Archive for December, 2013

Tempestuous Relationship of Lake Poets & Byron

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Cartoon of Byron’s dedication of Don Juan to Robert Southey,
first two stanzas of the “Dedication” are quoted below:

Bob Southey! You’re a poet, poet laureate,
And representative of all the race.
Although ’tis true that you turned out a Tory at
Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
With all the lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like four and twenty blackbirds in a pye,
Bob Southey! You’re a poet, poet laureate,
And representative of all the race.
Although ’tis true that you turned out a Tory at
Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
With all the lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like four and twenty blackbirds in a pye,

Which pye being opened they began to sing’
(This old song and new simile holds good),
‘A dainty dish to set before the King’
Or Regent, who admires such kind of food.
And Coleridge too has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation.
I wish he would explain his explanation.

“Byron’s Critique of the “Lake Poets” Reflected in Don Juan
By Gary Crethers

Reading Canto III of Don Juan, I noticed that Byron became quite vitriolic regarding Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, those known as the Lake poets. I had just returned to reading the epic after leaving off for a semester of tedium in Honors English Three, the English of logical disquisition, more like pedantic resolute adherence to formulaic regurgitation of Rogerian and Toulmin argumentative style… how that Canadian and spare the rod therapist became so boring, is a tribute to the teach to test and core curriculum approach of the uh, modern education in California, but I like my subject, digress.

Byron and Southey

Byron in his modern Greek oration delves into then current British literary affairs in the third Canto, published after the first and second which came out in July of 1819, written in the fall of that year but not published until 1821, Byron was smarting from a rumored tale Southey was spreading about himself, and Shelly having formed “A league of incest” with Mary Godwin and Claire Claremont in Geneva in 1817 (qted in Joukovsky 499). This bit of personal invective led Byron to write his famous dedication to Southey, poet laureate of England, who said of Don Juan that it was “a foul blot on the literature on his country, an act of high treason on English Poetry” (500). Byron’s own statement was that “I have given it to Master Southey, and he shall have more before I have done with him” (499). Fighting words which when I read this, I became curious to discover the cause:

All are not moralists, like Southey, when
He prated to the world of “Pantisocracy;”
Or Wordsworth unexcised, unhired, who then
Season’ed his pedlar poems with democracy;
Or Colderidge, long before his flighty pen
Let to the Morning Post its aristocracy;
When he and Southey, following the same path,
Espoused to partners (milliners of Bath). (Don Juan III. XCIII)

The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder,—Scene. The borough, in Imitation of Mr. Southey’s Sapphics,—Vide. Anti-Jacobin, p. 15. George Tierney and a knife-grinder pushing his wheelbarrow in front of an ale-house. 1 print : engraving, color. London : pubd. by H. Humphrey, 1797

Seething in sarcasm, words like “prated” next to “Pantisocracy,” which having dug up even more of my curiosity finding this from the Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge by James Dykes Campbell:

It was during the visit to Oxford that Pantisocracy was hatched. Southey gave his recollections of the matter to Cottle in a letter dated March 5, 1836: -
In the summer of 1794 S. T. Coleridge and Hucks came to ‘Oxford on their way into Wales for a pedestrian tour. Then Allen introduced them to me, and the scheme was talked of, but not by any means determined on. It was talked into shape by Burnett and myself, when … he and I proceeding on foot to Bath. After some weeks, S. T. C, returning from his tour …, Then it was that we resolved upon going to America, and S. T. C. and I walked into Somersetshire … He made his engagement with Miss [Sarah] Fricker on our return from this journey at my mother’s house in Bath, not a little to my astonishment… I had previously been engaged to my poor Edith [Fricker]. . , . He remained at Bristol till the close of the vacation [?] - several weeks. During that time it was that we talked of America. The funds were to be what each could raise - S. T. C. by the “Specimens of the Modern Latin Poets,” for which he had printed proposals, and obtained a respectable list of Cambridge subscribers before I knew him; I, by “Joan of Arc,” and what else I might publish. I had no . . . other expectation. We hoped to find companions with money. (Campbell 31).

Area of Eastern Pennsylvania where Priestly lived and Pantisocracy was to be established.

An article on Joseph Priestly and his move to America makes this connection to the poets:

“Thomas Cooper, a friend of Joseph Priestley’s, published a pamphlet in Britain titled “Some Information Respecting America,” meant to encourage others to settle in Pennsylvania and offering instructions on how to do so… influenced by Cooper’s, poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and [Robert Southey], full of idealism and angered at Priestley’s treatment in Birmingham, intended to emigrate to America and establish a utopian community” (wikipedia Joseph_Priestley_House).

Alexander Pope (a poet Byron admired) designed park near Bath, England, close to Bristol, hiking territory of Coleridge and company.

Byron’s joke about hoofing it to Bath, and the reference perhaps to Chaucer, it becomes self-evident that he knew the past of the Lake Poets. The milliners, Coleridge and Southey both became espoused to, the Fricker sisters, who themselves having fallen from a prosperous childhood into some poverty by the spendthrift ways of their father, “were all skilled needlewomen and had no difficulty earning their livings from their needles. But it was a profession with a dubious reputation. It was Byron who made the sarcastic remark about Coleridge and Southey marrying `two milliners from Bath’, gossip repeated by Thomas De Quincey, who added, `Everybody knows what is meant to be conveyed in that expression’” (Jones). As Jones points out in her book A Passionate Sisterhood, describing the theory that seems to have been the main subject of discourse among the Fricker’s and their future beau’s in 1794 Bristol, Jones states:

Southey and Coleridge were disillusioned by university life, unsuited to traditional careers by virtue of their beliefs, and perplexed by the problem of maintaining themselves. From their `metaphysical’ and philosophical discussions, Pantisocracy was born. The word was created by Coleridge from the Greek pan-socratia which means an all-governing society. At its heart was the notion of a community of self-governing equals. There was to be no private ownership of land, which was regarded as a common heritage belonging to everyone. Man and nature would live in harmony. Even animals were to be sisters and brothers `in the Fraternity of universal Nature’. Children had to be removed from the corruptions and prejudices of modern society and brought up as `children of Nature’. It was to be a totally democratic society, in harmony with nature; a new beginning (Jones).

Apparently ready to go off to America, with dreams of creating a model society, with a band of followers and although poor, these youth has in its enthusiasm the ability to ignore the petty details of financing or hoped to make do with income from their writing as indicated in this letter of Southey recorded in Campbell:

Coleridge (wrote Southey to his midshipman brother Tom) was with us nearly five weeks [read four] and made good use of his time. We preached Pantisocracy and Aspheterism everywhere. These, Tom, are two new words, the first signifying the equal government of all, and the other the generalisation of individual property; words well understood in the city of Bristol. . . . The thoughts of the day, and the visions of the night, all centre in America. Time lags heavily along till March…. In March we depart for America, Lovell, his wife [nee Fricker], brother and, two of his sisters; all the Frickers ; my mother, Miss Peggy, and brothers ; Heath the apothecary, etc. ; G. Burnett, S. T. Coleridge ; Robert Allen, and Robert Southey. . . . “We shall be on the bank of a navigable river, and appoint you admiral of the cock-boat (qted. In Campbell 35).

