Author Archive | Roderick

It Came From France

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Eiffel Tower Forget those 700-page libertarian books; they’re for sissies. The libertarian book I just received in the mail is over 1400 pages long; plus it’s in French, and it has no frakkin’ index.

The tome is Histoire du libéralisme en Europe, edited by Philippe Nemo and Jean Petitot. Topics include the School of Salamanca, the French Liberal School, and the Austrian School, plus liberal thinkers in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere; contributors include Ralph Raico, Guido Hülsmann, Barry Smith, Josef Šima, Jesús Huerta de Soto, Roberta Modugno, and Johan Norberg.

Well, this should keep my idle hours occupied. Now all I need is some idle hours.


Clanking Glory

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In his 1967 book Containment and Change, New Left leader and former SDS president Carl Oglesby (about whom I’ve blogged previously) wrote the following still all-too-timely passage. (If it sounds a bit like Rothbard, well, Rothbard’s Transformation of the American Right shows up in the footnotes.)

The corporate state has effective control of key elements of the communications system, exclusive control of the primary ganglia of political and economic power, and access to a matured nationalist ideology pregnant with violence and capable of justifying any reasonably sophisticated or adroit authoritarian action against organized dissent. … [T]he central feature of the fascist state is the political alliance or identity of big government and big business, and the power of such an alliance to work its will without significant restraints ….

Carl Oglesby The one and only basic question which Americans now have to ask themselves is whether or not they want to be politically free. … The superstate … may give of its bounty to those who will ritually humble themselves before it. But the state cannot give political freedom. It is neither in the nature of the state that it can give political freedom nor in the nature of political freedom that it can be given. Political freedom is not a license to be purchased or petitioned from a higher power. …

This central question is not clarified, it is obscured, by our common political categories of left, right, and center; it is not clarified, it is obscured, by the traditional American debate about socialism versus capitalism versus the Keynesian mixed economy. The socialist radical, the corporatist conservative, and the welfare-state liberal are all equally capable of leading us forward into the totalized society. Whether central planning should be conducted by government or corporate hands is a question whose realism has disappeared. The urgent question is about the locus of power in the community: Is it in the state or is it in the people? And in our American time, our American place, the main principle of the radically humanist politics is this: Any decision not made by the people in free association, whatever the content of that decision, cannot be good. … The primary task of the humanist is to describe and help to realize those political acts through which the power of the central authoritarian monolith can be broken and the political life of man reconstituted on the base of the associational, democratic, nonexclusive community. …

This is not merely a leftist’s challenge to other leftists. As much as it is in the grain of American democratic populism, it is also in the grain of the American libertarian right.

The right wing in America is presently in a state of almost eerie spiritual disarray. Under one and the same banner, joining the John Birch Society, out on the rifle range with the Minutemen, chuckling through the pages of the National Review, the conservative right wing of imperialist, authoritarian, and even monarchist disposition enjoys the fraternity of the libertarian right wing of laissez faire, free-market individualism. These two groupings could not possibly have less in common. Why have the libertarians conceded leadership to the conservatives? Why have the traditional opponents of big, militarized, central authoritarian government now joined forces with such a government’s boldest advocates?

They have done so because they have been persuaded that there is a clear and present danger that necessitates a temporary excursion from final values. They should know better. They should know that for the totalitarian imperialists there is always a clear and present danger, that it is pre-eminently through the ideology of the Foreign Threat, the myth of the tiger at the gates, that frontier and global imperialism and domestic authoritarianism have always rationalized themselves. …

Garet Garrett It would be a piece of great good fortune for America and the world if the libertarian right could be reminded that besides the debased Republicanism of the Knowlands and the Judds there is another tradition available to them – their own: the tradition of Congressman Howard Buffett, Senator Taft’s midwestern campaign manager in 1952, who attacked the Truman Doctrine with the words: “Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. … We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.” There is the right of Frank Chodorov, whose response to the domestic Red Menace was abruptly to the point: “The way to get rid of communists in government jobs is to abolish the jobs.” And of Dean Russell, who wrote in 1955: “Those who advocate the ‘temporary loss’ of our freedom in order to preserve it permanently are advocating only one thing: the abolition of liberty. … We are rapidly becoming a caricature of the thing we profess to hate.” Most engaging, there is the right of the tough-minded Garet Garrett, who produced in 1952 a short analysis of the totalitarian impulse of imperialism which the events of the intervening years have reverified over and again. Beginning with the words, “We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire,” Garrett’s pamphlet unerringly names the features of the imperial pathology: dominance of the national executive over Congress; subordination of domestic policy to foreign policy; ascendency of the military influence; the creation of political and military satellites; a complex of arrogance and fearfulness toward the “barbarian” and, most insidiously, casting off the national identity for an internationalist and “historic” identity – the republic is free; the empire is history’s hostage.

