Gore Vidal Links
The Twelve Caesars
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 523
"Tiberius, Capri. Pool of water. Small children . . . So far so good. One's labourious translation was making awful sense. Then . . . Fish. Fish? The erotic mental image became surreal. Another victory for the Loeb Library's sly translator, J.C. Rolfe, who, correctly anticipating the prurience of schoolboy readers, left Suetonius' gaudier passages in the hard original. One failed to crack those intriguing footnotes not because the syntax was so difficult (though it was not easy for students drilled in military rather than civilian Latin) but because the range of vice revealed was considerably beyond the imagination of even the most depraved schoolboy. There was a point at which one rejected one's own translation. Tiberius and the little fish, for instance."
Most of the world today is governed by Caesars. Men are more and more treated as things. Torture is ubiquitous. And, as Sartre wrote in his preface to Henri Alleg's chilling book about Algeria, "Anybody, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner." Suetonius, in holding up a mirror to those Caesars of diverting legend, reflects not only them but ourselves: half-tamed creatures, whose great moral task it is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within - for we are both, and to ignore this duality is to invite disaster.
1952 (Published in The Nation, 1959)
Sex and the Law
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 529
"In 1963, H.L.A. Hart, Oxford Professor of Jurisprudence, gave three lectures at Stanford University. In these lectures (published by the Standford University Press as Law, Liberty and Morality) Professor Hart attempted to answer an old question: Is the fact that certain conduct by common standards immoral a sufficient cause to punish that conduct by law? A question which leads him to what might be a paradox: "Is it morally permissible to enforce morality as such? Ought immorality as such to be a crime?" Philosophically, Professor Hart inclined to John Stuart Mill's celebrated negative. In On Liberty, Mill wrote, "The only purpose for which power can righfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others"; and to forestall the arguments of the paternally minded, Mill added that a man's own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise or even right."
Does this then mean that laws should alter as old prejudices are replaced by new? In response to public opinion, the Emperor Justinian made homosexuality a criminal offense on the grounds that buggery, as everyone knew, was the chief cause of earthquakes.
Partisan Review, Summer 1965
Sex is Politics
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 539
Although our notions about what consitutes correct sexual behavior are usually based on religious texts, those texts are invariably interpreted by the rulers in order to keep control over the ruled. Any sexual or intellectual or recreational or political activity that might decrease the amount of coal mined, the number of pyramids built, the quantity of junk food confected will be proscribed through laws that, in turn, are based on divine revlations handed down by whatever god or gods happen to be in fashion at the moment. Religions are manipulated in order to serve those who govern society and not the other way around. This is a brand-new thought to most Americans, whether once or twice or never bathed in the Blood of the Lamb.
Now, it is not possible for a governing class to maintain its power if there are no hot buttons to push. A few months ago, the "Giveaway of the Panama Canel" issue looked as though it were going to be a very hot button, indeed. It was thought that is, somehow, American manhood could be made to seem at stake in Panama, there was a chance that a sort of subliminal sexual button might be pused, triggering throughout the land a howl of manly rage, particularly from ladies at church receptions: American manhood has never been so exclusively maxculine preserve. But untimately, American manhood (so recently kneed by the Viet Cong) did not feel endangered by the partial loss of a fairly dull canal, and so that button jammed.
The authors of the Old and New Testaments created not only a religious anthology but also a political order in which man is woman's eternal master (Jewish men used to pray, "I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast not created me a woman"). The hatred and fear of women that runs through the Old Testament (not to mention in the pages of our justly admired Jewish novelists) suggest that the patriarchal principle so carefully built into the Jewish notion of God must have been at one time opposed to a powerful and perhaps competitive matriarchal system. Whatever the original reasons for the total subordination of woman to man, the result has been an unusually ugly religion that has caused a good deal of suffering not only in its original form but also through its later heresy, Christianity, which in due, and ironic, course was to spin off yet another heresy, communism.
"The New Testament's Christ is a somewhat milder figure than the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Yet one is very much the son of hte other, and so, presumably, nothing basic was supposed to change in the relations between the sexes. In fact, at one point, Jesus displays a positively Portnoyesque exaperation with the traditional Jewish mother. "Woman," he says to Mary, "what are thou to me?" Mary's no doubt lengthy answer has not been recorded."
Today Americans are in a state of terminal hysteria on the subject of sex in general and of homosexuality in particular because the owners of the country (butressed by a religion that they have shrewdly adapted to their own ends) regard the family as their last means of control over those who work and consume. For two millennia, women have been treated as chattel, while homosexuality has been made to seem a crime, a vice, an illness.
In the Symposium, Plato defined the problem: "In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians [Plato is referring to the Persians, who were the masters of the Jews at the time Leviticus was written], the custom [homosexuality] is held to be dishonorable; loves of youths share the evil repute in which philosophy and gymnastics are held, because htey are inimical to tyranny; the interests of the rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all other motives, it likely to inspire, as out Athenian tyrants learned by experience; for the love or Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power." This last refers to a pair of lovers who helped overthrow the tyrants at Athens.
Playboy, January 1979
Feminism and its Discontents
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 591
[Norman] "Mailer begins by reminding the reader who he is. This is cunning and necessary in a country with no past."
The New York Review of Books, July 22, 1971
The Birds and the Bees
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 612
Recently, while assembling forty years of bookchat, I noted with some alarm - even guilt - that I had never really explained sex. True, I have demonstrated that sex is politics and I have noted that the dumb neologisms, homo-sexual and hetero-sexual, are adjectives that describe acts but never people. Even so, I haven't spelled the whole thing out. So now, before reading skills further atrophy, let me set the record straint, as it were.
First the bad news: Men and women are not alike. They have different sexual roles to perform. Despite the best efforts of theologians and philosophers to disguise our condition, there is not point to us, or to any species, except proliferation and survival. This is hardly glamorous, and so to give Meaning to Life, we have invented some of the most bizarre religions that . . . alas, we have nothing to compare ourselves to. We are biped mammals filled with red sea water (reminder of our oceanic origin), and we exist to reproduce until we are eventually done in by the planet's changing weather or a stray meteor.
Men and women are dispensible carriers, respectively, of seeds and eggs; programmed to mate and die, mate and die, mate and die. One can see why "love" was invented by some artist who found depressing the dull mechanics of our mindless mission to be fruitful and multiply.
