Partying Like it's 1899

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At the risk of hastening my degeneration into a full-on Kristologist, I found the latest New York Times effort from Mr. National Greatness to be yet another fascinating example of bizarre Victorian longing, this time in the form of Bill Kristol selectively quoting George Orwell's famous essay on colonial writer Rudyard Kipling in an attempt to defend modern Republican foreign policy. Excerpt:

[Orwell wrote that] Kipling "identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition."

"In a gifted writer," Orwell remarks, "this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality." Kipling "at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like." For, Orwell explains, "The ruling power is always faced with the question, 'In such and such circumstances, what would you do?', whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions." Furthermore, "where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly."

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell's argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

"Vulgarize" is the word. Read the whole source essay, which is both a defense of Kipling against charges of fascism and an arm's-length attempt to understand his enduring literary qualities, and you'll see that in the same paragraph Kristol quotes from, Orwell describes Kipling's worldview as "false," his political judgment as "warped," and his emotional sell-out "to the British government class" as the factor that "led him into abysses of folly and snobbery." Some other choice Orwell verbiage about the "vulgar flagwaver":

It is no use claiming, for instance, that when Kipling describes a British soldier beating a 'nigger' with a cleaning rod in order to get money out of him, he is acting merely as a reporter and does not necessarily approve what he describes. There is not the slightest sign anywhere in Kipling's work that he disapproves of that kind of conduct—on the contrary, there is a definite strain of sadism in him, over and above the brutality which a writer of that type has to have. Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives […]

Kipling belongs very definitely to the period 1885-1902. The Great War and its aftermath embittered him, but he shows little sign of having learned anything from any event later than the Boer War. He was the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase 

Is there any rhetorical minefield as deadly to the political commentariat than digging up useful bon mots from the former Eric Blair? 

NEXT: Not In His Backyard!

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  1. Wasn’t Kipling the inventor of the phrase “White Man’s Burden?” I do know he wrote a loathsome poem in favor of racial segregation; something about “keeping all wheat of one sheaf, and all grapes of one vine, lest the children turn their teeth on bitter bread and wine” or some such bullshit.

  2. Great writer though.

  3. Wasn’t Kipling the inventor of the phrase “White Man’s Burden?”

    Yup, that’s the asshole.

  4. This one makes me chuckle grimly:

    Awake! Young Men of England
    by Eric Blair (George Orwell)
    1914

    OH! give me the strength of the Lion,
    The wisdom of Reynard the Fox
    And then I’ll hurl troops at the Germans
    And give them the hardest of knocks.

    Oh! think of the War Lord’s mailed fist,
    That is striking at England today:
    And think of the lives that our soldiers
    Are fearlessly throwing away.

    Awake! Oh you young men of England,
    For if, when your Country’s in need,
    You do not enlist by the thousand,
    You truly are cowards indeed.

  5. [McCain] is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives

  6. Orwell knew how to insult somebody with style, that’s for sure.

  7. Tis a shame that a man with such a fine and full mustache was such a simpleton racist. He should have been forced to shave.

  8. Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
    By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

  9. Elemenope,

    Some think that the poem in question was satire.

  10. Some think that the poem in question was satire.

    Those people tend to be confined to the group that has never read anything else that he wrote or said about politics.

    Kipling makes himself pretty clear (repeatedly, and with feeling) that he believes in the superiority of White Folk (and more specifically, British White Folk) and that any obligation those folks owe to any other would be out a sense of noblesse oblige, and never a transaction amongst equals.

  11. “Some other choice Orwell verbiage about the “vulgar flagwaver”

    The flag that Kristol waves is the 5 pointed Star of David flag.

  12. Kipling makes himself pretty clear (repeatedly, and with feeling) that he believes in the superiority of White Folk (and more specifically, British White Folk)

    The world would be poorer without all the chavs.

  13. Elemenope,

    Kipling makes himself pretty clear (repeatedly, and with feeling) that he believes in the superiority of White Folk (and more specifically, British White Folk) and that any obligation those folks owe to any other would be out a sense of noblesse oblige, and never a transaction amongst equals.

