Art

"We know that all governments/ Are thugs and liars"

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At the American Conservative, Justin Raimondo presents an impassioned encomium to antiwar poet Robinson Jeffers, whose publisher Random House once felt "compelled to go on record with its disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in this volume"–mostly because of "frequent damning references" to FDR.

Raimondo sums up the reaction to the 1946 volume of verse in question, Jeffers's The Double Axe:

The chorus of jeers that rose up from the critics was deafening: "A necrophilic nightmare!" declared Time magazine. "His violent, hateful book is a gospel of isolationism carried beyond geography, faith or hope," scolded the Library Journal. The Milwaukee Journal concurred: "In this truculent book, Robinson Jeffers … makes it clear that he feels the human race should be abolished." His critical reputation shattered on the rocks of the postwar One-World consensus, the poet never regained his former stature. As William Everson wrote in the foreword to the 1977 edition: "Hustled out of decent society with antiseptics and rubber gloves, The Double Axe was universally consigned to oblivion, effectively ending Jeffers' role as a creditable poetic voice during his lifetime."

…………

The poet Stanley Kunitz warned Jeffers that if he didn't get with the program, and "accept moral obligations and human values," he would "range himself on the side of the destroyers." The Marxist critics of the New Masses and the fellow-traveling press, who had initially embraced Jeffers's poetry because they mistook it for an indictment of "decadent" capitalism, noted his lack of "social consciousness"—and, of course, disdained his antiwar stance, which no longer suited the party line.

Jeffers' values were far more human and humane than his critics, who judged "humanity" solely on enthusiastic support for world wars, granted, and his work was grand and wide in subject and language far beyond the antiwar and nature-worshipping for which he is most remembered.

For just one example of Jeffers' exquisite craft, "Love the Wild Swan" is the perfect poem for any writer who wonders whether he'll ever get it right, and if it matters. Jeffers took seriously the task of works of art and imagination, which, as he wrote in his "Roan Stallion," "without being are yet more real than what they/are born of, and without shape, shape that which/makes them."

NEXT: Aleya and the Huckabee

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  1. I have been rather dismissive of Raimondo’s opinions ever since he wrote some pretty idiotic stuff earlier in this decade which illustrated a deliberate ignorance of how the military actually works (yes he’s ‘anti-war,’ I get it). I can’t even remember anymore if it was commentary on the Cole, the Greeneville/Ehime Maru, or the China/EP-3 incidents, but it was around this time, and demostrated he was a hack more interested in demolishing straw-men to satisfy his preconceptions, rather than a reasoned (drink?) discourse on the the pros and cons of various military & foreign policy choices.

  2. Why don’t you guys link an article praising Ezra Pound? He was just a brilliant as Jeffers. The number of fleas Reason collects by sleeping with the paleocons rises once again.

  3. A single misstep earned Raimondo’s entire gig a lasting exile from your reading list?

    exclusive list, that

  4. The number of fleas Reason collects by sleeping with the paleocons rises once again.

    ?

  5. Warty,

    The peleocon isolationists are a generally nasty lot who end up doing things like saying WWII was an injust war fought to save Soviet Communism and the like. Why Reason is so derranged by their hatred of Bush that they would allow themselves to be assocated with them is beyond me.

    Jeffers was actually a really briliant poet. He was also a complete fool and a moral midget who was unable to see the moral difference between the US and Nazi Germany. His “I would not life a finger to see either side win” stance on the World War II earned him every bit of scorn he recieved.

  6. ?

    Paleoconservatism tends to come with an “of fools” attached.

  7. Ah. My lack of erudition fails me once again.

  8. John, is my sarcasmograph atwitter or did you just seriously recommend Pound over Jeffers and then turn around and criticize Jeffers patriotism?

    as for motivated by Bush hatred, this post seems perfectly in line with much of Jesse’s posts, which often do prize localism over internationalism, hence a paleoconservative intersection.

  9. Matt,

    I am not reccomending Pound over Jeffers, although Pound was arguably just a brilliant as Jeffers. Of course Jeffers as far as I know was never an anti-semite and never embraced Nazism. That said, his pox on both houses opinion of WWII was only a step or two better than Pound’s Nazism.

  10. I’m unimpressed by Jeffers’ ponderous invective. And I’m struck by the moral blindness of anyone who was indifferent to the prospect of a Nazi Europe, as Jeffers was. Shockingly, I think today’s world is far better than the pre-WWI heaven that Jeffers dreamed of.

  11. “The peleocon isolationists are a generally nasty lot who end up doing things like saying WWII was an injust war fought to save Soviet Communism and the like.”

    Um… what? I’m far from a paleo, but what you said about WW2 is absolutely true. Apparently you confuse accurate reading of wars with being a paleo, which seems to be a compliment to paleos.