Young Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Below is Coleridge’s poem from 1794:


No more my visionary soul shall dwell
On joys that were; no more endure to weigh
The shame and anguish of the evil day,
Wisely forgetful! O’er the ocean swell
Sublime of Hope, I seek the cottag’d dell
Where Virtue calm with careless step may stray,
And dancing to the moonlight roundelay,
The wizard Passions weave an holy spell.
Eyes that have ach’d with Sorrow! Ye shall weep
Tears of doubt-mingled joy, like theirs who start
From Precipices of distemper’d sleep,
On which the fierce-eyed Fiends their revels keep,
And see the rising Sun, and feel it dart
New rays of pleasance trembling to the heart. (Coleridge)

Storming of Bastille.

This was the time of the French Revolution. It was dangerous for young men to be too strong in their advocacy of radical change. The initial enthusiasm for the revolution, as emphasized in Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, was by the mid-nineties subject to the reaction of the British “Church and King” crowd Tories whose leader, one John Reeves, called Coleridge a spy for the French, and harassed advocates of the republican position with their “Association for Preserving Liberty and Property Against Republicans and Levelers” (Gilmour 400). Paine, whose book had sold some 200,000 copies by 1793, was burned in effigy, his printers forced to escape to America or were imprisoned, and Paine himself, warned by printer and poet William Blake that the government was bringing up charges of seditious libel against him, Paine fled England in 1792 for revolutionary France (399, 400). Thus were given another reason for the desire to relocate to America on the part of Southey and Coleridge. As Coleridge himself states upon the revocation of Habeus Corpus and the institutionalization of the concept of constructive treason, and the outlawing of assemblies of over fifty in 1795, that he was “all too delicate for use” to participate in the resistance to the legislation but said publicly that the bills were “conceived and laid in the dunghill of despotism” (411).

Cruikshank - the radicals arms, British view of French Revolution

Back to Byron’s assault, he refers to Wordsworth’s “pedlar poems with democracy” and in the next lines Coleridge’s association with the Morning Post to which he contributed from 1797 to 1802. Apparently there were quite a few poems from the period submitted to the publication due to Coleridge’s closeness to Wordsworth at the time and perhaps due to a pressing need to meet his contractual obligations to produce poems for the Post, he resorted to using Wordsworth’s material along with his own (Landon 392, Smyser 420). This could be a crack at the materialistic venture into crass journals on the part of Coleridge and Wordsworth by Byron, Coleridge himself refers to himself as a “hired paragraph scribbler” (Glickfield 681).

The Pedlar

“The Pedlar” by Wordsworth, was considered to be something of a problematic protagonist for such lofty poetry as Bailey writes in “’Dangerous and Suspicious Trades’: Wordsworth’s Pedlar and the Board of Police Revenue,” comparing Goethe’s Wanderer and the pedlar “When Wordsworth’s Excursion was published, critics objected to the Wanderer’s social status, pointing out, in Hazlitt’s words, that ‘we go along with him, while he is the subject of his own narrative, but we take leave of him when he makes pedlars and plough-men his heroes and the interpreters of his sentiments’” (qted. in Bailey 244). This then is some grounds for Byron’s somewhat derogatory comment on Wordsworth’s democratic values expressed in the section of his larger work the Excursion, called “The Pedlar.” But more to point Wordsworth had been something of a Godwinian Radical. Nicholas Roe in Wordsworth and Coleridge: the radical years, notes that in 1795 Wordsworth was drawn into the same popular reform movement as was Coleridge and Southey, and in his relationship with Coleridge in particular had a “direct bearing on Wordsworth’s subsequent development from a Godwinian radical to poet” (Roe 10, 194). Byron is thus reminding Wordsworth of his earlier democratic values.

Original American Printing of Mary Wollstonecraft’s book

William Godwin, English proto-Anarchist and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft proto-feminist, both wrote influential political statements that were read by the Lake poets in the 1790’s, including An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness by William Goodwin written while the French Revolution was transforming France and in England his work was received as sedition. His wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, no less radical wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, and was read by the Fricker sisters as well as the Lake poets themselves (Jones). Byron thus as a personal friend of the Shelly’s, Mary Shelly being Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s daughter, found it unconscionable that Southey would, in his later years, spread gossip about those who in his own youth he had admired and agreed with.

Young Wordsworth

Wordsworth himself in a letter of 1838, when concerned about his reputation as a possible paid writer of verse for Daniel Stewart’s Morning Post, refers to the conflict between Southey and Byron, writing of “one article which I was induced to publish in a London newspaper, when Southey and Byron were at war” (qted. in Joukovsky 496). This may have been a residual attempt to clean up his past as he was now an important and relatively conservative figure in British society. Byron, now dead and gone had in his few pithy lines indicated a certain hypocrisy on the part of the Lake Poets, who in their youths had shown a much more radical aspect than subsequently as they gained respectable office in their older ages. Byron in contrast, reviled for his dissolute nature, left England under something of a shadow and cast his fortunes writing his barbed satirical anti-epic and eventually found a somewhat less than romantic death from disease while preparing to aid in the liberation of Greece from the Turkish yolk.

Byron meeting Greek Revolutionaries on Corfu

Works Cited
Bailey, Quentin. “’Dangerous and Suspicious Trades’: Wordsworth’s Pedlar and the Board of Police Revenue.” Romanticism. 13. 3. (2007). 244-256. Project Muse. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Byron, George Gordon. Don Juan. New York: Modern Library. 1949. Print.

Campbell, James Dykes. Samuel Taylor Coleridge A Narrative of Events of his Life. London: Macmillan and Co.1894. Internet Archive. California Digital Library. Open Library. Web. 16 Dec. 2013.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Pantisocracy.” Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Gilmour, Ian. Riot, Risings and Revolution Governance and Violence in Eighteenth Century England. London: Plimco. 1993. Print.

Glickfield, Charlotte Woods. “Coleridge’s Prose Contributions to the Morning Post.” PMLA. 69. 3. (1954). 681-685. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Godwin, William. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. 4th ed. London: J.Watson. 1842. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Jones, Kathleen. A Passionate Sisterhood: the Sisters, Wives and Daughters of the Lake Poets. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2000. Web. 16 Dec. 2013.

Joukovsky, Nicholas, A. “Wordsworth’s Lost Article on Byron and Southey.” The Review of English Studies. New Series. 45. 180. (1994). 496-516. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.

Landon, Carol. “Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Morning Post: An Early Version of ‘The Seven Sisters’.” The Review of English Studies. New Series. 11. 44 .(1960). 392-402. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Roe, Nicholas. Wordsworth and Coleridge: the radical years. New York: Oxford U. P. USA. 1998. Google Books. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Smyser, Jane Worthington. “Coleridge’s Use of Wordsworth’s Juvenilia.” PMLA. 65. 4 (1950). 419-426. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Wikipedia, “Joseph Priestley House.” Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Boston: Peter Edes for Thomas and Andrews. 1792. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.

