Saturday, April 21, 2012

What the modern world tells us

A comment by Lawrence Auster on a Bob Dylan song, I shall be released:
This Dylan song can seem amorphous and mystical in the negative sense, especially as it became a kind of countercultural anthem and meaningless through overuse. But the lyrics are coherent and profound, especially the first verse:

They say everything can be replaced
They say every distance is not near
But I remember every face
Of every man who put me here.

The modern world tells us that everything is fungible, nothing is of real value, everything can and should be replaced—our spouse, our culture, our religion, our history, our sexual nature, our race, everything. It is the view of atomistic liberal man, forever creating himself out of his preferences, not dependent on any larger world of which he is a part. The singer is saying, No, this isn’t true. Things have real and particular values and they cannot be cast off and replaced by other things. And, though we seem to be distant, we are connected. I am connected to all the men, the creators and builders and poets and philosophers, and my own relatives and friends, who have come before me or influenced me, who created the world in which I live.


  1. I think that the liberals would claim that they also believe in belonging to a broader whole, but that this broader whole isn't an ethnos, but rather a "diverse community bound by shared values such as diversity, equality, tolerance, and individual freedom. So the difference is a bit.more subtle I think.

    Of course, the broader whole of the liberal vision is synthetic rather than organic. Because it isn't rooted in an ethnos or a shared culture, faith, or history, but is instead based on ideological propositions. This makes its coherence much weaker in fact. And in reality, it functions as a hodgepodge of subcultures to which most people feel stronger personal ties than they do to.the synthetic broader whole. We see this in the US very strongly.

    The trouble is that this kind of proposition-based society is deeply embedded in the consciousness and mythos of the United States.
    It's not new, either. It's true that this was made against the backdrop of people being all different kinds of white, but it was still never mono- ethnic in the sense that a single European country was. So the propositional aspect of the American self concept was always quite prominent. It just wasn't the exclusive means of identity, because the earlier version of it embraced a melting pot concept rather than a multicultural one.

  2. Brendan,
    The song isn't arguing with those who say they believe in a "broader whole". Of course leftists talk a lot about the "common good" and their "fellow man".

    The song is arguing against those who say that people are interchangeable, i.e. "can be replaced", and that the particular, physical aspects of people--here: "faces" which communicate a person's race, nation, family, sex, and so on--matter.

    I think liberals are exactly the sort of people this song is contradicting.

    As for Americans' never having seen themselves as an ethny, that's not true. Federalist paper #2 by John Jay comes to mind:

    With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs...