavelli and the Machiavelli-derived principles of modern life; a transition from the history plays back to the Roman poem and plays; further pursuit of the Romans in Antony and Cleopatra; and, finally, the problem of political cycles in Shakespeare.
I shall not try to repeat this complex argument or even the very fine things said about tragedy and comedy at the beginning. I was looking particularly for Jaffa's conclusions about Shakespeare's overall philosophy, but had difficulty discovering them. We are told that Shakespeare adopted Machiavelli's interpretation of Roman republicanism (291, 302), and also that Richard III is "a nearly perfect symbol of Machiavellian modernity"-which can only mean, since Richard is surely one of the most detestable characters in Shakespeare, that Shakespeare rejected the core of Machiavelli's teaching. If so, how could he have adopted his view of the Roman republic? And if Shakespeare rejects "Machiavellian modernity," this must mean rejecting the modern liberal transformation, through Hobbes and Locke, of Machiavelli's stress on security (288-89, 303). Yet Jaffa adds that "The Merchant of Venice displays for our approval nearly every vital element of John Locke's political teaching," including religious toleration, and, soon after, that "In the same way Othello demonstrates the impossibility of racial prejudice. . . ." These sound like very favorable, not critical, remarks about the liberal lessons of the Venetian plays. Jaffa also thinks Shakespeare foresaw the liberal change from medieval Christendom's remote City of God to the "equality of all before God" as a "rule upon earth" (289, 303). By this point it is unclear whether Shakespeare holds fast to classical principles or rather accepts some of the challenges to them presented by Christianity, Machiavelli and the liberal derivatives from Machiavelli and Christianity together. Does he accept or reject Falstaff's depreciation of honor (288) and the consequent move (as Jaffa sees it) toward the secure and comfortable life sought by economic Machiavellianism?
In making some of these points, Jaffa does not seem to appreciate the difficulties that lie in his way. In Bloom and Jaffa's original book on Shakespeare's Politics (31, 36), for example, Bloom thought Merchant and Othello showed the limits of religious and racial mixing in Venice, rather than the salutary effect of such mixing. Similarly, when Jaffa attributes an amalgam of Christianity and Machiavelli to both Henry IV and Henry V (288), he disagrees with one of the other essayists, Trafton, about the former's Christianity, and may be mistaken about the latter's as well. And he disagrees with Alvis's emphasis on Henry V's love of honor, and hence on the degree of his Machiavellianism (288-89). In all of these interpretations, Jaffa may be right, but he does not seem to consider the full complexity of the evidence or always appreciate the need for making an argument. A difficulty of the same kind, but of even greater magnitude, shows itself in his claim that ". . . Dante (and Shakespeare) could see God's providence at work, as much in the history of Rome as in the history of the Jews," and, again, that ". . . Shakespeare seems certainly to have shared Dante's thesis that the history of Rome was providential. . . ." (294). Since it is impossible to see God's providence at work without believing in God and, in this case, the Biblical God, Jaffa is indirectly asserting here that both Dante and Shakespeare are believers in the Biblical God, and since they are not Jews or Moslems, they must be believing Christians. Whether this is true of Dante or not depends on resolving the controversy over his possible Averroism. As for Shakespeare, this is a claim of the greatest depth and consequence, and yet it is supported by not a word of argument.
I find myself lost in perplexity on turning from remarks like these to Jaffa's wonderful treatment of the secular genesis of Christianity in Antony and Cleopatra (301-2). This account of how the late Roman republic, turned imperial, generated the elements of Christianity seems unlikely to place Shakespeare on the side of a belief in Christian revelation. Nor would Measure, Tempest, Merchant and the other plays treated in this volume. Is Shakespeare a strict follower of classical philosophy? Is he a Christian follower of classical philosophy? Just how much of Machiavelli does he accept, and on what grounds, and consistently or inconsistently? I wish Jaffa had concentrated his great powers more on such issues and less on showing how Shakespeare anticipated the whole modern world, down to the last stage envisaged by Marxism (303). It would have been more than enough to come to a clear conclusion about Shakespeare's principles, only then applying them to elements of the modern world like those he thought about, without venturing into the uncertain realm of what he did or did not anticipate.
A Careless Bard?
I want, finally, to express a general concern about two tendencies of this volume, authored by teachers of English or politics. One is to ignore certain prejudices built up in educated Shakespeareans recently, preventing them from appreciating Shakespeare's thoughtfulness; the other, to write as if Shakespeare's thought can be abstracted from a play without the fullest attention to the art of that play. Today it is a well-nigh universal dogma, taught in every English department, that Shakespeare wrote only for the stage and, even then, carelessly. This prejudice keeps moderate and intelligent people, with healthy, natural interests, from reading Shakespeare with the sympathy, attention and constant questioning he requires. For if he wrote only for the stage, as is claimed, he could not have written with depth and complication: his eye would be on the drama and action, on bringing the audience with him through the movement of the play. Conversely, if he was a careful thinker, as our authors not only presume but often prove, could he have been a careless writer? Could he even have been, first and foremost, a writer for the stage rather than the study?
While never as dogmatically and universally held as today, the view that Shakespeare wrote only for the theater, and carelessly, has a pedigree going back to Samuel Johnson, and there is much plausible evidence to support it. First of all, the plays simply do not look like vehicles for a philosophical analysis of human problems, and we must therefore wonder, if it turns out they really are, why Shakespeare took such pains to conceal the philosophy. Even Coleridge, the man who made the most extensive claims for Shakespeare as a philosopher, never envisaged what our authors have been maintaining lately-that each play represents the development and resolution of a specific problem or difficulty in human affairs. Ancillary to this, if Shakespeare models his teaching on Plato and Aristotle, by and large, why do we find no explicit praise of their philosophy, or of philosophy itself, but instead what amounts to a kind of concealment even of those characters in the plays most likely to have been philosophers? Why does Barbara Tovey, for example, have to work so hard to prove that Portia represents classical philosophy, and even go so far as to make a "potential philosopher" of Bassanio (235-36)? Or Paul Cantor have to guess that Prospero's knowledge is "presumably" of natural philosophy-when all we are told directly in the play is that he was a student of the "liberal arts" (242)? And why must even Harry Jaffa proclaim Duke Vincentio a philosopher on the basis of evidence that is indirect and shaky at best (181)? In short, if Shakespeare is himself a philosopher, and presenting philosophy through the medium of poetry and drama, must he not have also intended to conceal philosophy? And has he not been most successful, over the centuries, in this concealment? What is there, finally, in his philosophy that requires this considerable departure from the classics whose teaching he is thought to adopt?