This style of political thought, rootedly American, is carried forward today by the Negro freedom movement and the student movement against Great Society-Free World imperialism. That these movements are called leftist means nothing. They are of the grain of American humanist individualism and voluntaristic associational action; and it is only through them that the libertarian tradition is activated and kept alive. In a strong sense, the Old Right and the New Left are morally and politically coordinate.

Yet their intersection can be missed. Their potentially redemptive union can go unattempted and unmade. On both sides, vision can be cut off by habituated responses to passé labels. The New Left can lose itself in the imported left-wing debates of the thirties, wondering what it ought to say about technocracy and Stalin. The libertarian right can remain hypnotically charmed by the authoritarian imperialists whose only ultimate love is Power, the subhuman brown-shirted power of the jingo state militant, the state rampant, the iron state possessed of its own clanking glory. If this happens, if the new realities are not penetrated and a fundamental ideological rearrangement does not take place, then this new political humanism which has shown its courage from Lowndes County to Berkeley will no doubt prove unworthy of more than a footnote in the scavenger histories of our time. And someone will finally have to make the observation that the American dream did not come true, that maybe it was quite an idle dream after all and the people never really had a chance. The superstate will glide onward in its steel and vinyl splendor, tagging and numbering us with its scientific tests, conscripting us with its computers, swaggering through exotic graveyards which it filled and where it dares to lay wreaths, smug in the ruins of its old-fashioned, man-centered promises to itself.


Unhappy Injection

We have a double winner!

In an undated book-of-the-month-club brochure found in a second-hand copy of John P. Marquand’s 1943 So Little Time, Henry Seidel Canby walks off with both the Unhelpful-Metaphor Award and the Prose-That-Should-Never-Have-Been-Written Award:

You might feel a little prick Mr. Marquand is the Sinclair Lewis of a slightly younger generation, which does not mean that he resembles Sinclair Lewis except in the kind of services he renders in American literature. Let us say that Lewis put vinegar and the vitamin X of satire into the fiction of the 1920’s; while Marquand sprinkles what seems to be sugar, but is actually salt, on the viands of the 1940’s, and injects the vitamin Y of irony into the veins of his readers.

Ah, must we say that?


Chick Habit

So I saw Grindhouse last night. SPOILERS AHEAD!

There’s been a lot of debate as to whether Rodriguez’s or Tarantino’s half is better; I gather that many viewers have found the Tarantino half talky and slow-moving. By my vote, however, the Tarantino half is far and away the better of the two halves. But those who liked it less were accurately tracking a fact: the Tarantino half just isn’t a grindhouse-type movie. It’s a Tarantino movie based on a grindhousesque plot device, which is another matter entirely. And Tarantino movies generally are mostly talk with a few vivid but brief incidents of violence. (Okay, that’s not true of Kill Bill, but it’s certainly true of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown.)

Quentin Tarantino The Tarantino half, Death Proof, is thus a striking contrast with the nonstop gorefest of Rodriguez’s half, Planet Terror; this was the Rodriguez of From Dusk Till Dawn (even down to the Mexican pyramid at the end) – an endless stream of adolescent grossouts with no emotional center or connection. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’m not denying that the Rodriguez half was fun. It’s just what it set out to be – a parody of zombie movies – and that sort of film doesn’t necessarily need to be anything but wacky and superficial. I didn’t much care which characters lived and which died – but so what? Planet Terror is the kind of feature you’re supposed to make if you’re contributing to a project like Grindhouse; it’s in the same spirit as the fake trailers (arguably it’s one of the fake trailers). Tarantino is the one who broke the rules by making a real movie.

Death Proof, unlike Planet Terror, is not a parody of anything. Like I said, it’s a Tarantino movie – a lot simpler in story structure than his other movies (it’s even told in straightforward linear sequence, which must have gone against his grain), but a Tarantino movie nonetheless. Tarantino movies are about people; they’re character-driven and dialogue-driven. And in Death Proof you definitely care who lives and who dies. And so I have to ask: what the hell is it doing in this movie, unequally yoked together with Planet Terror? Planet Terror followed by Death Proof is like a bowl of cheetos followed by a gourmet meal. And I worry that Death Proof will miss some of the audience it deserves (box office returns have reportedly been disappointing thus far) because people assume that Grindhouse is all cheetos.

Zoe Bell Death Proof also has an interesting feminist edge. What? A slasher pic that begins with the camera lingering lasciviously on women’s body parts, and goes on later in the film to graphic depictions of those bodies being brutally bludgeoned and ripped apart? How could that kind of movie have a feminist edge? Well, it does. And not merely because the surviving women turn the tables on the killer at the end – lots of slasher pics end that way, it’s a convention of the genre, and it doesn’t make those into feminist movies, to put it mildly. Now I can understand why some viewers might think the same applies to Death Proof. But what differentiates Death Proof from the typical slasher pic, to my mind, is the spirit in which it makes use of these conventions, and indeed the way it subverts those conventions in such a way as not simply to defeat but to deflate the male predator. In most slasher pics the slasher is terrifying up to the last minute, and is just barely defeated; the slasher’s stature is thus never truly undermined. The slasher pic may end on a note of relief, but rarely on a note of elated female empowerment; ’tis otherwise here. (One might even see the ending as a Randian/Tolkienian message here about the true nature of evil as “smutty and small”.) This is also a film about female solidarity (well, um, except when they leave the cheerleader girl behind – I’m not sure what to make of that scene), so I reckon it’s no coincidence that the final turning-the-tables is carried off by women working together, rather than, as in most slasher pics, either a lone woman or a man and woman together.

