Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV: Culture, Humanities, and Freedom - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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IV: Culture, Humanities, and Freedom - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Culture, Humanities, and Freedom
The relationship between culture and the humanities, on the one hand, and freedom in the personal and social sense is intimate and pervasive. The poet Shelley celebrated the liberating and transformative power of imaginative art in the human psyche and acknowledged the artist as the true “legislator” of human values and politics. The insightful poet-mystic, William Blake, gave as a paradoxical apothegm, “Empire Follows Art & Not Vice Versa as Englishmen Suppose,” which exposed his deep distrust of direct political activity and his awareness of the social influence of art, literature, and the humanities in general.
In German, cultural history is revealingly termed Geistesgeschicht or history of the psyche. The psyche, the self as seat of human awareness, is the focal point not merely of human artistic expression, but also of the experience of human freedom. In a crucial sense freedom expresses itself most immediately in self-awareness and the self-responsibility to choose our personal values and our evaluation of our self and our relation to the world. The alternative to free choice is imprisonment to habit-like values and ideas, not of our choosing, which control us. The imaginative arts, by providing our consciousness with alternatives or reinforcing visions of reality awaken our awareness to deeper self-knowledge and arouse our minds to question our given set of values. What David Meltzer [The San Francisco Poets (1971), p. 4] says of poets may be extended to the liberating effect of all higher art: “The poet can give you new sight, new insight. His poem provides passage through thoughts & perception in order for you to see through the veils & know new meanings.
The poet is a revolutionary because he is constantly subverting corrupt institutional languages with his art. He can make the life-denying rhetoric of power politics void by singing one coherent, true song. The words connect in a man so that he stops & thinks.”
Each of the following summaries show directly or indirectly the challenge to conventional values or ideas in ethics or politics. Thus, the Schaefer summary shows how the questioning essay of Montaigne (“On Cruelty”) challenges the entire orientation of classical ethics with the alternative liberal values of earthly happiness and modernity. As Goldsmith’s summary points out, Mandeville carries forward Montaigne’s endorsement of the goodness of natural enjoyment and work and thereby rehabilitates the nature of careers in commercial and financial capitalism as vacating. Each of the remaining summaries deals with the vital issue of personal or political human freedom and the different cultural premises that support either freedom and servitude.
Montaigne: the Virtues of Modernity.
“The Good, the Beautiful, and the Useful: Montaigne’s Transvaluation of Values. “The American Political Science Review 73(March 1979):139–154.
Scholars have failed to appreciate the Essays of Montaigne (1533–1592) as a major work in the political philosophy of modernity. They neglect the political dimension of the Essays in the erroneous belief that Montaigne’s thought is too unsystematic to expound a consistent political teaching. The popular interpretation of the Essays sees Montaigne’s evolution from respect for classical learning and stoic virtue, through a “skeptical crisis,” to an “Epicurean” attitude of tolerant hedonism.
Schaefer challenges the dominant interpretation of Montaigne by analyzing his subtle criticism of classical “heroic” moral virtue, especially concentrating on Montaigne’s essay “Of Cruelty” (Essays II, XI). The seeming disunity of that essay actually conceals a carefully worked out political thought. Montaigne’s political intention is to challenge the classical understanding of morality and virtue and to replace it with a less demanding and more humane view of humanity. Montaigne seeks to revolutionize our understanding of morality and its relationship to politics. He would replace the classical morality based on “beauty” (requiring man to strive for some rigorous “divine” nature) by one of “utility” (requiring man to see his needs as similar to those of natural animals). This “transvaluation of values” is part of the foundations of “bourgeois” morality which characterizes modern liberal regimes. Montaigne’s moral-political teaching has led to the “secularist, egalitarian politics of modernity.”
Montaigne’s “On Cruelty” is an extensive critique of classical morality in its questioning of the nobility of Cato’s masochistic love of painful virtue, its horror at the cruelty practiced by Roman tyrants, its objection to the practice of torture by church and state authorities, and its encouragement of gentleness to fellow humans and even towards other animals. Montaigne’s disparages the heroic classical virtue whose aim of surpassing God turns man’s heart into a cruel, callous sensibility. It is more salutary to recognize mankind’s kinship to the beasts and to practice kindly terrestrial virtues. People admire the cruel virtue of Cato because of its “beauty,” which leads humanity to elevate itself self-destructively above the animal to the godlike. But is this other-worldly “beauty” of the soul the proper criteria for judging human conduct? Judgments of heavenly beauty are less reliable than judgments of earthly, human utility.
