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Jefferson &/or Mussolini, Part 4

Ezra Pound painted by Wyndham Lewis [1]

Ezra Pound painted by Wyndham Lewis

4,543 words

Part 4 of 5


JEFFERSON writing to Adams (or vice versa) noted that before their time hardly anyone had bothered to think about political organization or the organization of government. Same in our time re economics. It is a new subject. Bankers who control it de facto make no claims to be more than artisans, practising habits which have worked.

When there is a shindy they hire touts, either shallow or dishonest, to embroil and confuse discussion. The little real thought of the past twenty years has been almost subterranean. When it does force itself into the light one jams against various sorts of inertia, the fighting inertia of those who’ve GOT the swag and are in panic terror of losing it, the indifferent, and the fellows who think half-way through and then stop.

Some can tell the root from the branch, the most common failure is the failure to dissociate necessity from habit.

Thus a correspondent re the book Mercanti di Cannoni:

“To take a more immediate example, the STAMPA’S article shows that the French Government at the behest of interested manufacturers, is squandering colossal sums on fortifications. It is not argued, I take it, that these fortifications are intended for offensive purposes, or that they constitute a menace of war against any state. The most that can be said, so far as these particular armaments are concerned, is that they represent a gigantic waste of the French taxpayer’s money. That is too bad for the French taxpayer, but seems no reason for alarm in other countries.

“On the contrary, holding as I do that the success (such as it is) of our present system of production and distribution is based upon waste, I cannot avoid concluding that the more waste the better, and that nothing could possibly be so beneficial to humanity as a whole (within the limits of our existing economic system) as the undertaking by all countries to build a ring of solid steel forts around their frontiers. It would provide work for the workless and huge profits for everybody concerned, with the consequence that we should have a wave of world prosperity alongside which the boom years of 1928-9 would look like a panic.

“You may say that the same result might be accomplished by building a great pumping system to pump the water out of the Indian Ocean and carry it by steamers (or perhaps pipe lines) into the Atlantic. I agree. In fact this latter plan would have the advantage. The work would never be finished and therefore the prosperity would be endless.

“The trouble is that most people would think the latter scheme was foolish.”

I send this to A. R. Orage as encouragement, and as sign of the progress of enlightenment. I get a further communiqué from the sender, and he falls flop into catalogued fallacy, possibly from haste, confusion of office work, etc. From a discussion of effects which of necessity follow certain causes he falls into a description of what has been, without apparently perceiving the difference in the nature of the two cases.

So far as political economy is concerned the modern world contains the work of Lenin and Henry Ford, of C. H. Douglas and Mussolini, the somewhat confused results of Veblen and the technocrats, this latter, as I have indicated, is confused because it has been in large part surreptitious. Done under or near a subsidy it either has not had any moral force and direction, or the individuals who had any have had to conceal it and profess to be concerned WHOLLY with mechanical problems.

Ford professed to be concerned wholly with commercial and manufacturing problems, though he has recently mentioned human rights in a garbled outbreak against technocracy.

I suppose the term means to him merely putting an incompetent professor in control of his (Ford’s) business.

Genius, as I had recently occasion to say apropos Francisci’s work with a ciné-camera, is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one, and where the man of talent sees two or three, PLUS the ability to register that multiple perception in the material of his art.

When the nit-wits complained of Jefferson’s superficiality it merely amounted to their nonperception of the multitude of elements needed to start any decent civilization in the American wilderness: learning, architecture, art that registered contemporary phenomena instead of merely distorting them into received convention, seed of the right sort, transportation, responsibility, resilience in the individual and in the local group.

Washington could see mathematics from the ground end, geometry in its initial sense, measuring of the earth. Quincy Adams took it as astronomy, furthest possible remove from all human contact or human “pollution,” as I suppose all human quality may appear to a man suffering from puritanitis.

Jefferson was polumetis, many-minded, and as literature wasn’t his main job, this multiplicity is now recorded item by item in his letters, one interest at a time, and the unreflective reader gets simply the sense of leisure without perceiving the essential dynamism of the man who did get things DONE.

Suppose Jefferson had had to be both Jefferson and Pat Henry, or both John Adams and Jas. Otis? In the first place he probably couldn’t have, and in the second, my phrase is only an attempt to make the far-distant reader understand at least some part of what Mussolini’s job is and has been.