Dante’s and Virgil’s Relationship with Power

Friday, December 13th, 2013

1822: Musée du Louvre, Paris

Alternatively titled The Bark of Dante, this painting was Delacroix’s first Paris Salon triumph. Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the red-robed figure is the Latin poet Virgil, who guides Dante through Hell as the writhing, demonic souls of immoral Florentines struggle to get into the boat.

“Dante’s and Virgil’s Relationship with Power”
By Gary Crethers

Virgil and Dane both lived in rough political times. Civil wars had drawn both of them into the conflicts of their day. Virgil originally a somewhat pacific follower of Epicurus (DeWitt 105, 109), and according to Aelius Donatus, fourth century C.E. biographer, Virgil was a student of medicine, mathematics, and a not very good speaker (Donatus 15-16). From these roots he became the poet of empire, using the myths and history of the past to rationalize the consolidation of the imperial Roman project. Having witnessed an exhausting series of civil wars, Virgil’s efforts are to valorize and consolidate with a rhetorical foundation, the fait accompli, the new peace of Rome. Some of the roots of Virgil’s transformation will be explored. Dante in contrast is seeking that very foundation upon which to build a revitalized world of peace, something that for all his efforts remained a vision. Dante was looking forward to an Italian world that would rebuild the greatness of the past grandeur that was Rome, not as a mere imitation of the old empire, with the church and state merely reunited, but in a new flowering of culture in a reformed Florence as part of a truly Holy Roman Empire. That vision was fractured by the reality of corrupt competing interests, but also because there was an emerging sense of regional nationalism in Dante’s time that he participated in with his choice to write in the vernacular. Their responses to the conflicting interests; and how they rationalized and polemicized for a peaceful and better complex, yet each came up with a vision as to how this this could be done. This overly ambitious premise cannot digested in such a short paper, therefore only nibbles around the edges of the subject will be attempted. A taste of Virgil’s youthful diversion from an Epicurean rejection of the politics of the day, into an apologist for Empire will be briefly conjectured upon. Dante’s experience in the politics of Florence around the critical time of 1300 CE when he had his disastrous experience as a prior and subsequently used that time in his personal wilderness to site his Comedia, will be touched upon. Some notes on his deliberate corrections of or mistranslations of Virgil in what is perceived as a setting the stage for justification of the use of the vernacular as Dante compares himself, to the ancient author with a rather modest sense of his own place among the giants of the poetic arts.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery/The Bridgeman Art Library

The head of Pompey is delivered to Julius Caesar in Caesar Before Alexandria, an eighteenth-century oil painting by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (1675–1741)

Virgil writes in a turbulent time. The Roman Republic is collapsing. Born in 70 BCE, he was 21 when the civil war breaks out between Caesar and Pompey in 49 BCE. Caesar’s army famously crosses the Rubicon and Rome is abandoned by the Senate and Pompey as they head for the safer ground of Greece. Virgil alludes to this tine in the Aeneid, when in the Underworld Aeneas’s father makes some predictions, where he clearly references Caesar and Pompey:

from Gaul and the Alps the father-in-law will march
against the son with Eastern Legions massed.
(Children, never grow hardened to wars like those;
against your homeland raise no hostile hand!
Oh, take the lead, show mercy, child of heaven,
throw down that sword, son of my blood!) (Aeneid VI: 830-835)

The elder Pompey was Caesar’s son-in-law by marrying Caesar’s daughter Julia. Upon her death in childbirth, the alliance between the two men faltered. Virgil’s evident dismay at the wars, calling the two great warriors children is bold, but also as a warning to future would be rebels, children now. Evidence of the subtle manner in which he can imply several levels of meaning in so few phrases, with the conflict between the east and west, prefiguring that of Antony and Octavian, in the past when written but a future event in the poem, displaying also an artful polemic in favor of Augustus with the losing side having come from the East. This was the land where Antony was led astray, where he turned from his marriage to Octavian’s sister to dwell in the beguiling arms of Cleopatra as Caesar himself had done. Octavian, would have none of this and proved himself thus to be a virile and upstanding Roman, untainted by any eastern vice, or so the propaganda implied (Grant 185-189).

Antony and Cleopatra (1883) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema Escaping from Actium

Norman DeWitt states in his “Virgil at Naples” that Virgil had, just before the demise of Julius Caesar, in about 45 BCE, joined the movement of Roman intelligentsia in to three camps, his being the pacifist, Epicurean group heading for Naples, a Republican group relocating in Athens and a more “ribald circle” of Antony’s supporters stayed in Rome. Virgil stayed there until his return to Mantua (DeWitt 109-110). Steele Commager in his introduction to Virgil A Collection of Critical Essays, picks up the story when Virgil in the first Eclogue has a conversation between Meliboeus and Tityrus wherein “Meliboueus, dispossessed as a result of civil wars, is compelled to leave his fields in search of a new home: ‘such disorder is there throughout the land’ (E. 1.12)… Tityrus, almost certainly a mask for Virgil himself, survives to sing… only through the intervention of a godlike Octavian: ‘O Meliboueus, it was a god who bestowed this peace upon us’ (E. 1.16)” (Commager 1-2). In fact in aftermath of the civil wars following Caesar’s death in 44 BCE, which was first between Octavian and Antony against Brutus and Cassius in 43-42 BCE and then between Octavian and Antony in 41 BCE, ending in 40 BCE when Virgil was thirty. Sometime in this period Virgil had his property confiscated as discharged soldiers were given portions of Mantua, resulting in his expulsion from the estate of his family, which he was able to recover due to his poetic efforts placing him clearly in the camp of Octavian and against that of Antony (Bunbury 265, Commager 183, DeWitt 110). Aelius Donatus states in his Life of Virgil, that Virgil wrote the “Bucolics, primarily in order to honor Asinius Pollio, Alfenus Varus and Cornelius Gallus, because they kept him from being penalized in the distribution of lands after the victory at Philippi, when the lands on the other side of the Po were being divided amongst the veterans by order of the triumvirate” (Donatus 19). Pollio, according to Ronald Syme in The Roman Revolution, Virgil’s mentor was about to become consul at the same time that Virgil wrote the “Fourth Eclogue” and was instrumental in bringing about the peace between Octavian and Antonius which was sealed with the marriage of Octavian’s sister to Antony. This golden age of peace was what was being celebrated by Virgil (Syme 218-219). Thus we can see that Virgil was affected by the turbulence of the times even though he tried to stay out of the battles, he became intimately involved with the powerful rulers of the new Rome.

