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Late nineteenth and early 20th century intellectual roots

2013 September 7
by Ian Welsh

I want to get some notes down on the reasons for certain literary tropes and intellectual beliefs in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The difference in how our ancestors thought about the world really smacks you in the face if you read 19th and pre-WWII fiction.  This is true from pulp fiction to high fiction—Robert E Howard’s Conan series draws on the same roots as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Nietzche is speaking to an experience that influenced both of them.

The Superman

If you were a white man who wasn’t lower class in the 19th century, you were a superman.  At home, because you received proper nutrition during childhood you were taller, stronger, smarter and healthier than most of the lower class.  If you put your mind to it, you were better than them at nearly everything.  Overseas, European military forces could wipe out armies ten to a hundred times their size, and take remarkably few casualties while doing so.  You had better machines and more understanding of the natural laws that ran the world.  Your experience was of being a superman—you were simply better than non-Europeans, and the lower class, either because of the benefits of your society, or because of superior nutrition during the formative years.

The White Man’s Burden and the Heart of Darkness

European civilization was, to you, simply superior.  Any who opposed you, you could crush.  We can cavil, we can say there are other more important virtues, we can find corner cases and talk about appropriate technology, but at the end of the day Europeans had superior agriculture, industry, science and military force.   The experience of being supermen leads to two main responses: one was to say that it was mostly a matter of civilization and that others should be raised to the European level and that it was European’s duty to do this (the White Man’s Burden), the other was to deeply abuse that power.  In many cases, it was both—abuse covered up by claiming virtue.

Still, if you look at the history of, say, Hong Kong, what you see is that it starts out with a very low population (a few thousand) and grows very fast—Chinese flock there.  Why?  Because the Manchu are worse, far, far worse.  In Hong Kong if you’re Chinese, you’re a second class citizen, but you do have access to some sort of law which is not entirely corrupt: it is a better place to live, a safer place with more opportunity than China is at the time.

In other places, the Congo being the most notorious, the natives are treated as subhuman, and a huge body of racial theory grows up in the 19th and 20th centuries to justify seeing non-whites as subhumans.  That theory allows you to feel that treating them inhumanely is fine, since they aren’t fully human.  This can combine with the white man’s burden “white men must do what they can for the inferior races, but that inferiority is biological and can never entirely be overcome” or it can act in opposition to it, if one believes it is a question of civilization.  Some see it as the latter, those who know that both Islamic and Chinese civilizations were superior to Western civilization for most of history, but the need to believe oneself superior is deeply human.

The End of Going Native

The Sepoy rebellion is the end of one way of ruling Empire and the beginning of a different way.  Before the Sepoy rebellion India is ruled by men who marry native women, have mixed-race children, who learn the language: men who stand between India and the Empire.  When that method fails, and fails in very bloody fashion (the wives, the mixed raced children, the friends—or if you wish collaborators are especially targeted by the rebels), the method changes: the British believe that the rebellion happened because the administrators became too close to the Indians, were not harsh enough, did not apply discipline sufficiently.  The new imperial service strongly discourages marriages with natives, close friendships, and even learning the language is often viewed with suspicion.  Combined with racial theory, which makes them regard mating with non-whites as mating with subhumans, going native declines, and marrying a local will dead-end your career.

This has widespread effects.  The Metis rebellion in Canada, for example, is a result of the clash between the new Victorian morality and method of governance and the older method.  The Metis are, essentially, the most important people in most of unsettled Canada.  The Scots and French who manned the fur trade married local women, their children continued to manage the relationship between white and native, and prospered doing so.  The new Victorian administrators, as the West is colonized, regard the Metis as subhuman, in many ways, as worse than the native Americans, since they are the product of miscegenation.  Instead of working with them, or through them, as Canada expands in to the West, they cut them out. This results in rebellion, which is crushed (in part because Riel, the leader, refuses to fight the war properly, and cut the rail lines.)  This history, of course, is not taught properly in Canadian classrooms, the textbooks make it out as if the Metis rebel for almost no reason at all.

The tragedy, of course, is that if the Metis had been worked with, instead of against, both they and the native Americans would have been better off, and Indian reservations might not, today, be the shame of Canada, 3rd world hovels.