America had the luck to start with Sam and J. Adams, Franklin, etc. The liberation and the creation all occurred more or less in unbroken sequence. Italy had a risorgimento, a shaking from lethargy, a partial unification, then a forty-year sleep, from which the next heave has been the work of one man, pre-eminently, with only here and there a notable, perhaps a very temporary, assistance.

There is an analogy, from 1800 onward America was Jefferson’s work, Madison had been and continued to be very useful, Gallatin was helpful in his way, Van Buren went on in the ’30s.

Theodore Dentatus Roosevelt might have made up twenty per cent. of a fair Mussolini, but I can’t believe anybody was quite ready to go out and die for dear Theodore.


A GOOD government is one that operates according to the best that is known and thought.

And the best government is that which translates the best thought most speedily into action.

Such translation is undoubtedly more swift and dramatic when a nation has slipped behind and has merely to catch up with the pacemakers. Thus the leaps of Russia and Italy in many matters of detail.

Nevertheless Mussolini has a more responsive instrument than any other I can think of, something does appear to get started with “bewildering frequency,” grain, swamps, birds, yes, gentle reader, birds, there are more birds in the olive-yards, “birds friendly to agriculture.” W.H. Hudson wrote a lot about the subject, the aged Munthe wrote a book about Capri, but the BOSS does something about it.

That is what makes him so simpatico. He is simpatico as Picabia was simpatico, though Francis had apparently no sense of responsibility (which merely means that his sense of responsibility was far far, oh very far, from normal human perceptions, but at any rate Picabia had no sense of immediate social responsibility).

I am now trying to get a personal point of departure.

I am not talking about Picabia’s last show of paintings or about any exposition of painting but of a personal impression of the whole man whom I knew in 1922 and along then, a man intellectually dangerous, so that it was exhilarating to talk to him, as it would be exhilarating to be in a cage full of leopards. As he is not initially either a writer or a painter this has often been hard to explain. He was the first man I ever met who seemed to me to have ANY capacity for dealing with abstract ideas, or, still better, his mind moved instantly from a given phenomenon to the general equation under which one would ultimately have to group it.

You do not wonder where a thing is when you can see it.

All genius worries the dud, I think, by reason of the overplus. You will not get another Gaudier-Brzeska because such a sculptor cannot exist save when the lively general intelligence and the formal perception are combined with the drive to ceaseless animal action.

I think sitting still or reclining, and relax playing tennis. The sculptor concentrates all his intelligence WHILE in physical action. The mere stone-cutter, or worse, the modeller, hasn’t any intelligence to concentrate, and so forth.

Spectamur agendo. We know what the artist does, we are, or at any rate the author is, fairly familiar with a good deal of plastic and verbal manifestation.

Transpose such sense of plasticity or transpose your criteria to ten years of fascismo in Italy. And to the artifex. If you are engaged seriously in judgement or measurement.

We still respect the Code Napolèon and the architecture of Monticello, and those of us who know it probably respect the constitution of the University of Virginia, as it was before some of T.J.’s provisions were deleted.


DURING ten years I have heard attacks on fascismo, violent at first and then with continuing diminuendos, nearly always on what seemed to me irrelevant details, though occasionally I have met with a ranking broadside, as for example the Russian’s “BUT it belongs to them,” meaning that the Russian state belongs to the people.

Only it don’t, it belongs to the bolsheviki, and in any case I don’t see the effect of such ownership.

Secondly, Orage’s admission that Italy was better run or more efficiently run than any other country, but he followed this by a claim that it was just being neatly tied up in a bag for delivery to the international sonzov. Which I simply do not believe. You can’t prove by Euclid what Mussolini intends to do the year after the year next but you can use some sort of common sense or general intuition. I see no basis whatsoever for Orage’s prediction. Everything perceptible to me appears to indicate the diametrical opposite.

In 1920 I saw nothing in Europe save unscrupulous bankers, a few gangs of munitions vendors, and their implements (human).

Such things have happened before. I didn’t then know so much about it, and the history of the American 1830s is not a popular subject. Italy was perhaps more openly menaced. Her peril may have been, probably was, greater than that of the “stronger” countries where the infamy could pull with silk threads.

The first act of the fascio was to save Italy from people too stupid to govern, I mean the Italian communists, the Lenin-less communists. The second act was to free it from parliamentarians, possibly worse, though probably no more dishonest than various other gangs of parliamentarians, but at any rate from groups too politically immoral to govern.