The case against Shakespeare as a careful writer and thinker was probably best stated by Samuel Johnson in 1765, prefatory to his edition of the plays. While acknowledging Shakespeare's unmatched superiority as "the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life," Johnson does not find him deeply reflective, philosophical, learned or careful. He catalogues the defects of writing often appearing in the plays and claims, moreover, that Shakespeare lacked any interest in perfecting them textually. "Present popularity and present profit" were his sole objectives. In short, Shakespeare lives on, in both the theater and the study, despite himself.
In Alvis and West, only one essay, toward the very end, pays any attention whatsoever to this vital threshold issue of Shakespeare's carelessness as a writer and, peculiarly enough, confirms this imputation! In the course of explicating Sonnet 94, Platt maintains that it concerns men of poetic capacity, like Shakespeare himself, who nonetheless have no desire for "deeds," or for doing good. Platt thinks this is confirmed by Shakespeare's method of writing, and his attitude toward correcting and publishing his writings. Shakespeare "seems not to have taken his writings seriously enough to make sure that we read an accurate text." He did take care in publishing his narrative poems when he was younger, but "The mature Shakespeare was more careless," and, again, "it is mildly surprising to find so many marks of carelessness." This leads Platt to ask: "Should the reader treat seriously what he seems to have treated so casually?" If Shakespeare's friends and later editors had to intervene to put these texts into the condition they now enjoy (he singles out the exceptional accuracy of Tempest as perhaps reflecting Shakespeare's own wishes), what made it possible for him to treat his own works "so casually"? Platt's novel answer is that, for Shakespeare, writing was "first and finally" an aid to his own thinking, and publication only an "afterthought or unintended consequence" of this primary intention.
I find it impossible to accept this line of argument, but it has the distinct advantage of forcing us to confront the evidence. First, Platt does not go back far enough, for Shakespeare did, in fact, write the plays, or most of them, for immediate production on the stage, not merely for his own personal use, and he must have been involved in releasing some for quarto publication as well. These are all "deeds," and either he did them, as Johnson thought, for "present popularity and present profit," or for some larger end. In addition, Platt's theory turns topsy-turvy our usual assumption about great works of poetry and philosophy. Take Sonnet 94 itself: Does Platt not assume, all the way, that Shakespeare had the full thought behind it prior to writing it? Is it not possible, even likely, that Shakespeare learned absolutely nothing in the process of writing it, except how best to express the thought he already
Platt grants, moreover, that Shakespeare superintended the publishing of his narrative poems, and may have perfected the text of Tempest as well. Are we to conclude that he did not similarly wish to publish anything else? that thinking less of his sonnets, and all his other plays, than of the narrative poems and Tempest, he was willing to have them meet whatever fate came along? That he may even have written them all carelessly, as one might write first drafts, since they were only intended as aids to his own thinking? This already seems highly implausible, but there is positive evidence to the contrary as well. Shakespeare's close friends, Heminge and Condell, in their famous First Folio collection of his plays, seven years after his death, make no claim that he asked them to act as his editors, but they manifestly take it for granted that he would have done the job himself had time remained, and even draw attention to the perfect copies he left of many plays. Shakespeare, they say,
Who, as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together; And what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.
With the help of such "papers," they claim not only to have "cur'd" of defects the plays published unjustly by imposters, but all the others as well.
If we peruse the Riverside edition of Shakespeare, an up-to-date summation of literary scholarship, this claim is still not far from the truth. It is remarkable, in the textual comments at the end of each play, how many are thought by their editors to be in good or excellent condition. In fact, many are traced, one way or another, to Shakespeare himself, thus verifying-if verification were needed-the existence of manuscripts like those Heminge and Condell referred to as coming from him. Without doubt, then, Shakespeare took pains-great pains, perhaps extending through the last three years of his life, often said to have been spent in literary idleness-to produce perfect manuscripts for many of the plays. And we should add of defects still thought to exist in either folio or quarto, that many are assuredly editorial inventions, based on faulty theories of what Shakespeare really wanted to do in the plays. Efforts are still afoot, for example, to remove whole scenes from Macbeth (III, 5, and IV, 1) on the theory that Hecate's rule and the mode of expression there could not possibly have been of Shakespearean origin.
Phenomena of Nature
But a perfect manuscript and a carefully written play-a play composed with an eye to presenting a philosophical theme, argument and supporting details in the best possible manner-are two very different things. That the plays are carefully written in this latter sense can be shown only through the kind of textual study so painstakingly, and sympathetically, undertaken by Platt and the other contributors to this volume. Yet, despite all the evidence they have themselves uncovered, the new Shakespeareans have yet to express themselves on Shakespeare's art of writing. Certainly none has gone so far as Thomas de Quincey, back in 1823, in his famous short essay, "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth," with its concluding apostrophe:
Oh mighty poet! Thy works are not as those of men, simply and merely great works of art; but are also like the phenomena of nature; like the sun and the sea, the stars and the flowers; like frost and snow, rain and dew, hailstorm and thunder, which are to be studied with entire submission of our own faculties, and in the perfect faith that in them there can be no too much or too little, nothing useless or inert - but that, the further we press in our discoveries, the more we shall see proofs of design and self-supporting arrangement where the careless eye had seen nothing but accident?
This comparison between Shakespeare's art and the phenomena of nature is a reminder of a much more renowned comparison Plato's Socrates had made long before, in the Phaedrus (264C), between a well-composed discourse and a living thing:
Socrates: But I do think you will agree to this. That every discourse must be organized, like a living being, with a body of its own, as it were, so as not to be headless or footless, but to have a middle and members, composed in fitting relation to each other and to the whole.
The Art of Writing
This Platonic maxim, one might say, is nothing but common sense and applies equally to dialogues, plays, poems and treatises. The well-wrought work should contain nothing accidental, superfluous or internally inconsistent, and all its parts should be related to each other and the whole. If de Quincey is right, and Shakespeare had somehow adopted the same principle of writing he describes and Socrates enjoins, the plays will be of this sort. All their parts-the title, characters, setting, beginning, atmosphere, flow of time, flow of action, speeches, stage directions, poetry or press-will have been most carefully selected with an end in mind, that of developing the theme, preferably in a way that will also bring stage success. Moreover, if Jaffa, Bloom, and their followers in this volume are right in their principal point-that the plays are essentially vehicles of systematic thought-then all these outward parts of each play, down to the last detail, will have been devised by Shakespeare with an eye to its philosophical theme. Correspondingly, the task of the reader will be to observe, think about, and work through the outward parts to the hidden theme and its resolution. And, finally, the weaknesses observed by Johnson-loosely formed plots, weak endings, historical inaccuracies and anachronisms, grossness of humor, love of quibbles and the like-will ultimately prove to be apparent only, and subservient to some deeper intention of the author as yet unfathomed. In short, the plays use all their parts to make the reader think, and all the parts have some relevance to the thought he is expected to find. Staging, which is more akin to the political, ultimately makes way for reading, which is closer to philosophy.
