Martin Luther King's home town

Sarah & I just got back from a 3-day trip to Atlanta, visiting relatives.  Martin Luther King's town, Jimmy Carter's town (even FDR's town, in a way).

Trying to come to grips with the Donald Trump reality.  Perhaps one good thing that might emerge, out of Arturo Ui's resistible rise, would be a reconnection with fundamentals of American democratic government.  As a matter of survival.

My first thought : Trump has one primary, subliminal, unconscious agenda.  Which would be : 1) to corrode institutions of democracy through administrative chaos, the flouting of legal and cultural norms; 2) to impose authoritarian tyranny, in order to bring "order" out of said chaos.

This is the playbook of Hitler and Putin.

Subliminal because Trump gives every sign of being a sleepwalker, a narcissist, a creature of show biz for its (his) own sake, a puppet of impersonal power-surges.  Or perhaps that's just his schtick, and he's a man of infinite guile.  Either way he is not a friend, he is the implacable enemy of liberal democracy.  If it's not his own design, he is subject to the designs of other, similarly dark forces.

How to oppose these forces?

40+ years ago, in 1972-73, I had a vocational crisis, a personal crisis, a nervous breakdown.  I was in college, at Brown University.  I was becoming a poet, and couldn't deal with it.  Moreover, I was morally/psychologically shattered - unable to orient the religious values instilled from childhood, with the 19-yr-old late-60s collegiate artiste I had become.

I survived this impasse.  I dropped out, wandered America and England, came back.  But what finally helped me to integrate the moral and the aesthetic, the spiritual and the poetic, was an encounter with a Russian poet of the early 20th century, Osip Mandelstam.

Mandelstam offered the model of a new synthesis.  I was drawn to the echoes of Rimbaud in his dense, wild, riddling stanzas; yet, by way of his wife Nadezhda's memoirs, and his own critical essays, I absorbed the rational cast of his mind, underlying the lyricism.

Mandelstam, the Acmeist, the Petersburg poet, the student of Gumilev, defended the Enlightenment values of Pushkin, of Chaadev - both rational and liberal, both Classical & Romantic.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [people] are created equal... endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights... among these being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..."

Two centuries of struggle - between the vision of Lincoln, Whitman, and the Founding Fathers, on the one hand, and the forces of greed, fraud, pride, intellectual vanity, ideology, violence, and oppression, on the other - have battered and weakened the power of this egalitarian vision, which lies at the root of Western democratic politics.

What I found in Mandelstam's writings and example was a foundation even deeper - going back, through Christianity, with Christianity, to its origins in Hebraic iconoclasm (Moses' people against the dominion of Pharaoh) - the very same spirit infusing the message of Martin Luther King.

Mandelstam's notion of the Redemption (sketchily outlined in his unfinished essay "Pushkin & Scriabin") parallels themes in his essay on Chaadev.  Both are concerned with human freedom : both come to the same conclusion.  Human (political) freedom is grounded ultimately in a fundamental spiritual (eternal) dimension.  The freedom we look for, hope for, & recognize in our secular systems of government, is an expression of sacred (eternal) soul liberty.

There is a poetic dimension to Enlightenment ideals : Chaadev & Gumilev, Wordsworth & Blake, bore witness to the philosophical concept of the dignity of Man (as imago of God).  Such dignity entails equality, and (inalienable) human rights; the very thing - the notion of a common, universal human Good - that autocrats and plutocrats hate & fear the most (it is their personal nemesis).

Roger Williams - the apostle of soul liberty, the student of Edward Coke (the lawful rights of Englishmen) and forerunner of John Locke (lawful government is popular sovereignty) - understood all these things 100 years before the American Revolution; articulated them in his foundation of the first civil government on the principles of religious tolerance and political democracy (the Colony of Rhode Island).

One of my gr-gr-etc-uncles, Thomas Gould, was a friend of Roger Williams; he rented Roger a portion of Gould Island (in Narragansett Bay) for planting a hay crop.

I haven't expressed myself too clearly.  I guess this is a rant or screed in the manner of Williams' "Fox Digg'd from his Burrow" etc.  But the basic idea is, that the Modern concept of liberal democracy is not at odds with the Reformation notion of soul liberty, nor with the Medieval notion (ala Mandelstam) of the Redemption : these things are rhymes.

God is not mocked.  The splendor & creative power of humankind (imago of Creator) entails her (our) human rights.  Government is the servant of these human rights; otherwise those who claim its authority, actually have none - are frauds, imposters, usurpers, despots, tyrants.  They must be cast down - cast down by the people.

old American poet in Atlanta

No comments: