Saturday, December 26, 2015

Description of the World – Part 32

The Nature of Fascism, ed. S.J.Woolf (Back in the 70s I read so much about fascism that it was hard to keep all the books and articles straight, and I don’t think I came to any conclusion about the phenomenon. The confusion wasn’t mine alone. In those days, even leftist historians were recognizing the limitations of the orthodox Marxist interpretation; and the Hannah Arendt subsumption of the Nazis and the Stalinists under the rubric of totalitarianism was also getting a little long in the tooth, more a club swung by the anti-communists than a serious theory about fascism itself. Personally, I blame the Nazis. As my Dad used to joke, Nazism was so bad it gave fascism a bad name. In its original Italian version and many other variants, fascism simply wasn’t that unprecedented or inexplicable. Ordinary historical sociology is perfectly capable of defining and explaining it, and there’s no reason to be surprised when analogous movements appear and win the support of large parts of the electorate in Europe and America.)

Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (I’ve never read an unabridged version of Vom Kriege. It usually makes me uncomfortable to leave my understanding of an important book at the mercy of the editor; but as perspicacious as Clausewitz sometimes is, I have no desire to put up with any longer sample of his attempt to be the Immanuel Kant of the organized violence. It’s possible to be clever about a stupid subject, but the intellectual effort is like spraying air freshener over a corpse. At least Clausewitz, who was no stranger to actual battlefields, doesn’t mistake the object of war. He isn’t like so many politicians and at least some of the so-called military intellectuals, those overgrown children who talk about war as if it were a board game. He knows that the goal of strategy is the welfare of the state, not the winning of battles.)

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: the Origins of the Avant-Garde in France 1885 to World War I (I’m not sure if I became a fan of Erik Satie before or after I read this book; but his piano pieces invariably summon up Shattuck’s word picture of the composer. I’m fond of the other heroes of this book, but since it’s Satie’s music that plays in my head, he’s the one the book reminds me of and that’s true even though you’d think that somebody shaped like Ubu Roi would have more of affinity with Alfred Jarry. I once persuaded a young woman of my acquaintance to play Satie for her audition at Julliard—she got in—so maybe I think of Satie as good luck.)

Edward Beach, The United States Navy: a 200-Year History (Apparently a rather celebratory history of the navy. The book made no impression on me at all.)

James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: the Soldier of Freedom 1940-1945 (This book was published 25 years after the end of the war, perhaps the last time that such a book could be addressed to readers for whom the events of the early 40s were lived experience and not manufactured nostalgia. I suppose the post post war period actually began when Kennedy was assassinated—the ten years after Dallas were like watching in slow motion as a giant stumbled and fell to the ground—but I personally perceived the early 70s as the end of an era. For me, the precise inflection point occurred when Nixon abolished the draft “Now we put away the toys,” I told my friends. It was incredibly depressing to realize that’s all it took to end political idealism in the United States not only for other people but for us as well. But about the book: the take home for me was how Roosevelt had to play the generals, politicians, and bureaucrats off against each other in order to keep some control over the war effort. As Mohammad (or the Angel Gabriel) said of Allah, there are many connivers, who think to work their will, but he was the greatest conniver of them all.)

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