The Decline Into Barbarism

At the same time as Europeans are expanding to every corner of the world, they are finding magnificent ruins.  Monuments like the pyramids, great ruined Mayan cities, brilliant Chinese literature and art, and so on.  They become very aware that civilizations rise and fall.  In many cases the people who live in the same area as the greatest ruins are very primitive indeed.  Combined with racial theory, many come to assume that the collapse of civilization is caused by the declining of racial stock—that the people themselves start becoming more and more “beast like” and thus are unable to maintain high civilization.  Some fiction takes it so far as to assume that humans can descend back to being apes.

This combines with the heart of darkness effect of great power, to lead to European enclaves.  Even if a man can’t change biologically in one generation (though some theorists think he can) when surrounded by savages, Europeans believe they are more likely to themselves become savages.  Women, white women, are a civilizing influence, they believe, and so wives and daughters are brought with colonial enclaves.  And indeed, where white men are not alone, but have their women, it is true that fewer atrocities tend to be committed.

The decline of civilization doesn’t just have to do with dark skinned people though.  The British and Americans are deeply enamored by classical Greece and Rome, but they notice that modern Italians and Greeks aren’t much like the people they read of when they read Cicero or Homer or Plato.  So even whites aren’t immune to this collapse of civilization, and the search for the causes consumes much of 19th century scholarship and fiction, and underlies the emphasis on discipline and fortitude, for the British become very aware that their supremacy rests on military might, and that that might rests not just on having the best weapons but upon organization and discipline of the troops.

The Noble Savage

Right through the Victorian era, alongside all the racial theories of how inferior the other races are is the myth of the noble savage.  This, too, is based on experience.  To be sure a milk and meat fed middle or upper class Briton or American is physically superior to the underclass and many of the peasants of the agricultural societies they are conquering but anyone who travels quickly becomes aware that those savages who live on the land and get a good diet, with enough calories of the right kind, are their physical superior.  Native Americans from some tribes can carry 500 pound packs for days, something virtually no white man can.  Kalahari desert trackers can run for days, and track animals across terrain in which no European can even see tracks.  South American Indians and Nepalese mountaineers climb terrain that seems impassable to white men, displaying strength, agility and hardiness that puts almost any European to shame.  Australian aborigines likewise perform physical feats that amaze.

You thus have a theory of civilization which posits the pinnacles of humanity being northern Europeans and certain groups of hunter-gatherers and nomadic tribesmen.  The noble savages are physically superior and civilization in the “oriental” style enervates them, taking away their primitive virtues.  Again, this arises, at its heart, from lived experience.

Freudianism, Oedipus and Electra

Those who are old enough, or who have read widely in early to mid 20th century literature and literary theory understand just how influential Freud was.  His theories look absurd to us, but they were a secular religion for millions during much of the 20th century, and those million included amongst them much of the literary and artistic class of the West.

Again, they are based on lived experience—the lived experience of the Viennese middle class in the time of Freud.  The first key thing to know is this: living space was precious, people had very small living spaces.

One of the key parts of Freudianism is the assertion of the Oedipal complex (boys want to have sex with their mothers) and the Electra complex (girls with their fathers–strictly speaking Jungian.)  In a small space, there is no way to conceal sex from children.  The first sounds and possibly sight of sex a boy or girl will have, is sex between their parents.  Assuming heterosexual orientation (the majority of the population), that sex will be associated with opposite sex parent.  Add in a bit of operant conditioning (sexual feelings coincident with the parent having sex) and  you have the appropriate complex.  Freud took this as a universal law, but it was contingent: in Vienna it was probably most people, but in societies without that operant conditioning (such as our own, where children’s first experience of sex will probably be watching porn on the internet) that loop doesn’t occur nearly so often.

Concluding Remarks

Much of what is distinctive in an age’s literature and intellectual thought is based on the lived experience of the class that does the writing and theorizing, and the experience of their peers.  The experience of the middle and upper classes of Europe was of superiority to the lower classes, overwhelming superiority to foreign societies and of the fragility of civilization, seeing and reading of so many great civilizations, who had created great art, literature and monuments which no longer existed.   Likewise the noble savage and the obsession with incest were a result of the actual way that the middle class (Freud’s patients) lived in Vienna.

(Obligatory note: because I write about racism, the white man’s burden, sexism, colonialism, or anything else doesn’t mean I approve of it.)

