Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rosa Luxemburg by Hannah Arendt


[ a  review of J.P. Nettl’s Rosa Luxemburg, Oxford University Press, 1966]

Historically, Mr. Nettl’s greatest and most original achievement is the discovery of the Polish-Jewish “per group” and Rosa Luxemburg’s lifelong, close and carefully hidden attachment to the Polish party which sprang from it. This is indeed a highly significant and totally neglected source, not of the revolutions, but of the revolutionary spirit in the twentieth century. This milieu, which even in the twenties had lost all its public relevance, has now completely disappeared. Its nucleus consisted of assimilated Jews from middle-class families whose cultural background  was German ( Rosa Luxemburg knew Goethe and Morike by heart, and her literary taste was impeccable, far superior to that of her German friends), whose political formation was Russian, and whose moral standards in both public and private were uniquely their own. Theses Jews. An extremely small minority in the East, an even smaller percentage of assimilated Jewry in the West, stood outside all social ranks, Jewish or non-Jewish, hence had no conventional prejudices whatsoever, and had developed, in this truly splendid isolation, their own code of honor – which then attracted a number of non-Jews, among them Julian Marchlewski and Felix Dzerzhynski*, both of whom later joined the Bolsheviks. It was precisely because of this unique background that Lenin appointed Dzerzhynski as the head of the first Cheka, someone, he hoped, no power could corrupt; hadn’t he begged to be charged with the department of Children’s Education and Welfare?

Nettle rightly stresses Rosa Luxemburg’s excellent relations with her family, her parents, brothers, sister, and niece, none of whom showed the slightest inclination to socialist convictions or revolutionary activities, yet who did everything they could for her when she had to hide from the police or was in prison. The point is worth making, for it gives us a glimpse of this unique Jewish family background without which the emergence of the ethical code of the peer group would be nearly incomprehensible. The hidden equalizer of those who always treated one another as equals- and hardly anybody else – was the essentially simple experience of a childhood world in which mutual respect and unconditional trust, a universal humanity and a genuine, almost na├»ve contempt for social and ethnic distinctions were taken for granted. What the members of the peer group had in common was what can only be called moral taste, which is so different from “moral principles”; the authenticity of their morality they owed to having grown up in a world that was not out of joint. This gave them their “rare self-confidence,” so unsettling to the world into which they them came, and so bitterly resented as arrogance and conceit. This milieu, and never the German Party, was a remained Rosa Luxemburg’s home. The home was moveable up to a point, and since it was predominantly Jewish it did not coincide with any ‘fatherland . . .

Rosa Luxemburg’s early triumphs in the German Party rested on a double misunderstanding. At the turn of the century the SPD was “the envy and admiration of Socialists throughout the world.” August Bebel, its “grand old man,” who from Bismarck’s foundation of the German Reich to the outbreak of the First World War “dominated its policy and spirit”, had always proclaimed, “I am and always will be the mortal enemy of existing society.” Didn’t that sound like the spirit of the Polish peer group? Couldn’t one assume from such proud defiance that the great German Party was somehow the SDKPiL  (Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania) writ large? It took Rosa Luxemburg almost a decade – until she returned from the first Russian revolution – to discover that the secret of this defiance was willful noninvolvement with the world at large and single-minded preoccupation with the growth of the Party organization. Out of this experience she developed, after 1910, her program of constant “friction:” with society without which, as she then realized, the very source of the revolutionary spirit was doomed to dry up. She did not intend to spend her life in a sect, no matter how large; her commitment to revolution was primarily a moral matter, and this meant that she remained passionately engaged in public life and civil affairs, in the destinies of the world. This was one of the main points of her famous Juniusbroschure**, written in prison during the war and then used as a platform for the Spartakusbund. Lenin, who was unaware of its authorship, immediately declared that to proclaim “the program of a republic the means in practice to proclaim the revolution with an incorrect revolutionary program.”

 Well, a year later the Russian Revolution broke out without any ‘program’ whatsoever, and its first achievement was the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic, and the same was o happen in Germany and Austria. Which, of course, has never prevented the Russian, Polish or German comrades from violently disagreeing with her on this point. It is indeed the republican question rather than the national one which separated her most decisively from all the others. Here she was completely alone, as she was alone, though less obviously so, in her stress on the absolute necessity of not only individual but public freedom under all circumstances.


After the first Russian revolution in 1905, for which she had hurried back to Warsaw with false papers, she could no longer deceive herself. To her, these months constituted not only a crucial experience, they were also “the happiest of my life.” Upon return, she tried to discuss the events with her friends in the German Party. She learned quickly that “the word ‘revolution’  had only to come into contact with a real revolutionary situation to break down” into meaningless syllables. The German Socialists were convinced that such things could only happen in distant barbarian lands. This was the first sock, from, which she never recovered. The second came in 1914 and brought her near to suicide.



Naturally, her first contact with a real revolution taught her more and better things than disillusion and the fine arts of disdain and mistrust. Out of it came her insight into the nature of political action, which Mr. Nettl rightly calls her most important contribution to political theory. The main point is that she had learned from the revolutionary workers’; councils (the latter soviets) that “good organization of revolutionary action can and must be learned in the revolution itself, as one can only learn by swimming in the water,” that revolutions are “made” by nobody but break out “spontaneously,” and that “the pressure for action” always comes “from below.” A revolution is “great and strong as long as the Social Democrats [at the time still the only revolutionary party] don’t smash it up.

There were, however, two aspects of the 1905 prelude which entirely escaped her. There was, after all, the surprising fact that the revolution had broken out not only in a non-industrialized, backward country, but in a territory where no strong socialist movement with mass support existed at all. And there was, second, the equally undeniable fact that the revolution had been the consequence of the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. These were two facts Lenin never forgot and from which he drew two conclusions. First, one did not need a large organization; a small, tightly organized group with a leader who knew what he wanted was enough to pick up over once the authority of the old regime had been swept away. Large revolutionary organizations were only a nuisance. And, second, since revolutions were not “made” but were the result of circumstances and events beyond anybody’s power, wars were welcome.

The second point was the source of her disagreements with Lenin during the First World War; the first; the first of her criticisms of Lenin’s tactics in the Russian Revolution of 1918. For she refused categorically, from  beginning  to end, to see in war anything but the most terrible disaster, no matter what its eventual outcome; the price in human lives, especially proletarian lives, was too high in any event. Moreover, it would have gone against her grain to look upon the revolution as the profiteer of war and massacre – something which didn’t bother Lenin in the least. And with respect to the issue of organization, she did not believe in a victory in which the people at large had no part and no voice; so little, indeed, did she believe in holding power at any price that she “was far more afraid of a deformed revolution than an unsuccessful one” – this was, in fact, “the major difference between her” and the Bolsheviks.