Vatican Virgil Late Antique 5th C vellum codex. Rome, Vatican Libraries

Unlike the classical period Greeks who reveled in the life of the Polis, Romans waxed nostalgic for their lost rural idyll and by Virgil’s time anyone who could afford it had a country villa (Wormell 2). Virgil himself spent as much of his time as possible on his land, writing in his pastoral “Eclogues” of an abstracted Arcadia. Rome had already become as Wormell paraphrases Horace saying “too dirty, too wealthy, to noisy, especially in the summer heat” (2). Virgil, as DeWitt says had become somewhat disillusioned with Roman life and studies by 45 BCE when he retired to Naples and evidently from poetry to study philosophy (DeWitt 105). Virgil in one of the minor poems “Catalepton” exhibits several of the qualities noted by DeWitt, his dismay with his studies, determination to study Epicurean philosophy with Syro, his giving up the boys (Donatis 9), and even muses, although how seriously this is to be taken is debatable considering his prodigious writings:

Ye empty tubs of rhetoricians, off with you,
You’re merely words inflated not with Attic dew;
Ye Seliuses, Tarquitiuses, and Varro, too,
A tribe of scholars filled with lore that’s dull, if true, O empty cymbal of our youth, be off with you!
And thou, O Sextus, foremost in my thoughts, good-bye.
Sabinus, too; now, handsome youths, to you good-bye.
For we to happy havens spread our sails and fly,
And seeking noble Syro’s learned words have we
From every care our life henceforward rendered free.
O Muses, off with you, be gone with all the rest!
Ye charming Muses, for the truth shall be confessed
Ye charming were, and modestly and rarely still
Ye must revisit papers that I then shall fill. (V: 1-14)

Leaving Virgil in a pique, attempting to get a sense of the man and some of the underlying motivations in his life has led to some points on his seeming reluctant journey into becoming spokesperson for empire. Perhaps that is why he speaks so much of duty, and giving up of Dido in the Aeneid, who in this context may represent a leaving behind of a life he had loved. Virgil was perhaps seeking a retired life and not one in the center of things and yet, there he was a popular author at the center of the imperial propaganda machine. Certainly although Aeneas has a somewhat reluctant hero quality about him, he did his duty. Kimberly Bell noted in her article “‘Translatio’ and the Constructs of a Roman Nation in Virgil’s Aeneid” that Virgil himself, had planned to spend several years in Greece revising The Aeneid but was persuaded by Augustus to accompany him back to Rome, dying on the voyage in 19 BCE (Bell 12), thus one last time putting duty ahead of desire.

This painting above (by Domenico di Michelino, 1465) depicts the poet Dante gazing toward Florence (the walled city on the right). The painting is in the Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence.

Dante is living in a time where Florence is more like the Greek Polis, the center of a smaller world, the place to be, and in exile, his longing is not for a rural idyll but the life of the city he once knew. Italy was in the midst of the height of medieval expansion, just before the collapse in the 14th century wars and epidemics. As Joan Ferrante points out in her introduction to The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy, it is among other things a “political tract” in the context of the religious-political debates of the early 14th century where she quotes George Holmes summing up Dante’s political agenda as “the necessity for a universal Roman Empire and a Church without money or jurisdiction” (qtd. in Ferrante 6) which had remained consistent with earlier works. Ferrante claims Dante and many others in his time had reason to hate Boniface, the pope of the time when the Comedy was supposed to take place (77). Blaming the Pope Celestine V for allowing Boniface to become pope (85), Dante says “I beheld the shade / Of him who made the Great Refusal, impelled / By cowardice” (Infer. III. 49-51). Boniface according to sources in Ferrante tricked Celestine into retiring by drilling a hole in the wall into his room and with a tube at night, called out to Celestine to renounce his position while Boniface pretended to be an angel of the lord (81-82). Boniface intrigued against Dante’s faction in Florence the White Guelph’s who became allied to the Ghibellines (Schevilli174). Dante in Canto 27 describes how Count Gudio was tricked by Boniface into helping him defeat his enemies with a promise of absolution that never came as he was about to be carried off to heaven but because he had no absolution and had not repented because he thought he had been granted absolution in advance, he was doomed to the eighth circle of hell “because he counseled fraud” (Infer. XXVII: 117). Boniface, according to Dupuy, said about the Eucharist, it’s “no more Christ’s body than I am” (qtd. in Ferrante 83). He was accused of any number of sins.

Liber Sextus: Sextus decretalium liber a Bonifacio viii in concilio Lugdunensi editus (Venice: Luca Antonio Giunta, 1514), Courtesy Lillian Goldman Library, Yale Law School. Boniface’s foxy fox is pulling the papal tiara off Celestine’s head, while the holy dove flies above the latter’s head.

Dante sets himself up to deliver the message of the divine function of Rome, comparing himself in the negative to Aeneas and St. Paul (Infer. II. 9-30). The explication of the separation of the papacy and the state, the devolution of Florence in to the city of Hell, as Dante’s great hope for restoration of the empire Henry VII states calling the Florentines “proud sons and heirs of Lucifer” (Ferrante 49-50), is an ongoing political theme in the Comedy. Ferrante divides Dante’s message into three parts, the Inferno representing the fallen city, Florence, Purgatorio is Italy and Paradiso is the eternal Rome (46-47). With that in mind “Dis” becomes not just the citadel of Satan and schism indicated by the “Mosques,” but so soon after the description of “Filippo Argenti” (Infer. VIII 58-67), is indicated its role as the impediment to the restoration of the Roman Empire on earth and yet it is in the linguistic unity of the vernacular Italian that Dante finds to be a basis hope in the Purgatorio and thus Florence is also the hope of Italy (47).

Studious Dante

Dante also found sponsors but never a victorious leader, unlike Virgil who managed to find himself on the winning side of the Roman Civil Wars attached to Octavian. Dante was embroiled in a miniature version of those grand Roman battles being played out in Florence. Ferdinand Schevilli, in Medieval and Renaissance Florence, states that “[Dante] was a scholar, poet and a gentleman of leisure, who like his forebears who derived his living from a modest property” (Shevilli 171-172). As a young man Dante had joined a guild where he was listed on the roles of the physicians as a poet. The Guelph forces had taken control of Florence establishing the six ruling priors in 1282 when Dante was seventeen. Dante did not play a significant role in politics until 1300 when the Whites had reasserted control of Florence under Veri de’ Cerchi. At that time he declared himself for the Whites and spent several months as a prior when the city was threatened by Pope Boniface and the pope’s agent Charles of Valois. Cerchi, more concerned with his property, being a rich merchant, than defending the city seems to have convinced himself that Valois was a peace maker between the papal supported Black Guelph’s and the White Guelph faction which had recently evicted the Black Guelph’s. Valois proceeded to then allow the exiled Black Guelph’s into the city where they took power, raped and pillaged for five days, made lists of all the recent White supporters of influence including all the priors to be brought to trial before the Black supporting court. This was Dante’s cue to get out of town in early 1302. He promptly had his property confiscated and a death sentence placed on his head, earning Boniface his enmity. Interestingly Boniface did not gain control of Florence, his agent Valois simply allowed the Blacks to return to power (171-174). Dante’s only revenge was literary. Valois had his name etched in the Purgatorio where the spirit of Hugh Capet prophesizes:

He does not carry weapons when he comes,
only the lance that Judas tilted; this
he couches so – he twists the paunch of Florence.
From this he’ll gain not land, just shame and sin, (Purg. XX 73-76)

The paunch being twisted perhaps that of Cerchi who placed his own wealth over that of his party and allowed Florence to be taken leading to Dante’s exile.