29 Responses
  1. bob mcmanus permalink
    September 7, 2013

    One of the premises of the prewar Kyoto School (some of them) was that Japanese independent modernization and especially the 1905 victory over Russia was a cataclysmic shock to the racialist and culturalist assumptions of the West, led to the rush of Imperialism and arms buildup before WWI and the fascism after. Their work was appropriated by the Japanese Imperialists, was buried after WWII, was tied in very complicated ways to Buddhism and/or Marxism (and Heidegger), but has been recently re-examined by Harutoonian among others.

    If modernity or progress has nothing to do with whiteness, Christianity, European Heritage etc some very basic assumptions (like Weber, maybe Marx) are put radically to question. The narrative still says the Chinese are partly taking Western practices. Convergence.

  2. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    September 7, 2013

    An interesting book by Jared Diamond “The World until Yesterday” ISBN 978-1-846-14758-6 based upon anthropologic perspectives that contrast sharply with the Eurocentric assumptions so well stated above. Victorian era romanticism seriously colored perceptions held throughout Europe at the time and up through mid 20th century in the great powers operating theories e.g. domino theory of communist subversion derived from lingering fears of the French Revolution and Reign of Terror held in monarchal European ruling classes and their US conservative class understudies. The failure of the US in Vietnam also brought down that romantic house of cards built upon Victorian assumptions after receiving near fatal existential blows from the Great War and WWII (when the youth rebel, the future removes the mandate from the old order).

    Jared Diamond’s new book explains the superiority of the European drive for empire was a case of a highly organized, populous and economically productive state encountering traditionally organized, low population and marginally economically sustainable peoples. One can deduce from this how gratifying the racial superiority of the empire builders was to their self esteem, whilst camouflaging all manner of rude goings on. Civilization wasn’t what they thought it was, may be the cunning remark on European hubris.

  3. RayS permalink
    September 7, 2013

    The real value of education is not to teach specific things but to teach us how much we don”t know, how ignorant we are. A constant awareness of our limited understanding is what produces an open mind, to the extent that anyone can really keep an open mind. (It is difficult to be embedded deeply enough into a culture to understand it well, yet still be able to view it at arm’s length, with some sense of perspective).

    The ideas of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’ are cultural constructs of variable utility, depending on circumstances. The conquest of the ‘New World’, the success of Republican polities, the rise of Capitalism were contingent on very special situations and are neither inevitable nor universally applicable.

    The world at any given time is the accidental consequence of the previous world , but it seems to me it also evolves toward a smaller expenditure of energy & effort by the dominant class, whether that reduced ‘work’ is a result of technology, cheap fuel and/or cheap labor (of others). We might call ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’ the triumph of laziness on the part of the PTB.

  4. September 7, 2013

    Formerly, I can’t wait to read that book. I’d say “Guns, Germs, And Steel” is a must-read for understanding why the world is the way it is. And I just finished “Debt: The First 5000 Years” which was fascinating too, though I’m not sure I agree with all of it.

  5. Alcuin permalink
    September 8, 2013

    That’s an enormous subject that you’ve tackled, Ian. I think you need to go considerably further back to get a better grip on the subjects you listed in your last sentence, though. It goes all the way back to the Enlightenment philosophers, if not before. I entered “Hume Locke Racism” in a search engine and, just at random, clicked on this link. You might use this as a starting point for further educational opportunities. If you want to read a truly magnificent and stunning treatment of sexism and capitalism, I don’t think you can do better than soaking up Federici’s ideas as expressed in Caliban and the Witch.

  6. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 8, 2013

    Thanks Alcuin, to be sure racism goes back farther than the 19th century, but I do think it reached its most virulent form in the Victorian era.

  7. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 8, 2013

    Oh, lordy, lordy; racism has been with us from the very beginnings and I mean; the very beginnings!
    It’s all about other. That’s where it started, and it all fell from there…

  8. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 8, 2013

    The other was often not based on skin color. In the middle ages Europeans didn’t much care about different skin colors, they had other markers of other.

  9. David Kowalski permalink
    September 8, 2013

    The military superiority is often over stated and fleeting. Napoleon stated that small numbers of Asiatics were able to hold their own with Europeans but 20 Europeans could withstand a larger force. A hundred Europeans, according to Napoleon, were invincible.

    American soldiers went from claiming that 20 men could conquer the whole Sioux nation to 80 and then 200. Each failed in battle in IIRC 1854, 1867, and 1876.

    Similarly, the advantages of the Romans and the Greeks/Macedonians were soon overcome by experience.

    The Chinese and Japanese had some of the same racial feelings about Europeans. The Mongols were certainly militarily superior to Europeans due to technology (compound bow and Chinese siege engineering) and organization. In the 1200s they were easily able to defeat European knights in armor with smaller armies and did so against Hungarians, Germans, Poles, and Russians.

  10. September 8, 2013

    Yes.

    Today, the same sense of smug superiority is imbued in those whose wealth permits them to “other” the majority population. Yes, it’s not fundamentally about skin color – as seen in the nineteenth century and the twenty-first, that is quickly obsoleted by the dynamics of wealth concentration.

    Of course, racially-based othering is much more useful in blind-spotting the (in this world, White) proles from their own marginalization. That’s getting harder to do, so the end-game of this particular cycle proceeds to its as-yet-still obscured consequences…

  11. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 8, 2013

    Of course the military superiority could be fleeting, but in human terms it lasted for entire lives. For that matter, the West is still vastly superior in conventional and nuclear warfighting (if you include Russia, which I do.) It’s not what it was.

    Napoleon is pre-Victorian era. The Napoleonic Wars are the last wars in which firearms were still inferior to longbows in most respects. (This is something most people screw up: early firearms were shit, and one of the long debates in military history is why Europe moved to firearms when they were inferior. The general consensus is that learning how to use a gun was far easier than becoming skilled with a bow, or sword). Du Saxe wrote military treatises which basically amounted to “fire once then charge and bring the enemy to melee, that’s where battles are won.”

    The Mongols were possibly most superior army in the history of the world compared to rival civilizations: they destroyed real civilizations while vastly outnumbered. Their cavalry was more mobile across the Russian steppe than WWII panzers. They coordinated multiple armies across thousands of miles, arriving at the same location on the same day. They also made brilliant use of both diplomacy and spies, turning their enemies against each other, making use of internal factions amongst their enemies, knowing exactly what they were going up against before they did (ironically, Islamic merchants were their primary spies.)

    But much of that was based on the genius of individuals: the last truly great Mongol general is Subotai — the last general picked by Genghis Khan himself, whose greatest genius was that he was able to pick other men of genius who would also be loyal. Horse nomads, well lead, continued to be genius (see Timur), but the leadership was key.

    But the British in the Victorian era were truly frightening, and defeated some vastly largely armies. Gunboat diplomacy was also a very real thing, and any city on the coast not held by a European power, for most of the period, could be held hostage.

    I’m sure the Mongols felt just as superior to civilized people as the British did to “savages” and “orientals”, and I know the Romans in their heyday did.

  12. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 8, 2013

    The other was often not based on skin color.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Exactly.

  13. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 8, 2013

    @ David Kowalski
    September 8, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    …and don’t forget the stirrup; changed everything.

  14. September 9, 2013

    And it’s interesting how all these tropes converge in and are replicated by modern, online “scientific” racism.

  15. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 9, 2013

    @ Mandos
    September 9, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~
    Erm, how about exemplifying what you mean by an example.
    Not disputing; just not understanding…

  16. September 9, 2013

    You have to peek into the darker corners of the interwebs to see this, but sometimes it breaches the surface:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/05/jason_richwine_hispanics_and_iqs_the_heritage_foundation_scholar_began_researching.html

    It’s the whole IQ/race thing, but milder versions of it show up even on mainstream conservative web sites like National Review (which is far-right, but still mainstream in American discourse). The basic underlying belief is that modern “political correctness” or whatever has weakened “Western civilisation” by preventing the true supermen from achieving their traditional status, in favour of allowing big-genitalled blacks to take economic and public positions that — in the most blatant versions — their racial IQ and personality make up does not really merit. With positive nods to Japanese and certain types of East Asians who are deemed to have the Herrenvolk composition.

  17. David Kowalski permalink
    September 9, 2013

    Let’s go back to Genghis Khan. Part of the superiority was technical but a good part was cultural/personal.

    Mongol armor was leather with coats of lacquer to absorb and distribute sword and arrow blows. Multiple coats of lacquer and silk vests served in much the way of modern body armor. Because the armor was lighter, it was more flexible. Instead of the huge horses used by European knights, smaller, faster, quicker horses could be used which could cover more distance and maneuver on the field of battle.

    Similar to the Roman legions , Mongol armies were organized into an army of 10,000 built into their case on units of ten. The ten was part of a hundred, the hundred belonged to a thousand and ten units of a thousand completed a small army with a general. Several of these were used in a campaign.