The Nation, October 28, 1991
How to Find God and Make Money
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 628
Fortunately, Jimmy's friends Bert and Labelle have the consolation of Holy Scripture in their dark hours. As the grand jury convenes in Atlanta, Bert is certain to turn to Luke 11:52: "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering."
The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1978.
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 641
It is possible to stop most drug addition in the United States with a very short time. Simply make all drugs available and sel lthem at cost. Label each drug with a precise description of what effect - good and bad - the drug will have on the taker. This wll require heroic honesty. Don't say that marijuana is addictive or dangerous when it is neither, as millions of people know - unlike "speed", which kills most unpleasantly, or heroin, which is addictive and difficult to kick.
For the record, I have tried - once - almost every drug and liked none, disproving the popular Fu Manchu theory that a single whiff of opium will enslave the mind. Nevertheless many drugs are bad for certain people to take and they should be told why in a sinsible way.
Along with exhortation and warning, it might be good for our citizens to recall (or learn for the first time) that the United States was the creation of men who believed that each man has the right to do what he wants with his own life as long as he does not interfere with his neighbor's pursuit of happiness (that his neighbor's idea of happiness is persecuting others does confuse matters a bit).
This is a startling notion to the current generation of Americans. They reflect a system of public education which has made the Bill of Rights, literally, unacceptable to a majority of high school graduates (see the annual Purdue reports) who now form the "silent majority" - a phrase which that underestimated with Richard Nixon took from Homer who used it to describe the dead.
It is a lucky time for the American moralist that our country has always existed in a kind of time-vacuum: we have not public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday. No one in Washington today recalls what happened during the years alcohol was forbidden to the people by a Congress that thought it had a divine mission to stamp out Demon Rum - launching, in the proces, the greatest crime wave in the country's history, caysing thousands of deaths from bad alcohol, and creating a general (and persisting) contempt among the citzenry for the laws of the United States.
The same thing is happening today. But the government has learned nothing from past attempts at prohibition, not to mention repression.
Last year when the supply of Mexican marijuana was slightly curtailed by the Feds, the pushers got the kids hooked on heroin and deaths increased dramatically, particularly in New York. Whose fault? Evil men like the Mafiosi? Permissive Dr. Spock? Wild-eyed Dr. Leary? No.
The Government of the United States was responsible for those deaths. The bureaucratic machine has a vested interest in playing cops and robbers. Both the Bureau of Narcotics and the Mafia want strong laws against the sale the use of drugs because if drugs are sold at cost there would be no money it is for anyone.
If there was no money in it for the Mafia, there would be no friendly playground pushers, and addicts would not commit crimes to pay for the next fix. Finally, if there was no money in it, the Bureau of Narcotics would wither away, something they are not about to do without a struggle.
Will anything sensible be done? Of course not. The American people are as devoted to the idea of sin and its punishment as they are to making money - and fighting drugs is nearly as big a business as pushing them. Since the combination of sin and money is irresistible (particularly to the professional politican), the situation will only grow worse.
The New York Times, September 26, 1970
The Four Generations of the Adams Family
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 644
The Inventors of the United States decided that there would be no hereditary titles in God's country. Although the Inventors were hostile to the idea of democracy and believed profoundly in the sacredness of property and the ncessary dignity of those who owned it, they did not like the ideas of king, duke, marquess, earl. Such a system of hereditary nobility was liable to produce aristocrats who tended to mix in politics (like the egregious Lord North) instead of politically responsible burghers.
But the Inventors were practical men and the federal constitution that they assembled in 1787 was an exquisite machine that, with a repair here and a twist there, has gone on protecting properly of the worthy for two undred years while protecting in the Bill of Rights (that sublime afterthought) certain freedoms of speech and assembly which are still unknown even now to that irritable fount of America's political and actual being, old Europe. The Inventors understood human greed and self-interest. Combining brutal cynicism with a Puritan sense of virtue, they used those essential drives to power the machinery of the state.
Certainly none wanted to change the way people were. "As to political reformation in Europe and elsewhere," wrote conservative Inventor John Jay in 1796, "I confess that . . . . I do not amuse myself with dreams about an age of reason. I am content that little men should be as free as big ones and have and enjoy the same rights, but nothing strikes me as more absured than projects to stretch little men into big ones, or shrink big men into little ones . . . We must take men and measures as they are, and act accordingly." That is the very voice of the American Inventors: conservative, commonsensical, and just - within (as opposed to the age of) reason.
Democracy, Adams believed, was "the most ignoble, unjust and detestable form of government." The other inventors agreed. But then, early on, they had a great fright. Before the separation from England only men of property could vote in Massachusetts; but the property qualifications were doubled. A number of former soldiers led by one Daniel Shays revolted. Shay's Rebellion was quickly put down. in the process, the Inventors came to the conclusion that a relatively strong federal constitution was needed to make thirteen loosely allied states into a single nation with the sort of powers that would discourage rebellion and protect property.
The New York Review of Books, March 18 and April 1, 1976
First Note on Abraham Lincoln
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 665
In "Patriotic Gore," Edmund Wilson wrote, "There are moments when one is tempted to feel that the cruelist thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandberg." The late Mr. Sandburg was a public performer of the first rank "Ker-oh-seen!" he crooned in one of the first TV pitches for the jet-engine - ole banjo on his knee, white hair mussed by the jet-stream), a poet of the second rank (who can ever forget that feline-footed fog?) and a biographer of awesome badness. Unfortunately, the success of his four-volume Abraham Lincoln: The War Years was total. In the course of several million clumsily arranged words, Sandburg managed to reduce one of the most interesting and subtle men in world history to a cornball Disneyland waxwork rather like . . . hes, Carl Sandburg himself.
The real Lincoln is elsewhere. He is to be found, for those able to read old prose, in his own writings. According to Lincoln's law partner William Herndon: "He was the most continuous and severest thinker in America. He read but little and that for an end. Politics was his Heaven and his Hades metaphysics." Lincoln read and reread Shakespeare; he studied Blackstone's legal commentaries. And that was about it. Biographies bored him; he read no novels. Yet, somehow (out of continuous and sever thinking?), he became a master of our most difficult language, and the odd music to his sentences is like that of anyone else - with the possible exceptoion of Walt Whiman on a clear unweepy day.