And haven’t events proved her right? Isn’t the history of the Soviet Union one long demonstration of the frightful dangers of “deformed revolutions”? Hasn’t the ‘moral collapse” which she foresaw – without, of course, foreseeing the open criminality of Lenin’s successor – done more harm to the cause of revolution as she understood it than “any and every political defeat . . . in an honest struggle against superior forces and in the teeth of the historical situation” could possibly have done? Wasn’t it true that Lenin was “completely mistaken” in the means he employed, that the only way to salvation was the “school of public life itself, the most unlimited, the broadest democracy and public opinion,” and that terror “demoralized” everybody and destroyed everything?

She did not live long enough to see how right she had been and to watch the terrible and terribly swift moral deterioration of the Communist parties, the direct offspring of the Russian Revolution, throughout the world. Nor for that matter did Lenin, who despite all his mistakes still had more in common with the original peer group than with anybody that came after him. This became manifest when Paul Levi, the successor of Leo Jogiches in the leadership of the Spartakusbund, three years after Rosa Luxemburg’s death, published her remarks on the Russian Revolution just quoted, which she had written in 1918 “only for you” – that is, without intending publication. “It was a moment of great embarrassment” for both the German and Russian parties, and Lenin could have been forgiven had he answered sharply and immoderately. Instead he wrote: “We answer with . . a good old Russian fable: an eagle can sometimes fly lower than a chicken, but a chicken can never rise to the same heights as an eagle. Rosa Luxemburg . . .in spite of her mistakes . . was and is an eagle.” He went on to demand the publication of “her biography and the complete edition of her works”, unpurged of “error” and chided the German comrades for their “incredible” negligence in this duty. This was in 1922.

Three years later, Lenin’s successors had decided to “Bolshevize” the  German Communist Party and therefore ordered a “specific onslaught on Rosa Luxemburg’s whole legacy.” The task was accepted with joy by a young member named Ruth  Fischer, who had just arrived fro Vienna. She told the German comrades that Rosa Luxemburg and her influence ‘were nothing less than a syphilis bacillus.” The gutter had opened, and out of it emerged what Rosa Luxemburg would have called “another zoological species” No “agents of the bourgeoisie” and no “Socialist traitors” were needed any longer to destroy the few survivors of the peer group and to bury  in oblivion the last remnants of their spirit.







* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dzerzhinsky
**
https://www.marxists.org/deutsch/archiv/luxemburg/1916/junius/

Friday, January 6, 2017

Samuel Gompers by Rosanne Currarino


For men such as Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL for every year but one from its founding in 1886 until his death in 1924, the broad argument of more – that material and cultural life was a central to social power as political rights were – had been tacitly apparent since his early childhood. Gompers was born in London in 1850, the son of Dutch Jews. His father, Solomon, and numerous uncles and cousins were cigar makers, active in the city’s Cigarmakers’ Society. The family placed considerable value on craft and guild solidarity but also emphasized the importance of education and the arts. As a child, Gompers attended a free Jewish school until the age of ten, when he began to work alongside his father. With his family’s encouragement, he continued to take classes at night, and his education was supplemented by his grandfather, who took him to concerts and plays. By the time he was thirteen, Gompers could speak and read some French, Dutch and Hebrew in addition to English and had a fairly wide-ranging knowledge of European literature and music. Later in life, he remembered his early years fondly and saw them as instrumental to shaping both his belief in trade unionism and his love of music and literature.

As the Gompers family grew, its members had more and more difficulty making ends meet. “London,” Gompers remembered later, “seemed to offer no response to our efforts towards betterment,” and Solomon Gompers moved his family to New York in 1863. The Gomperes arrived at Castle Island two weeks after the end of the draft riots, and New York was still smoldering. Despite the turmoil, the Gomperes were able to find more commodious lodging in the city than they had possessed in London, and Gompers and his father soon found work rolling cigars. Young Gompers continued  his semiformal education in the city’s theaters, concert halls, as well at free lectures at the Cooper’s Union.  There he met other young workers who shared his commitment to trade union politics and his passion for culture and philosophy, most notably P.J. McGuire*, later president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and Labor Day parade.


The theoretical connections between cultural life and labor politics slowly began to solidify in 1873 when Gompers started working in a cigar factory owned by David Hirsch, a German socialist. At Hirsch’s factory, Gompers read the Communist Manifesto, translated by his friend and mentor, Karl Ferdinand Laurrell. Inspired to read more, Gompers taught himself German and read as much German philosophy and economics as he could, including Carl Hillman’s influential pamphlet, Prakitsche Emanzipation-swike. Hillman, a member of Saxony’s Socialist Democratic Workingmen’s Party, produced what Gompers would remember as the perfect expression of ‘the fundamental possibilities of the trade union.” Hillman by no means dismissed the power of political organization, but he argued that a political organization that failed to address material concerns would be impotent. The “ political life in today’s state,” he explained, had “firm economic and social underpinnings”; labor organizations had to acknowledge the latter if they wanted access to the former. Gompers completely absorbed Hillman’s message. When Hillman claimed that “anyone who wants to attain practical results must deal with all actual conditions and circumstances,” Gompers agreed. Theoretical abstractions, he felt, could offer little hope to workers, whose concerns lay more with rent and food than with revolution or what Hillman dismissed as “utopian dreams.”

Gompers growing conviction that “practical emancipation”, offered more hope to workers than purely political tactics did was confirmed by his experience during the early years of the depression. Now married and supporting a quickly growing family, Gompers watched with alarm as the U.S. economy crashed in the winter of 1873-74. “The scenes downtown,” he remembered “were wild on that rainy day” when Cooke’s investment house failed, but they were nothing compared to what followed. “Thousands in New York City were walking the streets in search of a job. As winter came on the misery grew too appalling proportions. Public officials made gestures which might have had value for political purposes but did not give food to the hungry or solve the rent problem for those facing eviction.” One fellow cigar maker’s family was so hungry that they ate their beloved pet dog. What workers needed most, Gompers felt, was economic security; without it they were powerless, politically and socially.

Though the depression certainly put basic economic concerns at the forefront of Gomper’s thought, he did not abandon the lessons learned from his grandfather and from his visits to opera houses and theaters. “Mental hunger,” he insisted, “is just as painful as physical hunger”; the labor movement had to address both. As a young man, he reveled in “a poem, a paper, a book” and was particularly known among his coworkers as an enthusiastic musician. In his autobiography, Gompers remembered that his grandfather “introduced me to a world that brought a lifetime of pleasure. Music appeals to my whole nature as nothing else does.” Music provided him with solace: “The beauty of wonderful music would hold me speechless, motionless – only waking at the the end to gasp to myself, “god, how beautiful!” When he was a young man rolling cigars, singing bolstered his and his comrades spirits during work; soon after he married in 1867, he used money that his wife, Sophia, had saved for new clothing to buy a violin. She overcame her initial anger, and Gompers taught himself to read music and soon learned to play the violin with friends. Music- especially Italian operas such as Tosca and Norma – as well as lectures, literature (Gompers was particularly fond of Dickens) and theater were as important to Gompers as work. “The pure joy of living is good to know,” he insisted, no less important than high wages and political agitation.