In their eagerness to get at the thought in each play, the authors in this volume sometimes treat the philosophy as if it can be easily extracted without the closest attention to all the details-to the art-of the play. But this always runs the risk of distorting, or missing, the intricacies of Shakespeare's thought. On the other hand, the progress they have actually made in setting forth Shakespeare's ideas, and increasing his attractiveness to the philosophical reader, is very real and very great. Certainly, in today's world, only they and others like them will be able, collectively, to prove the truth of the most profound short statement ever made about Shakespeare. It occurs in the opening lines of the inscription on his tomb:
JUDICIO PYLIUM, GENIO SOCRATEM, ARTE
TERRA TEGIT, POPULUS MAERET, OLYMPUS
Him who was Nestor by his judgment, Socrates
by his genius, Virgil by his art:
The earth covers, the people mourn, Olympus
Vietnam: A History
By Stanley Karnow
New York: The Viking Press, 1983
720 pp., $20.00
By Mackubin T. Owens
With little exaggeration it can be said that public attitudes about the Vietnam War have been characterized until recently by two viewpoints. The first, held by the majority of the American people, can be called the "amnesiac" view: the overwhelming desire to forget all that happened during the Vietnam era. The second view, popular with a small but influential minority, might be termed the "demonological" view: the belief that the Vietnam enterprise was unconditionally evil and that it only served to illuminate the depths of American depravity and ruthlessness.
Until about three years ago, most of the literature concerning the war was produced by those holding the demonological view. Then about 1980 there began to appear what Fox Butterfield called the "New Vietnam Scholarship": books that purported to show that the U.S. had made mistakes in its decision to fight in Southeast Asia, and in its conduct of the war, but that the U.S. undertook the war with the best of intentions and conducted it with a high degree of restraint.
The new scholarship commenced a rout of the demonologists and caused general reconsideration of deeply held opinions on the war. But the demonologists had another card to play. For some time it had been known that a Public Broadcasting Station in Boston was planning a multi-part series on the war. Remembering the effect that television had had on public opinion during the war, many defenders of the war effort feared that this media enterprise might be the demonologists' last gasp and that biased editing of provocative film footage could undo all the good that the New Vietnam Scholarship had accomplished.
The series was launched to much fanfare in the fall of 1983 in conjunction with the publication of Stanley Karnow's massive Vietnam: A History. While most of the media demonologists, such as Anthony Lewis and Mary McGrory, effusively praised the series and the book, by and large both series and book are remarkably free of demonology. Unfortunately, both the book and series are still seriously flawed, which means that the definitive history of America's Vietnam has yet to be written.
It is necessary at the outset to make an important distinction between the PBS series and Karnow's book. The book is far superior to the series, and the series itself is uneven; many episodes were better and more objective than others. The differences arise from the sensationalism inherent in television and those responsible for various segments of the PBS series.
The series, conceived by Karnow and Richard Ellison, was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and produced by Station WGBH in Boston. Karnow's book was intended to provide the comprehensive view of the war that the television series could not. Unfortunately, for the program's balance, financial difficulties forced Karnow and Ellison to allocate nearly half of the episodes to European producers: Antenna 2 in France and the British Central Independent Television system. While the episodes produced by the Americans at least attempted to achieve a certain degree of fairmindedness, the European-produced segments were notably pro-Communist and anti-American. They portrayed the North Vietnamese as imperturbably heroic, in the face of overwhelming French and American powers, while the Westerners are shown as barbaric, heedless at best of the carnage they are inflicting on the Vietnamese peasants.
But even the American-produced episodes suffered from severe shortcomings which can be attributed not only to the outlook of Karnow and Ellison but to the medium of television. Its visual images can shock and overwhelm the viewer, even with an accompanying explanation. It is easier to remember the images of carnage and despair-the sight of an American or South Vietnamese killing an enemy-than it is to remember the reason; given for a particular action. Let us consider just two well-known instances.
When we see the infamous sequence of a little Vietnamese girl, burned by napalm as she runs down a road, revulsion seizes us. It seems that brutal Americans are attacking a helpless population, including women and children. But in fact, a South Vietnamese aircraft had mistakenly dropped ordnance on South Vietnamese troops, many of whom had their families with them. A terrible accident had occurred. The episode was not, as the image seems to convey, an American attack on helpless civilians.
Or consider the most vivid image of all: the Saigon police chief summarily executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the early hours of the 1968 Tet offensive. Television does not tell us how the police chief had lost many men to terrorists during the morning, including one who was killed with his wife and children. It does not tell us that this terrorist had sneered at him, "Now you must treat me as a prisoner of war."
Interestingly, even the best of the PBS episodes do nothing to contradict the claim that television contributed to the American defeat in the Vietnam War. Once again, as the examples cited above show, it is the image that counts. Even showing them again, as a part of a systematic history, does not alter their impact. But the misleading impressions left by these and other images contributed to a decline in public support for the war effort, and hence to our defeat in Vietnam.
"Carnage and Despair"
Thus, even at its best the series is fundamentally defective. It is the American decision or action that is always "associated with the screen's images of carnage and despair," in the words of Doan Van Toai and David Chanoff. Even the interviews with Pham Van Dong, Vo Nguyen Giap, and other North Vietnamese and southern guerrillas do not give us any insight concerning the intentions and objectives of the Vietnamese Communists. One wonders why the editors did not include interviews with high-ranking Northerners and Viet Cong who now live outside Vietnam, having fled as persecuted boat people or having become disenchanted with the regime established in April 1975.
In short, we can say that the PBS series, despite its worst episodes and the shortcomings intrinsic to the medium, has at least on the surface exorcised the demon of American evil regarding Vietnam. But it still ultimately fails as both history and journalism. The reason for its failure lies with the political assumptions of the project's originators. Here we must return to Karnow's Vietnam, Karnow's great error is that he insists on seeing the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong as primarily "nationalists," not Communists. While he has done a service in treating the Vietnam War as part of the 2,000-year historical struggle of the Vietnamese against foreigners, he does not pay enough attention to the qualitative differences between the traditional Vietnamese nationalism and that of the Stalinist Ho Chi Minh.