It will come as a terrible shock to many of those who have been twice-born in the capacious bosom of Jesus to learn that Lincoln not only rejected Christianity but wrote a small book called "Infidelity" (meaning lack of faith in God). Lincoln "read his manuscript to Samuel Hill, his employer (who) said to Lincoln: 'Lincoln, let me see your manuscript.' Lincoln handed it to him. Hill ran it in a tin-plate stove and so the book went up in flames. Lincoln in that production attempted to show that the Bible was false: first on the grounds of reason, and, second, because it was self-contradictory; that Jesus was not the son of God any more than any man." Later, in the presidency, pressure was brough on Lincoln to start putting God into his speeches. At the beginning, he did so in the vague sense of hte Almighty or heaven. Later, there is a good deal of God in the speeches but no mention of Jesus. At heart, Lincoln was a fatalist, a materialist of the school of Democritus and Lucretius.
Devotees of the Mount Rushmore school of history like to think that the truely great man is a virgin until his wedding night; and a devoted monogramist thereafter. Apparently, Lincoln was indeed "true as steel" to Mary Todd even though, according to Herndon, "I have seen women make advances and I have seen Lincoln reject or refuse them. Lincoln had terrible strong passions for women, could scarcely keep his hands off them, and yet he had honor and strong will, and these enabled him to put out the fires of his terrible passion." But in his youth he was seriously burned by those fires. In the pre-penicillin era syphilis was epidemic - and, usually, incurable. According to Herndon: "About the year 1835-36 Mr. Lincoln went to Bearstown and during a devilish passion had connection with a girl and caught the disease. Lincoln told me this . . " Later, after a long seige, Lincoln was cured, if he was cured, by a Dr. Daniel Drake of Cincinnati.
Herndon suspected that Lincoln might have given Mary Todd syphilis. If he had, that would have explained the premature deaths of three Lincoln children: "Poor boys, they are dead now and gone! I should like to know one thing that this is: What caused the death of these children? I have an opinion which I shall never state to anyone." So state to everyone Herndon. The autopsy on Mary Todd showed a physica deterioration of the brain consistent with paresis. If Lincoln had given his wife syphilis and if he had, inadvertently, caused the death of his children, the fits of leancholy are now understandable - and unbearably tragic.
The Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1981
Lincoln, Lincoln and the Priests of Academe
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 669
From the beginning, the bard, the poet, the writer was the most high priest to the people, the custodian of their common memory, the intepreter of their history, the voice of their current yearnings.
All this stopped in the last two centuries when the rulers decided to teach the workers to read and write so that they could handle machinery. Traditionalist thought this a dangerous experiment. If the common people knew too much, might they not overthrow their masters? But the modernists, like John Stuart Mill, won. And, in due course, the people - proudly literate - overthrew their masters. We got rid of the English while the French and the Russians - ardent readers - shredded their ancient monarchies. In fact, the French - who read and theorize the most - became so addicted to political experiment that in the two centuries since our own rather drab revolution they have exuberantly produced one Directory, one Consulate, two empires, three restorations of the monarchy, and five republics. That's what happens when you take writing too seriously. Happily, Americans have never liked reading all that much. Poltically ignorant, we keep sputtering along in our old Model T, looking wistfully every four years for a good mechanic.
The New York Review of Books, April 28, 1988
As for Lincoln's syphilis, I use the words Herndon himself used: "About the year 1835-36 Mr. Lincoln went to Bearstown and during a devilish passion had connection with a girl and caught the disease [syphilis]. Lincoln told me this . . . About hte year 183637 Lincoln moved to Springfield . . At this time I suppose that the disease hung to him and, not wishing to trust our physicians, he wrote to Doctor Drake." Since there is no reason for Herndon to lie about this, I suppose we should all agree upon it as a fact. But since no saint has ever had syphilis, Herddon is a liar and so the consensus finds against him.
The New York Review of Books, August 18, 1988
Last Note on Lincoln
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 707
In a sense, we have had three republics. The first, a loose confederation of former British colonies, lasted from 1776 to 1789 when the first Congress under the Constitution met. The second republic ended April 9, 1865, with the South's surrender. In due course Lincoln's third republic was transformed (inevitably?) into the national security state where we have been locked up for forty years. A fourth republic might be nice.
The New York Review of Books, August 15, 1991
President and Mrs. U. S. Grant
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 721
In Patriotic Gore Edmund Wilson writes: "It was the age of the audacious confidence man, and Grant was the incurable sucker. He easily fell victim to their [sic] trickery and allowed them to betray him into compromising his office because he could not believe that such people existed." This strikes me as all wrong. I think Grant knew exactly what was going on. For instance, when Grant's private secretary General Babcock was indicted for his part in the Whisky Ring, the President, with Nixonian zeal, gave a false deposition attesting to Babcock's character. Then Grant saw to it that the witnesses for the prosecution would not, as originally agred, be granted exemption for testifying. When this did not inhibit the United States Attorny handling the suit, Grant fired him in mid-case: obstruction of justice in spades.
More to the point, it is simply not possible to read Grant's memoirs without realizing that the author is a man of first-rate intelligence. As president, he made it his policy to be cryptic and taciturn, partly in order not to be bored by politicians (and from the preening Charles Sumner to the atrocious Roscoe Conkling it was an age of insufferable megalomaniacs, so nicely described in Henry Adams in Democracy) and partly not to tive the game away. After all, everyone was on the take. Since an ungrateful nation had neglected to give him a Blenheim palace, Grant felt perfectly justified in consorting with such crooks as Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, and profiting from their crimes.
But enough. In this bicentennial year, as the benign spirit of Walt Disney ranges up and down the land, let us look only to what was good in Ulysses S. Grant. Let us forget the corrupted little president and remember only the great general, the kind and exquisitely tactful leader, the Roman figure who, when dying, did his duty and made the last years of his beloved goose of a wife comfortable and happy.
The New York Review of Books, September 18, 1975
Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 735
Alice Longworth used to boast that she and her father's viceroy Taft were the last Westerners to be received by the Dowager Empress of China. "We went to Peking. To the Forbidden City. And there we were taken to see this strange little old lady standing at the end of a room. Well, there was no bowing or scraping for us. So we marched down the room just behind the chamberlain, a eunuch, like one of those in that book of yours, Justinian, who slithered on his belly toward her. After he had announced us, she gave him a kick and he rolled over like a dog and slithered out." What had they talked about? She couldn't recall. I had my impression that she rather like the way the empress treated her officials.
