Politics + Interest = Liberty?

Statue of Paul Revere Statue of Paul Revere

Statue of Paul Revere

Can you discover your own mind in the below from George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence.  I’m pretty sure we’re all in there somewhere.

From Chapter 51 of Middlemarch.  Politics and self-interest in 1871 and 2012.

Party is Nature too, and you shall see
By force of Logic how they both agree:
The Many in the One, the One in Many;
All is not Some, nor Some the same as Any:
Genus holds species, both are great or small;
One genus highest, one not high at all;
Each species has its differentia too,
This is not That, and He was never You,
Though this and that are AYES, and you and he
Are like as one to one, or three to three.

_________________

“You know there are tactics in these things,” said Mr Brooke; “meeting people half-way — tempering your ideas — saying, “Well now, there’s something in that”, and so on. I agree with you that this is a peculiar occasion — the country with a will of its own — political unions — that sort of thing — but we sometimes cut with rather too sharp a knife, Ladislaw. These ten-pound householders, now: why ten? Draw the line somewhere — yes: but why just ten? That’s a difficult question, now, if you go into it.”

“Of course it is,” said Will, impatiently, “But if you are to wait till we get a logical Bill, you must put yourself forward as a revolutionist, and then Middlemarch would not elect you, I fancy. As for trimming, this is not a time for trimming.”

Mr Brooke always ended by agreeing with Ladislaw, who still appeared to him a sort of Burke with a leaven of Shelley; but after an interval the wisdom of his own methods reasserted itself, and he was again drawn into using them with much hopefulness. At this stage of affairs he was in excellent spirits, which even supported him under large advances of money; for his powers of convincing and persuading had not yet been tested by anything more difficult than a chairman’s speech, introducing other orators, or a dialogue with a Middlemarch voter, from which he came away with a sense that he was a tactician by nature, and that it was a pity he had not gone earlier into this kind of thing. He was a little conscious of defeat, however, with Mr Mawmsey, a chief representative in Middlemarch of that great social power, the retail trader, and naturally one of the most doubtful voters in the borough — willing for his own part to supply an equal quality of teas and sugars to reformer and anti-reformer, as well as to agree impartially with both, and feeling like the burgesses of old that this necessity of electing members was a great burthen to a town; for even if there were no danger in holding out hopes to all parties beforehand, there would be the painful necessity at last of disappointing respectable people whose names were on his books. He was accustomed to receive large orders from Mr Brooke of Tipton; but then, there were many of Pinkerton’s committee whose opinions had a great weight of grocery on their side. Mr Mawmsey thinking that Mr Brooke, as not too “clever in his intellects”, was the more likely to forgive a grocer who gave a hostile vote under pressure, had become confidential in his back parlour.

“As to Reform, sir, put it in a family light,” he said, rattling the small silver in his pocket, and smiling affably. “Will it support Mrs Mawmsey, and enable her to bring up six children when I am no more? I put the question / fictitiously /, knowing what must be the answer. Very well, sir. I ask you what, as a husband and a father, I am to do when gentlemen come to me and say, “Do as you like, Mawmsey; but if you vote against us, I shall get my groceries elsewhere; when I sugar my liquor I like to feel that I am benefiting the country by maintaining tradesmen of the right colour.” Those very words have been spoken to me, sir, in the very chair where you are now sitting. I don’t mean by your honourable self, Mr Brooke.”

“No, no, no — that’s narrow, you know. Until my butler complains to me of your goods, Mr Mawmsey,” said Mr Brooke, soothingly, “until I hear that you send bad sugars, spices — that sort of thing — I shall never order him to go elsewhere.”

“Sir, I am you humble servant, and greatly obliged,” said Mr Mawmsey, feeling that politics were clearing up a little. “There would be some pleasure in voting for a gentleman who speaks in that honourable manner.”

“Well, you know, Mr Mawmsey, you would find it the right thing to put yourself on our side. This Reform will touch everybody by-and-by — a thoroughly popular measure — a sort of A, B, C, you know, that must come first before the rest can follow. I quite agree with you that you’ve got to look at the thing in a family light: but public spirit, now. We’re all one family, you know — it’s all one cupboard. Such a thing as a vote, now: why, it may help to make men’s fortunes at the Cape — there’s no knowing what may be the effect of a vote,” Mr Brooke ended, with a sense of being a little out at sea, though finding it still enjoyable. But Mr Mawmsey answered in a tone of decisive check.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but I can’t afford that. When I give a vote I must know what I’m doing: I must look to what will be the effects on my till and ledger, speakenig respectfully. Prices, I’ll admit, are what nobody can know the merits of; and the sudden falls after you’ve bought in currants, which are a goods that will not keep — I’ve never myself seen into the ins and outs there; which is a rebuke to human pride. But as to one family, there’s debtor and creditor, I hope; they’re not going to reform that away; else I should vote for things staying as they are. Few men have less need to cry for change than I have, personally speaking — that is, for self and family. I am not one of those who have nothing to lose; I mean as to respectability both in parish and private business, and noways in respect of your honourable self and custom, which you was good enough to say you would not withdraw from me, vote or no vote, while the article sent in was satisfactory.”

You know the British came and left folks behind so perhaps these most psychologically acute novelists can show us something. 

Set Eliot alongside D. H. Lawrence for a right proper leaven.

…Americans refuse everything explicit and always put up a sort of double meaning. They revel in subterfuge. They prefer their truth safely swaddled in an ark of bulrushes, and deposited among he reeds until some friendly Egyptian princess comes to rescue the babe…

Now listen to me, don’t listen to him. He’ll tell you the lie you expect. Which is partly your fault for expecting it.

He didn’t come in search of freedom of worship. England had more freedom of worship in the year 1700 than America had. Won by Englishmen who wanted freedom, and so stopped at home and fought for it. And got it. Freedom of worship? Read the history of New England during the first century of its existence.

Freedom anyhow? The land of the free! This the land of the free! Why, if I say anything that displeases them, the free mob will lynch me, and that’s my freedom. Free ? Why, I have never been in any country where the individual has such an abject fear of his fellow countrymen. Because, as I say, they are free to lynch the moment he shows he is not one of them.

******

Those Pilgrim Fathers and their successors never came here for freedom of worship. What did they set up when they got here? Freedom, would you call it?

They came largely to get away – that most simple of motives. To get away. Away from what? In the long run, away from themselves. Away from everything. That’s why most people have come to America, and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.

‘Henceforth be masterless.’

Which is all very well, but it isn’t freedom. Rather the reverse. A hopeless sort of constraint. It is never freedom till you find something you really positively want to be. And people in America have always been shouting about the things they are not. Unless, of course, they are millionaires, made or in the making.

*******

The community is inhuman, and less than human. It becomes at last the most dangerous because bloodless and insentient tyrant. for a long time, even a democracy like the American or the Swiss will answer to the call of a hero, who is somewhat of a true aristocrat: like Lincoln: so strong is the aristocratic instinct in man. But he willingness to give the response to the heroic, the true aristocratic call, gets weaker and weaker in every democracy, as time goes on. All history proves it. Then men turn against the heroic appeal, with a sort of venom. They will only listen to the call of mediocrity wielding the insentient bullying power of mediocrity: which is evil. Hence the success of painfully inferior and even base politicians…

So today. Society consists of a mass of weak individuals trying to protect themselves, out of fear, from every possible imaginary evil, and, of course, by their very fear, bring the evil into being.

Photo Credit: andrewmalone

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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