Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prof. Donald Davidson, Critic and Prophet

You never heard of Prof. Donald Davidson, did you? Fortunately, Russell Kirk did.

Turns out that not only was Davidson a fierce critic of Leviathan, but a prophet.

In our own time, the metropolitan critics are making national prescriptions that are equally partial, though somewhat more confused. In one sentence they assure us that the industrial unification of America is desirable and inevitable; [ever hear the term "high-tech industries?] but in the next sentence they declare that the civilization thus produced puts upon us an intolerable spiritual bondage from which the artist cannot escape save through the shibboleths of Marxism and Freudianism. Wearily, they proclaim that America is standardized; but angrily they scorn the rural backwardness of regions that prove to be, after all, less urban than New York. Confidently they announce that America must be industrialized; but they sneer at Mr. Babbitt of the Middle West, the creature of industrialism. [Now that's changed; they instead sneer at basic manufacturing.] They urge the provinces to adopt the intellectual sophistication of the Eastern metropolis; but among themselves they bewail the poverty of the modem temper, which in its sophistication has left them nothing to enjoy. Prof. Donald Davidson, The Attack on Leviathan, 1938 quoted by Russell Kirk

Davidson also had some penetrating comments on the Rooseveltian/Johnsonian Leviathan--even though LBJ was still selling advertising for his radio station and fixing local elections at the time.

In 1938, long before the administration of Lyndon Johnson popularized the slogan “The Great Society,” Davidson wrote that his Leviathan is “the idea of the Great Society, organized under a single, complex, but strong and highly centralized national government, motivated ultimately by men’s desire for economic welfare of a specific kind rather than their desire for personal liberty.”

Donaldson went on to prophesy about such folks as Scott Walker, Palin and Bachmann, too, not to mention the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Can principles enunciated as Southern principles, of whatever cast, get a hearing?” he inquired in The Attack on Leviathan. “ . . . It seems to be a rule that the more special the program and the more remote it is from Southern principles, the greater the likelihood of its being discussed and promulgated. Southerners who wish to engage in public discussion in terms that do not happen to be of common report in the New York newspapers are likely to be met, at the levels where one would least expect it, with the tactics of distortion, abuse, polite tut-tutting, angry discrimination and so on down to the baser devices of journalistic lynching which compose the modern propagandist’s stock in trade. This is an easy and comparatively certain means of discrediting an opponent and of thus denying him a hearing. It is also a fatal means. For if such approaches to public questions are encouraged and condoned, then confusion has done its work well, the days of free and open discussion of ideas is over in the South, only matters of crass expediency can come into the public forum at all, and we face the miserable prospect of becoming the most inert and passive section of the United States, or else of falling into blind and violent divisions whose pent-up forces will hurl us at each other’s throats. Then will Jefferson’s prophetic vision come true. We shall take to eating one another, as they do in Europe.

Or "eating the rich," which is a short-term alternative.

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