In the years before World War II, Alice was to be part of a maritial rectangle. The heart having its reasons, Alice saw fit to conduct a long affair with the corrupt Senator William Borah, the so-called lion of Idaho, who had once roared, "I'd rather be right than president," causing my father to murmur, "Of course, he was neither." In 1940, when the poor and supposedly virtuous Borah died, several hundres thousand dollars were found in his safety deposit box. Where had the money come from? asked the press. "He was my friend," said Senator Gore, for public consumption, "I do not speculate." But when I asked him who had paid off Borah, the answer was blunt. "The Nazis. To keep us out of the war."
The New York Review of Books, August 13, 1981
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 747
Although a marvelous friend and conscience to the world, she was, I suspect, a somewhat unsatisfactory parent. Descendents and their connections often look rather hard and hurt at the mention of her. For those well-placed by birth to do humanity's work, she had no patience if they were - ultimate sin - unhappy. A woman I know went to discuss were her a disastrous marriage; she came away chilled to the bone. These things were to be borne.
What did Eleanor feel about Franklin? That is an enigma, and perhaps she herself never sorted it out. He was complex and cold and cruel (so many of her stories of life with him would end, "And then I fled from the table in tears!"). He liked telling her the latest "Eleanor stories"; his sense of fun was heavy. A romantic, Mr. Lash thinks she kept right on loving him to the end (a favourite poem of the two was E. B. Browning's "Unless you can swear, 'For life, for death,'/Oh, fear to call it loving!"). But I wonder. Certainly he hurt her mortally in their private relationship; worse, he often let her down in their public partnership. Yet she respected his cunning even when she depolored his tactics.
The New York Review of Books, November 18, 1971
H. L. Mencken the Journalist
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 755
Curiously enough, of all those good and bad Americans who shuddered at the sudden sharp wind from the east known as communism, Mencken, as early as 1930, figured that there was no way that communism could ever set up show within our alabaster cities, much less take sickle to our fruited plains. Mencken's reasoning is exquisitely sound: "That Americans, in the mass, have anything properly described as keen wits is surely far from self-evident. On the contrary, it seems likely that, if anything, they lie below the civilised norm." Incidentally, for several decades I have been trying to convince Europe that Americans are not inately stupid but merely ignorant and that with a proper educational system, et cetera. But the more one reads Mencken, the more one eyes, suspiciously, the knuckles of his countrymen, looking to see callouses from too constant a contact with the greensward.
Mencken quotes Wendell Phillips: "More than any other people, we Americans are afraid of one another." Mencken acknowledges this truth, and he puts it down to the desire to conform, which means howling with the rest of the mindless pack as it careens from nowhere to nowhere in the pursuit of such instant-enemies of the week as Gaddafi, Noriega, Saddam, put in place by out packmeisters, successively, like that mechanical rabbit used to keep racing dogs on course. For this sense of collective security, the individual must sacrifice himself in order "to belong to something larger and safer than he is," and he can "work off steam within prudent limits. Beyond lie the national taboos. Beyond lies true independence and the heavy penalties that go therewith."
A century earlier, that shrewd passerby, Tocqueville, also noted the force of the majority on the individual to conform. But Mencken was obliged to live a lifetime in such a society and so, unlike the French penologist, he can present data from the inside of the slammer. "The taboos that I have mentioned are extraordinarily harsh and numerous. They stand around nearly every subject that is genuinely important to man: they hedge in free opinion and experimentation of all sides. Consider, for example, the matter of religion. It is debated freely and furiously in almost every country in the world save the United States," but here the critic is silenced. "The result is that all religions are equally safeguarded against criticism, and that all of them lose vitality. We protect the status quo, and so make steady war upon revision and improvement."
In August 1925, Mencken meditated on how Europeans view Americans, and how they noted "our growing impatience with the free play of ideas, our increasing tendency to reduce all virtues to a single one of conformity, our relentless and pervading standardization . . . Europe doesn't fear our military or economic prowess, rather it is Henry Ford that gives them the shivers . . . By Americanization it means Fordization - and not only in industry but also politics, art, and even religion." Nor is this simply the spontaneous power of public opinion; it is the deliberate power of the state brought into play. "No other nation of today is so rigorously policed. The lust to standardize and regulate extends to the most trivial minutia of private life."
At the time Mencken wrote this alcohol had been prohibited by law to the American poeple, as well as almost every form of sex, disturbing reading matter, and so on. Mencken also adverts to the Scopes trial of that year, whose verdict forbade the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in the schools of Christian Tennesee. This trial convinced thoughtful Europeans that Americanism was "a conspiracy of dull and unimaginative men, fortuitously made powerful, against all the ideas and ideals that seem sound to their betters," leading the Europeans to suspect "that a nation cherishing such notions and feelings, and with the money and the men to enforce them, deserved to be watched very carefully."
Already guilty of Racist Generalizing, Mencken proceeds, sickeningly, to grade all Japanese: "They are a people of very considerable talents, and will have to be reckoned with in the future history of the human race. They have long since got past the stage of sitting respectfully at the feet of the West . . . In all the fields of human endeavour save theology, politics and swine justice they are showing the way to their ofay mentors. They have made important durable contributions to knowledge in each and every one of the exact sciences, and they have taken such a lead in trade and industry that the only way left to beat them is to murder them." But even this solution, particularly favoured by England, won't be easy because they have "a considerable knack for war."
Originally published as the Foreward to The Impossible H.L. Mencken: a Selection of his Best Newspaper Stories, edited by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1991.
What Robert Moses did to New York City
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 774
To begin at the beginning: The United States has alays been a corrupt society. Periodically, "good" citizens band together and elect to office political opportunists who are presented to the public as non-politicians. Briefly, things appear to be clean. But of course bribes are still given; taken. Nothing ever changes nor is there ever going to be any potentially dangerous question: Is the man who gives a bribe as guilty as the man who takes a bribe?
For decades Vice President-designate Nelson Rockefeller has used his family's money to but and maintain the Republican party of the State of New York while his predecssor but one, Spiro Agnew, was busy taking money from various magnates who wanted favors done - men who differ from the Rockefellers only in degree. Yet the Agnews are thought to be deeply wicked (if found out) while no sign of Cain ever attaches itself to their corrupters. It is a curious double standard - rather like those laws that put the hooker in jail for selling her ass while letting the john go free with a wink. But then we are a godly people and, as Scripture hath it, it is better to give than to receive. Blessed then are the Kennedys and the Rockefellers who buy directly or indirectly the votes of the poor and the loytalty of their leaders in order that public office might be won, and pesonal vanity hugely served.