Dante in Exile - Frederic Leighton. Artist: Frederic Leighton

The twin forces of Empire and Church betrayed in Dante’s Inferno and following an inescapable logic, the ultimate sinner are the ones who betrayed their trust in the two institutions he most needed to provide order in the world. Judas’s betrayal of Christ and Brutus and Cassius betraying Caesar each in one of the mouths of Satan himself (Inf. xxxiv. 56-66). According to Erich Auerbach in Dante: Poet of the Secular World, each sin has been logically placed in a plan based on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as developed by St Thomas Aquinas, Dante had his revenge based on logic and ordered design. Dante has no room for those who are indifferent, Auerbach notes he has a particular loathing for these stating “The violence of Dante’s tone when he speaks of them reveals the very personal bias of a man who was passionate, fearless, and indomitable in his espousal of the good, and for whom active struggle was the natural form of life” (Auerbach 105-110). One has to think of the suffering of Dante in exile, having fought for a cause he believed in, having participated in the politics of his city Florence and then to have been rejected and exiled, must have been for him a great betrayal, and those symbolizing the indifferent, the traitors and betrayal he felt was transferred directly into the poem.

Bordando el manto terrestre, by Remedios Varo.

Dante appropriates Virgil for his own purposes, creating a new version of Virgil to chastise those in his world who are destroying civilization by their barbaric and greedy behavior and also reminding them of the lost world of Roman glory in the process. Robert Hollander in his essay “Misreadings of the Aeneid in the Inferno,” indicates this dwelling on what to him is a deliberate change of Virgil’s description, translating from the Latin:

Yonder too, Ocnus summons a host from his native shores,
son of prophetic Manto and the Tuscan river, who gave thee, O Mantua, ramparts and his mothers’ name, rich in ancestry, yet not all of one stock: three races are there, and under each race four peoples: herself the head of the peoples,
her strength from Tuscan blood ” (Aen. 10. 198-203).

Hollander says that Dante is deliberately misquoting Virgil as a criticism of his “master and author” (Hollander 77-78). This is transformed in Dante to:

And she, whose loose hair covers her breasts unseen
On the side away from you, where other hair grows,
Was Manto-who searched through many lands, and then
Settled in the place where I was born. (Inf. xx. 49-52).

Dante has Virgil go on to say after a fairly long aside about the country round Mantua, “There Manto the savage virgin saw in mid-fern / A stretch of dry land, untilled, uninhabited;” (Inf. xx. 71-72). Then he describes how people settled in the marsh building the city:

Over her bones, with not lots or divination
They named it Mantua. Before the fool Casalodi Was deceived by Pinamonte, its population
Was larger. So let no other history,
I charge you, belie my city’s inception (Inf. xx. 80-84).

Dante reading other sources, Hollander cites Ovid and Statius (Hollander 79), changes Manto into a virgin, and comments on some of the politics of his day using Virgil’s voice. Dante has in correcting the error of Manto’s status, virginal in his view, out done Virgil, and in this demonstrating his worthiness for entrance into the circle of poets he eulogizes “And far more honor: that fair company/Then made me one among them-so as we traveled/Onward toward the light I made a sixth” (iv. 84-87) .

Map of Mantua

Dante is now not only making a case for his inclusion in this lofty circle but as he states they are moving to the light of understanding and wisdom, even in this place in the ante room of hell. On another level Dante has created for himself the justification for the use of the vernacular language in poetry as a “poeta” and thus argues that his native Florentine is the equivalent of the classical Latin which after all was the vernacular of its day. Kevin Brownlee in his article “Why the Angels speak Italian: Dante as Vernacular Poeta in Paradiso XXV” states much the same “It is also in Inferno IV that we find the Divine Comedy’s first presentation-both implicit and indirect – of Dante as in some sense making claim to this prestigious title” (Brownlee 603-5). Thus commenting on the nature of contemporary readings of meaning in older texts, Charles Martindale, in the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, argues that Dante uses “strategies for mediating cultural change and for negotiating relationships with the past which are deemed significant for the present.” Marindale states “Did not the Greekless Dante effect one of the two or three most powerful and exciting readings of Virgil-what Harold Bloom, who argues that all readings can be construed as ‘misreadings’ (either strong or weak), would call a ‘strong misreading’- in the Divine Comedy, his own narrative revision of the Aeneid?” (Martindale 2, 8-9). Still Dante did a more than yeoman like job in transferring what he desired from the Aeneid and was perfectly capable of coming up with his own reading, to suit his purposes. Dante’s Virgil spoke to his time, a tool for his use in creating his own vision.

Virgil and Dante meeting Homer, Horace Ovid and Lucan, oil on canvas, 37″x54″ Painting was shown in the Boston Athenaeum from 1850-1869.

In Visions of Heaven and Hell Before Dante, Eileen Gardiner notes that Dante was fully cognizant of the European visionary tradition, including some very detailed descriptions of a descent into hell such as is described in “Tundale’s Vision.” This tale attributed to Ireland where a knight, Tundale went into a coma and reported this story to monks who then conveyed it to Bavaria in the next year and soon it was circulating in some 13 languages. With its levels of hell and punishments allotted for different crimes, the guardian angel, foul smells, sights and sounds of the hellish state (Gardner xiv, xvi, xxvi). This tradition with its tropes and traditions available to Dante was also grounds for a European view that was not strictly based in the classics and had a modern, even cosmopolitan flavor if such tales from the crypt could be considered to be urbane. They were in the sense that they represented a living European culture not dependent on the long ago past.

A detail from “Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma — the Choice Between Vice and Virtue” by Frans Francken the Younger, from about 1633, part of Sotheby’s “Divine Comedy” exhibition.

The Roman world of Virgil was one emerging out of the chaotic civil war period. Rome had been transformed from a minor rather provincial city state in a land remote from the center of action in the Greek world, to becoming in less than two centuries the center of power in the known world of their time and an urban megalopolis. Power struggles between factions had been a fact of life in Virgil’s youth and he strove to support the consolidation of peace under Augustus through the mythologizing of Octavian’s patrimony in the Aeneid. Rome needed an ideological literary rallying point worthy of its position as the new undisputed leader of the Mediterranean world, something as worthy as the Greek classics of Homer, that task Virgil, the former pacifist, seeing peace in the new world order providing, what he hoped to be in dutiful Aeneas, a model for the new rulers of the world which he set out to accomplish with the blessings of the newly transformed Octavian, now Augustus.

Virgil, between Clio and Melpomene 3rd century mosaic, Hadrumetum, Tunisia

Dante also grew up in changing times but in his case the medieval city state in the 13th century was jockeying for position within a less than imperial or Holy Roman Empire. An unstable future in the 14th century dawned as attempt after attempt to create a unified state collapsed with rival factions continuing to rule in the secular states of the Papacy and the Empire as well as the independent city states such as Florence of the time. Dante in his Divine Comedy chastises, and prods his contemporaries into greater efforts with his projection of the hoped for world in his model La Comedia. His efforts were not to bear fruit in his time, but instead he provided the foundations for the modern Italian language and perhaps ultimately the Italian state by his powerful stance for a just world order.

