Thursday, February 26, 2015

Emma Goldman Suffers So Much When Read In The Original

I have pointed out before what a radical opportunity the internet has been for people to read the actual, unedited, unselected, unmitigaged writings of famous people who had been available primarily in selected, edited excerpts of their work or through the interested representations of them in secondary resources, either from those who had a partisan interest in presenting them in the most appealing light possible or, on the other hand, those who had as interested a motive in presenting them as an easily dismissed cartoon devil.   Reading large parts of what someone actually wrote, reading those who knew a person intimately, has been rather shocking in a number of instances.   I don't think there is anyone who has undergone a more radical fall by their own hand in that regard, for me, than Emma Goldman.

The common view of her is as the martyr of the Palmer era red purges, the champion of the worker, firebrand and idealist who, nonetheless, didn't want to be part of a revolution if it meant she couldn't dance.  I bought that view of her, largely through the excerpted passages and tightly clipped slogans ready made for posters and tee shirts.  Only that's nothing like the person revealed in reading her full length pieces.

She was popular for her ability to rile up an audience but never did much else.
Even in her more valuable work, such as her documentation of the disaster that the early years of the Russian Revolution were, the flakes of gold are mixed with so much dross it's tough going to find them.

Her epic impracticality, her utter and complete devotion to her hatreds and bigotries were not matched by her devotion to workers - her developing contempt for "the masses" is striking, especially as they refused to follow her and adopt her ideological obsession in a psychotic fantasy of some anarchist paradise of the future.  An anarchism, by the way, ruled by Nietzchean principles that, for the life of me, don't look that much different from those of some of Ayn Rand's more insane inconsistencies, is what you find by reading her.  Goldman was a huge promoter of Nietzsche's books and ideas, even turning his epic misogyny into its opposite, since the real thing was inconveniently there.  Her treatment of his infamous advice to take your whip when you went to a woman is just stunning in its incoherence and hatred, not to mention her clear hatred of and contempt for the thoughts of women.

Nietzsche's memorable maxim, "When you go to woman, take the whip along," is considered very brutal, yet Nietzsche expressed in one sentence the attitude of woman towards her gods.

Religion, especially the Christian religion, has condemned woman to the life of an inferior, a slave. It has thwarted her nature and fettered her soul, yet the Christian religion has no greater supporter, none more devout, than woman. Indeed, it is safe to say that religion would have long ceased to be a factor in the lives of the people, if it were not for the support it receives from woman. The most ardent churchworkers, the most tireless missionaries the world over, are women, always sacrificing on the altar of the gods that have chained her spirit and enslaved her body.

The insatiable monster, war, robs woman of all that is dear and precious to her. It exacts her brothers, lovers, sons, and in return gives her a life of loneliness and despair. Yet the greatest supporter and worshiper of war is woman. She it is who instills the love of conquest and power into her children; she it is who whispers the glories of war into the ears of her little ones, and who rocks her baby to sleep with the tunes of trumpets and the noise of guns. It is woman, too, who crowns the victor on his return from the battlefield. Yes, it is woman who pays the highest price to that insatiable monster, war.

Really, just to point out one thing, didn't she read anything the nut case said about war, warriors and women in that book?  Like this well known passage?

"Much hath Zarathustra spoken also to us women, but never spake he unto us concerning woman."
And I answered her: "Concerning woman, one should only talk unto men."
"Talk also unto me of woman," said she; "I am old enough to forget it presently."
And I obliged the old woman and spake thus unto her:
Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution—it is called pregnancy.
Man is for woman a means: the purpose is always the child. But what is woman for man?
Two different things wanteth the true man: danger and diversion. Therefore wanteth he woman, as the most dangerous plaything.
Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly.

Oh, and, yeah, somehow, his insane amoral Superman libertarianism was supposed to also be compatible with Kropotkin's Mutual Aid model of community life.  If you want just an example of how unhinged she was, you can read the entire diatribe that the following is sometimes excerpted from, oh, yeah, brought to you by "Positive Atheism".

"Morality has no terrors for her who has risen beyond good and evil. And though Morality may continue to devour its victims, it is utterly powerless in the face of the modern spirit, that shines in all its glory upon the brow of man and woman, liberated and unafraid."

Just what she thought workers rights, womens' rights, etc. were based in if not in morality, would be interesting to know.

I've always said that anyone who had ever been in a situation in which civil authority broke down or was nonexistent would learn just what anarchism would mean, before the gangsters and organized criminals, the real life Übermenschen, not the fantasy kind, imposed an uncivil order.  I don't quite get how Emma didn't understand that for someone to be uber, a lot of other people had to be unter, it's as if she didn't know the first thing about people and society, something that seems to be a common trait among anarchists.

The more I read of her the more of a total flake she seems to me.   And her stuff, unedited, reads a lot more tedious than it might have seemed while she was raving it from a platform.  Compared to Lincoln or Fredrick Douglass, her words are wooden and absurd on the page, incoherent and more than just a bit condescending.  Odd for an anarchist, she was a raging snob and narcissist.

UPDATE;  As to Goldman's devotion to Nietzsche and her anarchism, consider this passage from one of his major works which she refers to in that passage, Beyond Good and Evil:

On the other hand, the gregarious European man nowadays assumes an air as if he were the only kind of man that is allowable, he glorifies his qualities, such as public spirit, kindness, deference, industry, temperance, modesty, indulgence, sympathy, by virtue of which he is gentle, endurable, and useful to the herd, as the peculiarly human virtues. In cases, however, where it is believed that the leader and bell-wether cannot be dispensed with, attempt after attempt is made nowadays to replace commanders by the summing together of clever gregarious men all representative constitutions, for example, are of this origin. In spite of all, what a blessing, what a deliverance from a weight becoming unendurable, is the appearance of an absolute ruler for these gregarious Europeans—of this fact the effect of the appearance of Napoleon was the last great proof the history of the influence of Napoleon is almost the history of the higher happiness to which the entire century has attained in its worthiest individuals and periods.

I would refer you, as well, to #260 of that book for his developed ideas of "master" vs. "slave" morality.

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