"The fact is New York politics were always dishonest - long before my time." So testified Boss Tweed a hundred years ago. "There never was a time when you couldn't buy the Board of Aldermen. A politican in coming forward takes things as they are. This population is too hopelessly split up into races and factions to govern it under universal suffrage, except by the bribery of patronage, or corruption." This is elegantly put. As far as we know, Robert Moses did not take money for himself like Tweed or Agnew. He was more ambitious than that. Wanting power, Moses used the people's money to buy, as it were, the Board of Aldermen over and over again for forty-four years during which time, if Mr. Caro is to be believed, he was, without peer, the fount of corruption in the state.
The New York Review of Books, October 17, 1974
Barry Goldwater: A Chat
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 840
Up and down the land there are storm warnings. Many look nervously for shelter, and Goldwater, in the name of old-time virute and ruggedness and self-reliance, offers them refuge beneath the venerable great roof of the Constitution. True or not, his simplifications are enormously appealing and, who knows, in a time of crisis he might seize the prize.
Bit I make no predictions. I would only recommend to Goldwater Cicero's warning to a fellow political adventurer, in a falling year of the Roman Republic: "I am sure you understand the political situation into which youy have . . . no, not stumbled, but stepped; for it was by deliberate choice and by no accident that you flung your tribunate into the very crisis of things; and I doubt not that you reflect how potent in politics is opportunity, how shifting the phases, how incalculable the issues of events, how easily swayed are men's predilections, what pitfalls there are and what insincerity in life."
Life, June 9, 1961
The Twenty-ninth Republican Convention
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 849
In short, there is no new Nixon, only the old Nixon experimenting with new campaigning techniques in response, as the Stalinists use to say, to new necessities.
The New York Review of Books, September 12, 1968
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 851
In 1959 when I wrote the play, the Democratic rivals for the nomination were Adlai Stevenson (who was being smeared as a homosexual - and an indecisive one to boot), John F. Kennedy (who was being smeared as an altogether too active heterosexual as well as the glad beneficiary of his wealthy father's ability to buy elections) and the majority leader of the Senate, Lyndon Johnson (who was known to take cash for any political services rendered). In the background was Harry S Truman, whose campaign for election in 1948 nearly ended before it began. Unable to pay for the train in which he was to whistle-stop the country, giving hell to the rich, Truman turned to his crony Louis Johnson and asked for money quick. Johnson got the money from the "China Lobby," and ever after the grateful President loyally served the cause of Chiang Kai-shek. All of this was common knowledge to most of us who were involved in the life and politics of Washington, DC.
New Statesman, May 4, 1973
Richard Nixon: Not the Best Man's Best Man
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 900
Although hypocrisy has been the name of the American gave for most of this century, Nixon's occasional odd burst of candor are often stunning. Of General Eisenhower, who despised (by Ike) vice president he was, Nixon wrote in Six Crises: "Eisenhower was a far more complex and devious man than most peoploe relized" - a truth not generally known even now. Then comes the inimitable Nixon gloss: Eisenhower was complex and devious "in the best sense of those words."
Currently, in a series of books signed with a Nixon's name, he himself is trying to rearrange his place in that long cavalcade of mediocrity - and worse - that has characterized the American presidency since the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
Nixon's chroniclers have their work cut out for them, because he is simply too gorgeous and outsize an American figure for any contemporary to put into clear perspective. To understand Nixon's career you would have to understand the United States in the twentieth century, and that is something that our educational, political, and media establishments are not about to help us do. After all: no myth, no nation. They have a vested interest in maintaining our ignorance, and that is why we are currently stuck with the peculiar notion that Nixon just happened to be the one bad apple in a splendid barrel. That fact that there has not been a good or serious president since Franklin Roosevelt is ignored, while the fact that Nixon was corrupt some of the time, and complex and devious all of the time, in constantly emphasized in ore to make him appear uniquely sleazy - and the rest of us just grand. Yet Nixon is hardly atypical. Certainly his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, far surpassed Nixon when it came to mendacity and corruption. But the national myth requires, periodically, a scapegoat; hence Nixon's turn in the barrel.
Esquire, December 1983
Homage to Daniel Shays
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 900
Ultimate irony, the middle American still tends to believe that he is living in a Jefferson I society when, in fact, he has been for some decades in a Jefferson II world, allowing an imperial-minded elite to tax him in order to wage a holy war against something called communism.
Fortunately, there are now signs that they don't make suckers like that any more. The taxpayers' revolt has begun. A dislike of all politicians is in the land. Word is out that the rich don't pay as much, proportionately, to maintain their empire as do the middle-income people. They hat socialism and communism and all the things good people are supposed to hate, but they are also beginning to wonder just why they have to give up so mch of their income to fight those very same Commies Nixon likes to dinw with in Peking and Moscow.
That fact is that our present governors are not very bright, and this may be our salvation. In 1968 they absent-mindedly gave us a president whose schizophrenic behaviour and prose style ("This is not an invasion of Cambodia") is creepily apparent to even the most woolly-headed yeoman. Now thre new books provide useful information about the small group who own the United States, how our economic and foreign policies are manipulated, how members of Congress are bought, how presidential candidates are selected and financed.
The mold that cast the mind of C. Wright Mills was not broken at his flesh's departure. Another such mind was promptly cast and labeled G. William Domjoff (those first initials and middle names are reminiscent of a generation of three-named Episcopalian clergymen). A Mills disciple, Domhoff has published Who Rules America (1967) and The Higher Circle (1970). The subjects of those books are exactly what their titles suggest. Domhoff has now written another illuminating treatise called Fat Cats and Democrats: The Role of the Big Rich in the Party of the Common Man.
Domhoff's thesis is straightforward. The country is governed by a small elite which knows pretty much what it is up to and coordinates its various moves in foreign affairs and the economy. Most academics dispute this theory. They tend to be Jefferson I types who believe that the United States is a pluralist society filled with all sorts of domination and powers constantly balancing and checking one another. To them, anyone who believes that an elite is really running the show is paranoid. But as the late Delmore Schwartz once said with the weary lucidity of his own rich madness, "Paranoids have real enemies, too." Admittedly, it is difficult at first to accept the proposition that the owners of the country also rule it and that the electorate is nothing but a quadrennial chorus who function is to ratify wth hosannahs one or the other of two presidential candidates carefully picked for them by rulers who enjoy pretending that ours is really government of, by, and for the you-know-who. In the same manner, Tiberius always respectfully consulted a Senate to who irrelevant ranks his heir nicely added a race-horse.