Perhaps this was never possible for Karnow. After all, he began his journalistic career as a correspondent and writer for the leftist National Guardian in the late 1940s. His writings in that period were strongly anti-anti-Communist and pro-Marxist. In 1949 he was parroting Soviet attacks on the Marshall Plan and on the "Socialist marionettes" in France whose strings were being worked by American interests. In April of that year he explained how the Marshall Plan enabled the French to torture nationalist Vietnamese peasants, and in August how it allowed Frenchmen to murder 80,000 civilians in a "Madagascar bloodbath."
Although Vietnam clearly indicates a change of viewpoint from his Guardian work, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that his view of Vietnamese nationalism seems to have changed very little over twenty-five years. While Karnow now admits that the Communists were often repressive, brutal, and dogmatic, he still uncritically accepts the view that they remain primarily nationalists, but nationalist with a revolutionary vision for an agrarian society.
And this is the point missed by many of those who have praised Karnow's book but should have known better. While Karnow has forgone the Marxist rhetoric that characterized his youthful scribblings on behalf of "anti-imperialism," he still holds fast to the Marxist view of history. For Karnow, there was no way the U.S. could have won. We were simply on the wrong side of history; the progressive forces could not help but overwhelm us.
Thus Karnow has written a book which, on its surface, is moderate. But his thesis is the same as that of the demonologists: U.S. foreign policy is doomed unless it accepts the legitimacy of the "revolutionary paradigm." He does not tell us that the revolutionary paradigm seeks to destroy the republican paradigm, the most successful example of which is the United States. While nationalists per se do not see the U.S. system as their enemy (although they may on occasion see the U.S. as their particular enemy), Communist revolutionaries do. If the Vietnamese Communists were primarily nationalist, they would not have eliminated all independent nationalists. They would not have conducted the massive repression at home that they have, or engaged in military aggression against Cambodia. And they would not speak of their "internationalist duty" to aid Communist guerrillas elsewhere in the world, including Central America.
Those sick of the demonologists who have dominated the discussion of Vietnam over the last fifteen years are grateful to Karnow for his moderation. But their gratitude should not cloud their judgment: At its heart, Karnow's argument is that of the demonologists. Insofar as our foreign policy-makers are guided in the future by Karnow's view of our involvement in Vietnam, they will only craft a foreign policy that will be defeated before it is even implemented.
Equality Under the Constitution - Reclaiming the Fourteenth Amendment
Judith A. Baer
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983
308 pp., $37.50 cloth, $17.50 paper
By Jeremy Rabkin
This book confirms a very old lesson: Some people are never satisfied. Over the past three decades, the federal judiciary has seized on the Fourteenth Amendment as a weapon to demolish hundreds of state and local laws, as a warrant to rewrite statutes and appropriate money, as a license to take over the management of school districts, prisons and hospitals. But Professor Baer protests that the courts have "not overextended the amendment" but "shackled it," given it a reading that is "crabbed and confined." In these same decades, the Supreme Court has developed an astonishingly free-wheeling style of adjudication, a jurisprudence of free association, embracing and discarding new doctrines with equal abandon as occasion suits. But Professor Baer complains that the Court's approach to the Equal Protection clause is unduly "rigid" and altogether too legalistic. While Congress considers retaliatory constitutional amendments and a variety of statutory court-curbing proposals, this book launches a demand for more judicial activism. "O brave new world, That has such people in't!"
The preface to Equality Under the Constitution informs readers that the author "considers the term 'bleeding heart liberal' a compliment" (p. 18), and that because of her "commitment to feminism" ("my deepest political conviction"), she has come "to regard the traditional family with something less than reverence." The book undertakes a searching scrutiny of the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and discovers-surprise!-that it implies just exactly what an author of this description would like to find in it. Specifically, we learn that the Amendment poses no barriers whatever to reverse discrimination against white males; that, apart from affirmative action to benefit women, it precludes any differential treatment of the sexes; that it prohibits any restrictions on homosexual activity and demands a suspicious watch on the authority of parents and schools. Also, the Amendment gives the handicapped a constitutional right to whatever government services they may need and gives the elderly a constitutional right to personalized fitness hearings before the imposition of mandatory retirement. But, after all, manipulating constitutional doctrine to reach the desired results has become an insultingly easy game. And one must grant that Professor Baer's fantasies are more imaginative and, on the whole, more consistent than those of, say, Harry Blackmun. Is there really anything else one can say?
Like many dystopias, Equality Under the Constitution may at least have a certain heuristic value. By rationalizing and systematizing-well, anyway, extending-the trendier impulses in recent jurisprudence, Baer's arguments do provide graphic illustrations of the self-refuting logic behind these trends. The book as a whole testifies to the flight of contemporary constitutional "law" from the bounds of law itself. It may justify more than a brief glance if it provokes reflection on the reasons for this flight and the reasons it is ultimately so futile.
The first several chapters of Equality Under the Constitution belabor the unexceptional point that the principle of "equality," in the American constitutional tradition, does not presume that all people have equal capacities or comparable characteristics. Rather, Baer reminds us, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights rest on the conviction that people are equal in rights. Only Baer characteristically prefers to speak of "entitlements" rather than rights. And in place of Locke's appeal to the "equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom," she invokes Ronald Dworkin's reformulation that each person is "entitled to equal respect and concern." The traditional formula focused attention on the content of individual rights. Thus until recent decades, the Supreme Court almost never had occasion to give independent force to the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of the "equal protection of the laws": "Equal protection" was understood to mean equal claim to the enforcement of one's rights, but cases then turned necessarily on judicial construction of the particular rights in question. Baer's approach is designed to be more encompassing. But in refusing to ground "equal concern" in concern for particular rights, it leaves "equality" with no solid grounding at all.
The underlying difficulty with a direct appeal to "equal protection" is that all laws classify and categorize to some extent, all provide that people will be differently treated depending on their conduct or their circumstances. How are courts to decide when these "discriminations" are acceptable and when they are not, without calling every law into question? By the early 1970s, the Supreme Court had elaborated two general situations in which statutory distinctions should be questioned by courts in the name of "equal protection." First, where these distinctions involved what the court considered inherently "suspect classification"-classifications by race being the preeminent example. Second, where statutory demarcations affected access to what the Court considered "fundamental rights"-though not necessarily rights independently guaranteed by the Constitution, laws governing voting qualifications being the leading example here. The problem was that neither approach had any obvious stopping point.