William Blake: illustration to Dante The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto I, 1-90

Works Cited
Auerbach, Erich. Dante Poet of the Secular World. 1929. Trans. Ralph Manhiem, U. of Chicago P. 1961. Print.
Bell, Kimberly K. “‘Translatio’ and the Constructs of a Roman Nation in Virgil’s Aeneid.” Rocky Mountain Review. 62: 1 (2008). 11-24. JSTOR. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Brownlee, Kevin. “Why the Angels Speak Italian: Dante as Vernacular Poeta in Paradiso XXV.” Poetics Today. 5.3, Duke U. P. (1984), 597-610. JSTOR. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Bunbury, Edward, Herbert. “Mantua.” Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography in Two Volumes. Vol. 2. Ed. William Smith. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1857. 265. Google Books. Digitized 29 Jan. 2008. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.
Commager, Steele. Introduction. Virgil A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Steel Commanger. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. 1966. 1-13. Print.
Dante, Alligheri. Inferno. Trans. Robert Pinsky. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature The Middle Period. 100 C. E. – 1450. Ed. Paul Davis et. al. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 2004. 679-848. Print.
Dante, Alighieri, Purgatorio. Allen Mandelbaum, and Peter Armour. The Divine Comedy. New York: Knopf, 1995. Print.
DeWitt, Norman. “Virgil at Naples.” Classical Philology. 17: 2 (1922). 104-110. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2013
Donatus, Aelius. Life of Virgil. Trans. David Wilson-Okamura. (2008). Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Ferante, Joan M. The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy. Princeton: Princeton UP. 1984. Print.
Gardiner, Eileen, Introduction. Visions of Heaven & Hell before Dante. Ed. Eileen Gardner. New York: Italica P. 1989. xi-xxix. Print.
Grant, Michael. Cleopatra. New York: Barnes & Noble. 1992. Print.
Hollander, Robert. “Dante’s Misreadings of the Aeneid in Inferno.” The Poetry of Allusion Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s Commedia. Ed. Rachel Jacoff and Jeffery T. Schnapp. Stanford: Stanford UP. 1991. Print.
Martindale, Charles. Introduction: ‘The Classic of all Europe’. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil. Ed. Charles Martindale. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1997. 1-18. Print.
Schevill, Ferdinand. Medieval and Renaissance Florence Volume 1: Medieval Florence. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row 1963. Print.
Slaughter, M. S. “Virgil: An Interpretation.” The Classical Journal. 12: 6 (1917). 359-377. JSTOR. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford U. Press. 1956. Print.
Vergil. The Minor Poems of Vergil: Comprising theCulex, Dirae, Lydia, Moretum, Copa, Priapeia, and Catalepton. Trans. Joseph J. Mooney. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers. 1916. Virgil.Org. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Virgil, The Aeneid. Trans. Frank O. Copley. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature The Ancient World, Beginnings-100 C. E. Ed. Paul Davis et. al. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. Wormell, D. E. W. “The Originality of the Eclogues sic paruis componere magna solebam.” Virgil. Ed. Donald R. Dudley. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1969. 1-26. Print. 2004. 1181-1265. Print.

A william blake paintings picture entitled ” dante beatrix addresses from the car ”

Post script. January 9th 2014.
I just read the entire Medieval and Renaissance Florence Vol. 1 by Schevilli up to and past the part Dante is concerned with at the time of writing The Divine Comedy, some details I got wrong in my rush to produce a paper, Dante essentially became a Ghibelline after being forced out of Florence with his fellow White Guelphs by the Black Guelphs, and being welcomed by his fellow exiles the previously defeated Ghibelline faction. The twists and turns of the various factions in Florence revolved around the various interpretations of how to best insure the freedom and prosperity of the Florence city state. Generally the Ghibellines believed in their participation in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Guelphs believed in supporting the Papacy in its ongoing struggle for authority over and against the Imperial interests. Dante himself, eventually came to a vision of a restored Rome with the Imperial and Papal authorities accepting their places as coequal an older vision that had been increasingly become unrelated to the real world of Italian politics. It was perhaps a traditional vision, looking back more than forward, although his use of the vernacular and his elevated world view in his great poem eventually made him a model from which Italian nationalists drew much inspiration.

The “War on Terror” Rhetoric of Overreaction and Unforeseen Consequences

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Anti-War Agitprop

The “War on Terror” Rhetoric of Overreaction and Unforeseen Consequences
By Gary Crethers

The Bush administration initiated the ‘War on Terror’ in the wake of the 9/1l attack. It has resulted in the United States becoming embroiled in the longest conflict in U.S. history, in Afghanistan, a misdirected application of excessive force in attempting to subdue the al Qaeda terrorists. Due in part to its hubris as a hegemonic imperial power, and in part to a racist and irrational fear of the Islamic world, the U.S. has drastically altered the domestic landscape and instilled increased levels of fear in its populace. As the U. S. implements policies that attract a reaction from those peoples affected by them, it becomes the target of attacks such as 9/11. By reacting with overwhelming force, the US has overreacted to an asymmetrically much smaller threat such as al Qaeda, out of an irrational fear of these small forces and in the process has done exactly what it was expected to do by al Qaeda planners, weakening the American position at home and abroad as a consequence.

Just as the British overreacted to the Irgun in Palestine, and the French overreacted to the FLN in Algeria, so the USA has overreacted to al Qaeda in the bombings of 9/11/2001. As David Fromkin wrote in his seminal article “The Strategy of Terrorism,” regarding the primary purpose of terrorism “First the adversary would be made to be afraid, and then predictably, he would react to his fear by increasing the bulk of his strength, and then the sheer weight of that bulk would drag him down” (Fromkin 8). The essence of this form of warfare is psychological (13), and is intended to draw a superior force into self-defeating action. That is what al Qaeda did on 9/11 drawing the US into its chosen battlefield, Afghanistan, a place that has historically been a borderland battle zone between various imperial powers. In the 19th century the Russians and British tried using Afghanistan as a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ much to detriment of the British who were defeated in several attempts to occupy the country. More recently as a proxy between the Soviets and Americans, in which the Soviets came out badly, as Ahmed Rashid writes in his book about the most recent Afghan war Descent into Chaos (7-11). Now the US has engaged in a long and costly war in Afghanistan attempting to root out al Qaeda’s base of support.

The USA fell for the tactic of Osama Bin Laden’s group, responding in a manner that has had economic, social and political consequences eroding American strength, political capital, domestic freedoms and draining resources from other urgent needs. The War on Terror may have dispersed al Qaeda and killed Osama Bin Laden but at an unacceptable price, and the same ends could have been accomplished if the USA had not overreacted and played into Al Qaeda’s hands. The attack on the US becomes a form of ‘blowback,’ a CIA term for not only unintended consequences but consequences that have their underlying cause obscured in the public mind. Chalmers Johnson writes in The Nation, soon after the 9/11 attacks:

On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil.” In his address to Congress on September 20, he said, “This is civilization’s fight.” This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values—as a “clash of civilizations,” in current post-cold war American jargon–is not only disingenuous but also a way of evading responsibility for the “blowback” that America’s imperial projects have generated (Johnson Blowback).