Increasingly in the 1870s, Gompers looked with distain on those who did not see the importance of higher wages, shorter hours, and pleasant pastimes- that is, those who were not, as he put it, “practical.” He was particularly dismissive of the “so-called Communists” agitating in January 1874 as exploitive opportunists: “propaganda was for them the chief end of life,” he complained. “They were perfectly willing to use human necessity as propaganda material. Practical results meant nothing in their program.” Indeed, Gompers later blamed the communists and other “non-practical” organizers for the January 12874 debacle in Tompkins Square Park**, where policemen freely battered protesters. Many participants and onlookers were seriously injured, among them Gomper’s friend Laurrell, and Gompers only narrowly escaped being bludgeoned by jumping down into a cellar-way. Soon thereafter, Gompers and other-like minded men formed the United Workers of America (UWA), specifically to repudiate what Gompers saw as dilettante communists. Following Hillman’s advice, the UWA held itself to practical goals, with organizers declaring, “The emancipation of the working class can be achieved through their own efforts and that emancipation will not bring about class rule and class privileges for them but equal rights and duties for all members of society. Economic betterment is the the first step to that desired end.” Gompers reserved particular ire for radicals he saw as “faddist, reformers, and sensation-loving spirits.” He loathed “pseudo-communists” and others “who did not realize that labor issues were tied up with the lives of men, women and children –issues not to be risked lightly.”

Gompers was equally dismissive of those who sought to return to an idealized past, marked by smaller shops and less mechanization. Following an 1867 strike by cigar makers protesting the introduction of molds that simplified the rolling process, her remembered that he ”began to realize the futility of opposing progress.” Cigar makers, he believed, “were powerless against the substitution of machines for human skills,” but they could work together to prevent wage reductions and increases in work hours. For Gompers, at least, these practical goals reached beyond “mere” economics. They were, he believed, also demands for “all” that was essential to the exercise and enjoyment of liberty”- in short, demands for better lives.

For Gompers, and others,  without economic power, political rights had little meaning. In the context of those times and in the final analysis, however much it may be clothed in legal rights and political immunities, democracy means material goods accessible to all. They realized that socialized democracy was as much a process as an ideal, the result of small, endless efforts to improve not only wages and working conditions but seemingly trivial details such as sidewalks, libraries, and furnaces. “ Our hope of this democracy,” explained Walter Weyl, “does not depend upon the chance of a sudden, causeless turn of the wheel. The motor reactions of society, like those of individuals, proceed only from prior accumulations of nervous energy.” “Real”  democracy [  More- a better life in material terms] mattered as much as formal political democracy.



*
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_J._McGuire
**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tompkins_Square_riot_(1874)


The Labor Question in America; Economic Democracy in the Gilded Age by Rosanne Currarino, Univ of Illinois, 2011

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Errand in the Wilderness by Cotton Mather


[ follows the concluding passage of Chapter III of the first book of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana: Conamur Tenues Grandia*: Or, A Brief Account of the Difficulties, the Deliverances, and Other Occurrences, thro’ which the Plantation of New-Plymouth arrived unto the Consistency of a Colony. Mather’s history was written between 1693 and 1697]

 . . . there is a danger lest the enchantments of this World make forget  their Errand in the Wilderness: and some woeful villages in the skirts of their Colony, beginning to live without the means of grace among them, are still more Ominous Intimations of the danger. May the God of New-England preserve them from so great a death!



Going now to take my leave of this little Colony, that I may converse for a while with her younger sisters, which yet have outstripped her in growth exceedingly, and so will now draw all the streams of her affairs into their channels, I shall repeat the counsel  which their faithful John Robinson** gave the first planters of the Colony, at their parting from him in Holland. Said he, (to this purpose.)


Brethren, we are now quickly to part from one another; and whether I may ever live to see your faces on earth any more, the God of Heaven only knows. But whether the Lord have appointed that or no, I charge you before God, and before his blessed Angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready for verily I am persuaded, I am very confident the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his Holy Word. For my part, I can not sufficiently bewail the condition of the Reformed Churches, who are come to a period in religion; and will go at present no further than the instruments of their first Reformation. The Lutherans can’t be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw: whatever part of his will out good God has imparted and revealed unto Calvin, they will rather die than Embrace it. And the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great Man of God, who yet saw not all things.

This is a misery much to be lamented; for tho’ they were burning and shining lights in their time, yet they penetrated not into the whole Counsel of God; but were they now living, they would be as willing to embrace further light, as that which they first received. I beseech you to remember it; it is an article of you Church-Covenant, that you will be ready to receive whatever truth shall be made known unto you from the written word of God. Remember that, and every other article of your most sacred covenant. But I must herewithal exhort you to take heed what you receive as truth; examine it, consider it, compare it with the other scriptures of truth, before you do receive it. For it is not possible the Christian World should come so lately out of such antichristian darkness, that that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. I also must advise you to abandon, avoid and shake off the name of Brownist: it is a mere Nick-Name, and a brand for the making of religion, and the professors of religion, odious unto the Christian World.*** For there will be no difference between the unconformable ministers in England and you, when they come to the practice of evangelical ordinances out of the kingdom. And I wish you by all means to close ties with the godly people of England; study union with them in all things, wherein you can have it without sin, rather than in the least measure to affect a division or separation from them. Neither would I have you loth to take another pastor besides myself; in as much as a flock that has two shepherds is not thereby endangered, but secure.

So adding some other things of great consequence, he concluded most affectionately, commending his departing flock unto the grace of God, which now I also do the offspring of that holy flock.




*Weak we attempt great things. 
**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robinson_(pastor)
*** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownist
Browne was only an active Separatist from 1579-1585. He returned to England and to the Church of England, being employed as a schoolmaster and, after 1591, a Church of England parish priest. He was much engaged in controversy with some of those who held his earlier separatist position and who then looked upon him as a renegade.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Setting the Record Straight on Salem by Kenneth Murdock



 Increase Mather and the new royal governor, Sir William Phips arrived  in Boston on May 14, 1692. Cotton Mather  had written in his diary a fortnight before:

We have not our former Charter, but we have . . . one which much better suits our circumstances. And instead of my being made a sacrifice to wicked rulers, all our Counsellors of the Province are of my own father’s nomination; and my father-in-law, with several related unto me, and several brethren of my own church, are among them. The governor of the Province is not my enemy but . . . one of my own flock, and one of my dearest friends. .  . 