  12. Francis Tremblay,

    Hitler have every intention of taking over both Britain and the United States after he was done with Russia. Given the immense resources available to him after he controlled all of Europe and Russia, it is difficult to imagine him not succeeding, especially had the US followed the views of people like Jeffers.

    As far as World War II saving Soviet Communism, fascism and Communism were really just two sides of the same coin, the same hatred of the market, the same hatred of freedom and Democracy, the same or even worse aggressive tendencies. As bad as it was having the Soviets rule half of Europe, it would have been even a hundred times worse having all of Europe ruled by the Nazis.

    Further, without World War II, there would have been no Manhattan Project. It is pretty safe to assume that left unmolested with Europe under his boot, Hitler would have eventually developed the bomb. Had the US listened to Jeffers, it never would have.

    To see World War II as injust requires a complete moral blindness, both the positive attributes of the free west and to the evils of Nazism. At heart I think Peleocons just can’t bring themselves to admit the Nazis were just as bad or worse than the Soviets. It always boils down to the same “well they only wanted to kill the Jews and Communists” bullshit. I am very sorry for you in that you have been infected with their views.

  13. The paleos do seem to be preoccupied with justifying WWII isolationism. Quit living in the past!

  14. If anyone thinks Nazi Germany would have left the western hemisphere alone after conquering Europe, its best to ignore anything else they say about history. They’re either dishonest or ignorant.

    BTW, the same goes for people who try to compare Al Qaeda to Nazi Germany.

  15. Another calvalcade of ignorance from the readers of Reason. Reading the pompous blowhards on this thread, it’s no wonder Jeffers thought the human race a blight.

    World War II was a continuation of World War I — a war we had no business being in. Those wars gave us the 20th century — oceans of blood, years of tyranny.

    Hitler and Stalin would have destroyed each other, if we had let them. Our reward for not doing so: half a century of the “cold war.”

    You want “fleas,” John? Go lay down with your friends in the War Party.

  16. World War II was a continuation of World War I — a war we had no business being in. Those wars gave us the 20th century — oceans of blood, years of tyranny.

    World War I was certainly a stupid war for the United States to be involved in. If we should have done anything, it would have been to offer to negotiate a fair settlement. The war goals of Imperial Germany were to annex a strip of Belgium and Russian Poland–which was not a threat to American security by any stretch of the imagination. Our involvement in it allowed the Allies to impose a very vindictive treaty which aided Hitlers rise.

    The war goals of Nazi Germany, on the other hand, involved the complete territorial domination of Europe from Portugal to the Urals. Even if we had stayed out, and the Soviet Union had won, that would have meant Communism in all of Europe, not just the Eastern half. If you think having an extremely aggressive power controlling all of Europe isn’t a threat to American interests or security, I don’t know what is.

    Again, Islamic terrorism doesn’t come anywhere near the magnitude of that threat, neocon blustering aside.

  17. Zing! for Raimondo.

    Tangentially connected:
    I am on the side that people like John call “isolationist,” but I watched one of the “Why We Fight” movies the other night on the Documentary Channel, and I was ready to enlist to fight the fascists when it was over. That was some gooood propaganda.

  18. The “war goals” of both Hitler and Stalin were truly scary, yes — and equally impossible. Hitler could never have held his “empire” together, and as for the prospect of a Soviet Europe: this “achievement” would have merely accelerated the process that ended with the fall of the Berlin wall. Naziism victorious would have lasted a few years, at most: Hitler and his successors would have been crushed under the weight of their own evil before very long. The Soviets, too, were doomed from the start, and for the same reason.

    My answer, of course, is far inferior to Jeffers’s:

    “Powerful and armed, neutral in the midst of madness, we might have held / the whole world’s balance and stood / Like a mountain in a wind.”

  19. Yeah,

    Do nothing and Hitler would have taken care of himself. There is no point in argueing with nut like you Justin. There is absolutely no indication that Hitler couldn’t have held his empire together. Most of Europe was collaborating with him by 1941. Millions of Eastern Europeans fought for the Nazis. There never was any such thing as the French REsistance in any meaningful way. It is just a myth we keep for the sake of French dignity. There was however such a thing as Vichy France and millions of people all accross Europe who collaborated and supported the Nazis. Like most peleocons, your ignorance of history is astounding.

  20. There is absolutely no indication that Hitler couldn’t have held his empire together.

    Other than the fact that his own staff kept trying to assassinate him for incompetence.

    Hitler have every intention of taking over both Britain and the United States after he was done with Russia.

    Hitler never would have been done with Russia. Russia is the great white abyss that swallowed the Wermacht. The number of troops fighting on the Western Front was trivial by comparison, and would have made no difference in outcome if they had been moved to fight in the east. The Reich was doomed from the moment German boots touched Russian soil. America’s fight was ultimately to keep the Soviets out of Western Europe.

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