Given the historical origins of the post-Civil War amendments, it was certainly reasonable for the Court to regard the Fourteenth Amendment as imposing a near-categorical ban on racial classifications. But during the 1970s, the Court began to experiment with new quasi-suspect categories. Some laws classifying by sex were struck down, others sustained as reflecting a "compelling"-though never overwhelmingly compelling-"state interest." The same ad hoc approach allowed the Court to strike down some laws differentiating citizens from aliens and some laws differentiating legitimate from illegitimate children, while upholding many others.
The "fundamental rights" strand of Equal Protection doctrine began to follow a comparably wobbling course, as the Court advanced sweeping demands for equal access, only to retreat in the face of some "compelling" basis for restriction. Thus the Court adamantly rejected even minimal durational residency requirements for voting in local elections (unfair discrimination against transients!) but decided that voting in party primaries could, after all, be restricted to registered party members of some duration (just too bad for new members!).
Equality Under the Constitution pursues the logic of these decisions with a vengeance. Baer protests that the Court has been too timid in declaring "suspect classifications": She would add age, "sexual orientation," mental and physical impairment-perhaps others-to the list. Any classification that "stigmatizes," she holds, ought to be scrutinized by the courts. But, of course, she would not impose anything so "rigid" as a near-categorical ban on such classifications: she would permit racial classifications for affirmative action and "justified" restrictions on children or the handicapped. Similarly, Baer urges that the "fundamental rights" aspect of Equal Protection analysis be replaced by an open-ended regard for "equality" in relation to laws touching important personal "interests," like "jobs, food and housing." Baer's overall approach "does not," she concedes, "provide slots into which we can automatically fit cases once we have decided what is involved . . . but it does allow us to deal with more issues of equality than the old model did" (p. 281). This is a very considerable understatement. In truth, it is hard to see how Baer's open-ended formulas provide any real limits on judicial power or any solid guidance for judicial decisions.
Near the very end of the book, Baer assures us that an "immense area of legislation is left untouched by [her] approach," including "nearly all of the laws regulating business and commerce, the traffic and motor vehicle laws, the tax laws, the zoning laws, and so many . . . other policies that have been presumed valid and can continue to be" (pp. 281, 280). But she offers no argument whatever to support this assurance, blithely assuming that readers will share all her own prejudices about what are "trivial" inequities or "less-than-substantial interests." Thus she demands individualized fitness hearings for the elderly to prevent mandatory retirement laws from perpetuating "stigmatizing stereotypes" about the elderly. With equal logic one might demand that the progressive income tax-with all its "stigmatizing" and "stereotypical" assumptions about the rich-be replaced by individualized hearings on actual capacity to pay. Baer is indignant that homosexual teachers can be fired though there is no clear proof they do harm to students. Well, what about merchants who are forced to move or prevented from expanding their stores by zoning rules? Don't zoning codes risk "stigmatizing" commercial activity and isn't property a "substantial interest" any more? And come to think of it, aren't there a lot of questionable distinctions and restrictions imposed by health, safety, and environmental laws-and don't these "stigmatize" and "stereotype" all kinds of honorable businessmen as "safety menaces" or "polluters"?
Evidently the "bleeding heart liberal" judge will just know a case deserving "strict scrutiny" when she sees it. And when she sees it, Baer would have her consult the same infallible political conscience in making her decision. Thus Baer ridicules the notion that racial classifications are impermissible when they give "favored treatment" to minorities. There is no reason, she insists, for courts to intervene in the political process to protect the white majority-though she is equally emphatic that courts must indeed intervene to protect the female majority, even from itself. Reverse discrimination is no "public insult" to whites, and besides, "any white person alive in this country today has reaped unearned rewards because of race" (p. 139). And as for the charge that affirmative action is patronizing, we need only recall that "for minorities the choice is not between favored treatment and succeeding on one's own; it is often between favored treatment and exclusion" (p. 143). In other words, it would be bad taste to question whether blacks were "stigmatized" or "stereotyped" by special-preference policies because, after all, they cannot compete on their own.
No End to Rights?
So in place of clear constitutional standards, we have all the predictability and dependability of progressive political fashion. The principle of "equal respect and concern" can encompass everything-except consent (which is required not even for taxing and spending). The handicapped need an array of special services and accommodations to exercise their rights (or enjoy their "entitlements"), Baer reasons, so government must have a constitutional duty to provide-whatever the cost, whatever the taxpayers' resistance to paying. Education should be a fundamental right; different school districts have differing tax bases to support educational expenditures, resulting in "unequal educational opportunity" from one place to another; consequently, "Baer concludes, the states or the federal government must have a constitutional duty to provide equalizing resources. (And why not a constitutional duty to abolish private education or to limit parental expenditures on educational extras, just to ensure opportunities are really equal?) Anyway, "If society is truly concerned with the dignity of all its members," Baer hectors, it is "false and dangerous" to suggest that such claims must be weighed against other fiscal concerns by a representative body (p. 194).
Baer's casual disregard for the principle of consent-once regarded as the bedrock of constitutionalism-is of course related to her general impatience with legal formalism.
Eager to break down what she considers more formalistic barriers to true "equality under the law," she forgets that all law is inevitably a matter of formal reasoning, abstracting from the fathomless complexities of life-else it is merely an approving word for power. She also forgets that any plea for equality must itself derive from a rather formalistic conception of the sense in which all people are equal. Disdaining the principle of natural liberty from which the principle of consent is derived, Baer tries to found constitutional norms on "entitlements to equal concern and respect"-a jargon term for a government of good intentions. In this understanding, the pursuit of equality does not require the consent of those forcibly equalized and no need to impose any settled constraints on those wise few, those judges advised by Professor Baer, who are best able to discern the changing requirements of equality.
Equality Under The Constitution concludes with a lament that the current Supreme Court shows few signs of receptivity to its various suggestions. One sometimes wonders why the author wants to entrust the enforcement of her vision to judges, anyway, rather than hand it directly to a revolutionary provisional government.
RESTORING THE NATIONAL MEMORY
The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790
Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1982
xxxvi + 451 pp., $29.50 (cloth), $9.95 (paper)
The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution, 1763-1789
New York: Oxford University Press, 1982
xvi + 696 pp., $25.00
By David Tucker
Our identity as a people and a nation and our estimation of ourselves depends, as it does in an individual, on memory. Historians, therefore, as the custodians of our national memory, determine to a great degree what we think of ourselves.