Domhoff's style does not command admiration. His manner is disconcertingly gee whiz. He is given to easy liberal epithets like "Godforsaken Mississippi" yet forced to admit that except on the subject of race, the proud folk down there are populist to the core, and populist is the thing to be this year. But if one is not put off by the somewhat slap-dash manner, Domhoff has seen and measured the tip of an iceberg which most of the other passengers on the US Titanic have not noticed. He also does his best to figure out what lies beneath the water.
Domhoff's method is to examine those committees and advisory councils, federal and private, that do the actual work of making foreign and economic policy (something like three-quarters of the federal budget has to do with miltary and foreign aid expenditures - control the spending of that three-quarters and the US is your thing). He then studies the men who serve on these committees. Notes what schools they went to, what banks they work for (most are lawyers or lawyer-bankers), what political contribution they make. He also records the overlapping that goes on, or "linkage" as the American Metternich would say.
In 1968, for instance, 51 or 284 trustees and honarary trustees of the Committee for Economic Development were also members of the Council on Foreign Relations, while 126 were members of the National Council of the Foreign Policy Association. Or as Domhoff puts it,
Policy formation is the province of a bipartisan power elite of corporate rich [Rockefeller, Mellon] and their career hirelings [Nixon, McNamara] who work through an interlocking and overlapping maze of foundations, universities and institutes, discussion groups, association and commissions. Political parties are only for finding interesting and genial people [usually ambitious middle-class lawyers] to ratify and implement these policies in such a way that the underclass feel themselves to be, somehow, a part of the governmental process. Politics is not exactly the heart of the action but it is nice work - if you can afford to campaign for it.
If Domhoff's thesis is even partly true (and at least one skeptic is persuaded that it is) much of the malaise one detects among intelligent members of the Senate and House is understandable. It is not so much the removal of power from the Hill to the White House (a resourceful Congress can still break a president if they want, or at least bring him to heel); rather, it is the knowledge or suspicion that the legislative branch reflects not the electorate but the elite who pay for congressional campaigns and are duly paid off with agreeable tax laws and military procurement and foreign aid bills passed at the dark of the moon. There is a constant if gentle tugging of the reins - perhaps Caligula had the right idea about what a proper senator should be. "We don't seem to matter at all," said one East Coast senator to me some years ago. "And I don't know why. We're every bit as bright or brighter than the Borah-La Follette group. But we're just . . . well, nothing." Domhoff agrees and tells us why.
In Fat Cats and Democrats, Domhoff describes our rulers. Year in, year out, "About one percent of the population - a socially interacting upper class whose members go to prep schools, attend debutante balls, joing exclusive clubs, ride to hounds and travel all over the world for business and pleasure - will continue to own 60 percent to 70 percent of all privately held corporate wealth and receive 24 percent of the national income." Domhoff tends to be a bit wide-eyed about the life-style of the nobles but, barring those riders to hounds, he seldom indulges in the sort of solemn generality recently dished up by a sociologist who discovered that most American banking is controlled by the Wasps (true) and that the Wasps at the top of the banking hierarchy have larger and fleshier ears than those farther down (true?).
Domhoff accepts the Ferdinand Lundberg formulation that there is only one political party in the United States and that is the Property Party, whose Republican wing tends to be rigid in maintaining the status quo and not given to any accommodation of the poor and the black. Although the Democratic wing shares most of the basic principles (that is to say, money) of the Republicans, its members are often shrewd enough to know that what is too rigid will shatter under stress. The Democrats have also understood for some time the nature of the American empire. While the Republicans indulge in Jefferson I rhetoric and unrealities, including isolationism, the Democrats have known all along that this is a Jefferson II world.
But essentially the two wings of the Property Party are more alike than not. Witenss the bipartisan foreign policy which the elite hammered out twenty-five years ago over the dead bodies of the Republican faithful. The Property Party has known from the beginning how and when to reconcile its two wings in order to survive. After all, according to Domhoff,
The American Constitution was carefully rigged by the noteholders, land speculators, rum runners, and slave holders who were the Founding Fathers, so that it would be next to impossible for upstart dirt farmers and indebted masses to challenge the various forms of private property held by these well read robber barons. Through this Constitution, the over-privaleged attemped to rule certain topics out of order for proper political discussion. To bring these topics up in polite company was to invite snide invective, charges of personal instability, or financial ruin.
In other words, don't start a political party in opposition to the Property Party.
Property is power, as those Massachusetts veterans of the revolution discovered when they joined Captain Daniel Shays in his resistance to the landed gentry's replacement of a loose confederation of states with a tax-levying central government. The veterans thought that they had been fighting a war for true independence. They did not want London to be replaced by New York. They did want an abolition of debts and a division of property. Their rebellion was promptly put down. But so shaken was the elite by the experience that their most important (and wealthiest) figure grimly emerged from private life with a latter to Harry Lee. "You talk of employing influence," wrote George Washington, "to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties and properties will be secured or let us know the worst at once." So was born the Property Party and with the Constitution of the United States. We have known the "best" for nearly 200 years. What would the "worst" have been like?
At the congressional level, one can see how the elite works even more clearly than at the presidential level, where enthusiasm for attractive candidates often blinds even the sharpest critic (not to mention, very often, the candidate himself) to the charade being enacted by the Property Party. It is in the House and the Senate that the day-by-day dirty work is done, and Bella Abzug gives a splendid account (Bella!) of her two years in the House, trying to represent her constituents and her conscience, to the amusement of a genial body of corrupt politicians whose votes are all too often for sale to the highest bidder, usually in the form of cash in white envelopes, if Robert N. Winter-Berger's astonishing book The Washington Pay-Off is to be believed. With these two books, one ideological, the other muckraking, the bankruptcy of the House of Representatives has been duly filed.