But Sir William had at once to deal with a mad witch hunt that had begun in Salem village, some twenty miles from Boston. Dozens of supposed witches were in jail in the nearby town of Salem, awaiting trial, and a hysterical search for others was spreading farther each day. The governor appointed a special court to meet in Salem to try the accused. By the time it finished its work, nineteen suspects had been found guilty of witchcraft and hanged, and another, who had refused to plead guilty or not guilty, had been pressed to death in accordance with an old English law.

Horrible as the affair was, it was a comparatively minor episode in the dire record of witchcraft delusions  in many countries for centuries before the Salem Village outbreak and, outside New England, even thereafter.

The Magnalia Christi Americana gives a summary account of the witchcraft episode as Cotton Mather saw it four years after it ended. Any reader who wishes to study the details of the whole sad story will find in Mather’s pages, together with the notes and bibliographical references in this edition, all he needs for understanding the course of events.

So far as the Mathers are concerned, the essential facts are that Cotton wrote in June 1692 The Return of Several Ministers, a document which he and other members of the clergy submitted to the governor and council in response to their request. It warned the “witch court”: against relying on “spectral evidence” as the sole basis for convicting the accused. The Magnalia explains adequately the nature of this “evidence,” commonly accepted in witch trials in England and elsewhere. The ministers also pointed out other ways in which the court could correct its procedures. Had the advice given in the Return been followed, many of the accused would have been saved, but the magistrates paid little or no attention to it.

Throughout the period of the trials and even before, Cotton argued that those who said they had been tormented by the devil or his agents should be examined not in open court but privately. If possible they should be brought to fasting and prayer to repulse Satan and frustrate his diabolic campaign. In 1688 Cotton had taken into his own home a girl who appeared to be afflicted by the devil, and together with others of the clergy has succeeded in curing her of delusion. After the trials began he offered to harbor six others and try to save them by the same method, but the court refused his permission.

The five essential sections of the Return of June 15 are given in the Magnalia. The full text was not printed until early November of 1692, when it was included in the postscript to Increase Mather’s Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits. This book was written at the request of a group of ministers who met at Cambridge on August 1. Six ‘witches” had already been hanged, and Mather and his colleagues alarmed by the court’s failure to heed the Return. Shortly after October 3, Mather’s finished manuscript was sent to the governor, with the endorsement of the ministers of eleven towns and three of the Congregational churches in Boston. By then fourteen more persons had been hanged in Salem, a half-dozen more had been condemned, and fifty others were in jail awaiting trial.

The Cases repeated the warnings of the Return but argued its points more vigorously and supported them by references to a variety of authorities. And, in two memorable sentences, it made absolutely clear Increase Mather’s position, and presumably, that of his son: “It were better that ten suspected Witches should escape, than that one innocent Person should be condemned,” and “ I had rather judge a Witch to be an honest woman, than judge an honest woman as a  Witch.”

By October 12 Governor Phips had read the manuscript and had been deeply impressed. On the 26th his council voted to call a meeting to seek light on the “right way as to the witchcrafts.” The Salem court interpreted this as, in effect, a dismissal. Three days later Phips confirmed this and suspended the trials until January, when the Supreme Court was to convene with instructions not to condemn any “witch” on the basis of “Spectral evidence.” It tried fifty-two of the accused and acquitted all but three. These the governor reprieved and later pardoned. Sir William declared that “the stop put to the first method of proceedings . . . dissipated the black cloud that threatened this Province with destruction.”. There was never again a trial for witchcraft in New England. Thus, “Increase Mather . . .brought the murders to an end by his Cases of Conscience.”

 By September, however, Governor Phips had received from England sharp queries about the court’s proceeding. In Massachusetts manuscript copies of Increase Mather’s Cases had been widely circulated, and there signs of growing opposition to the judges that Phips had originally appointed. He hoped that a record of a few of the trials, carefully selected and adroitly commented upon, might help him reply to his English interrogators and check the New England critics’ hostility to the court. Some of the judges, notably William Stoughton, the chief justice, and Samuel Sewall, were men of influence and supporters of Sir William’s regime, and  was eager to protect them from attack. But who was to write the sort of book he wanted? Not Increase Mather, since he was writing a severe critique of the court’s methods. But what about Cotton? He was less powerful, but was the pastor of an important church and renowned as a writer.

On September 22nd, the day of the last execution in Salem, he was called to meet with Stroughton and two other judges, Samuel Sewall and John Hathorne, and the clerk for the court, Stephen Sewall. He was promised the records of the trials, and both Samuel Sewall and Stoughton, who was not only chief justice but also lieutenant governor, pledge him their support if he would write the book Phips wanted.

Cotton Mather was caught in a painful dilemma. He agreed with his father’s criticism of the witchcraft trials. Could he now with a clear conscience write anything in defense of the judges which would satisfy them and the governor, unless he hid his real feelings and dealt only in half-truths?  On the other hand, could he take the consequences of a refusal to follow the magistrates wish? His father, by virtue of his age, experience, and achievement, could afford to rebuke them, but Cotton, not yet thirty, still had his way to make. He was passionately eager for fame and power, and for success he must preserve the good will of such local potentates as Stoughton and Sewall.

Cotton agreed, finally producing the hastily written and strangely confusing book titled The Wonders of the Invisible World, “Published by special command of his Excellency, the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.”

First, he dashed off a prefatory section, “The Author’s Defense”, left a blank sheet for a statement approving his labors which he hoped Stoughton would supply, a wrote a curious little forward, which began: “I live by Neighbors that force me to produce these undeserved lines.” At this point he paused and sent all he had written to the chief justice. He was rewarded by a fulsome letter of praise and gratitude, signed “Your assured friend, William Stoughton.” Thus stimulated, he plunged on, adding to his manuscript some pages which had little or no relevance to his ostensible purpose. Then, at last, Stephen Sewall delivered some of the court’s records of five of the Salem trials. Mather settled down to write his version of them, trying to demonstrate that in these cases at least the court had not acted improperly. Samuel Sewall and Stoughton read his account in proof and wrote an endorsement of it as a true report of the “matter of fact and evidence’ and correct in “Prospect” of the “methods of conviction.” This Mather promptly dispatched to the printer. Still unable to control his pen, he added to the book a sermon on “The Devil Discovered” and some extracts from an account of witchcrafts in Sweden. The whole desperate hodge-podge was hurried through the press put on sale probably about October 15.

Here and there in the book are passages which reveal what Mather actually thought about the magistrates’ mistakes – their reckless reliance on “spectral evidence”, their unwise method of conducting the first investigation of each of the accused, and their failure to treat the “afflicted” as he had recommended. But for the most part these passages so swamped by other material and so cautiously phrased that the reader must agree with Perry Miller’s verdict that the Wonders was “a false book, produced by a man whose heart was not in it,” which failed “to convey except by its utter confusion, what Cotton Mather really believed” about the judges’ acts in Salem.

