Friday, September 04, 2009


I like this post by Tyrannous Lex aka Alexi Koltowicz on the S&R blog: Town halls gone wild.

It's an open letter to his congressperson, Bart Stupak in Michigan's 1st congressional district. Lex says, in part:
“Socialism” is the watch word. The fear of socialism is enough to turn what should be open communication between constituents and representatives into the political equivalent of professional wrestling. It’s enough to bring out the guns. I suggest that you propose a bill that requires every recipient of Social Security, disability, unemployment, WIC, the Bridge Card, Medicare, Medicaid, and government subsidies of any sort to write a 1500-word essay before the checks are sent. The essay will define socialism; compare and contrast it with other systems; provide current and historical examples; and examine ways in which socialism may (or may not) co-exist with democracy, capitalism and free markets.

And that’s my compromise position. In the world of Tyrannous Lex, such an exercise would be required for even conversational use of the word.

You’re probably not getting many “keep up the good work” letters these days. But this voter completely understands your position on this matter. As they say on the internet, don’t feed the trolls.

Best of luck on your return to the fetid swamp of philosophical depravity that is our nation’s capitol,


As it happens, these days I'm reading Penelope Fitzgerald's interesting book of reviews and essays called The Afterlife.* In her piece on William Morris's attitude toward women, she tells us that Morris treated women as people, though not quite as creative equals, and she tells us that Morris was outraged by the legal status of women which condemned them to the status of slaves.

As it also happens, he was England's first Marxist and — with support from Engels himself — leader of the Socialist League. His was a romantic anti-industrialism that had little place for government strong-arming or proletarian dictatorships.

Fitzgerald ends the piece with a definition Morris gave for socialist religion: "A determination to do nothing shabby...appears to me to be the socialist religion, and if it is not morality I do not know what is." She doesn't give her source for the quote, but instances of it are easy to find. Here's one:

THE November magazine number of the Outlook contains an unusally timely sketch of a visit to the late William Morris' factory, by R. F. Zueblin. This writer made for Merton Abbey, the haunt of the Morris artist-artisans, to find what part of the spirit of Morris' religion was there maintained. This religion is expressed in the poet artist-artisan's words, "I am an artist or workman, with a strong inclination to exercise what capacities I may have, and a determination to do nothing shabby, if I can help it; or if I do anything shabby, to admit that I have done so, and be sorry for it. This appears to me to be the socialist religion." Morris' idea of the right kind of living and working is expressed in such texts as this: "It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do; and which should be done under such conditions as would make it neither wearisome nor very anxious. In a properly ordered state of society every man willing to work should be insured: First, honorable and fitting work; second, a healthy and beautiful house; third, full leisure for rest of mind and body."

It was in 1861 that Morris and Burne-Jones and Rossetti formed an art firm which was to hold up the honor of labor and the glory of thoroughness. How has this ideal been realized at Merton Abbey? The visitor who writes in the Outlook marks a new note in factory existence before leaving the station. The porter directs them to the Morris plant not by way of any gigantic smokestack, sooty clouds or jangling noises, but with the sentence: "You see all those trees? Go right straight in through them, you will find it."...

[The piece concludes:] These craftsmen at Merton Abbey are paid the highest wages known to the trade. They work eight hours each day, and these visitors decided that they were realizing the claims of a decent life as Mr. Morris has stated them: "First, a healthy body; second, an active mind in sympathy with the past, the present and the future; third, occupation fit for a healthy body and an active mind, and, fourthly, a beautiful world to live in."
-- The Review of reviews, Volume 14 (NY, 1896)
As a Social Security recipient, if required to write a 1500-word essay on socialism, I think I'd use this historical footnote as a bit of meaningful context.

{Penelope Fitzgerald; source:}

{William Morris's workshops: upstream at Merton Abbey Mills; source:}

{Bart Stupak's district is one of the largest and least-densely populated in the US. One hopes that if our country boasts any place where it is possible to realize Morris's socialist ideal of a decent life it is within this rural landscape. This photo shows a small part of it — Grise Lighthouse on Lake Superior, Upper Peninsula of Michigan; source:}

* The title alludes to a famous quote by John Milton:
Books ... contain a potency of life in them.... He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
This is true Liberty when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserv's high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a State then this?
-- Euripides, The Suppliants

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