    Troops were extremely ordered. They were moved in and out of battle by the general using signal flags. Europeans thought they were “cowardly” because they delivered their arrows and retreated to safety and another blow.

    Genghis’ personal belief system supported much of this. No religious preference was shown in his empire. All religions were protected and respected unless practicioners were conspiring against his empire. Christians and Moslems assumed Genghis and immediate successors were closet believers because they were so tolerant. Later successors like Tamerlane converted to local beliefs, thus losing this edge.

    Genghis, consistent with oriental warfare, respected and understood topography. He also respected and understood the physical limitations of both his men and his horses, something many generals including Napoleon failed to do.

    He respected and encouraged both trade and education. This included protecting and insuring trade routes and merchants. There was a reason that merchants functioned as spies: they prospered greatly under Genghis.

    Genghis was both fair and ruthless. Those who flouted his laws or his sense of fairness were dead meat. He used traders as diplomats (they were used to bargaining after all).

    Generals were chosen based on intelligence and personal loyalty. Blood ties and ethnicity only went so far. Subotai was no relation but a plucky rival soldier saved from battle and therefore personally loyal.

    I remember reading that the US military looked into two models for Afghanistan/Iran: the Roman and the Mongol and they proudly chose the imperial Roman model. The people in Afghanistan and Iran are still shaken by the Mongols 800 years after Genghis, something that no other conqueror did to them. They killed his traders, stole his goods, killed his diplomats and then were surprised that Genghis was ruthless?

  18. amspirnational permalink
    September 9, 2013

    Well, how do you collate or react to this, Ian?

    I have read biological determinists of the “supremacist” stripe asserting that it is important for their favored ethnics to believe in their own supremacy, that is, without that belief, its own origin partly inexplicable, the practical supremacy might not in fact persist or reassert itself.

  19. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 9, 2013

    @ Mandos
    September 9, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Thanks for the Slate link; yup, no surprises there, unfortunately (regarding Richwine).
    The all too common stereotype among westerners here in Thailand falls right into that mindset. The claim generally is that Thai IQ’s are lower than westerners (code=white)
    Having started here as a design engineer (for an American toy company) I have firsthand knowledge of Thai’s “intelligence” and problem solving abilities.
    Combine that with having taught freshmen and seniors (almost 5,000 students) over a 5 year period and I think I’ve got a pretty good picture based on more than a little first hand evidence.
    My own experience with westerners would point more to Americans than say, Brits or Aussies, as guilty of speaking about low IQ’s among S.E. Asians.
    We Americans are guilty of provincialism far more than “others”.

  20. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Curiouser and curiouser; what is it that trips moderation?
    Posted 8 or so hours ago and no show…

  21. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 10, 2013

    …thanks Ian…

  22. Ian Welsh permalink
    September 10, 2013

    moderation is entirely automated. If your comment winds up in moderation, I release it when I see it. Depending on what I’m doing that day (or when I’m sleeping) that could be quite a while. But no one is “on moderation”, it’s entirely automated.

  23. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    September 12, 2013

    The Victorian era encompassed one paradigm changing event when Charles Darwin published his journals on Theory of Evolution and the consequent devaluation of the religious heritage as adjunct to state power, creating a vacuum in social mythology, filled by a misinterpretation of biological evolution that was applied to social, economic and political evolution(s) as explicatory for those institutions as well. This process accommodated racism and prejudice quite nicely as well as you have remarked in the post. There may be great danger in misinterpreting Victorian Era sensibilities in light of modern political correctness and thereby produce an equally erroneous conclusion; historical ignorance is a garden full of noxious weeds all too easily consumed – historical ‘botany’ is needed to sort facts palatable from facts indigestible.