Once the last of the accused in Salem was freed, even those who “reviled” the Wonders when it first appeared did not trouble to press their attack. Cotton Mather, his father, and the judges of the court lost neither standing nor influence. In  the election of members of the Council in 1693 all nine magistrates who had condemned the supposed witches were chosen, together with two-thirds of those whom Increase had asked King William to appoint as counsellors.

In 1700  , however, there arrived from London a book which assailed both Mathers but aimed its sharpest shafts at Cotton. Robert Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World was a heated criticism of what its author considered to have been the part played by the ministers, especially  the two leaders of the Second Church, during the witch trials eight years before. Calef seems to have been a cloth merchant of Boston. He was no scholar but a man of common sense. Although anticlerical, he was a faithful reader of the Bible and as early as 1693 had interested himself in the witchcraft persecutions. He began to gather what information he could, collected fuller records of the Salem trials than Cotton Mather had, and wrote to him and to other ministers asking them for comments on his ideas about the witchcraft affair. For the most part they seemed to have treated his requests with scant courtesy, refusing to answer, or, in the case of Cotton Mather, threatening him with a libel suit.

Calef’s book is clumsily constructed and hard to read, but is nonetheless a courageous attempt to defend an important thesis. Like most men of his time in Old and New England, he believed that there were witches – “Scriptures else were in vain which assign their punishment to be by death.” He shared the common view that “there are possessions” by Satan and that “the bodies of the possessed have hence been . . afflicted.” But he insisted, as Perry Miller has put it, that the Bible gives no “explicit rules for detecting  the witch,” so “learned theories concerning the nature of the sin or its evidences are ‘human inventions’ –mere ‘traditions’ of men foisted onto Scripture, exactly on a par with the superstitions of Rome.” He inveighed especially against the “assumption to which all theorizers subscribed, the notion that witch enters explicit ‘covenant’ with the Devil” and declared it to be utterly without textual foundation.

Calef’s book was finished in 1697 but not printed until 1700 and then in London. It was too late to accomplish anything by raking over the dead coals of the Salem trials. Samuel Sewall had already publically acknowledged that, as a member of the first Salem witch court, he had followed methods and accepted evidence which he feared had cost some innocent people their lives, although, of course, he did not question that there were witches or that the law required that they be tried and, if found guilty, put to death. By 1700 most New Englanders shared his opinion and were eager to forget the whole dismal affair of 1692. No one seems to have paid much attention to Calef’s book, except those who were directly attacked in it – notably the Mathers- and those who welcomed anything that might weaken the influence of the Congregational clergy.

The book has been ably studied and summarized by several careful scholars. The only reason for mentioning it here is the fact that nearly two decades after the trials ended, when belief in witchcraft was no longer general, it became the principal source of the persistent myth which portrays Cotton Mather as the chief originator of the witchcraft hysteria, a villain who egged on the judges in their bloody work and gloated over the executions – a myth unhappily still cherished by some writers of fiction and drama and a few hasty historians.

This is understandable. As he went on with his work, Calef, justly angered by Cotton Mather’s cavalier treatment of his own inquiries, devoted many pages to virulent denunciations of him, often more abusive than respectful of truth. He enlarged the scope of his attack on the clergy to cover their political position and influence in matters that had little or no relation to the Salem trial. . . .

The story that Increase Mather had the book publically burned at Harvard may be true, although it has thus far been traced back no farther than 1809. Both Mathers did, however, collaborate in the production of an answer, refuting much that Calef had written, and successfully disposing of most of his charges, in a style often as vituperative as his own: Some Few Remarks Upon a Scandalous Book, against the Government and Ministry of New-England (1701)

Calef’s work deserves to be read for his sensible theory about the unsound basis traditionally relied on in New England and abroad for the discovery and trial of witches. But any dispassionate reader interested in the actual relation of the clergy to the witchcraft delusions of 1692 should also make his way through the pages of Some Remarks as an antidote to the More Wonders’ reckless ignoring or distorting the facts.  Although Cotton declared that, even after the Remarks appeared, Calef, the “vile fool,” was employed by “the enemies of the Churches . . .to go on, with more of his filthy scribbles,” nothing seems to have come of it. Little is known about the “fools” career after 1700, excerpt that he ‘held several town offices in Boston and Roxbury” and ‘died on April 13, 1719.”

Magnalia Christi Americana; Books I and II by Cotton Mather edited by Kenneth B. Murdock & Elizabeth W. Miller; Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA , 1977


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Freud by Elisabeth Roudinesco



The adjective “anti-Semitic” had appeared for the first time in Germany in 1860, used by an eminent Orientalist Jew from Bohemia to characterize a prejudice against those who were referred to at the time no longer as Jews but by the learned word “Semites.” In the face of this new form of hatred, the great emancipation movement of Haskalah*, born of the Enlightenment, risked appearing henceforth as a sort of interlude. Denounced up to that point for belonging to a religion, the Jews were now denounced as belonging to a “race”: that of the Semites. In 1879, the word left the sphere of scholarly debates among philologists  to constitute, in the vocabulary of the undistinguished publicist Wilhelm Marr, the kernel of a new world view, that of anti-Semitism.

Advocated by recently formed leagues, this vision ended up embodied in a movement that aimed to expel German Jews and send them to Palestine, and to stigmatize them as a class that was “dangerous” for the purity of the Germanic, or “Aryan,” race. In a few short years, during the period leading up to the First World War, anti-Semitism spread throughout Europe in many different variants: biological, hygienist, racialist, and nationalist.

Confronted during his university years with this mutation of anti- Judaism into anti-Semitism, Freud increasingly identified with the hero of his youth: the Semitic general Hannibal. During the entire period of his studies, Freud scorned those who labeled him a ‘dirty Jew” or who expected him to recognize his ‘racial inferiority”: on several occasions he did not hesitate to raise his walking stick to drive off the rabble that had peppered him with insults. In counterpoint, he cultivated the idea that by being excluded, as a Jew, from the “compact majority,” he would be capable of preserving an independence of judgment that would enable him to defend himself more effectively against prejudices. Freud had very little taste for the “liturgies of the social body, the protesting choirs, the anonymous slogans chanted blindly.”

 Aware, as Spinoza had been, of his status as heir to a people that had soldered its historical unity not so much by the sacred doctrine of election as by the hatred it aroused on the part of other nations, he thus made his pride in being Jewish an intensely powerful ferment for resistance to all conformism.


His  encounter with Charcot** was also decisive. Not only because the latter’s conception of hysteria had opened up new perspectives on psychic life and the reality of human sexuality, but because the master belonged to a line of scientists whose influence extended well beyond the confines of the academy. Known throughout the world, Charcot was first and above all a ‘seer’ endowed with an imaginative power in perfect harmony with Freud’s most extravagant dreams. Had he not gone so far, even as he was severing hysterias from any reference to an anatomical substratum, as to whisper in the ear of the young Freud, in love and convinced of his own talent, that even the most pertinent theory remains powerless in the face of a reality that contradicted it? “Theory is good; but it doesn’t prevent things from existing”: Freud would always remember this categorical imperative.