    Oh my god! It almost sounds like Kipling lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and like everybody of the day, Western and non-Western alike held his own culture superior to that of others. Worse, it sounds like he suffered from that particular form of racism shared by virtually the entire length and breadth of Western society of the day!

    Oh, wait.

    Kipling’s reputation has suffered the same fate all others who fell out of favor with Leftist intellectuals. His actually words are hidden, he is taught without context and the unstated assumption that the progenitors of Leftist thought in the day felt assumption remains unexamined.

  14. The world would be poorer without all the chavs.

    Well somebody has to buy Burberry.

  15. Standards of the time are indeed important. That’s why I only ever criticize Americans who owned slaves after 1865.

  16. The problem with the claim that Kipling was an unalloyed racist is, of course, the poem Gunga Din, where Din is a better man than any white and is proclaimed to be so, or the poem Fuzzy Wuzzy, where he marvels at the men who broke a better-armed British infantry square.

    Kipling was an imperialist because he believed in the lies the imperial regime told to justify itself. That makes him better than Kristol, who helps to invent the lies that an imperial regime is telling to try to justify itself. Kipling is more like someone who supports the Iraq war because they think we’re sincerely trying to help the Iraqis. Think of him as an RC Dean, not as a Norman Podhoretz.

  17. “Some other choice Orwell verbiage about the “vulgar flagwaver”

    The flag that Kristol waves is the 5 pointed Star of David flag.

    Kim is code for “jew”

  18. A belief that enlightened white people have a duty to rule the rest of the world by force in order to improve it, and a pre-WW1 romantic image of war as a Great National Project.

    Yup, I can see how Kristol would go for Kipling.

  19. Worse, it sounds like he suffered from that particular form of racism shared by virtually the entire length and breadth of Western society of the day!

    Good point.

    So what’s your excuse?

  20. Matt Welch,

    Well, I suppose you will purging from all your writings any observations from say Washington, Jefferson, Newton, Lincoln or pretty much every human being who came of age before, say 1920? After all, they were all racist, cultural chauvinist etc as well and as such can not possibly have any insight into universal human social dynamics such as the conflict between those who do and those who talk.

    Your myopia about the war blinds you to the fact that the dynamic that Kipling described is the same that makes people who never had any responsibility for running a business nevertheless are passionately convinced that they could do a much better job. People who do not actually have day-to-day responsibility in any area, never have their ideas tested and are therefor given to flights of fancy.

    We only really learn by empiricism. No responsibility means not experimentation and experimentation means no reliable information. It just that simple.

  21. Kipling’s reputation has suffered the same fate all others who fell out of favor with Leftist intellectuals.

    Has it really? I think Orwell’s much more savage toward him than most folk are nowadays, and I for one enjoyed his work growing up without anyone telling me I wasn’t supposed to. But then, I’m not remotely familiar with literary academia.

  22. Well, I suppose you will purging from all your writings any observations from say Washington, Jefferson, Newton, Lincoln or pretty much every human being who came of age before, say 1920?

    Well, to be fair here, I actually would not take advice from any of these men on the issue of race relations.

    That means that it’s perfectly OK for me to state that while I find Kipling entertaining, the fact that he heartily endorsed the practices of a racist empire means that I might not want to look to him for advice about our own foreign policy. Unless, of course, I’m in the market for a racist empire. Now I know that you are probably in the market for that, but I’m not.

  23. Kipling’s reputation has suffered the same fate all others who fell out of favor with Leftist intellectuals. His actually words are hidden, he is taught without context and the unstated assumption that the progenitors of Leftist thought in the day felt assumption remains unexamined.

    The reality of Kipling is that his views on race are more in line with Joe’s view and the Democrats then he would care to admit.

    Joe sees himself as the savor of the lower races. Kipling saw himself as the same.

    The left do not like Kipling because he was not a leftist…not because he was a racist.

  24. Well, I suppose you will purging from all your writings any observations from say Washington, Jefferson, Newton, Lincoln or pretty much every human being who came of age before, say 1920?