  24. Kia permalink
    September 12, 2013

    I think your story starts some time in the early-middle 17th century with the same forces that drove the English Civil War. The English novel (excepting maybe Sterne, Austen, and a few oddball outliers) was describing (and sometimes fighting) the class war in England almost from the moment it came into existence, which coincided with the emergence of an audience for it, the rising socially ambitious middle class. Class and social standing are its obsessions, and money was indispensable if you were going to scale that steep and slippery ladder to respectability, to no longer being identified with the brutalized underclass or the grime of trade. It was particularly hard for women to get across those social barriers: men could socialize with men across class barriers, but the upper reaches of society were closed to their wives. But money, lots and lots of money, could do it. And this theme, the theme of getting over, can be seen in an unbroken line from Ben Jonson’s plays, The Alchemist, for example, in which everyone is a hustler, everyone is trying to get over, through richardson (Clarissa and Pamela are obsessed with it), Smollett, to Thackeray, in which all the hustling is done by Becky Sharp, even including Jane Eyre, which looks like an imitation Gothic romance but is a fantasy about getting over, about sailing into those safe waters where you are a somebody who is respected in Society, and Society, once it recognizes your respectability, affords you protection that you can’t get outside it. All this is indicative to me of the force of the desire for respectability and for the money that could get you over and keep you there. And the money, the extra money, that is, came from those profitable merchant adventures in the colonies. But from the 18th century on it wasn’t necessary to live in the place that was the source of your wealth; you could stay in England and spend it, as Clarissa Harlowe’s uncles do, as mr. Rochester does, as Miss Schwartz the sugar heiress from St. Kitts does, as Sir Thomas Bertram does. In the 19th century novel you can get some idea of how degrading the life of the urban poor was from the nearly complete silence about it in most novels. Dickens was the one exception–and as such, really delivered–but when Trollope wants to talk to his readers about poor people they are rural and conservative and very nearly feudal in their loyalties. The life of the city poor was not a fit subject for mixed company. And European observers, like Alexander Herzen, who was really good at observing things, saw this too. Fueling the drive to get over was the desire to get as far away from that as possible, and as someone who grew up in a post colonial society I know what it feels like. But there was also the conviction, sort of built into capitalism, that whatever you managed to acquire of money and/or standing was what Providence intended you to have. The consequent instrumental-transactional view of humans in their relations to one another, to nature, to Providence, even, predates slavery, predates the racist theories that justified slavery (I distinguish between these and simple ignorance–people then had much less access to knowledge about the world that we take for granted). It made for the ugliness of the Victorian world, and it explains, I think, the fondness of reactionaries for that period. They are like people who believe they are reincarnated souls and, of course, fancy upper-class souls. In the good old days of ancient Egypt or Downton Abbey England they were always the big shots, never the girl who emptied the chamber pots. In reality a relatively few people could claim to be aristocrats, but the number of aspiring capitalists was legion and continually growing.

  25. Kia permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Oh my god sorry that’s so long.

  26. September 13, 2013

    There may be great danger in misinterpreting Victorian Era sensibilities in light of modern political correctness and thereby produce an equally erroneous conclusion; historical ignorance is a garden full of noxious weeds all too easily consumed – historical ‘botany’ is needed to sort facts palatable from facts indigestible.

    In this case, though, the line of descent between the intellectual movements of that era and modern scientific racism, particularly that which follows the “official” political dividing lines in the USA, are pretty direct, interrupted only by the unpopularity they accrued from the WW2 period.

  27. jump permalink
    September 13, 2013

    Not so sure on the analysis. Philosophers were ‘endowed’ or of self sufficient wealth and mainstream philosophy was, well, mainstream. There were always the outliers, a la Marx. And there were the ones that spoke on the moneyed behalf.
    There were trends and current arguments, but there weren’t arguments sufficient to counter the trends. Mostly philosophers supported the Zeit Geist. They were paid by universities.
    The philosophers mostly condescended to the patrons guilt. Few of the riff raff cared about arguments that didn’t impact their lives. Little did they know.
    The world has been run by the few and they see themselves as just and rightful to do their business. The riff raff can party on or not according to their means. The few have serious people on their side so you should pay attention to your station. Or else!
    Has politics ever not been about power? Money = Power!
    Colonialism = extension of Power.

  28. Bruce Wilder permalink
    September 14, 2013

    Some of the tensions between, say, the Noble Savage and the Superman, or the arrogance of superiority and the paranoid fear of barbarism, are projections of anxiety about the obsolescence of European political and religious institutions. The Europeans did not have to sojurn in exotic locales to see ruins; they lived among them, and not just the curious remnants of Roman civilization, but the living fossils of feudal aristocracy. However well-fed, the feudal aristocrats and royals were, by and large, a stubborn, stupid lot. Gunboats and eccentric adventurers abroad made a mythic impression at home, but so did such cockups as the Crimean War.

  29. Jessica permalink
    September 16, 2013

    @Kia
    Your long post enriched an already good discussion.

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