For all the scientists of the period, in Europe and North America, the study of sexuality was the great question of the century to come, and hysteria seemed to be its key element, a focus of interest far beyond the debates among specialists. And it is undeniable that Charcot was not only a master for Freud: he was the master through whom an entire continent had been conquered, the continent of sexuality.



Even if every new discipline owes its pronouncements to a ‘founding father’, this father instituted a discursivity that cannot belong to him alone, since, if it is rational, it engenders an infinite possibility of discourses capable of being reinterpreted in their turn. Freud himself was uncertain what his own legacy would be: “ No critic can see more clearly than I  the disproportion there is between the problems and my answers to them, and it will be a fitting punishment for me that none of the unexplored regions of the mind  in which I have been the first mortal to set foot will ever bear my name or submit to my laws.”


[This fate I pictured to myself as follows: I should probably succeed in sustaining myself through the therapeutic successes of the new procedure (psycho-analysis), but science would take no notice of me during my lifetime. Some decades later, some would surely stumble upon the same, now untimely things, compel their recognition and thus, bring me to honor as a forerunner, whose misfortune was inevitable. Meanwhile, I arrayed myself as comfortably as possible like Robinson Crusoe on my lonely island. When I look back on those lonely years, from the perplexities and pressure of the present, it seems to me like a beautiful and heroic era. The ‘splendid isolation” was not lacking in advantages and in charms, I did not have to read any of the medical literature or listen to any of my ill-informed opponents. I was subject to no influences, and no pressure was brought to bear on me. I learned to restrain speculative tendencies and, following the unforgotten advice of my master, Charcot, I looked at the same things again and again until they, themselves, began to talk to me.. My publications, for which I found shelter despite some difficulty, could safely remain far behind my state of knowledge. They could be postponed as long as I pleased.

I was saved from becoming embittered by a circumstance that does not come to the assistance of all lonely discoverers. Such a person usually torments himself with a need to discover the cause of the lack of sympathy or of the rejection from his contemporaries, and perceives them as a painful contradiction against the certainty of his own conviction. That did not trouble me, for the psycho-analytic principles enabled me to understand this environment as a necessary consequence of fundamental analytic theories. If it was true that the connections I had discovered were kept from the knowledge of the patients by inner affective resistances, then these resistances would be sure to manifest themselves also in normal persons as soon as the repressed material is conveyed to them from the outside. It was not strange that they should know how to motivate their affective rejections of my ideas on intellectual grounds. This happened just as often in the patients, and the arguments advanced – arguments are as common as blackberries, as Falstaff’s speech puts it – were just the same and not exactly brilliant. The only difference was that with the patients, one had the means of bringing pressure to bear in order to induce them to recognize and overcome their resistances, but in the case of those seemingly normal, such help had to be omitted.
]***

Concerned with hygienics, nosography, and the description of “aberrations,” the major sexologists of the late nineteenth century – Krafft-Ebing, Albert Moll, and Havelock Ellis- were less preoccupied with therapeutics than with erudite research into the various forms of sexual practices and identities: homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, pedophilia, zoophilia, and so on. In short, they were interested first and foremost in the question of sexual perversions and their origins in childhood. If the paradigm of the hysteric woman had invaded the entire field of the study of neurosis, the two major figures of “non-procreative sex” – the homosexual and the masturbating child – were the preserve of sexologists, hygienists, and pediatricians, who left to  psychiatrists, heirs of the alienists, the task of dealing with insanity, that is, with psychosis


By giving up the idea that the bourgeois family order could be based on the alliance between a perverse parent and an abused child, Freud shifted the question of  the sexual causation of neurosis onto a terrain that no longer belonged to sexology, nor did it belong moreover to psychiatry or psychology. He was leaving the realm of describing behaviors for that of interpreting discourse, considering that the famous sexual scenes described by patients could stem from fantasies, that is, from subjective or imaginary representations. And he added that even when an instance of seduction had actually occurred, it was not necessarily the source of neurosis. Thus he accepted simultaneously the existence of fantasy and that of trauma. And he emphasized that, thanks to psychoanalytic method (exploration of the unconscious and treatment by way of talking), the therapy should henceforth be able to discern several orders of reality that are often confused: real sexual abuse, psychic seduction, fantasy, and transference.

Freud was exploring an  unprecedented way of conceptualizing human sexuality. He extended the notion of sexuality, making it a universal psychic disposition and the very essence of human activity. It is thus less sexuality in itself that became primordial in his doctrine than a conceptual cluster that made it possible to represent sexuality: the drive, the source of unconscious psychic functioning; the libido, a generic term designating sexual energy; anaclisis (physical and emotional dependence on another for protection and gratification), or relational process; bisexuality, a disposition proper to any form of human sexuality; and finally desire; a tendency, an accomplishment, an infinite quest, an ambivalent relation to others.

So, a masturbating child, for example, was envisaged from this new perspective, not as a savage creature whose evil instincts had to be tamed, but as a prototypical human being in progress. Freud normalized “sexual aberrations” by freeing them from all the approaches couched in terms of pathology or in terms of innate dispositions comparable to ‘defects’ or signs of “degeneracy.”

While the term ‘unconscious’ had been in use for centuries and had been theorized for the first time in 1752, Freud made it the major concept of a doctrine that broke radically with the old definitions: the term no longer referred to a super-consciousness, a subconscious, or a reservoir of derangement, but a place to be instituted by repression, that is, by a process aiming to maintain  apart from any form of consciousness, like a ‘defect in translation,’ all drive-related representations capable of becoming sources of displeasure, and thus capable of troubling the equilibrium of subjective consciousness.


Freud’s conception of the subject no longer had anything to do with any sort of medical psychology. As for psycho-analysis, it was an act of transgression, a way of surreptitiously listening to words, taking them in without seeming to hear them or define them. A bizarre discipline, a fragile combination uniting soul and body, affect and reason, politics and animality: I am a zoon politikon, a political animal, said Freud, citing Aristotle.

Fascinated by death and love, by sex and desire, but concerned with offering intelligible explanations of the cruelest and most ambivalent aspects of the human mind, Freud confronted human subjects with their destiny: an unconscious that, without depriving them of their freedom, determined their fate without their knowledge. And Freud had a powerful urge to see psycho-analysis as a symbolic revolution whose primary vocation was to change human beings by showing that “the ego is not master of its own house.” By this gesture, as we have seen, he had set himself apart from the psychologists and the sexologists of his day by using myths and dreams to make humanity’s nocturnal life visible, quite apart from the so-called sciences of human behavior. Thus he gave an existential content to this domain rather than claiming to describe it with scientific instruments. What he borrowed from Darwin, moreover, was nothing other than what he was also taking from Sophocles: the tragic story of a man who, after seeing himself as a god, realizes he is something other than what he believed himself to be – he is a murderer, or a descendant of animals.