Death Proof There are scenes that invite us to regard the two halves of Grindhouse as happening in the same universe: a number of characters from Planet Terror make cameo appearances in Death Proof (and are clearly intended to be the same people), while one of the victims in Death Proof is briefly mentioned in Planet Terror as recently deceased. (I’m also pretty sure I saw a to-do list with “Kill Bill” on it in the background of one scene, though I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD to be sure. And this is definitely a must-get DVD – a number of scenes featured in televised trailers and previews, including but not limited to the two infamous “missing reels,” turn out to have been cut from the theatrical print for reasons of length, and will presumably be available only on DVD – unless you see it in overseas release where it’s being shown as two separate films. But I digress.) Anyway, these attempts to tie the two films into the same universe just don’t matter; there’s no way you can watch the final scene of Death Proof and think “wow, and just a few days later this town was invaded by zombies.” Back before the concept of “Elseworlds,” DC Comics used to run occasional stories outside of regular continuity – stories in which Superman married Lois Lane (before he really did), or lost his powers, or whatever – and these were somewhat paradoxically called “imaginary stories,” meaning they were fictional even within the framework of the comic. Planet Terror is an imaginary story, dammit!

One of Tarantino’s trademarks is the creative selection of pre-existing music; he’s really the chief successor of Kubrick here. The choice of April March’s quirky cover of “Chick Habit” for the closing credits is brilliant; the music is high-energy madness and the lyrics (much more apt, more clever, and more savage than the French original) apply perfectly. Here’s the song; and check out the original French version here and here. Here’s a lyrics comparison:

French lyrics My literal translation Cool movie translation
Laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
un jour c’est toi qu’on laissera
laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
un jour c’est toi qui pleurera  

Oui j’ai pleuré mais ce jour là
non je ne pleurerai pas
non je ne pleurerai pas
je dirai c’est bien fait pour toi
je dirai ça t’apprendra
je dirai ça t’apprendra

Laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
ça te jouera un mauvais tour
laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
tu le paieras un de ces jours

On ne joue pas impugnément
avec un coeur innocent
avec un coeur innocent
tu verras ce que je ressens
avant qu’il ne soit longtemps
avant qu’il ne soit longtemps

La chance abandonne
celui qui ne sait
que laisser les coeurs blessés
tu n’auras personne
pour te consoler
tu ne l’auras pas volé

Laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
un jour c’est toi qu’on laissera
laisse tomber les filles
laisse tomber les filles
un jour c’est toi qui pleureras

Non pour te plaindre il n’y aura
personne d’autre que toi
personne d’autre que toi
alors tu te rappelleras
tout ce que je te dis là
tout ce que je te dis là

Drop the girls
drop the girls
one day it’s you who’ll get left
drop the girls
drop the girls
one day it’s you who’s going to cry  

Yes I have cried but on that day
no I’m not going to cry
no I’m not going to cry
I’ll say it serves you right
I’ll say that’ll teach you
I’ll say that’ll teach you

Drop the girls
drop the girls
that’ll play you a nasty trick
drop the girls
drop the girls
you’re going to pay one of these days

One does not play with impunity
with an innocent heart
with an innocent heart
you’re going to see what I feel
before very long
before very long

Fortune abandons
him who does not know
how to do anything but leave wounded hearts
you won’t have anyone
to console you
you won’t have stolen them

Drop the girls
drop the girls
one day it’s you who’ll get left
drop the girls
drop the girls
one day it’s you who’s going to cry

No, to pity you there’ll be
nobody but you
nobody but you
then you will remember
everything I’m telling you about it
everything I’m telling you about it

Hang up the chick habit
hang it up daddy
or you’ll be alone in a quick
hang up the chick habit
hang it up daddy
or you’ll never get another fix  

I’m telling you it’s not a trick
pay attention, don’t be thick
or you’re liable to get licked
you’re gonna see the reason why
when they’re spittin’ in your eye
they’ll be spittin’ in your eye

Hang up the chick habit
hang it up daddy
a girl’s not a tonic or a pill
hang up the chick habit
hang it up daddy
you’re just jonesin’ for a spill

Oh how your bubble’s gonna burst
when you meet another nurse
she’ll be driving in a hearse
you’re gonna need a heap of glue
when they all catch up with you
and they cut you up in two

Now your ears are ringing
the birds have stopped their singing
everything is turning grey
no candy in your till
no cutie left to thrill
you’re alone on a Tuesday


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