The root of these irrational and unscientific deficiencies in political life stems from classical morality’s perverse identification of the good with the (trans-human) beautiful and its equally perverse disjunction between the good and the useful. By contrast: Montaigne approves the humanly useful as just, honorable, and good. He rejects the morality and political philosophy “that demands the entire subordination of the private interest to the alleged public good, and that in fact results in the sacrifices of other people’s interests to those of the wicked.” Man’s virtue should be useful to his earthly interests and enjoyment of the present pleasures of life. His transvaluation of values would approve of tolerance, moderation, honesty, compassion, the abhorrence of cruelty, and a disinclination to meddle in other persons’ affairs. He preaches “selfishness” and indulgence in the bodily pleasures that privatize human beings and prevent them from aspiring beyond our natural concerns and utility.
Mandeville: the Culture & Virtue of Capitalism
“Mandeville and the Spirit of Capitalism.” The Journal of British Studies 17(Fall 1977):63–81.
Bernard de Mandeville (1670–1733) pioneered in rehabilitating the negative moral image of capitalist money-making and thus contributed to the emergent culture of commercial modernity. Mandeville invented the positive moral and literary image of the man who enjoys the vocation of business and acquiring wealth in order to combat and satirize the “self-righteous censoriousness” of the prevalent ideology of “public virtue,” especially the version of that ‘virtue vs, commerce’ ideology expressed in early eighteenth century England in Richard Steele’s Tatler papers. Mandeville’s literary characters in the Female Tatler show that the pursuit of money-making is a moral and satisfying way of life which contributes to the general good of all. To oppose those who would “prescribe Rules of Happiness to every body else,” Mandeville invented and commended the “spirit of capitalism” and thereby helped to achieve a morally sympathetic hearing for commercial capitalism.
Most of the institutions of a commercial state capitalist economy—banks, stock market, credit financing, and a public debt—were introduced in England during the decade following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Bank of England, founded in 1694, was used not only to enlarge private commercial activity but also for public financing of King Williams’ and Queen Anne’s 19 years of wars between 1689–1714. Representatives of the older republican tradition of civic virtue opposed indiscriminately the cultural effects of the state war economy and stock-jobbing, as well as private money-making that were all mixed up in the hybrid public-private financial revolution. Thus the Tory Steele in his Tatler papers of 1709, Addison in the Spectator papers of 1711, and Swift in the Examiner attacked without distinctions the “moneyed interest” which they believed led to moral corruption rather than public virtue because of a lack of gentlemanly aristocratic virtues.
Against such opponents of the hybrid spirit of pub-private commercial modernity Mandeville wrote his Fable of the Bees in 1714. Although Mandeville’s specifically economic views were more mercantilist than laissez-faire, he notably endorsed and promoted the general spirit of capitalism. Mandeville openly delighted in trade and demonstrated the public benefits of such private so-called “vices” as luxury and money-making. In 1710, four years before his Fable of the Bees, Mandeville had defended the same spirit of capitalism as a respectable way of life in his Female Tatler. Thus, in the Female Tatler of 15 March 1710, the old merchant Laborio is sympathetically portrayed as one whose whole life is devoted to business and money-getting. In another issue of the Female Tatler, Mandeville depicts Urbano, who resembles Laborio, as a happy, respected commercial capitalist, one who “minds only himself, and lets every body else do as they please.” Mandeville urges his readers to relinquish the censoriousness and bias against money-making held by the civic virtue ideologists who pretended to have a monopoly on virtue and public spirit.
Melville on Slavery
“Benito Cereno and Legal Oppression: A Szaszian Interpretation.” Journal of Libertarian Studies 2, no. 4(Winter 1978):337–342.
We can illuminate the meaning of Herman Melville’s novella on the evils of slavery, Benito Cereno (1855), by considering Dr. Thomas Szasz’s insights on various forms of legal oppression, particularly his insights on American slavery and its “Psychological consequences for slave, slaveholder, and abolitionist.”
Melville dared to write Benito Cereno a decade before the Civil War to confront its audience with the realities of the legally and socially approved institution of slavery. The plot turns slavery upside down and depicts whites, for a time, as slaves of a band of African slaves. Transported as chattle on a South American slaver, San Dominick, the blacks have successfully mutinied, killed some whites, and now hold others hostage. The Chilean captain, Dom Benito Cereno, had previously and uncritically taken slavery for granted. His own reversed role as a helpless slave forces him to confront the true horror of human slavery. The black mutineers are eventually quelled but Cereno’s awakened psyche cannot now live with the moral outrage of human bondage and he wastes away.