Freud thus invented a “discipline”, one impossible to integrate not only into the field of physical or natural science but into that of the human science, an area that has been steadily expanding since the late nineteenth century. For scientists, psychoanalysis belonged to literature; for anthropologists and sociologists, it attested to a resurgence of the ancient mythologies; in the philosophers’ eyes it resembled a strange psychology that had sprung up both from Romanticism and from Darwinism, while psychologists saw it as putting the very principle of psychology in danger. Thus psychoanalysis was rejected by all the academic disciplines, so decisively that it appeared to be the property of a master whose goal was to restore the Socratic banquet rather than to foster the growth of modern knowledge. And indeed the committee, with its sacred rings, its protocols and its oaths, seemed to legitimize such a view. As for the therapeutic aim of psychoanalysis, it fell neither into the field of medicine nor into that of psychology, even if some believed that psychoanalysis, as medicine for the mind, might “influence” psychiatry even though it had grown out of magnetism.

In reality, the Freudian clinic consisted in an art of interpretation apt to obtain from the patient the confirmation of a construction that emerged through transference and the work of treatment. In this sense, it nullified therapeutic nihilism, which consisted of categorizing psychic illnesses without ever listening to the patient.

Contrary to what has often been said, Freud never maintained that anatomy was the only possible destiny for the human condition. He actually borrowed a formula from Napoleon who had sought to inscribe the histories of peoples to come in politics rather than in reference to ancient myths. In other words, even though he had a very high regard for the ancient tragedies, Freud conceived of the great issue of the difference between the sexes in terms of a modern and more or less political dramaturgy. If for Freud anatomy was part of human destiny, in no case did it represent, for every human being, an un-crossable horizon. Such is indeed the theory of freedom that stems from and is inherent in psychoanalysis: one must recognize the existence of destiny (anatomy) the better to free oneself from it. Anatomy never suffices to determine what is feminine or masculine. The partisan of the English school of psychoanalysis were more ‘naturalist” than Freud: they believed one is born a woman once and for all, whereas Freud said, rather, that womanliness is constructed with the help of representations.

By 1937- and in response to what he felt were the erroneous paths being taken by some of his disciples – Otto Rank and Sandor Ferenczi- Freud emphasized that in psychoanalysis there could be no substitute for transference (@friendship)- neither the hypothesis of birth trauma nor hypnosis. And he added that the practice of psychoanalysis was the exercise of an ‘impossible task” and one that could never be sure, in advance, of the result. The therapeutic effort, he said, oscillates between a bit of analysis of the id and a bit of analysis of the ego: in one case, one is trying to bring to consciousness something of the id, and in the other one is trying to correct the ego. Without this oscillation, according to him, there can be no therapeutic success. Consequently, the analyst is no more normal than his patient, and as an “active” partner he is subjected more than the patient to the dangers of analysis.  This is why, periodically, for example every five years, the practitioner “should submit himself to analysis once more, without feeling ashamed to take this step. This would mean, then, that not only the therapeutic analysis of patients but his own analysis would change from a terminable into an interminable task.”

Even seventy-five years after his death, Freud is still disturbing Western consciousness, with his myths, his princely dynasties, his traversal of dreams, his stories of savage hordes, of Gradiva on the march, of the vulture found in Leonardo, of the murder of the father, and of Moses losing the tablets of law. I imagine him brandishing his cane against the anti-Semites: putting on his finest shirt to visit the Acropolis; discovering Rome like a lover overcome with joy; lashing out at imbeciles; speaking without notes  before Americans; reigning in his timeless dwelling amid his objects, his red chow chows, his disciples, his women, and his mad patients; waiting attentively for Hitler without managing to speak his name; and I tell myself that, for a long time yet, he will remain the great thinker of his time and ours.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haskalah
See also:

** ‘The Napoleon of the neurosis’


***History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Answering the Mail by Daniel Boyarin



Throughout this book I have been arguing that Paul’s writing poses a significant challenge to the Jewish notion of identity. I have suggested that Paul was impelled by a vision of human unity that was born of two parents: Hebrew monotheism and Greek longing for universals. As I have argued, however, and will pursue further, Paul’s universalism seems to conduce to coercive politico-cultural systems that engage in more or less violent of absorption of cultural specificities into the dominant one. Yet Jews cannot ignore the force of Paul’s critique just because of its negative effects, for the uncritical devotion to ethnic particularity has equally negative effects. Thus, while Jewish discourse both limits its claims of hegemony to what is, after all, a tiny piece of land (in contrast to the whole world staked out by “Christendom”) and, moreover, does not consider conversion of others a desideratum or a requirement for their “salvation”, modern Jewish statist nationalism has nevertheless been very violent and exclusionary in its practices vis-a-vis its others, and traditional Judaism was often offensively contemptuous towards them.

On the political or ethical level, then. Paul presented (and presents) Jews with a set of powerful questions that cannot be ignored. Echoing Alan F. Segal*, I claim that Paul’s letters are addressed to us – to me, as a (post) modern Jew. I conclude this book, then, with a highly personal and engaged, perhaps not always completely satisfactory, attempt to answer Paul’s letter to me. How can I ethically construct a particular identity which is extremely precious to me without falling into ethnocentricity or racism of one kind or the other? This is particularly poignant since, the latter are protean and can disguise themselves in many forms. In this chapter, this book will significantly change its tone and its focus. The effort of this final chapter is to articulate one individual notion of Jewishness – and by analogy, other forms of particular identity – that will attempt to answer the challenge of Paul’s letters to enroll in a commit to a universal solidarity as well . . .


TOWARDS A DIASPORIZED  (MULTICULTURAL) ISRAEL


The Diaspora can teach us that it is possible for a people to maintain its distinctive culture, its difference, without controlling land, a fortiori without controlling other people or developing a need to dispossess them of their lands. Thus the response of Rabbinic Judaism to the challenge of universalism, which Paul, among others, raised against what was becoming at the end of the millennium and the beginning of the next, an increasingly inappropriate doctrine of specialness in an already interdependent world, may provide some, by no means all, of the pieces to the solution to the puzzle of how humanity might continue to survive. Renunciation of sovereignty, autochthony, indigeneity (as embodied politically in the notion of self-determination), on the one hand, combined with a fierce tenacity in holding onto identity, on the other, might yet have something to offer. For we live in a world in which the combination of these two kills thousands daily, yet where the renunciation of difference seems both an impoverishment of human life and an inevitable harbinger of oppression.