    Huh?

  25. Shannon Love,

    People (including fellow Britons) during Kipling’s own time criticized him for his social and political attitudes.

    Well, I suppose you will purging from all your writings any observations from…

    Who exactly wrote anything about “purging?” I certainly won’t be getting rid of my copy of Kim.

  26. Not everyone learns (by empiricism or otherwise). Witness Maximum Dear Leader Comrade Bush’s speech a few years ago praising the conquest of the Phillipines and holding it up as an example of what Iraq would be like.

    Incidentally, Kipling wrote “White Man’s Burden” explicitly to encourage Americans to engage in the oppression and mass murder of Filipinos at a time when there was a debate here on whether to _actually_ liberate them, having just fought a war with the Spanish using that excuse.

  27. Look, let’s all just admit that Kipling’s era was a great time to be alive…if you were a white male. Can’t fault him for living it up, right?

  28. Kipling’s era was a great time to be alive

    Especially if you had a bustle fetish.

  29. Look, let’s all just admit that Kipling’s era was a great time to be alive…if you were a white male.

    A rich upper class white male. Which, come to think of it, still holds true today. No wonder he still has admirers.

  30. The Gods of the Copybook Headings

    As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
    I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
    Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

    We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
    That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
    But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
    So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

    We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
    Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place;
    But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
    That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

    With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
    They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
    They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
    So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

    When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
    They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
    But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
    That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four-
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man-
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:-
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will bum,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    [Some people wonder why the Left doesn’t like Kipling. Well, it’s for the same reasons they don’t like Ronald Reagan, or Milton Friedman, or James Dobson, or George W. Bush – it’s because they’re clear-headed, common-sense men who tell the truths that liberals, in their Communist-utopian fantasy lands, don’t want to hear. I particularly recommend the verses about gun control, socialism and the decline of the traditional family. -ed]

  31. Kristol is fucking clown shoes. The Peter Principle in action.

    W is a “clear-headed, common-sense man who tells the truth”?

    I want some of whatever you’re smoking…

  32. “Well, it’s for the same reasons they don’t like Ronald Reagan, or Milton Friedman, or James Dobson, or George W. Bush – it’s because they’re clear-headed, common-sense men”

    Friedman – yes
    Reagan – to a certain extent
    Dobson and Bush clearheaded? Nooooooooooo!

  33. “Good point.

    So what’s your excuse?”

    Cheap shot.

  34. I should note that this type of temporal bigotry gets under my skin because it is exactly the same kind of argument that creationist use to try to discredit evolutionary theory. They point to the views of Darwin and other 19th scientist that would undeniably qualify as racist today and from that fact claim that therefore evolutionary theory is inherently racist.

    The fact that theist of the day advanced the idea that negros sprang from the union of cain and an ape or that they had ordered lifeforms and human races into a “Great Chain of Being” with the blackest at the bottom and the whitest at the top is never mentioned.

    It just like Marxist never like to admit that Marx was a passionate advocate of colonialism because he thought it would speed the predestined evolution of all human cultures to the same communist universal culture.

    Unlike his modern critics who wallow in ignorant romanticism about non-Western cultures, Kipling saw first hand the horrors of tribal and ethnic warfare, the tyranny of kings and the poverty of medieval economies. He thought colonialization brought peace, law and development. Looking at post colonial development patterns. He was probably correct.

    Today of course we would rather stand back and let a genocide like Rwanda happen rather than be accused of racism or interference. We let despotic kleptocrats loot counties to the point of starvation rather than stand so accused.

    I doubt future generations will hold us in any better favor than many today hold Kipling.

  35. Matt Welch,

    If you, or Orwell, is going to discredit a single discrete observation of Kiplings simply because he had other ideas of which you disapprove, I think you well have to do the same for other historical figures you might quote or borrow from.

  36. I doubt future generations will hold us in any better favor than many today hold Kipling.

    Based on didoes like our Iraq adventure, I doubt future generations will have any reason to.

  37. Shannon Love,

    Do you realize that the Bolsheviks in part justified their various methods of terror based on the abuses and ugliness of the various colonial regimes?