The story depicts the nominally legal institution of slavery as a betrayal of humanity. The slaves commit the social crimes of mutiny and murder under their skillful leader Babo, but the society they threaten is one that has immorally institutionalized their oppression. Whereas Cereno comes to recognize the true evil of slavery, his foil, Captain Delano, blinded by a shallow optimism, fails to perceive the nature of Cereno’s moral distress after his rescue.
Dr. Szasz’s writings on human oppression help us understand the characters of the complaisant Captain Delano, the morally awakened Captain Cereno, and the slave Babo. Protected by a paternalistic justification for slavery, Delano indulges the slave master’s comforting stereotypes of the “merry Negro slave, happy in his bondage.” He is unconcerned with the ethical issue since the blacks seem a subhuman species. Bolstering the “normality” of such oppression are the legitimation given by economics and government laws protecting slavery.
Yet the master must live in constant fear of violence and revolt from such slaves as Babo. Perceiving his slavery as an oppressive relationship, Babo feels an obligation to revolt and emancipate himself and his fellows. To avoid internalizing his own degradation, the slave Babo is driven to plot a cruel revenge against his “master.” Evil institutions can pervert the ethical standards of even good men.
Melville’s Benito Cereno resembles Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest since both have the courage to attack strongly established legal oppression. Kesey’s novel indicts an often ignored modern version of slavery, the involuntary incarceration of mental patients by institutional psychiatry. Dr. Szasz allows us to be more sensitive to forms of legal oppression that continue to enslave humans today.
Melville and America: 1848
“Herman Melville: State, Civil Society, and the American 1848.” The Yale Review 69(Autumn 1979):72–88.
America in the nineteenth century suffered the dilemma of social and political inequality similar to that of feudal Europe, where the bourgeoisie faced the threat of social revolution, American destiny, with its continental expansion, had evolved from a pursuit of liberty and independence to economic prosperity. American society was becoming torn between a sentimental culture rooted in familism and egalitarianism, and marketplace imperatives which violated that sentiment.
The protracted social conflicts were finally addressed in Europe by Karl Marx; in America by Herman Melville.
Melville’s artistry attempts to weave various strands of meaning and value into the human condition, in a world where those values can have no ultimate stability. Melville used poignant symbolism to depict contemporary social issues in his prose.
Melville’s writings address the complexities of the human condition in the conflicts between self and society, free will and necessity, faith and doubt. In his masterpiece, Moby Dick, the white whale becomes a unifying symbol of meaning and contradiction. The whale typifies a myriad of ambiguities: colossal power and mildness, tumultuous fury and awesome beauty. The whale is a paradoxical symbol of all good and all evil, depending upon its viewers’ subjectivity, much like the paradox Melville perceived in the United States. In 1848 America was a country founded on the pursuit of liberty and civil rights, yet it had recently absorbed half of Mexico and continued to practice chattel slavery.
Melville concerned himself not solely with the emancipation from racial slavery, but also with the philosophic question of liberation from authority. For Melville, the victory of capitalism over slavery merely replaced the “whip” with the “wall.”
The politics of Wall Street erected not only separating walls between family and work, but also isolated men from meaning in their work, and trapped them within an unresponsive hierarchy by impersonal authority. The failure of politics to remove social flaws consigned Melville’s character, the worker Bartleby the Scrivener, to a slow death of alienation from humanity and meaning. His passive resistance, expressed in his phrase, “I prefer not to,” thwarted his employer’s cosmetic attempts to restore human bonds to the relationship of worker and employer.
Karl Marx found his hope for humanity in the working class, who he felt could eventually actualize the potential of the state to solve social problems. Unable to conceive of such social transformation, Herman Melville discovered his kind of political renewal in the Civil War, where the state returned to its primacy over civil contradictions. Fathers and Sons of the new Union became painfully reconciled, symbolized by the newly constructed “Iron Dome” of the Capitol Building. The “Iron Dome,” Melville wrote, “would be stronger for stress and strain.”
Prometheus, Love, and Liberty
“Shelley’s Prometheus: Destroyer and Preserver.” Studies in English Literature 18 (Fall 1978):625–638.
