Monday, July 31, 2017

Trading currents, exchanging vessels

Comfort failed. Who would have
thought that it could fail?
People felt teased by a prom-
ise of a national life that
did not arrive and an intim-
acy that could not be consum-
mated. So teased.

In the mid-eighteenth century the French 
               people, if consulted, would have shown no
               more enthusiasm than the Economists for
               liberty; it was something they had quite
               lost touch with, indeed the very idea of
               freedom meant nothing to them. What they
               wanted was not so much a recognition of
               the "rights of man" as reforms in the ex-
               isting system, and had there been on the
               throne a monarch of the caliber and tem-
               perament of Frederick the Great, he would
               certainly have initiated many of the
               sweeping changes made by the Revolution
               in social conditions and the government
               of the country, and thus not only have
               preserved his crown but added greatly to
               his power .. But such steps are rarely
               taken on another's advice; only a man who
               himself is capable of conceiving such i-
               deas is disposed to put them into practice.

  A friend helpfully wrote in on 
  Saturday, to advise me that it
  was the birthday of de Tocque-
  ville, passing along an aperçu
  from his study of the Americans
  in the 1830s. I tend regularly
  to respect his observations, if
  not always their contemporary
  relevance; but this gesture spur-
  red me to consult his study of
  popular feeling under a decadent
  system, The Old Régime and the
  French Revolution. It brings one
  closer, as does this classic es-
  say on television's destruction
  of context, to the rise of our
  new government, than Democracy
  in America, just now.

Like you, I have only the
fondest respect for the
blessings of positive, ac-
cidental refreshments in
one's thinking, in the
conduct of ancient rela-
tionships originating in
trust. It strikes me that
the present currents in
America are directing us
more as they did in mid-
18th Century France, than
they did in the early Am-
rican union. The survival
of context is crucial, but
is being pursued by an ex-
change of vehicles. The quest for intimacy of pre-rogative lacks fortune. The insistence upon empirical decorum does not. Nostalgia isn't merely redistributed. It's redefined.

George W.S. Trow
Within the Context 
  of No Context
Little, Brown & Co., 1981©

Alexis de Tocqueville
The Old Régime and the
  French Revolution
Stuart Gilbert
Doubleday & Co., 1955©

ii   Raymond Carrance

iii  Bruce Weber

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