Perhaps the most important period of our history about which historians can remind us is the Revolution, including the establishment of the Federal Government. It was during that period that we set the standards by which we have since struggled to live. The two great political changes in our history, associated with the presidencies of Lincoln and Wilson, both looked to the Founding, although in different ways, in order to chart their courses. So it is that writing about the period of the Founding is the most important undertaking for historians of America, as reading and pondering these writings is one of the most important duties of an American citizen.
This is a duty not always easily discharged. History has been a profession, as opposed to an avocation of the retired or otherwise leisured, for roughly only a hundred years. Yet in that time, in the hothouse of academia, the profession has developed hybrids, the study of which would daunt even the most dutiful citizen. Historians now research an array of topics from "the nature of power, authority, and charismatic leadership" to "the causes and effects of disease" with an equally diverse array of tools, including statistical analysis, computers, and all the theories and jargon indigenous to the social sciences. They are always on the lookout for some new way of doing what they do.
This eagerness for new methods explains, perhaps, the success of Rhys Isaac's The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. A series of Isaac's articles over the last ten years made it clear that he was innovating. He was studying eighteenth century Virginia as an anthropologist would, attempting an ethnographic analysis that promised to reveal the unfamiliar in the much-traveled terrain of Jefferson's Virginia. The new approach excited historians and made them eager to see the complete account of which Isaac's articles were parts.
Published in the prestigious series of the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Isaac's book won much praise and the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for history. His book describes a political, social, and religious revolution that transformed Virginia from a patriarchal, communal society, marked by social hierarchy and deference and dominated by a proud, assertive, and at least nominally Anglican gentry, into a more individualistic society, where newly prominent westerners and evangelicals caused diversity to overshadow integrity.
Isaac's emphasis on the conflict between the evangelicals and the gentry in Virginia was new, but on the whole he surveyed, after all the years of waiting, still pretty much the same old terrain. Edmund Morgan suggested some problems with the survey as well, particularly with reference to the core of Isaac's argument. "It is, of course, paradoxical" wrote Morgan, "that the evangelicals, stressing communal brotherhood, should also be carriers and beneficiaries of a triumphant individualism," as Isaac contends they were. "And still more paradoxical," continued Morgan, "that the individualism cherished by the great planters should be the instrument for the destruction of their dominance," as Isaac also contends. "The transformation [Isaac] describes," concluded Morgan, "may not have been quite what we are told it was."
Most reviewers, it seems, overlooked the familiarity and difficulties of Isaac's argument because they were charmed by his method, a charm stripped away in Morgan's bald recapitulation. Isaac proceeds by reconstructing the social and mental reality of eighteenth century Virginia. He studies the rituals and architecture of courthouse, church, and home, as well as literary sources to depict how Virginians saw things and what was at stake in their quarrels and disputes. It is at times a work of powerful historical imagination that can absorb the reader's attention.
The innovation that Isaac's method represents comes from his adaptation for historical purposes of "thick description," a method developed by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Historian Lawrence Stone has described "thick description" as "the searchlight method of recording in elaborate detail a single event . . . very carefully set in its total context and very carefully analyzed for its cultural meaning." According to Stone, "a whole social system and set of values can be brilliantly illuminated" by this method.
To take just one example of this, Isaac begins his discussion of a Court Day by describing the appearance of the Courthouse set in the Virginia landscape. It was an outpost of communal activity to which citizens came from their isolated homes and plantations. He then takes up the people who attended, turning finally to the justices. "We must picture the gentlemen justices, bewigged and dressed in their fine coats and waistcoats, seated on the raised 'bench'-His Majesty's commissioners engaged in the communal dispensation of 'justice.' A ceremonial enveloped their hearings." Isaac is most concerned with this ceremonial, the trappings of the court, its clothing, oaths, and physical setting, because in an oral society like eighteenth century Virginia, only ceremony taught men about government. "The oaths and rituals were so many formulas, diagrams or models, declaring the nature of government and its laws" (p. 93). For example, according to Isaac, "in the Court House, the royal arms and the form of justice in the King's name expressed the descent of authority from above" (p. 94). In the rituals and setting of Court Day, Isaac does indeed find "a whole social system and a set of values" displayed.
This innovation in method has made Isaac's book a success despite its problems. One reviewer grouped him with Keith Thomas, E. P. Thompson, and Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, all "brilliantly provocative" practitioners of a history that seeks to reconstruct the ordinary events in the lives of ordinary people. Edmund Morgan, after detailing the deficiencies and "blind spots" of Isaac's book, remarks that Isaac has nevertheless "set us thinking about a society and its social relations during the period of the American Revolution in ways that we never did before." Concludes Morgan, "That is perhaps as much as one should ask." Isaac agrees. In the introduction to this book, he writes, "If this
work has a distinctive contribution to make, it lies in the results of a search for means of access to the alien mentalities of a past people."
Detachment and Relativism
Isaac's success will probably never be popular. His "thick description" is, well, thick-and occurs often enough, one suspects, to deter all but the professional, inured to thickness by his training. But there is a more important reason why Isaac will probably not be read much by the citizens whose history he writes. His book lacks drama. In his account of a Court Day, for example, Isaac gives his readers little that is specific. He does not discuss any particular case. Instead, Isaac presents what one is tempted to call "Court Dayness."
The undramatic character of Isaac's work results directly from the assumptions of his method. The people of the past have mentalities alien to us, as he says, and they are alien because all values are culturally relative (p. 340). The world of Jefferson's Virginia formed around values specific only to that time and place. What Virginians contended about may have seemed important and urgent to them, but to Isaac it cannot. However much eighteenth century Virginians interest him, he no longer shares their world. Inevitably, then, the perspective of the detached social scientist diminishes the drama of Virginians' lives. They contended over what to the social scientist must now appear to be phantasms.
The short narrative with which the book opens shows the degree to which Isaac wants his readers to be detached from their history. The narrative is a brief account of Virginia from the indefinite past to the formation of the Federal Government. In it the familiar becomes alien. Most often we do not read in this account of Indians, colonials, and slaves but of "the ancient inhabitants," "the navigators who called themselves English" and "the descendants of the Africans." The absence of the familiar names is meant to disorient the reader, to make him question whether he is familiar after all with the world he is about to enter. The tone of the narrative itself is meant to produce detachment as it invites the reader to join the author in a knowledge and understanding superior to that of the people he writes about. The narrative concludes with the remark that "The sons of free settlers all along the widening margin of the great continent agreed to rule themselves in a way they were assured was distinctively American." Isaac, the modern social scientist who understands that all "value systems" are relative, knows what the assurances of the Americans were worth.