Prometheus Unbound (1819), the romantic poet Shelley’s lyrical drama, treats the themes of human perfectibility and freedom from force and tyranny achieved through the principle of love. In the four acts of his drama, Shelley declares “that nothing less than an unwavering, creatively imaginative concept of suffering, forgiveness, defiance of power, love, endurance, and hope can make humanity ‘Good, great, and joyous, beautiful and free.’”
Prometheus, for Shelley, is not a god or power outside mankind or outside the individual; he symbolizes, rather, the creative soul and highest potential of the human intellect and imagination latent within each person and within society. Yet at the drama’s opening, this symbol of man’s potential and freedom finds himself, through his own fault, chained and tortured by the tyrant god Zeus, who represents violence, hate vengeance and the power principle. Prometheus’ unfree condition is the result of his unloving, vengeful, violent and cursing response to Jupiter’s despotism. “Before he can be prepared to reanimate and preserve his imaginative creativity implicit in his reunion with Asia, Prometheus must recognize the need to destroy within himself the calculation- violence-power complex that has for so long motivated him.” Shelley’s personal, social, and political revolutionary process seeks to attain a new order of human existence based on love by exposing the essential identity of repressive violence and self-interested calculation.
It is only by Prometheus’ lovingly casting off his own “power-and vengeance-oriented principles” that he and mankind can break out of the cycle of hate and revenge. The human potential is in chains of hate that are of its own forging. Love and the new justice have nothing to do with cursing, vengeance, and power. This requires renouncing rationalistic retributive justice. Likewise the vision of Prometheus’ ability to liberate his potential rejects the “Puritan-Calvinistic notion of fallen man” forever condemned to suffering and subjugation by his very nature. Regeneration, freedom, and creativity are realizable if man chooses the principle of life-sustaining love against the death- principle of hatred, power, and violence. “The radicalism in this new approach is its quite clearly allowing for no participation in wars, assassinations, and executions— and for the presence of no prisons, legal property rights, social and racial class systems, political power blocks, or any other personal or societal concepts that are based on the principle of calculation.”
The political and personal liberation of mankind requires a mental and moral revolution to usher in a society of love and an order of “universal benign anarchy.” Shelley’s ideal of this creative revolution remains an open option for each human Prometheus to choose by transforming himself through a dedication to love and forgiveness.
Blake’s America: Liberation & Art
“Angels out of the Sun: Art, Religion, and Politics in Blake’s America.” Studies in Romanticism 18 (Summer 1979):235–252.
In the early 1790s the English artist, seer, and radical poet, William Blake (1757–1827), wrote two poems about the revolutions of his day, The French Revolution and America. America is Blake’s “most vehement political statement” in looking forward to a revolutionary renewal of English society. Though a difficult, symbolic poem, America is intended to perform a moral and social function in its art. In common with the romantic poet Shelley, Blake believed that “radical social transformation can be produced by the visionary renovation of consciousness.” Some critics, however, criticize the manner in which Blake’s mystical and literary flights make social and historical allusions in America difficult to identify and write off Blake’s mannerisms as a “retreat from realism” or “fear of persecution.” But this prosaic criticism “assumes that Blake saw history in the way that we do, and consequently, it presents Blake’s choice between making art and writing history as an absolute one.”
Blake’s view of history, however, differs from the prosaic mind which follows an ontological dualism that separates spirit from matter. Blake, living in a culture that discussed history and politics in moralistic and Biblical terms inherited from the English Civil War, “viewed the American Revolution as a sort of mass resurrection or secular apocalypse that would overthrow poverty and cruelty and establish a New Eden.” Blake’s holistic vision of reality did not distinguish between spiritual (artistic) truth and events in political history. In fact Blake’s America reveals that he was “literal” in seeing the American Revolution in terms of Biblical apocalypse and in viewing “political history as the outward sign of the impending Millenium.” Blakes’ chiliastic expectations were awakened by the crises in morals, religion, and government that derived from the seventeenth century millenarian tradition of radical English Puritan dissent which hoped to realize politically “the kingdom without” based religiously on “the kingdom within.” For Blake this tradition rejected any bifurcation of human experience into soul (good) and body (evil) or into spiritual and political revolution. In America, Blake identifies the conventionally separate realms of religion and politics and sees institutionalized religion as related to political tyranny.
Resembling The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake’s America identifies political liberation in eschatological terms and treats several levels of liberation from tyranny: “legal (the slave will be freed); personal (the ‘inchained soul’ will rise); and international (‘Empire is no more’).” In America, Blake’s holistic vision sees political, social, and psychological events as arising from a spiritual reality. Thus by absorbing material history into his spiritual perspective, America’s historical character George Washington and the metaphorical Orc co-exist as ontological equals.
