Tuesday, August 21, 2012

McCarthy and the NeoCons

McCarthy and the NeoCons
P. Schultz
August 21, 2012

Here is an exchange I had with a friend and former student.

“Dear Peter,
“I thank you for recommending Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and sharing your "No Country for Old Men: Cormac McCarthy and the New World Order."  Your piece helped me to see the political lesson Mr. McCarthy teaches through the story that he tells.  If I may ask, how have neo-cons tried to make the novel fit their agenda?”

My response.

“Well, if you recall in my paper I recounted Sheriff Bell's discussion with a woman at a convention in Corpus Christi [of all places] in which she went on and on about the "right wing" and how she was worried that her granddaughter would not be able to get an abortion. Bell responds that he didn't think she should worry; that she should worry about euthanasia. Well, some neo-cons see this as an endorsement of a pro-life position, with which it is consistent. But I saw it as Bell saying it isn't the "right wing" or the "left wing" that is the problem but something more than that. Bell says in that place that he did not know what the woman was talking about when she was talking about "the right wing this and the right wing that." Our issues transcend the right wing/left wing debate and just as the right wing isn't the problem for Sheriff Bell so too it isn't the "solution" to our problems, just as the left wing isn't the "solution" to our problems.

“There are times when our "problems" transcend politics; when our "troubles" [often a better word than "problems", no?] cannot be alleviated by political means. As such times, conventional partisanship such as "right wing" or "left wing" is merely meaningless chatter - which is what Bell's "ignorance" of the "right wing" means as I see it. You don't have to know about the right wing to know we have troubles, real and deep troubles. Voegelin argues somewhere that Plato and Aristotle confronted such a situation in Greece and Athens during their lives, as reflected by Plato's critique of the alleged greatest statesmen illustrates. Even a Pericles could not rectify, create the order that was needed in Athens/Greece/the world. Only a Socrates/Plato could do that. Maybe Lincoln lived in such a time as well and, perhaps, he understood that. Perhaps at such times tyranny/demagoguery become very real possibilities as people think that power, the vigorous exercise of great or immense power, must be present and used to create the necessary order. Of course, tyranny won't do it because politics can't "do it."

“More simply, the question for me is: At which level is McCarthy thinking? Conventional partisanship is necessarily reductionist; it reduces all issues to such simplicities - some examples - as "pro-life" versus "pro-choice" or "capitalism" versus "socialism" or "hawks" versus "doves." We can address what we call "the abortion issue" but that is as useless as addressing "the drug issue". One of my favorite exchanges in the novel: Another sheriff expresses dismay that drugs are being sold to school children. Bell: "It's worse than that." The other sheriff says: "How's that?" Bell: "School kids are buyin' 'em." And elsewhere Bell ruminates that drugs have always been around. But something must be happening when millions of people, even successful and prosperous people, are using them. Something is lacking. See the stone cistern passages and Bell's ruminations on what it took for a man to chisel out such a cistern.

“This is a continuation of our discussion earlier. The neo-cons who like to think of themselves as such "radicals" are not so radical after all. And by trying to "own" presidents, books, movies, etc. through "interpretation" they "de-radicalize" them; they strip them of aspects and reduce them to "conventional wisdom." And anything they cannot reduce to conventional wisdom, they label "subversive" or just "crazy." Some know what they are doing but a lot don't. When they do it to someone like McCarthy, it is a real shame because McCarthy knows things and see things few people do.

“They also do it when they teach Plato, e.g., as merely a prop for what they call "Western civilization." And they also do it when they teach Nietzsche as or reduce him to the enemy of that same civilization. Much is lost when this is done; in fact, I would argue that the very soul of people like Plato or Nietzsche is lost when this is done.”

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