For those of us who are equally committed to social justice and collective Jewish existence some other formation must be constituted. I suggest than an Israel which rimports diasporic consciousness, a consciousness of a Jewish collective as one sharing space with others, devoid of exclusivist and dominating power, is the only Israel which could answer Paul’s and Lyotard and Nancy’s call for species-wide care, without eradicating cultural difference. I would propose an Israel in which individual and collective cultural rights would become an essential part of its structure, no longer coded as a Jewish State but as a bi-national, secular, and multicultural one. For historical models, one might look to the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and to that multiculturalism now struggling to be born in the United States on the other. The point would be precisely to avoid the coercive universalism of France, the Pauline option, on the other hand, and the violence of a joining of ethnic particularism and state power, contemporary Israel, on the other.

Reversing A.B. Yehoshua’s famous pronouncement that only in a condition of political hegemony is moral responsibility mobilized, I would argue that the only moral path would be the renunciation of near exclusive Jewish hegemony. This would involve, first of all, complete separation of religion from the state, but even more than that the revocation of the Law of Return and such cultural, discursive practices that code the state as a Jewish State and not a multinational and multicultural one. The dream of a place that is ours founders on the rock of realization that there are Others there, just as ther are  Others in Poland, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Any notion, then, of Redemption through Land must be infinitely deferred or become a moral monster. Either Israel must entirely divest itself of the language of race and become truly a state which is equally for all of its citizens and collectives, or the Jews must divest themselves of their claim to space. Race and space, or genealogy and territorialism, have been the problematic and necessary (if not essential) terms around which Jewish identity has revolved. In Jewish history, however, these terms are more obviously in dissonance with each other than synergy. This allows a formulation of Jewish identity not as a proud resting place, indeed not as a “boast”, but as a perpetual, creative, diasporic tension.





* Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee,  Yale Univ. Press, 1991
Universalism in Judaism and Christianity”. Unpublished paper, 1992.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Doctor Melchior by J. Maynard Keynes


In October 1919, after I had returned to Cambridge, some Dutch financiers invited me to visit Amsterdam to discuss the situation with them; and on the 12th of October I arrived in Holland. Melchior had resigned from his position sooner than be party to the Peace Treaty. Since that time he had twice refused to become Minister of Finance in the new German State, and had quietly gone back to his banking business at Hamburg. I longed to see him again; and this was an opportunity. So from Amsterdam I caused a telegram to be sent to him saying that I should be there for a few days and would like to see him. Three days later he had arrived.



Amsterdam swarms with spies and busybodies, and it was thought better that we should not meet in a hotel. Accordingly my friend Dr. Vissering, the Governor of the Bank of the Netherlands, placed his study at our disposal. He lived in the Keizersgracht, one of those canals which, situated in concentric circles, give to Amsterdam its peculiarity. Before his house was one canal and behind his garden another. The house, one of the merchant mansions of Dutch glory, had a narrow front, but immense depth, and was so place that, bales being drawn up into the attics from barges, it could be residence and warehouse in one.  


Earlier in his career Dr. Vissering had been  Governor of the Bank of Java, and in his long study, running back from the window over the canal into darkness, Chino-Javanese lamps and images and cabinets, and all the ungainly bric-a-brac of a middle-class merchant from the East, overlaid the comfortable dignity of seventeenth-century Holland. No one was there; it was drizzling heavily; and I looked out over the canal. I began to wonder at the impulse which had caused me to send for Melchior, for no such idea had entered my head before I left England, and what possible purpose this interview could serve. All the same I wanted to see him immediately. At last the door opened and he came in.

It was extraordinary to meet without barriers, we two who had faced one another so often in opposition and etiquette and constraint. Those Paris negotiations seemed to be absurd and to belong to a dream; and after a moment’s emotional embarrassment we settled down to a long rambling gossip as two ordinary people. He told me of the last days of Weimar, and the struggle over the signature of the Treaty, his own resignation, how these days had been the most dreadful of all, how Erzberger had deliberately betrayed to an agent of the English Government the decision of a secret Cabinet Meeting between Noske, David and himself, in which it had been decided that in any event they must sign, and how he, Melchior, believed that it was out of a knowledge of this decision that Lloyd George finally decided to abandon his efforts towards moderation.



Melchior’s emotions were towards Germany and the falsehood and humiliation which his own people had brought on themselves, rather than towards us. I also understood most clearly, then for the first time, how dwellers in East Germany look to the East and not Westwards. The war for him had been a war against Russia; and it was the thought of the dark forces which might now issue from the Eastwards, which most obsessed him.. I also understood better than before, what a precisian he was, a strict and upright moralist, a worshipper of the Tablets of the Law, a Rabbi. The breach of promise, the breach of discipline, the decay of honorable behavior, the betrayal of undertakings by the one party and the insincere acceptance by the other of impossible conditions which it was not intended to carry out, Germany almost as guilty to accept what she could not fulfill as the Allies to impose what they were not entitled to exact – it was these offenses against The Word, which so much wounded him.

As we talked on, the morning passed and it began to seem ridiculous to me that we should not lunch together openly, like any other couple. So asked him to my hotel, where a German American Jew, Paul Warburg, brother of Melchior’s Hamburg partner, but one of the leading financiers of the United States and formerly the chief spirit of the Federal Reserve Board, was also to be my guest. We strolled out through Amsterdam, and Melchior, who know it well, took me on our way to see the courtyards of ancient almshouses, which conveyed to him, he said, most perfectly the intimate atmosphere of the town. It was a charming spot, indicative of order and retirement.



My book was not then out, and I had with me the manuscript of my chapter on the President. After lunch I read it to them. We went upstairs for privacy, this time to my bedroom not Melchior’s. I noted its effect on the two Jews. Warburg, for personal reasons, hated the President and felt a chuckling delight at his discomfiture; he laughed and giggled and thought it an  awfully  good hit. But Melchior, as I read, grew ever more solemn, until at the end he appeared almost to be in tears. This, then, was the other side of the curtain,; neither profound causes, nor inevitable fate, nor magnificent wickedness. The Tablets of the Law, it was Melchior’s thought at that moment, had perished meanly.



*To Keynes's dismay, Lloyd George and Clemenceau were able to pressure Wilson to agree to include pensions in the reparations bill. Towards the end of the conference, Keynes came up with a plan that he argued would not only help Germany and other impoverished central European powers but also be good for the world economy as a whole. It involved the radical writing down of war debts, which would have had the possible effect of increasing international trade all round, but at the same time thrown the entire cost of European reconstruction on the United States. Lloyd George agreed it might be acceptable to the British electorate. However, America was against the plan; the US was then the largest creditor, and by this time Wilson had started to believe in the merits of a harsh peace and thought that his country had already made excessive sacrifices. Hence despite his best efforts, the end result of the conference was a treaty which disgusted Keynes both on moral and economic grounds, and led to his resignation from the Treasury.





Two Memoirs; Dr. Melchior: A Defeated Enemy & My Early Beliefs by John Maynard Keynes; Augustus M. Kelley, New York; Rubert Hart-Davis, London 1949