• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Crown of Unfeeling

Chipsters begin their tribute to Margaret Thatcher with a quotation from Mein Kampf,

"The environment of my youth consisted of petty-bourgeois circles, hence of a world having very little relation to the purely manual worker. For, strange as it may seem at first glance, the cleft between this class, which in an economic sense is by no means so brilliantly situated, and the manual worker is often deeper than we imagine. The reason for this hostility, as we might almost call it, lies in the fear of a social group, which has but recently raised itself above the level of the manual worker, that it will sink back into the old despised class, or at least become identified with it. To this, in many cases, we must add the repugnant memory of the cultural poverty of this lower class, and the frequent vulgarity of its social intercourse. The petty bourgeois' own position in society, however insignificant it may be, makes any contact with this outgrown stage of life and culture intolerable.

"Consequently, the higher classes feel less constraint in their dealings with the lowest of their fellow men than seems possible to the 'upstart.' For anyone is an upstart who rises by his own efforts from his previous position in life to a higher one.  Ultimately this struggle, which is often so hard, kills all pity. One's own painful struggle for existence destroys all feeling for the misery of those who have remained behind. "

It is almost unnecessary to say anything more to explain Thatcher's vindictive small-mindedness.  She was the daughter of a shop-keeper and all that that entails.

It is hard for Americans to conceive the sheer damp gloominess that pervades the English shopkeeper class. When they invite you to a cup of tea, they mean a cup of tea.   That's what Thatcher meant by "frugality."  And if her cup overfleweth not, why should anyone else's?   Which is also what she meant by "self-reliance."  If she had to work hard for her cup of tea, why should anyone else get one for "free" no matter how poor they were?

When Napoleon sneered that England was a nation of shop-keepers, he had Margaret Thatcher in mind.  It was not shopping he disdained so much as the absence of any grand conception and the reduction of everything else to one's petty level; or, in other words, the exaltation of pettiness itself into a grand design.

In seeking to understand why Americans (and to a lesser extent the English) were so prone to a pomposity of speech, Alexis de Tocqueville explained that,

"In democratic communities, each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object: namely, himself. If he ever raises his looks higher, he perceives only the immense form of society at large or the still more imposing aspect of mankind.  His ideas are all either extremely minute and clear or extremely general and vague; what lies between is a void. When he has been drawn out of his own sphere, therefore, he always expects that some amazing object will be offered to his attention; and it is on these terms alone that he consents to tear himself for a moment from the petty, complicated cares that form the charm and the excitement of his life.  This appears to me sufficiently to explain why men in democracies, whose concerns are in general so paltry, call upon their poets for conceptions so vast and descriptions so unlimited."

Putting de Tocqueville and Hitler together, what emerges is the picture of a class which is very horrified at what it well knows of the below and very desirous of what it is ignorant and can only imagine from above. 

The result of this dialectical clash from within is an ideological synthesis which projects the petty-at-hand onto the infintude of the cosmos  with the anomaly getting bridged  over by hectoring  and pomposity.  Only a nation of shopkeepers could come up with the utilitarian concept of a sumum bonum comprised of nothing else but a vast heap of boni parvi. 

Of course it is all stuff and nonsense. The cosmic fortunes of industrialists and financiers are not "earned" by frugality and self reliance.  They are a social product even if the benefit of it is lopsidedly allocated. The notion that macro-economics follow the "laws" of micro-economics is simply laughable.

But people like Thatcher believe in their own projections and fight with a vindictiveness far stronger than the zeal of any crusader to protect their pettified concept of general welfare by eliminating "waste" on the spendthrifts below. Thatcher's Preferential Option for the Rich entirely suited the true beneficiaries of neo-liberal capitalism who graciously confirmed her clown act with the well-earned  reward of a dame's coronet. 

But it was the crown of unfeeling for the misery of those who have remained behind.