Sunday, January 20, 2013

Candidates without qualities

Coming soon: Volume 2
You know that American fashion of asking would-be presidents and vice presidents what they like to read? In addition to all the other shorthand with which we label parties and candidates, I now regard Democrats as the party of Walter Mosley and Daniel Woodrell, and Republicans as that of L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand, and my heart overflows with compassion for my intelligent, literate conservative friends and acquaintances.

I thought of this last night as I finished reading volume 1 of The Man Without Qualities, the high-minded business tycoon Arnheim holding forth to the title character, Ulrich, on how a modern corporation operates ("modern," in this case being just as operative today as when Robert Musil worked on the novel, from 1930 to 1942):
"Wherever you find two such forces, a person who really gives the orders and an administrative body that executes them, what automatically happens is that every possible means of increasing profit is used, whether or not it is morally or aesthetically attractive. When I say automatically, I mean just that, because the way it works is to a high degree independent of any personal factor. The person who really wields the power takes no hand in carrying out his directives, while the managers are covered by the fact that they are acting not on their own behalf but as functionaries. You will find such arrangements everywhere these days, and by no means exclusively in the world of finance. You may depend on it that our friend Tuzzi would give the signal for war with the clearest conscience in the world, even if as a man he may be incapable of shooting down a dog, and your friend Moosbrugger will be sent to his death by thousands of people because only three of them need have a hand in it personally."
It's not hard to see why any high official would shift uncomfortably in his or her seat reading that, whether a Republican from Haliburton or Bechtel, or a Democrat sending troops to war or overseeing the execution of a mentally deficient prisoner. (That is predicated on the assumption that the candidate's involvement in the execution was calculatedly and morbidly unreal.)

Here's another bit from the same chapter, this time Arnheim on the film industry:
"`Do you ever go to see a film? You should,' he said. `In its present form, cinematography may not look like much, but once the big interests get involved—the electrochemical, say, or the chromochemical concerns—you are likely to see a surging development in just a few decades, which nothing can stop. Every known means of raising and intensifying production will be brought into play, and whatever our writers and aesthetes may suppose to be their own part in it, we will be getting art based on Associated Electrical or German Dyes, Inc."
With the possible exception that Musil did not anticipate the extent to which the movie industry would itself become a big interest, I'd say there's not much to quarrel with there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Dave Knadler said...

How prescient. Another illustration of why the Citizens United ruling is so pernicious: Corporations can have no more conscience than your average mob.

Interesting generalization about politics and fiction. I'm sure there are a lot of notable exceptions, but I can't think of any offhand.

January 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The novel is astonishingly relevant to our time in many, many respects while remaining a prescient document of its own time. Musil fled Austria after the Anschluss, and he died in 1942. Knowing that, the currents swirling throughout the novel chilling, especially since the action, at least in the first volume, is entirely the day-to-day life of Vienna's middle and upper classes.

As to politics and fiction, if I were a Republican consultant, I'd advise candidates to start lying and say their favorite novels are "To Kill a Mockingbird" or something along those lines, the way Hollywood stars do.

January 21, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

You say, "I now regard Democrats as the party of Walter Mosley and Daniel Woodrell, and Republicans as that of L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand, and my heart overflows with compassion for my intelligent, literate conservative friends and acquaintances."

You either engage in irony or you paint with too wide a brush in your generalizations.

As for me, I have not read any one of the authors you list. Does that fact make me apolitical? Does that fact make me unfit for stereotyping? Does your broadly painted assertion stop me cold and remain distracted from the remainder of your posting. Does all of this make me wonder? Indeed, I do wonder.

January 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I thought the post made it clear that I was poking fun at the whole notion of reducing parties to labels.

On the other hand, Rand and Hubbard are not albatrosses hung around Paul Ryan's and Mitt Romney's necks by the liberal media. Romney and Ryan presumably chose freely to tell the world those are the authors they read and, being politicians, presumably intended by their choices to send a political message-- just as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did with their choices. The labels, in other words, are not entirely unfair.

And that is why I really do feel embarrassed for my conservative friends, who, I like to think, read better authors than L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand--and would love to have better leaders to enunciate and put into practice their principles.

January 21, 2013  

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