As far as financial morals are concerned, I should say that from being a country where practically everything and anything was for sale, Mussolini has in ten years transformed it into a country where it would even be dangerous to try to buy out the government.

In other countries they excuse inexplicable perfidies by saying “These men are personally honest.” I am now quoting an admiral: “All I know is that all these men are my personal friends and I assure you that they are personally honest.” The implication being that they play the super-crooks’ game because they are stupid and hoodwinked.

A capacity for being hoodwinked is not in itself a qualification for ruling.

It is, let us admit, often a means of getting office in countries where office is elective.

Jefferson thought the live men would beat out the cat’s-paws.

The fascist hate of demi-liberal governments is based on the empiric observation that in many cases they don’t and have not.

My next analogy is very technical. The real life in regular verse is an irregular movement underlying. Jefferson thought the formal features of the American system would work, and they did work till the time of General Grant, but the condition of their working was that inside them there should be a de facto government composed of sincere men willing the national good. When the men of their understanding, and when the nucleus of the national mind hasn’t the moral force to translate knowledge into action I don’t believe it matters a damn what legal forms or what administrative forms there are in a government. The nation will get the staggers.

And any means are the right means which will remagnetize the will and the knowledge.

THE CIVIL WAR drove everything out of the American mind. Perhaps the worst bit of damage was that it drove out of mind the first serious anti-slavery candidate, not because he was an anti-slavery candidate, but because he saved the nation and freed the American treasury. Jackson had the glory, let us say he got the glory because he already had a good deal, the aureole of New Orleans, and Van Buren caught the reaction. His autobiography didn’t get printed until 1918 or 1920.

Whether by reason of villainy I know not. I suspect it was due more to stupidity and to the laziness and ineptitude of professors. You can’t expect history professors to be connoisseurs of economic significance, at least they weren’t to be trusted for it from 1860 to 1930.

I have already started to put the bank war into a canto. I don’t know whether to leave it at that, or to quote sixty pages of “Van’s” autobiography.

“I suppose they’ll blame it on Van,” said General Jackson.

Mr. Van Buren pointed out the discrepancy between the funds at the president’s disposal, and the funds at the bank’s disposal. He pointed out the discrepancies of Dan’l Webster. And when he had really finished that job he quit writing.

A lot of economics that mankind (the tiny advance guard of mankind) has learned in the last twenty years with toil, sorrow, and persistence, they might have lapped up from that unprinted manuscript of Van Buren’s.

(Autobiography of Martin Van Buren. Annual report of the American Historical Association, 1918, Vol. 2, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1920.)

“Forty millions had been the average amount of the loans of the bank. In October 1830 they stood at $40,527,532. Between January 1831 and May 1832 they were increased to $70,428,007; the highest figure ever reached. The amount of its outstanding discounts between the periods mentioned was thus increased about 30 millions, saying nothing of the increase which took place between May, the date to which the report of the Bank was extended, and July when the veto was interposed. This extraordinary and reckless step was taken without even a pretence of a change in the business of the country to justify, much less to require, so great a change in the extent of its credits.”

There is a good deal of such statement in the autobiography, all Chaldiac to the man in the street, but taken in its place, context, relations, very good reading to the modern economist, and marvellously convincing testimony to the clear-headedness of Jefferson’s most notable pupil.

Step by step the story of the recent American crisis can be read in last century’s story, simple transposition serving mostly for parallel. Read “land” where you now read “industry,” the finance is the same. Inflation, deflation, boobs buying on the inflate and getting crunched by the deflate.

In one sense American history or the history of American development runs from Jefferson through Van Buren and the takes a holiday; or is broken by a vast parenthesis, getting rid of the black chattel slavery, and then plunging fairly into unconsciousness.

We were diddled out of the heritage Jackson and Van Buren left us. The real power just oozed away from the electorate. The de facto government became secret, nobody cared a damn about the de jure. The people grovelled under Wilson and Harding, then came the nit-wit and the fat-face.