Going back a bit in time to the late 1970’s and 1980’s, the US supported the Mujahedeen terrorists in Afghanistan who were opposed to the communist government in the capital, Kabul backed by the Soviet Union. Osama Bin Laden was one of those mujahedeen. David Carlton, senior lecturer in International Studies at University of Warwick, states “The historian, therefore, need not hesitate before asserting categorically that the United States as a state was deeply involved, courtesy of Pakistan, in encouraging and sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan.” He goes on to say “There was thus a fundamental lack of integrity and consistency in the US position that makes it extremely difficult for George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 to preach convincingly at other states about the evil of sponsoring terrorism across national boundaries” (Carlton 175-176). Carlton speaks to the ‘blowback’ issue noting that the US “in a purely practical way did much to create the actual terrorist forces that hit at US interests in later years. In short, the United States during the 1990’s and after reaped what the Reagan administration had sowed by funding and arming the mujahedeen” (177). The USA should have been reexamining its policies and international relationships after 9/11, instead it reacted violently.

Clearly seeing how the US as a great power not used to being threatened in its homeland would react, Rashid quotes Pakistani President Musharraf who said, upon learning of the terrorist assault on the US in a meeting with his security advisors, “The U.S. will react like a wounded bear and it will attack Afghanistan” (Rashid 27). The US committed itself to war, and not only war on a single entity that had attacked, but the politicians flailed out at all enemies, all evil doers, and President Bush declared a War on Terror.

King David Hotel after Irgun bombing

Remember Fromkin’s position that the essential point of terrorist strategy is to use the very size and power of the enemy against itself. The historical example of the Irgun, Jewish terrorists in then British ruled Palestine of the 1940’s, who seeking to gain an independent Israel bombed targets such as the King David Hotel in which over 100 persons were killed in an attempt to entice a British overreaction. The British people were in no mood for more wars, having just gone through World War 2. The Irgun anticipated that the weight of the British reaction to their actions would result in the public’s disenchantment with further British involvement especially in the light of revelations of the Nazi genocide (Fromkin 7-8). Fromkin also examines how a small party such as the FLN seeking independence for Algeria from French colonial rule in the 1950’s, was able to redefine the attitude of the Algerian indigenous public. The French considered Algeria to be a part of France. A series of terrorist bomb attacks by the FLN, resulting in a harsh and evidently racist French backlash on the mostly Islamic native populace, was able to convince the vast Islamic majority that they were not French citizens but colonial subjects, winning support for the cause of an independent Algeria (9-10). These examples lead up to the strategy of al Qaeda.

French Officer assassinated in Algerian War of Independence

Responding to the US bombing attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, Rashid reports that in a “prerecorded video aired on Qatar’s Al Jazeera television, promising more terrorist attacks on America, [Osama Bin Laden states] ‘Neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed’” (Rashid 80). This was a clear message, from a group that could be addressed with a specific response. Leaving Saudi Arabia was in the realm of possibility, but Osama bin Laden knew that the US was incapable of negotiating at that point and that these demands would involve the unraveling of the Gordian knot of US policy, the Israeli-Palestinian question. Even though the US might have been loath to negotiate, grounds existed at the time for a calibrated and deliberate response.

Instead, as Gideon Rose states in the introduction to The U.S. V. al Qaeda, “The Bush team’s lowered tolerance for risk, combined with a desire to act vigorously in the Middle East, led it to settle on Iraq as its next target. To justify its actions the administration developed a new doctrine of preventative war” (Rose x). This was an entirely hubristic and misdirected response to the al Qaeda attack, indicating that there was more going on in the Bush policy planning than simply responding to the terrorist attack. Due in part to the extent of the support for Israel and the ascendency in the new Bush administration of a distinctly activist foreign policy tendency, the US did not even consider negotiating. There existed, and to a degree still exists, a distinct perceptual problem that clouded the issue further related to attitudes towards Islam and the people of the Middle East on the part of Westerners in general and the US elite in particular.

Rape of Jerusalem by Crusaders 1099

This has been called a crusader mentality. Edward Said in Culture and Imperialism discusses aspects of the western relationship with the Middle East with regards to the consolidation of media control in the hands of a few corporate entities, there has been an “institutionalized tendency to produce out-of-scale trans-national images that are now reorienting international discourse and process” (Said 309). Creating a mystique of terrorism coupled with fundamentalism “derived entirely from the concerns and intellectual factories in metropolitan centers like Washington and London…The fear and terror induced by the overscale images of ‘terrorism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ - call them the figures of an international or transnational imaginary made up of foreign devils – hastens the individual’s subordination to the dominant norms of the moment. The irony is that far from endowing the western ethos with the confidence and secure ‘normality’ we associate with privilege and rectitude, this dynamic imbues ‘us’ with a righteous anger and defensiveness in which others are finally seen as enemies, bent on destroying our civilization and way of life” (Said 310). This written back in the early 1990’s before Al Qaeda or a specific threat to the American homeland had emerged.

Third Crusade of Richard the Lionhearted, not so successful

Exemplifying some of the attitudes that Said attacks is Samuel Huntington who in his 1993 Foreign Affairs article “The Clash of Civilizations?” states, “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future” (Huntington 22). This view had become virtual cannon in the world of the neocon intellectuals who had become a force in the Bush administration policy making apparatus.

Summarizing this position, Niall Ferguson in his Colossus The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, succinctly states this position “the majority of the new imperialists are neoconservatives, and it was their views that came to the fore during and after the invasion of Iraq… [and] even called for the United States to establish a Colonial Office, the better to administer its new possessions in the Middle East and Asia” (Ferguson 5). The reasonable response to the 9/11 attacks by an assault on al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and punishing the Taliban for their support had been usurped in the minds of influential policy makers into an American empire. Ferguson quotes James Kurth, who writing in a special “Empire” issue of National Interest, “Today there is only one empire, the global empire of the United States. The US military… are the true heirs of the legendary civil officials, and not just the dedicated military officers, of the British Empire” (5). This view, prevalent in a certain sector of the conservative policy establishment, has been justified due to the chaos in the current world situation with failed states unable to act against terrorist groups within their own borders, thus the argument is made for a strong American presence willing to take matters in hand.

Yet the War on Terror has become more than a rational policy, developing into something else. Michael Welch, in Scapegoats of September 11th Hate Crimes & State Crimes in the War on Terror, states “The war on terror, as fiercely echoed in the speeches of President Bush and other political leaders, represents a continuation of a more ancient campaign against evil….grounding the war on terror within a mystical framework generates considerable popular support from people who view the world as a dangerous place with evil lurking in our midst, that way of talking and thinking about political violence undermines the formulation of sound counterterrorism policies” (Welch 4). The US as a contrite imperial power is simply not in the picture. Neither has been treating the attack as a police matter for the intelligence services to handle. President Bush had laid down the gauntlet, “the gloves came off” as Welch says in his discourse on scapegoating and the Bush administration’s decision to treat 9/11 as a war on evil (Welch 8-9).