Nothing epitomizes the flat, detached, undramatic character of Isaac's book better than its final sentence. Remember that a revolution has occurred in Virginia, thousands of men have fought and died in a war of Independence; men of the moral and intellectual excellence of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison have struggled with the necessities of war and a Founding. These are Isaac's final words on revolutionary Virginia: "Virginia entered the nineteenth century still a wholly agrarian society, yet with a complex of cultures that was fractured by a widening ethnic rift and an enduring legacy of conflicting value systems" (p. 322).
Isaac is an Australian and so, it might be said, will have difficulty entering the "value system" of those, as he might put it, who call themselves Americans. This might explain his detached attitude, but it would also give credence to a bad theory. Behind Isaac's detached, undramatic account is not an "alien mentality" but two principles, once revolutionary but now common to the social sciences and other fields of intellectual endeavor.
One of these principles we have already seen acting in Isaac's book. (For examples of its early expression in America, consider Woodrow Wilson's "The Study of Administration" and "What is Progress?") If values are relative, then politics, men contending over what is good or bad for themselves and their communities, loses its intrinsic interest and compelling character. A fight over phantasms is not very interesting. The way men hold their phantasms or change them or express them in their clothing or architecture might be of interest, and this is what Isaac tells us about, but this is not politics.
The second principle common to the social sciences, especially as it relates to history, appears most clearly in the work of Fernand Braudel. Braudel's great work is The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, first published in France in 1949. Braudel begins with geography and topography, proceeds to economics and demographics, then to societies and empires. Only at the end of a very long history do we reach "Events, Politics, and People," the subject matter of political history. In the preface to the first edition of his book, Braudel tells us that he set out to write a typical political history; however, as his studies progressed he changed his mind. Speaking of a "hidden balance of forces" and "the physics of Spanish policy," Braudel tells us that he came to think that the statesmen he was studying "were, despite their illusions, more acted upon than actors. . . ." Realizing this, Braudel looked away from and beyond politics to those forces that act upon and determine politics.
Like Braudel, Isaac begins his account with geography and then proceeds by depicting society. Only then does Isaac take up "Movements and Events"; in other words, politics. For Isaac, unlike Braudel, the determining force is not geography or climate but "value systems" that constrain and direct men's actions (pp. 339-40). The statesmen who appear in Isaac's book are not characters but "value system" types wandering through Court Dayness or other abstractions and, as in Braudel's work, they are more acted upon than actors.
Relativism and determinism have joined to produce a powerful prejudice against politics and political history. Relativism diminishes the importance of political struggle as determinism, removing the actors from political life, removes the drama. The result is that many historians, if agreeing with Marx in nothing else, agree with him in finding "absurd . . . the conception of history held hitherto, which neglects the real relationships and confines itself to high-sounding dramas of princes and states."
The prejudice against political history accounts for much of the mixed reception accorded Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause. Middlekauff's book, sniffed one reviewer, is "a standard political-constitutional-military account of the Revolution." A critical but more sympathetic reviewer wrote that it is "traditional narrative history: the focus is on people and events in the public sector. It is the story of men in action-in crowds, in conventions, in legislative halls, and on the battlefield." This is not what historians of the Revolution have been doing lately, and they have not all looked with favor on Middlekauff's effort. Certainly, critics have found fault with Middlekauff's book for reasons other than his writing a traditional political narrative. Nearly half the book is devoted to the War, while the period from the War to the Founding of the Federal Government is crowded into the final four chapters. Middlekauff gives religion unusual prominence in his account but, oddly, his critics contend, insufficient treatment. Nevertheless, the fundamental criticism of Middlekauff's book is that it is a traditional political narrative, a high-sounding drama of princes and states, as the title indicates.
Middlekauff's defense for spending so much time on the war itself is implicit in the central argument of his book. "The army was the Revolution," writes Middlekauff (p. 463), paraphrasing the American General, Nathaniel Greene. In the first instance, Middlekauff means what Greene meant. "The army," Greene wrote to Governor of Virginia Thomas Jefferson, "is all that the States have to depend upon for their political existence." Without the army, there was only subjugation to Britain. But Middlekauff argues as his account progresses that the army and the war it fought did more than hold off the British. It forged Americans into a people. In 1765, the Americans were merely British colonists inhabiting America. Twenty years later, tempered by the war, the Americans were a people and possessed a unity great enough to sustain them through the difficulties of the postwar years.
That one must understand the war to understand the Revolution and the Founding of America, Middlekauff tries to show by stressing how pervasive and difficult the war was. In the eight years between Lexington and peace, nearly one out of ten Americans served in the Continental Army or the State militia. "The statistics, although notoriously unreliable, show that the Revolution killed a higher percentage of those who served on the American side than any war in our history" except the Civil War (p. 496). No part of America escaped the destruction of the war altogether, and some areas were devastated. Throughout all this, the army and the larger society flowed into one another as they did in no other instance before the American Revolution. "In the long struggle of the war," writes Middlekauff, "what made the cause 'glorious,' besides its great principles, was the fact that so many believed in it. As it took hold of Americans' imagination, the 'glorious' cause became, in the popular phrase, the 'common cause'" (p. 549).
The heart of this cause was Washington. Middlekauff borrowed the phrase "the glorious cause" from Washington and sees in him the personification of the Revolution. Middlekauff argues that Washington was a commander of judgment and daring, who learned from his mistakes. By nature, almost, superb at logistics, Washington was also a sound strategist, recognizing that he must fight a defensive war. If less able as a tactician, he more than made up for this weakness by the steadiness of his character. "He did not flinch when disaster seemed" near "nor did he hesitate to seize his opportunities" (p. 580). Indeed, for Middlekauff, Washington's character was his greatness. His devotion to republican liberty and his refusal to give up inspired others. Through the defeats and profiteering, the cowardice and threatened mutinies, all of which Middlekauff details, Washington stood firm. In the end, Middlekauff argues, the Americans stood with him, now as a people. In the war and through the example of Washington, the Americans "learned that though they might be defeated, they could not be subdued" (p. 581). It was this spirit, Middlekauff suggests, that allowed America to survive the postwar years and continued to inspire the nation for years to come. It was this spirit, Middlekauff's reader may remember, that informed Lincoln's Lyceum Address, with its invocation of both the Revolutionary War veteran and his Commander.