Wilson betrayed whatever was left of the original ideals of our government. The most typical story of the Woodrovian spirit as it permeated from the chief stench through the lesser crannies of administration is the tale of Van Dine, a long Hollander who had drifted into Chicago a bit before 1917, and had applied for American citizenship; he got a tax form, describing him as an alien, subject to certain imposts, and he got called up for army service. He said to the judge: “I am perfectly willing to serve in the army, but if I am citizen enough to serve in the army I’ve got a right no to be taxed as a foreigner.”

The judge (or jedge) leaned over his desk and whinnied: “Seay, yeng feller, deon’t yew know thet in THIS KENTRY there ain’t naowbody that’z got enny garr’DAMN rights whotsoever!”

Is it a crisis IN the system, or is the system in crisis?

How does the Jeffersonian answer the fascist in a.d. 1933, 157 of American independence, 144 of the republic, XI of the era fascista?

This is not to say I “advocate” fascism in and for America, or that I think fascism is possible in America without Mussolini, any more than I or any enlightened bolshevik thinks communism is possible in America without Lenin.

I think the American system de jure is probably quite good enough, if there were only 500 men with guts and the sense to USE it, or even with the capacity for answering letters, or printing a paper.


THE milleniar habit of slavery and the impulse toward enslaving others is very strong in the race. By the time chattel-slavery was driven out by the American Civil War, it had been discovered that paid labour probably cost less to the employer.

Some men are now struggling to convince the mob that the machine is ready to replace the slave.

The greatest obstacle may well be just simple business, bos, bovis, the bull, likes to order some fellow-human about.

The “will to power” (admired and touted by the generation before my own) was literatureifyed by an ill-balanced hysterical teuto-polak. Nothing more vulgar, in the worst sense of the word, has ever been sprung on a dallying intelligentsia.

Power is necessary to some acts, but neither Lenin nor Mussolini show themselves primarily as men thirsting for power.

The great man is filled with a very different passion, the will toward order.

Hence the mysteries and the muddles in inferior minds.

The superior passion is incompatible with Dogberry and the local bully. The second line of inferiority complex (professorial) toddles in with its twaddle about insanity and genius, and “the man must be mad.”

Five or six years ago the Roman barflies and social idiots were waiting for Mussolini to go mad.

The brittle mind, living on prejudice or privilege, as a last refuge plays ostrich. Something is NOT what it’s mamma or schoolmarm told it, and it simply can’t re-adjust itself.

When Mussolini has expressed any satisfaction it has been with the definite act performed, the artwork in the civic sense, the leading the Romans back to the sea, for example, by the wide new road into Ostia.

So Shu, king of Soku, built roads. What sort of shouting would the Chinese have raised for the release of the Lake of Abano, an exhilaration that might perfectly well have upset a considerable equanimity?

FREUD OR . . .

As one of the Bloomsbury peepers once remarked, “Freud’s writings may not shed much light on human psychology but they tell one a good deal about the private life of the Viennese.”

They are flower of a deliquescent society going to pot. The average human head is less in need of having something removed from it, than of having something inserted.

The freudized ex-neurasthenic, oh well, pass it for the neurasthenic, but the general results of Freud are Dostoievskian duds, worrying about their own unimportant innards with the deep attention of Jim drunk occupied with the crumb on his weskit.

I see no advantage in this system over the ancient Roman legion, NO individual worth saving is likely to be wrecked by a reasonable and limited obedience practised to given ends and for limited periods. So much for commandments to the militia as superior to psychic sessions for the debilitated.

That which makes a man forget his bellyache (physical and psychic) is probably as healthy as concentration of his attention on the analysis of the products or educts of a stomach-pump.

Modern ignorance, fostered and intensified by practically all university systems has succeeded in obliterating or in dimming the old distinction in Rodolpho Agricola’s De Dialectica.

Verbal composition is committed, “ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet.”

Verbal composition exists to three ends, to teach, to move and to please. You do not aid either literary or philosophical discussion by criticising one sort with criteria properly applied to the other.

We know that the German university system was perverted from the search for truth (material truth in natural research) into a vast machine for conducting the mental segment of the nation AWAY from actual problems, getting them embedded and out of the way of the tyrants.

American subsidized universities have become anodyne in the departments that “don’t matter,” i.e. those where the subject has not or need not have any direct incidence on life.

When it comes to economic study the interference of the controllers is less covered.

I am no longer “in touch.” I know that professors are occasionally “fired.” I have heard that the ladies’ Vassar once has a curiosity in the form of a heavy endowment “for as long as nothing contrary to protective tariff was taught there.”