    He thought colonialization brought peace, law and development.

    What sort of peace, law and development did the mass starvation (by millions) suffered by the Indians in the 1880s bring to India? What sort of peace, law and development was fostered by the genocidal practices in the Belgian Congo in the 1890s?

    If one is going to defend colonialism and imperialism then one better be rather prepared to defend the deaths of millions at the hands of metropole policies and dictates.

  38. I know I’ve asked this before, but have there ever been any really good people?

  39. Ken Hager,

    Incidentally, Kipling wrote “White Man’s Burden” explicitly to encourage Americans to engage in the oppression and mass murder of Filipinos at a time when there was a debate here on whether to _actually_ liberate them, having just fought a war with the Spanish using that excuse.

    Actually, the debate was whether America had acquired responsibility for the Philippines by defeating Spain or whether we could just leave them to be colonized by Germany.

    I guess in fantasy land being a colony of Germany or descending into brutal ethnic warfare would have been better than being a protectorate of the US but back in the real world probably not.

    Also, I don’t really see the phrase “mass murder” in “White Man’s Burden”. I think you might be projecting a little there.

  40. Shannon Love,

    It just like Marxist never like to admit that Marx was a passionate advocate of colonialism because he thought it would speed the predestined evolution of all human cultures to the same communist universal culture.

    It is well known that Marx thought that colonialism was part of the historical process by which the colonized were granted the benefits of the Enlightenment. Indeed, he makes arguments like that in The German Ideology if I am not mistaken. What that has to do with this discussion I cannot say (particularly since I doubt that there are many Marxists witnessing this discussion).

  41. hai hai guyz what goin on

    OMG Marx was a colonialist!?!?!?

  42. What sort of peace, law and development did the mass starvation (by millions) suffered by the Indians in the 1880s bring to India? What sort of peace, law and development was fostered by the genocidal practices in the Belgian Congo in the 1890s?

    To understand this, you need to read “The Big Bad Wolf,” written sometime in the 20s by the late Don Marquis. An excerpt:

    it is no wonder that the edible animals
    are afraid of wolves and love men so
    when a pig is eaten by a wolf
    he realizes that something is wrong with the world
    but when he is eaten by a man
    he must thank god fervently
    that he is being useful to a superior being
    it must be the same way
    with a colored man who is being lynched
    he must be grateful that he is being lynched
    in a land of freedom and liberty
    and not in any of the old world countries
    of darkness and oppression

  43. Shannon Love,

    I guess in fantasy land being a colony of Germany or descending into brutal ethnic warfare would have been better than being a protectorate of the US but back in the real world probably not.

    So basically there is no way Aguinaldo could have succeeded in creating a viable government there?

  44. Isn’t it our nature to fight each other? We are 6 billion + so we have to thin the herd somehow. Disease is not handling us fast enough. War is what we do. It seems like it is part of survival of the fittest, but we use our brains (to build weapons) and hatred instead of quickness, strength, and hunger.

    We’re doomed.

  45. Nick’ll be here all week at the Komedy Klub, folks. Please tip your waitresses.

  46. Good catch, Matt.

    I found this interesting, though:

    substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition

    I think most libertarians like republicans [a little] better when they were the opposition.

  47. Kipling was a straight up racist bastard. But the bastard could spin a rattling good yarn.

    Kristol is just a bastard. Fuck him.

    Oh and Bookworm, you know the Star of David has six points right? Or did I miss something?

  48. Regardless of the merits or lack thereof of Kipling, my problem is with Kristol’s appropriation of Orwell’s argument that the party in power has to act and take responsibility, while the opposition doesn’t. Taken to its logical conclusion, such an argument could serve to justify any action of the party in power, wouldn’t it?

    So, when Hillary put together her national health care package back in ’93, that argument could have been used against the Republican opposition, right?