Blake has transformed his source (Joel Barlow’s 1787 edition of The Vision of Columbus) because his intention in America is not to write material history but “metaphysical history.” “Blake sacrifices fidelity to details of the military and diplomatic maneuvers” of the American Revolution to achieve a deeper analysis of tyranny and liberation on all levels, including mental, physical, religious, and sexual. In America, Blake outwardly expressed his belief in the coincidence of spiritual and material realities by joining his intellectual and manual activity in the production of his poem since he illustrated the poem with pictures of his own design.
Thoreau on the Free Human Self
“God, Nature, and Personhood: Thoreau’s Alternative to Inanity.” Religion in Life 48(Spring 1979):101–113.
For Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), author of Walden and Civil Disobedience, transcendentalism was not an abstract ideology but an experiential way of life and freedom for the true human self. In each present moment he lived his convictions “deliberately” concerning intuitional knowledge of ultimate reality and the inherent divinity and goodness of the human soul. With his faith that the ultimates are immediately present in the here and now, Thoreau sought them in nature, in others, and in himself. Thoreau’s liberating view of human nature and the fulfillment of the human person can be seen in three principal convictions: (1) his belief in innate human divinity and capacity for the divine, (2) his affirmation of self-reliance as the basic method for achieving authentic existence, and (3) his optimism about the possibility of authentic existence. The content of these three convictions expresses Thoreau’s ideas on the nature of free persons.
Thoreau’s belief in our innate human divinity is analogous to his metaphysical views which discern two levels of reality—phenomenal and spiritual. In the human person these two levels correspond to our bodily nature and our spiritual nature. Thoreau, rejecting dualism, believed we are whole persons, body and souls, and that we should spiritualize our natural body. When Thoreau was imprisoned for his civilly disobedient refusal to pay a poll tax, he commented on the foolishness of the political functionaries who imprisoned him and believed they had thus captured his true self, whereas they imprisoned his body, not his meditative self. Thus, our real selfhood enables us to be free, to choose the good, and perceive true reality. True human freedom consists in liberating our true self from the bondage of the lower or animal nature. This is accomplished by exercising our awareness of higher reality and escaping the bondage of our dependence on luxuries and trivial things.
The affirmation of our self-reliance is the method by which we develop our true inner self. In Walden, Thoreau commends John Farmer whose sole concern was “to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect.” To awaken the slumbering true self and inner divinity in us, “we must allow our spiritual nature to emancipate us from bondage to the trivial and inane.” We practice the process of self-evaluation by conscious attention to our inner self to discover its potentiality. Thoreau’s exhortation to free our true self and follow our “genius” encourages us to have faith in ourselves. “It is an exhortation to self-identity, self-dependence, self-integration, and self-reliance. We must not rely upon the society for our principles and values.”
Thoreau’s optimism concerning authentic existence flows from his belief in our spiritual nature and its potentiality. “Meaningful life is possible, but everyone must seek it out. Some will not find it, because they will not look. But each day is a new day, with new opportunities to look.” First and last Thoreau was concerned with life—with a full, authentic, and free life deliberately lived in the present moment.
Zamyatin and the Self
“The Imagination and the ‘I’ in Zamjatin’s We.” Slavic and East European Journal 23(Spring 1979):51–62.
Literary critics have tended to disparage the novelistic qualities of We (1920), by the Russian author Yevgeny Zamjatin (or Zamyatin), and to view it instead as a kind of Mennipean satire (Northrop Frye’s phrase) in which characters serve mainly as mouthpieces for the author’s social ideas. On the contrary, Prof. Rosenshield sees the artistic merits of We, not so much in its social prophecies, as in its superb development of essential novelistic elements such as theme and character. Rosenshield analyzes the theme of imagination and, in particular, the transformation of the narrator, D-503, from mathematician to poet. In the course of his analysis, he shows how Zamjatin’s social ideas dissolve “into that experimental reality viewed by most critics as the essential stuff of the novel.”
In We, Zamjatin depicts the catalytic effect of a developing imagination upon the character of the narrator, who evolves from a number into a human being, from the builder of the missile Integral (the One State’s most ambitious technological effort) to its potential destroyer, from the wholly logical mathematician to the intuitive poet. This evolution is reflected in D-503’s diary, which is to contain a poem he is writing in praise of both the Integral and the ideals of the One State. However, according to Prof. Rosenshield, the diary not only reflects the transformation, it is also the catalyst through which the metamorphosis takes place. Through the effort of poetic creation, the narrator gradually discovers an entirely new dimension of his being—that of sense, feeling, and metaphor—which his wholly regimented society and its rule of absolute reason have done their best to obliterate.