Welch sees the emergence of a form of bunker mentality or as he states “The regrettable effects of the ‘dangerous world’ perspective already have been realized in the few years following 9/11: most notably the roundups, detentions, and deportations of Middle Eastern men proven not to have any links to terrorism, along with injustices at Guantanamo Bay, and, of course the invasion of Iraq. Still, scholars are concerned about the long-term effect that the fear is likely to have on American political structures” (Welch 7). This written in 2005 indicates the corrosive effect of the war on terror on the American psyche, already prone to manipulation and charged with fear of the other, especially the Arab fundamentalist terrorist, as Said states. In the context of Huntington’s clash of cultures a critique accepted by many neoliberals, what has emerged since 9/11 is a perfect storm of irrational policy decisions bolstered by vested interests in the American war machine among others. For Welch, “The irrationality of fear over terrorism coexists with – and in certain circumstances, encourages – government policies that are equally irrational in their formation and implementation…[T]the war on terror… is irrational for the nation since terrorism is not an enemy in the conventional understanding of war” (6). Welch sees the linking up of political action and public fear as a deliberate policy of sloganeering to replace discourse as well as a mask for domestic problems, but specifically the language is designed to feed into public anxieties.

This emergence of the irrational in policy has led to what Torin Monahan in his book Surveillance in the Time of Insecurity describes a scenario where citizens are being recruited in a surveillance state “A new kind of citizen, the insecurity subject, is being constructed by the reigning discourses of homeland security… the very concept of the public sphere is being militarized…. a host of agencies that previously did not have ‘security’ as their primary mandate were absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, where they have been restructured and reoriented to prioritize security functions above all others” (Monahan 19-20). He goes on to list the Coast Guard, FEMA and what used to be called the INS as examples, noting one reason for the failure of the Katrina disaster support by FEMA being the result of this transformation of its mission from general disaster relief to the war on terror (20).

Moreover Monahan describes attempts to recruit citizens in programs such as the Justice Department’s “Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS)” which enrolled postal carriers and private industry such as cable installers to monitor their customers. There was a backlash that caused this program to be canceled. Under the “Highway Watch” program truckers were to keep track of suspicious drivers, so far according to Monahan it has resulted in more racial profiling than anything useful. The attempt to force librarians to play cop, resulted in a strong move by the American Library Association to oppose provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act which resulted in a partial rollback of provisions in the 2006 reauthorization of the act (20-21). He concludes that the “macro-power structure is one where decision-making is consolidated high up on the hierarchy of the state, while the burden of those decisions fall squarely on the most vulnerable populations in society (25). Examples such as the reaction to Katrina, and the various flu pandemic scares, come to mind on the domestic front. The preparedness planning, with the devolution of responsibility on the individual citizen, as in emergency preparedness kits, and checklists, all go into creating what he calls the “insecurity subject” (23). Profit goes to contractors, responsibility to the citizenry (22).

Terrorism is a complex issue in which “religious extremism, state’s foreign policies, failure of states, sense of injustice and inequality and globalization are major ones” (Ozern and Gunes 6). Understanding of “the underlying causes of terrorism poverty, inequality, social status in a given society, immigration, and alike” and taking concrete actions to alleviate these conditions are more likely to have a profound effect on eliminating terrorism as well as “multinational security cooperation and effective supranational lawful regulations as the fundamentals in overcoming this new kind of terrorism” (6). This indicates a direction for the U. S. to move forward, and it seems to be one that the Obama administration is with noteworthy exceptions such as its instance upon maintaining the onerous provisions of the PATRIOT act and its inability to dismantle the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

What is required in the war on terror is not a massive military machine, but as Phillip Heymann states in Terrorism Freedom and Security, “The critical capacities – ability to recruit agents that not only can speak the language, but can also pass easily in the communities that terrorists share with supporters – are largely in the hands of foreign intelligence agencies and our CIA. Building a separate military capability here is hard to justify” (Heymann 29). Small discrete action by intelligence operations with the cooperation of the special forces of the various military departments, are what finally eliminated Osama bin Laden. They are what the U.S. uses in Yemen and Somalia. This could have been how the U.S. handled 9/11, a measured response what Rose describes as the British approach, “Keep calm and carry on” (Rose xiii).

British Response to Terrorism

Granted the massive US military machine, which has been called into play in Afghanistan, was able to quickly demolish the Taliban state apparatus, remove the Al Qaeda training camps and secure the urban areas. But the enemy had no need for what little urban infrastructure Afghanistan had left after two decades of continuous warfare. Bombing missions over Afghanistan, after the October 2011 American invasion, quickly ran out of targets and the troops on the ground were unable to capture Osama Bin Laden or the Taliban leaders in such a vast forbidding environment. The US ended up spending at this point some 13 years, the longest military action in US history, in Afghanistan with no real accomplishments other than propping up a corrupt local regime.

From UN report on Corruption in Afghanistan

The U.S., backing anti-democratic states like Saudi Arabia, historically participating in destabilizing efforts such as the overthrow of the democratic rule in Iran in the 1950’s and stanchly backing Israel, has created a situation where the U.S. it has become the object of mass dissatisfaction in the Middle East, seen as the puppet master behind so much that goes on, even though this can only be said to be partially true. The US has been transformed from the beacon of light to the embattled national security state like some reinvented Roman Empire building walls around its borders in a vain attempt to keep the dangerous world out, an impossible task on the face of it. The American people’s psyche, now fearful, manipulated by market and governmental forces that have failed and lied, leading the country into costly and debilitating wars, a ruinous recession and now a seemingly dysfunctional heath care plan, with onerous debt, a political class in disarray and Congress in stalemate. Hamstrung by the debt from the wars and mishandling the economy, it will be years before the US recovers its predominant position, if ever with the changing world political scene. America the embattled is the resulting mental state from the War on Terror.

The U.S. must continue to re-examine the use of its military power, participate in multilateral approaches to problems, as the recent Libyan campaign demonstrated even with its flaws. The recognition of and mitigation of racist stereotypical attitudes is essential to a clear headed approach to the region. Reviewing the reaction in the Middle East to Obama’s election in 2008, the U. S. gained much credibility, simply because Obama, as a non-white European, raised hopes that he would take a much more nuanced and understanding approach to the world. The excessive costs of the recent wars and the exhaustion of the American public with more entanglements in the Middle East as the recent resistance to an incursion in Syria would indicate, should warn policy makers that a change in direction is needed. Tend to one’s own garden as Candide said, in Voltaire’s classic tale, a lesson the U. S. should consider seriously. Certainly there are enough issues in the American domestic house that cry out for attention.

Will the U.S. take care of pressing domestic issues and renounce its hegemonic position in the world? The affirmative position is that the U.S. is making moves to extricate itself from the disastrous policies of the last decade, ratcheting down from a War on Terror rhetorically to one of police activity, has aided in a return to a more normal posture vis a vie the use of extraordinary powers. An institutionalization of eroded civil liberties and freedom in the U.S. will accomplish al Qaeda’s work for them, reducing the U.S. to merely being just another state jostling for power and control. If America is to retain its exceptional position as a beacon of hope and freedom, then it must not allow that to happen.

Works Cited
Carlton, David. The West’s Road to 9/11 Resisting, Appeasing, and Encouraging Terrorism Since 1970. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. Print.
Chesney, Robert M. “Beyond the Battlefield, Beyond Al Qaeda: The Destabilizing Legal Architecture of Counterterrorism.” Michigan Law Review 112.2 (2013): 163-224. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Ferguson, Niall. Colossus The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. New York: Penguin Books. 2004. Print.
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