  49. i think it’s good to have Kristol as an NYT columnist. let him freely air out his nonsense for all to see.

    many Leftists, both romanticizing western ones and indigenous che guevara types, over-reacted against colonialism and imperialism in word and deed, giving ammunition to colonialist apologists everywhere. just like how overweening, holier-than-thou, fear-mongering environmentalists’ exxageration of facts and advocacy of unworkable statist schemes led right-wingers to ignore for many years the more sensible arguments about industrial humanity’s damaging effect on its environment; throw out the message with the messenger, or guilt-by-association. this sort of approach always obscures the facts at hand.

    which are: colonialists came to places like India explicitly to exploit the land and workforce there, to expropriate whatever they could by force, not primarily to bring the light of Christianity or whatever, and this was reflected in the treatment the indigenous land and people received. just because the natives in some areas may have been engaged in tribal warfare or other backwards practices does not justify violent outside take-over! (although it certainly enabled it.) it takes true moral relativism to justify it in that way.

  50. Oh and Bookworm, you know the Star of David has six points right? Or did I miss something?

    Maybe he has them confused with the Wiccan Homeland.

  51. Kipling should be read in context, naturally, and of course one can still appreciate his writing – it’s usually a good thing to hold moralizing judgement of distant others in realistic check – but that doesn’t mean the guy was essentially right about White Man’s Burden. Look at the history, and get a grip.

    Chris Potter, good point. This shows how much of a pure authoritarian Kristol and his ilk are. Bereft of ideas.

  52. The Wiccan Homeland is a dangerous place to visit, what with the Zoroastrians claiming right of return and all the suicide-baptists hosing down innocent pagans in the streets.

  53. Family walks into a talent agency….

  54. Joe sees himself as the savor of the lower races

    Rest assured, joshua, no one will ever make the mistake of thinking you wish to address racial oppression.

  55. I know I’ve asked this before, but have there ever been any really good people?

    Of course. Me. Send a small donation to cover shipping and handling and I’ll send you proof.

  56. If you, or Orwell, is going to discredit a single discrete observation of Kiplings simply because he had other ideas of which you disapprove, I think you well have to do the same for other historical figures you might quote or borrow from.

    Right. Well, I didn’t do that, so we’ll leave Jefferson be for the moment. Despite his total Louisiana Purchase.

  57. Meant to add “sellout” at the end there.

  58. I used to claim to like Kipling’s work because I know how much it pisses off leftists. Now I just tell them (truthfully) that I like South Park. Not quite as effective, but it’s getting there.

  59. “good people” does not scale.

  60. Rest assured, joshua, no one will ever make the mistake of thinking you wish to address racial oppression.

    Regulating the guns, property, businesses, schools and lives of minorities and minority communities into poverty is not racial oppression?

    Sorry Joe it is you and your party that fail at addressing racial oppression.

  61. I, for one, would love to see William Kristol subside into a weird Neo-Victorian dotage — explaining each week why a different dusty author proves the superiority of Republicans. WFB is getting old, after all.

  62. The Man Who Would Be King (at least the movie version) always struck me as a veiled slam against English imperalism.

  63. If Kristol’s caught out on Afghanistan’s plains
    Lacking a rifle as well as some brains
    He’ll just file his column and dine at Elaine’s
    The Times is no paper for soldiers.

  64. “I used to claim to like Kipling’s work because I know how much it pisses off leftists. Now I just tell them (truthfully) that I like South Park. Not quite as effective, but it’s getting there.”

    Ah, yes, Southpark. Now *that’s* art. And it doesn’t have any racially insensitive material or anything else offensive.

  65. I liked the movie version of *The Man Who Would Be King* when Sean Connery tried to play a Cockney.

  66. Mad Max
    I would point out that most of the “racially insensitive” material in South Park is making fun of racists. The rest is making fun of people who consider “insensitivity” the most heinous of crimes. While “the Death Camp of Tolerance” was a little hokey, I can believe the parts about people preaching “tolerance”, when they really mean “unquestioning, uncritical acceptance” being complete douches. I’ve met them, and I really do hate them more than there counterparts on the right.

  67. I am waiting for Kristol’s article on why Obama is bad for Israel and the Jews. It’s bound to come.

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