Zamjatin employs the device of style to convey the subtle and often vacillating changes occurring within the narrator. D-503’s limpid, mathematical imagery is progressively infiltrated by an irrational language brought to birth by the very act of seeing and creating. To images of machinery and geometry are added (in increasing proportion) those of sun, color, motion, touch, and finally erotic sensibility. In this gradual development, Zamjatin depicts the birth of a soul, the genesis of an “I” as opposed to the “We.” The growing conflict between logic and intuition in D-503’s personality often emerges in the style of a single passage. An intuitive remembrance of “unbearably sweet lips” may be juxtaposed with the author’s bewildered but scientifically expressed feeling of being a planet in “some uncalculated orbit.”
Thus, through the techniques of the novel, Zamjatin demonstrates that the exercise of imagination is an individuating principle, the key to a myriad of possible worlds. The One State itself realizes this and will not tolerate escapes through fantasy from its perfect world. To counter this threat, the One State has devised an operation which destroys the brain center controlling the faculty of imagination. Forced to submit to the surgery, D-503 continues his diary. His style emerges more arid and mathematical than ever before.
Far from expressing his ideas in a fictional tract, therefore, Zamjatin uses the full richness of literary technique to develop his themes. Future critical studies of We will, in Prof. Rosenshield’s mind, confirm this view and will deepen our insights into Zamjatin’s consummate literary skills.
French Avant-garde Politics & Culture
“Anarchism, Action, and Malraux.” Twentieth Century Literature 24(Fall 1978):272–289.
Historians who wish to understand the intellectual and cultural-political climate in France after World War I, can profitably examine the avant-garde magazine Action. This short-lived literary alternative to André Breton’s Surrealism published only twelve issues between November, 1919 and May/June, 1922, but it was influential, served as one of the first outlets for the young André Malraux’s writings, and helps us perceive why Malraux rejected Breton’s Dada-Surrealist aesthetics.
Action was the brainchild of Florent Fels (b. 1893) whose military service in World War I confirmed his anti-militarism and made him sympathetic to the Individualist Anarchists. With roots reaching back to Condorcet, Rousseau, William Godwin, Max Stirner, and Proudhon, these anarchists were not the bomb-throwing stereotypes but idealists whose political vision was of a society in which “the individual would be free from all government coercion and restraint, his conduct being directed by a personal, inner moral commitment.” After 1850 many French artists and intellectuals supported the individualist current in anarchism to oppose the ultra-conservative bourgeois morality and to support the ideals of personal freedom and social justice. At the end of the nineteenth century numerous artists (such as Camille and Lucien Pissaro and the “Fauves”) and a majority of the Symbolists became associated with Individualist Anarchism. Beginning in 1892, the individualist anarchist monthly Entretiens politiques et littéraires received the support of Valéry and Remy de Gourmont. The Individualist Anarchists stressed personal liberty, experience, and pacifism.
After World War I, in 1919–1920, Fels instilled an individualistic tone in the first issues of Action: Cahiers individualistes de philosophie et d’art with his circle of contributing avant-garde intellectuals, anarchists, and writers. His aesthetic theory stressed psychological insight, free but disciplined expression of the heart, artistry, inspiration, and individualism. He opposed the undisciplined and socially destructive, contemptuous spirit of Breton’s Dada movement.
Reacting against the Dada aesthetics, Fels staged a “counter-manifestation” in 1920 to show other possibilities and new directions that were available for the evolution of a new literature and art. His lecture “Les Classiques de l’Esprit nouveau” gave the basis for a new rival poetry to oppose the “frivolous aesthetics” of Dada. Fels proclaimed that true modern poetry was idealist, classical, innovative and humanist and needed to participate fully in contemporary life. In his own aesthetics Fels stressed his links with the humanitarian ideals of the Individualist Anarchists.
The demise of Action in the spring of 1922 was the result of the dominance of Breton’s Surrealism. Action had its origins in the Individualist Anarchist Movement and was born in opposition to Dada-Surrealist aesthetics. This magazine is a mine of information of the intellectual and artistic life of 1920–1922 before Surrealism became dominant. It also throws new light on the political radicalism of the young Malraux through his early prose poems and associates.
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LITERATURE of LIBERTY
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