Unlike Isaac, Middlekauff does not look down on those he writes about, as if sitting on an Olympian height, viewing puppets struggling over illusions, unaware that they jerk and twitch in response to forces of which they are ignorant. Middlekauff takes his characters on their own terms, as they understood themselves. While he submits them to examination and criticism, he does not presume any superior knowledge. His characters are actors, and there is often drama in his account as he describes their struggles.
The virtues of Middlekauff's method are best displayed, perhaps, in the first section of chapter 20, "Inside the Campaigns." After recounting in some detail the battle of Eutaw Springs at the conclusion of chapter 19, Middlekauff writes at the beginning of chapter 20 that "In the battle of Eutaw Springs over 500 Americans were killed and wounded. Nathaniel Greene had led some 2,200 men into the Springs; his casualties thus represented almost one-fourth of his army." Middlekauff then asks, "Why did these men-those who survived and those who died-fight? Why did they hold their ground, endure the strain of battle, with men dying about them and danger to themselves so obvious?"
The discussion that follows these questions is one of the best and most important sections of Middlekauff's book, a discussion worth pondering. Following the chapters that describe in detail the terror and carnage of battle and the bravery and cowardice, skill and ineptitude of those who fought, the discussion of why men fought becomes an assaying of the human soul and of the American soul.
Why Americans Fought
Middlekauff begins the discussion by considering several reasons men would stand and fight. The evidence convinces him that coercion, religion, desire for plunder, and leadership are not sufficient explanations. Middlekauff argues that camaraderie underlay these other motivations and cemented the Americans together. Continentals stood and fought because they stood and fought with men they lived with before and after their battles. This was true even of the militia. Militia from the more densely populated areas of New England and Pennsylvania were neighbors before the war and endured the test of battle together during it. Militia from the more sparsely populated southern states, composed of men less familiar to one another than their northern compatriots, were more likely to run from battle. Middlekauff rounds out his explanation of why men fought by pointing to the soldiers' common devotion to the cause of the Revolution. In defense of liberty and equality, men were willing to stand and fight.
In discussing devotion to principle among those who fought, Middlekauff raises his most important question. He argues that it was the militiamen, accustomed to independence and demonstrating their equality by electing their officers, who "best exemplified in themselves and in their behavior the ideals and purposes of the Revolution" (p. 504). But it was the militia that most often ran. Middlekauff
makes clear what is at stake here near the conclusion to this section of his book. All men in battle unavoidably made a moral decision. "By standing firm they served their fellows and honor; by running, they served only themselves" (p. 510). If the militiamen best exemplify the ideals and purposes of the Revolution, and the militiamen ran from battle more than others, and to run from battle means to desert one's fellows and disdain honor in order to serve only oneself, then the Revolution must have been in the service of mere self-interest. It could hardly, then, be a glorious cause.
It should be said that Middlekauff's argument in this section is more suggestive than definitive. The militia did often remain firm. Moreover, the regular army and such men as Washington and Greene remained faithful to their friends and their honor, and these examples cannot be discounted. Still, Middlekauff appears to side with those who find the principles of the Revolution incompatible with friendship and honor. Speaking of the soldiers, Middlekauff says that "They were to kill other men in the expectation that even if they did they might be killed themselves. However defined, especially by a Revolution in the name of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, this situation was unnatural" (p. 509). Again near the end of the section, Middlekauff remarks that the soldiers' different perceptions of the cruel trial of battle suggest "how difficult it was in the Revolution to be both a soldier and an American. Nor has it ever been easy since" (p. 510).
War, Freedom, and Morality
Middlekauff's suggestion that the principles of the Revolution encourage liberty and self-interest at the expense of friendship and honor or that it is unnatural for an American to be a soldier may be wrong. Was it possible for life and liberty to be blessings and happiness attainable for men who did not possess the courage, the faithfulness, and the taste for glory necessary to fight the Revolutionary War? However one decides this question, the merit of Middlekauff's account is that it raises it and provides much of the evidence to answer it. Not Isaac's but only Middlekauff's history, centered on politics and war, does this. Moreover, Middlekauff succeeds at this important task because he does not write as if he were beyond the problems his subjects faced. His discussion of why men fought is an account of stark moral choice that could not be avoided then (p. 509) and cannot be avoided now.
The superiority of political history argued for here assumes that morality matters or, perhaps more clearly, that morale and character matter. It assumes that men act, that they must act, and that they are free to do so, for well or ill. It assumes that their actions have consequences and that for those who have the most authority and responsibility the consequences are greatest and therefore most interesting, most instructive, and therefore most worthy of the attention of an historian and his readers.
Political history assumes that men are free to act and that character or morality does matter. Of course, Marx, for one, denied this. Such history as we have described was for him an illusion precisely because it ignored "the real relationships," the economic relationships among men.
From this account, the argument between political history and its antagonists appears to have reached a stalemate. Both rest on assumptions. Still, not all assumptions are created equal; some are more reasonable than others, and the assumption of political history is more reasonable than the assumption common to Isaac, Braudel, and Marx. Consider Isaac's version of this assumption. "Valuations . . . are determined by the culturally relative meanings with which participants imbue both actions and objects" (pp. 339-40). The very recognition that there are cultures or communities of men that hold different "values," a recognition at least as old as the work traditionally described as the first history, should compel Isaac to realize that however bound men's minds might be by the suppositions of their society, it is still possible to break these chains and to ascend to a point at which one can recognize the "values" of other cultures. If men were not free to do this, they could not know about all the different chains that bind men. In general, to assert that all men are bound, that their reason is fettered by culturally relative values, historical structures, or economic conditions requires, in contradiction of this assertion, that men can free themselves from their chains and blinders and recognize the chains of others. To the extent that it is preferable not to contradict oneself, the assumption of political history is superior to the assumption common to Isaac, Marx, and Braudel.
The flawed assumption underlying Isaac's history does not render worthless his discussion of Virginia. However undramatic, his book does help us to understand the men of eighteenth century Virginia who faced the stark choices depicted by Middlekauff. One must hope, however, that the drama of the Revolution remains uppermost in the minds of Americans and their historians. Tocqueville thought that even in his own day men were too much inclined to doubt the freedom of their wills. A style of history, itself based on a defective understanding of democracy, too absorbed with the ordinary doings of ordinary men, depicted people as dependent on a blind fatality and strengthened their inclination to doubt free will. Tocqueville thought that as deterministic history reinforced certain democratic prejudices, subservience threatened to characterize democracy. Tocqueville advised resistance to this outcome, "for we need to raise men's souls, not
complete their prostration."