The instinct of self-preservation, obviously THE great passion in the bureaucratic booZUM, leads often towards the anodyne. Such is the nature of bureaucracy. Once IN, it is hardly possible to be ousted for incompetence. So long as you aren’t noticed you STAY there, promotion is in any case slow. Soft paws, quiet steps, look and listen.

This has even bred the careerist in scholarship, the man who carefully studies WHAT KIND of anodyne bunk will lead him upward in the system, or best assure his income.

I have met various specimens, one definitely producing bunk to “get ahead,” another mildly discontented with the dullness of work which was at any rate safe, and couldn’t by any stretch of fancy lead one into an opinion on anything save its own dullness and, by comparison with any intellectual pursuit, its lack of use. Naturally he felt the need of his income.

Thus ultimately the makers of catalogues, etc., undeniably useful but undeniably giving a very low YIELD in intellectual life, or to the intellectual life of the nation.

In fact the idea of intellectual life IN an American University is usually presented as a joke by people with what is called a sense of humour.

When an experiment is made or advocated it is usually attributed (often correctly) to “cranks.”

A crank in “this pragmatical pig of a world” as Wm. Yeats has ultimately come to designate the Celto-Saxon segments of the planet, is any man having ANY other ambition save that of saving his own skin from the tanners.

An inventor stops being a crank when he has made, i.e. acquired, money, or when he has been exploited by someone who has.

Henry Ford is the best possible type of crank (taken in his fort intérieur), Henry himself was visible in his early days, but once inside the caterpillared tank of success his mental make-up is forgotten.

The fact that it often takes a series of two, three, or four cranks to get a thing done blinds the general reader to the utility of the successive components.

“C’est beau,” said Fernand Léger in the best defence of the French republic I have ever heard. “C’est beau, it is good to look at because it works without there being anyone of interest or importance, any ‘great man’ necessary to make it function.”

It’s “beau” all right, but dear old Fernand wasn’t looking at the Comité des Forges, which might appear to come nearer to being the real government of France than the gents in the Deputés and the figurehead at the Elysées. The Comité has got its dictatorship and its one-party system.

All without public responsibility. Our own country when finally betrayed by Wilson also showed from its secret internal workings, not only the financiers who had some sort of responsibility, private if not public, but the louche figure of State Militia “Colonel” House skulking from here to there with no responsibility whatsodamnever.

Disgust with Wilson, unimpeached, bred a reaction against having “a strong man in the White House” and we suffered the three deficients, and Heaven knows what the present (as H. Mencken defines him) “weak sister” will offer us.

The problem of democracy is whether its alleged system, its de jure system, can still be handled by the men of good will; whether real issues as distinct from red herrings CAN be forced into the legislatures (House and Senate), and whether a sufficiently active segment of the public can be still persuaded to combine and compel its elected delegates to act decently in an even moderately intelligent manner.

Damn the bolsheviki as much as you like, the Russian projects have served as stimuli BOTH to Italy and to America. Our democratic system is, for the first time, on trial against systems professing greater care for national welfare.

It becomes increasingly difficult to show WHY great schemes, Muscle Shoals etc., should be exploited for the benefit of someone in particular instead for the nation as a whole.

It becomes, in fact it has become, utterly impossible to show that the personal resilience of the individual is less, or the scope of individual action, his fields of initiative, is any more limited, under Mussolini than under our pretendedly republican system.

The challenge of Mussolini to America is simply:

Do the driving ideas of Jefferson, Quincy Adams, Van Buren or whoever else there is in the creditable pages of our history, FUNCTION actually in the America of this decade to the extent that they function in Italy under the DUCE?

The writer’s opinion is that they DON’T, and that nothing but vigorous realignment will make them, and that if, or when, they are made so to function, Mussolini will have acted as stimulus, will have entered into American history, as Lenin has entered into world history.

That don’t, or don’t necessarily, mean an importation of the details of mechanisms and forms more adapted to Italy or to Russia than to the desert of Arizona or to the temperament of farms back of Baaaston. But it does definitely mean an orientation of will.

The power lust of Wilson was that of a diseased and unbalanced man who before arriving at the White House had had little experience of the world. The job of being a college president in a fresh-water town, the petty hypocricies necessary to being an example to the young, are about as good preparation for political life as that of being abbot in a monastery.