Bella Abzug was elected from Lower Manhattan to end the war, gain equal rights for women and blacks, and generally be herself, serving the unpropertied. A bright lawyer as well as a formidable self-publicist, she immediately struck the fancy of the press (when they get her full range, she will be dropped-tense?). All in all, Abzug rather likes the floor managers of the Property Party. They are good fun and she always knows where she stands with them. "The men of the Club here are very charming to me," which they can afford to be since "they have all the power." They even "like to be entertained a bit. I don't mean in a ha-ha funny way, but in an interesting way." It is the liberals for whom she has real contempt. They have fallen for "the old crap, the anaesthesia of the liberals: If you want to get along, you've got to go along . . . very little men." They would rather fight one another for such posts as House Majority leader than unite to keep a reactionary in that job.
The New York Review of Books, August 10, 1972
The State of the Union: 1975
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 925
One of the reasons I took the trouble to spell out at such length the necessity of legalizing drugs was to appeal not to the passions of my audience, to that deeply American delight in the punishing of others so perfectly exploited by Nixon-Agnew-Reagan, but to appeal to their common sense and self-interest. If you give an addict his drugs, he won't rob you. The police won't be bribed. Children won't be hooked by pushers. Big crime will wither away. Some, I like to think, grasp the logic of all this.
"I worry a good deal about the police because traditionally they are the supporters of fascist movements and America is as prone to fascism as any other country. Individually, no one can blame the policeman. He is that way he is because Americans have never understood the Bill of Rights. Since sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling are all proscribed by various religions, the states have made laws against them. Yet, believe it or not, the United States was created entirely separate from any religion. The right to pursue happiness - as long as it does not impinge upon others - is the foundation of our state."
Someone then says that socialist Sweden is a failure because everyone commits suicide, the logic being that a society without poverty will be so boring that death is the only way out. When I tell them that fewer Swedes commit suicide than Americans (we falsify the statistics, they don't) they shake their heads. They know.
"As for the quality of our life, well, it isn't much good for most people because most people haven't got much money. Four point four percent own most of the United States. To be part of the four point four you must have a net worth of at least sixty thousand dollars."
This projected figure is from the IRS and I find it hard to believe. Surely individual net worth must be higher. In any case, recent fitures show that most of the country's ownership is actually in the hands of one percent with, presumably, a higher net capital.
"We got freedom!" vivacious Barbara Walters positively yelled into my ear during our six minutes on the Today show. To which the answer is you don't have freedom in America if you don't have money and most people don't have very much, particularly when what they do makes goes to a government that gives nothing back. I suppose vivacious Barbara meant that the people are free to watch television's God-awful programming which they pay for when they buy those overpriced shoddy goods the networks advertise.
Unconsciously, I seem to have been avoiding the message that I got from one end of the country to the other: we hate this system that we are trapped in but we don't know who has trapped us or how. We don't know what our cage looks like because we were born it it and have nothing to compare it to but if anyone has the key to the lock when where the hell is he?
Most Americans lack the words, the concepts that might help them figure out what has happened; and it is hardly their fault. Simple falsities have been drummed into their heads from birth (socialism = Sweden = suicide) so that they will not rebel, not demand what is being withheld them . . . and that is not Nixon's elegant "a piece of the action" but justice. Social justice.
The myth of upward social mobility dies hard; but it dies. Working-class parents produce children who will be working-class while profession people produce more professionals. Merit has little to do with one's eventual place in the hierarchy. We are now locked into a class system nearly as rigid as the one that the Emperor Diocletian impressed upon the Roman empire.
Esquire, May 1975
The State of the Union: 1980
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 939
Although there has never been a left wing in the United States, certain gentile conservatives like to think of themselves as liberals, as defenders of the environment, as enemies of the dumber wars. I would think that they'd have seen in the bank's Trilateral Commission the perfect symbol of why we fight our dumber wars, why we destroy the environment. But not a single gentle liberal voice has ever been raised against the bank. I suppose this is because too many of them work for the Bank. . . I shall now use the word Bank (capitalized, naturally) as a kind of shorthand not just for the Chase Manhattan but also for the actual ownership of the United States. To quote from my earlier State of the Union message: "Four point four percent own most of the United States . . . This gilded class owns 27 percent of the country's real estate. Sixty percent of all corporate stock, and so on." The Bank is the Costa Nostra of the 4.4 percent. The United States government is the Cosa Nostra of the Bank.
For more than a century, our educational system has seen to it that 95.6 percent of the population grow up to be docile warriors in the Bank's neverending strugle with athiestic communism. The fact that the American government gives back to the citizen-consumer very little of the enormous revenues it extorts from him is due to the high cost of what the Bank - which does have a sense of fun - calls freedom. Although most industrial Western (not to mention Eastern European) countries have national health services, the American taxpayer is not allowed this amenity because it would be socialism, which is right next door to Swedish night. A major part of our country's revenue must always go to the Pentagon, which then passes the money on to those client states, industries, and members of Congress with which the Bank does buiness. War is profitable fo the Bank. Health is not.
Plainly, the third American replublic is drawing to a close, and we must now design for ourselves a fourth republic, a democratic society not dedicated to war and the Bank's profits. Third republic? Fourth republic? What am I talking about? Let me explain.
The first American republic began with the revolution in 1776 and ended with the adoption of the Constitution in 1788. The first republic was a loose confederation of thirteen autonomous states. The second replublic was also a fairly loose affair until 1861, when the American Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln, took the mystical position that no state could ever leave the Union. When the southern states dsagreed, a bloody war was fought in order to create "a more perfect [sic] union." At war's end, our third and most imperial republic came into existence. This republic was rich, belligerent, hungry for empire. This republic's master was the Bank. This republic became, in 1945, the world's master. Militarily and economically, the third American republic dominated the earth. All should have then been seren: the mandate of Heaven was plainly our. Unfortunately, the Bank made a fatal decision. To keep profits high, it decided to keep the country on a permanent wartime footing. Loyal Banksman Harry S Truman deliberately set out to frighten the American people. He told us that the Soviet Union was on the march while homegrown Reds were under every bed - all this at a time when the United States had atomic weapons and the Russians did not, when the Soviet Union was still in pieces from World II and we were incredibly prosperous.
Esquire, August 1980
The Real Two-party System
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 953
In the United States there are two political parties of equal size. One is the party that votes in presidential elections. The other is the party that does not vote in presidential elections.
