Wednesday, 7 October 2009

BEING PAID TO SAY STUPID THINGS IN PUBLIC (PART 47)

John Merriman, the Charles Seymour professor of history at Yale University, and author of The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-De-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror has this to say on the BBC website:

"Where before it was policemen or heads of state who were the targets of violent anarchists, now it was ordinary people. The bourgeois."

When, back in the Nineties, John Major claimed “we are all middle class now” it seemed to reach a new height in risibility. Now it seems that by 1894 everybody was already stinking rich!!! (Albeit with the exception of one or two grudge-nursing, bomb-tossing “down and outs.”)

He also teaches us that the plural of ‘bourgeois’ isn’t ‘bourgeioisie’ after all, as dictionary compilers have long but erroneously supposed. (Perhaps in 1894 everyone in France suddenly agglomerated into one vast, super-rich guy – causing Emile Henry to feel left out.)

”Both share a fervent belief in ideology, and confidence that eventually they will win.”

It is not actually common to believe in ideology, as an ideology is in itself a belief system. Demonstrators do not usually chant "What do we want? Ideology!" This would be like ‘seeing vision’ or ‘hearing audibility’, and is what tends to be called a ‘tautology’.

”Indeed, one theory has it that 'terrorism' began with the state, during the radical phase of the French Revolution.”

Oh do you think so? Maybe Mr. Merriman is onto something! However one theory has it that, for example, Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland preceded the French Revolution and did not proceed along the basis of asking the natives nicely if they minded being taken over.

If anyone doubts the continual existence of the class system, which Mr. Merriman is so keen to claim ended in 1894, consider this. While you and I work for a living, this guy is paid good money to come up with these wretched imbecilities, which show a lack of understanding of basic English, let alone politics or history. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.

4 comments:

  1. A Yale history professor said that? It's about what I'd expect from a lazy journalist.

    In terms of governments terrorising people, terrorism is possibly as old as governments. William the Conqueror's "harrying of the north" was at least as bad as Cromwell in Ireland.

    Even taking a narrower definition of terrorism it's quite a bit older than 1894. T. J. Stiles argued that Jesse James was one of the first modern terrorists, but we can go even further back than that. The Irish rebellion in 1641 included massacres of civilians, although these were massively exaggerated by the press. This provoked serious overreactions (which is one of the aims of modern terrorism). Years before Cromwell went to Ireland, parliament ordered summary execution of any Irish soldiers caught fighting for the king in England. In turn that provoked more reprisals by the royalists.

    I'd guess that Merriman is using a narrow conservative definition of ideology in which only extremists have ideology and "normal" people don't, which is obviously an ideological assumption in itself. It's not that uncommon among big name historians. I've read whole books that are supposedly about ideology but which completely ignore any Marxist or feminist definitions of the word.

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  2. A Yale history professor said that? It's about what I'd expect from a lazy journalist.

    Well precisely the source of my ire! I had to check the byline several times over, like pinching yourself in a dream. Such a Fox News-style slur, that anarchists somehow ‘invented’ terrorism and are therefore responsible for Islamic Fundamentalism, would have been bad enough stemming from the BBC. But a Yale History Professor... you might expect him to know a little better.

    (Though I’m also amused by my own reaction, as outraged by his sloppy grammar as his shoddy research. Part of me says “comrades, to the barricades!” and another part of me says “conjugate the plural of bourgeois!”)

    In terms of governments terrorising people, terrorism is possibly as old as governments.

    My argument would be that one is entirely dependant upon the other. As the old joke goes “Why did the terrorist carry a bomb in his backpack? Because he was still saving up for the air force.” The Allies dubbed their bombing of Iraq ‘Shock and Awe’. Presumably meaning they had precision guidance mechanisms carefully set to disseminate shock and awe, but not any terror.

    Even taking a narrower definition of terrorism it's quite a bit older than 1894. T. J. Stiles argued that Jesse James was one of the first modern terrorists.

    Not sure I follow this bit. Wasn’t James’ motivation financial gain rather than ideology?

    I'd guess that Merriman is using a narrow conservative definition of ideology in which only extremists have ideology and "normal" people don't, which is obviously an ideological assumption in itself. It's not that uncommon among big name historians. I've read whole books that are supposedly about ideology but which completely ignore any Marxist or feminist definitions of the word.

    Ideology to me is like having egg on your face. It’s much easier for everyone else to see it than you, you can even have the yolk running down your eyes and you’ll just figure the world is yellow. And of course people will be less likely to comment on it, the more powerful and influential you are.

    (Incidentally, I sent a slimmed-down version of my comments to the comments section on that page, but they weren’t ‘selected’ for inclusion.)

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  3. Based on some very detailed research Stiles found that the James-Younger gang were primarily motivated by racism and support for the Confederacy. The original members of the gang had previously been bushwhackers in Missouri during the civil war (Frank James took part in Quantrille's notorious raid on Lawrence Kansas). The civil war in Missouri didn't come to a neat end - large numbers of bushwhackers were still active well into 1866. The James-Younger gang grew out of this but carried on longer and were part of the anti-reconstruction movement which also indluded the Redeemers and the KKK (the gang were reported as wearing Klan masks in one robbery). Although they mostly targeted banks and trains, their targets often had political significance. They went a long way out of their way to rob the bank in Northfield, Minnesota specifically because Adelbert Ames had money invested there. Ames was a Union general in the civil war, and as governor of Mississippi had tried to implement a civil rights programme until he was driven out by Confederate guerillas. Jesse James often wrote letters to the newspapers which were full of Confederate propaganda as well as glorifying his own actions. So it's incredibly dodgy that James has become a romanticized hero while Ames has largely disappeard from popular memory.

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  4. Wow! Not heard that before, and it certainly didn't make even the most recent movie, but I guess it fits. I wonder if the stereotype of the romanticised outlaw is intrinsically dodgy, it does seem like all the examples of it are.

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