The Los Angelos Times, October 26, 1980
The Second American Revolution
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 961
What was the original Constitution all about? I mean by this, what was in the document of 1787 as defended in the Federalist Papers of 1787-88 by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. Currently, Ferdinand Lundberg's Cracks in the Constitution is as good a case history of that Constitution (and its two successors) as we are apt to get this troubled season. Lundberg is the latest - if not the last - in the great line of muckrakers (TR's contemptuous phrase for those who could clean with Heraclean zeal the national stables which he, among others, had soiled) that began with Steffens and Tarbell. Luckily for us, Lundberg is still going strong.
Lundberg discusses at some length just who the Framers were and where they came from and how much money they had. The state legislatures accredited seventy-four men to the convention. Fifty-five showed up that summer. About half drifted away. Finally, "no more than five men provided most of the discussion with some seven more playing fitful supporting roles." Thirty-three Framers were lawyers (already the blight had set in); forty-four were present or past members of Congress; twenty-one were reated rich to very rich - Washington and the banker Robert Morris (soon to go to jail where Washington would visit him) were the richest; "another thirteen were affluent to very affluent"; nineteen were slave owners; twenty-five had been to college (among those who had not matriculated were Washington, Hamilton, Robert Morris, George Mason - Hamilton was a Columbia dropout). Twenty-seven had been officers in the war; once was a twice-born Christian - the others tended to deism, an eighteenth-century euphemism for agnosticism or atheism.
All in all, Lundberg regards the Framers as "a gathering of routine politicians, eyes open for the main change of a purely material nature . . . What makes them different from latter-day politicians is that in an age of few distractions, many - at least twenty - were readers to varying extent in law, government, history and classics."
Lundberg does not accept the traditional American view that a consortium of intellectual giants met at Philadelphia in order to answer once and for all the vexing questions of how men are to be governed.
The Framers feared monarchy and democracy. In order to prevent the man who would be king from assuming dictatorial powers and the people at large from seriously affecting the business of government, the Framers devised a series of checks and balances within a tripartite government that would, they hoped (none was very optimistic: they were practical men), keep the people and their passions away from government and the would-be dictator hedged 'round with prohibitions.
Since Hamilton's dark view of the human estate was shared rather more than less by the Framers ("Give the power to the many, they will opress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many"), the House of Representatives was intended to be the principal engine of the tripartite government.
The Constitution gave the oligarch, to use Madison's word, full possession of the government - the object of the exercise at Philadelphia. Property would be defended, as George Washington had insisted that it should be. Since Jerrerson's teeth were set on edge by the word property, the euphemism "pursuit of happiness" had been substituted in the Declaration of Independence. Much pleased with this happy phrase, Jerrerson recommended it highly to the Marquis de Lafayette when he was Rights of Man-ing it in France.
As Herzen, in an unhappy mood, wrote, "Who that respedt the truth would ask the opinion of the first man he meets? Suppose Columbis or Copernicus has put to the vote the existence of America or the movement of the earth?" Or as a successful movie executive, in a happy mood, once put it: "When the American public walks, its knuckles graze the ground."
The constant search for external enemies by the oligarchy is standard stuff. All dictators and ruling groups indulge in this sort of thing reflecting Machiavelli's wisdom that the surest way to maintain one's power over the people is to keep them poor and on a wartime footing. We fought in Vietnam to contain China, which is now our Mao-less friend; today we must have a showdown with Russia, in order to . . One has already forgotten the basis for th epresent quarrel. No. Arms race. That's it. They are outstripping us in warheads, or something. On and on the propaganda grinds its dismal whinte. Second to none. Better to die in Afghanistan than Laguna. We must not lose the will . . . .
The New York Review of Books, February 5, 1981
Cue the Green God, Ted
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 1029
Since the victory of 1945, the United States, as befits the leader of something called "the free world," has fought open and unsuccessful wars in Korea and Vietnam; and relatively covert wars in Cambodia, Laos, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, Chile, the Middle East, etc. In almost every case, our overwhelming commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights has required us to support those regimes that would deny freedom, democracy and human rights to their own people. We justify our affection for fascist (or, to be cozy, authoritarian) regimes because each and every one of them is a misty-eyed convert to our national religion, which is anti-communism. Then, once our dictator is in place, we echo Andy Hardy: Hey, kids, let's put on an election" And so, in the presence of cold-eyed avatars of Tammany and Daley, our general on the spot does.
To their credit, our rulers don't often bore us with tortured rationalisations or theological nit=picking. They don't have to. Since we have no political parties and no opposition media, there is always a semblance of "concensus" for these wars. Congress funds the Pentagon, which then responds to the National Security State's directives to overthrow an Arbenz here or a Sihanouk there or - why not? devastate a neutral country like Cambodia to show how tall we can stand in all our marvellously incredible credibility. Voices of dissent are either blacked out or marginalised, while known apostates of the national religion are either demonised or trivialised. Meanwhile, no one has noticed that the National Security State, in its zeal to bring the national religion to all nations, has now deprived us of our original holy text - our Old Testament - the Constutition.
On the other hand, the average American, when it comes to his own welfare, is very shrewd indeed. He knows that we are in an economic decline and that our quality of life, though better than that of Russia (all that really matters, our priests hum softly) is noticeably lousy. But the reasons for our decline are never made clear because the corporate ownership of the country has absolute control of the pulpit - 'the media' - as well as of the schoolroom.
David Hume's celebrated Of the First Principles of Government (1758) has never been more to the point than now:
Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their wn sentiments and passions to show of their rulers. When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to suport them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military of governments as well as to the most free and most popular.
The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity - much less dissent. Of course, it is posisble for any citizen with time to spare, and a canny eye, to work out what is actually going on, but for the many there is no time, and the network news is the only news even though it may not be news at all but only a series of flashing fictions intended like the avowed commercials, to keep docile huddled masses, keep avid for products addled consumers.
The Nation, August 7-14, 1989
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946) Loves the Adverb
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992"
by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 187
"All Trivia is a whole library in minature. He
retells legends and composes entire novels and biographies
in a page while producing eternal wisdom as well as life-enhancing
malice in a series of phrases: "Those who set out to serve both God and
Mammon soon discover that there is no God," or "If you want to be
though a liar, always tell the truth.""
Extracts from "Gore Vidal United States Essays 1952-1992" by Gore Vidal (1992 ISBN 0-679-41489-4), Page 187
"All Trivia is a whole library in minature. He retells legends and composes entire novels and biographies in a page while producing eternal wisdom as well as life-enhancing malice in a series of phrases: "Those who set out to serve both God and Mammon soon discover that there is no God," or "If you want to be though a liar, always tell the truth.""