Apr 20, 2016

Man in the High Castle: Alternative History as Moral Katharsis

via Faith & Heritage

Recently I found myself thinking about the ‘meme’ I see frequently on AltRight Twitter accounts expressing a desire that the Axis powers had won WWII. It amounts to a lament about what America has become, and I feel a good bit of sympathy with the sentiment. The idea of alternate, fictional accounts of history – sometimes referred to as uchronia – is not a recent novelty. As early as the first century B.C., Roman historian Livy provides us with the first known specimen in his Ab Urbe Condita, which contains a conjectural digression on what might have occurred had Alexander the Great lived longer, and turned his armies west to attack Rome.

It occurred to me as a sort of intuition that the Left has been busy for some time trying to control the understanding and use of alternative history by the broader public. Unquestionably, the political and social Left dominate the genre, with the tacit goal of administering it as a sort of Blue Pill that erases history and blurs facts into insignificance. What is important about World War II, to take an example, is not what actually occurred, of course, but how we ought to feel about what occurred. All of modern education theory rests on this lone principle, first introduced by philosopher John Dewey in the mid-20th century. By a process of reductionism, the events of that war have been boiled down to a simple morality play about the goodies vs. the baddies – the latter being those who wantedtokillsixmillionjews, certainly. But the process is also seen in the perpetual and infinite stigmatization of the idea of a nation – that is, a group of people who are more-or-less biologically related, who share a past, and who behave in self-interested ways to defend and invigorate themselves and, by extension, their culture. This, as we know, has come to be ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ Even thought of, it is under a dreadful edict by Really Nice People – but just to be certain, it is also occulted by Anathemas and Curses of a Very Serious Nature. Witness if you will the recent television program The Man in the High Castle, of which I watched a few nauseating minutes, until my gag reflex overwhelmed me. The series paints for us a dystopian future in which the bad guys of WWII are victorious, and commence to (what else?) immerse the world in their badness: the Nazis their diseased cult of the Übermensch, and the Japanese their horrifying Shinto religion and xenophobia. Shiver. Followed by Two Minutes Hate.

What many don’t realize initially is that the series was adapted from a novella written by Philip K. Dick, who is most often associated with science fiction, in particular his popular novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which the now-classic film Blade Runner was based. Of course, Dick’s novel reflects this Blue Pilling with great fidelity – never does he stray far from the axiomatic clichés of The Blue Meanies vs. the Beatles—those lovely chaps from England who sang about love and what have you. The comparison is not a random aside, as Dick’s final novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, begins on the very day of St. John Lennon’s murder. Dick has been described as a “poor man’s Thomas Pynchon.” I know him from this final novel, a tendentious screed against Christianity that describes in loving detail the self-doubt, fornication, decline, and final descent into apostasy of an episcopal bishop and former Civil Rights leader. By the end, Bishop Archer’s suicide comes as consolation, punctuating his long slide into darkness. The work describes a conspiracy in which the truth of the Gospels is buried by a mendacious and fearful Church (sound familiar?): that Christ’s parables and aphorisms were derivative, adopted from the wisdom literature of a secret cult, and that the Last Supper was a mystical rite that prescribed consumption of psychedelic mushrooms, endowing celebrants of this pharmacological Eucharist with enlightenment. Quite avant garde, you understand. The conclusion to which we are led by the author is that Archer’s brilliant life has been spent in service of a lie, his only meaningful contribution being his support for the Civil Rights movement—his secular, this-worldly salvation. Dan Brown has nothing on Phil Dick.

Nor are these examples outliers. There is a bewildering variety of contemporary literature that indulges in the moral katharsis of virtuous auto-signaling by dealing shame to holy rollers and death to Blue Meanies, in both alternate pasts and hopeful futures. All we need do is read and assent to obtain our expiation. Since the middle of the twentieth century, nearly all literary and cinematic dystopias are at least vaguely Fascist. Dick’s retelling of history as a 50s pulp fiction villain story was later echoed by American Jewish author Phillip Roth, whose book The Plot Against America provides readers with an alternate history as a thinly-veiled roman à clef in which ‘anti-semite’ Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. As one might expect, another Krystalnacht commences on American soil when Secretary of the Interior Henry Ford (another ‘anti-semite’) acts on suspicions that a Jewish conspiracy is responsible for the disappearance of President Lindbergh’s plane by rounding up prominent Jews. Horrors ensue. But further, as we know, Jewish conspiracies, like all conspiracies, cannot, de jure, exist. They have been legislated out of existence by the interests promoting the Accidental Theory of History.

Roth’s novel was greeted with spasms of adulation by the liberal press and literati, with Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, calling the book “painfully moving” and a “genuinely American story.” Only it isn’t—or wasn’t. It is rather a peculiarly Jewish exhibit of paranoia, psychological projection, and oikophobia, as Roger Scruton has called it. Even strident criticism of the novel, such as Bill Kauffman’s savage notice in The American Conservative, was careful to signal its assent to reigning desiderata by its defense of Charles Lindbergh against charges of racial bigotry, rather than dismissing ‘anti-semitism’ as a red herring. As always, all Jewish characters must be paragons of American Values (whatever those may be). Indeed, Roth was criticized for his at-times unflattering portraits of co-ethnics. Not only must Jews be portrayed as utterly ingenuous, but small deviations from this formula, even for the sake of artistic integrity and realism, are forbidden -which adds up to most Jewish characters in contemporary fiction having all the depth of cardboard cutouts, cinema advertising flats performing a purely symbolic function. Suppressing a smirk, one will note the implication of the novel’s title: the plot is not against the Jews, specifically, but against all of America, as the Jewish people have been pressed into service as representatives of the country in toto, its very essence. An attack on them is an attack on ‘us all.’ Lest we forget, our President has informed us that “that’s not who we are.” Some of ‘us,’ however, reserve the right to determine for ourselves who ‘we’ are. That was once called self-determination. I read somewhere a war was fought over it that most people generally agree was worthwhile.[1. I tend to be of the opinion that the war to which I refer was fought not for “freedom” or any such highfalutin’ stuff, but rather to free the American gentry from the British mercantile system. Perhaps not a bad thing, but certainly not the stuff of cults of Originalism. The rest is hagiography, for these were men, with men’s motives – though ‘our’ early history does contain more than a handful of very exceptional figures. Two centuries might even make a shibboleth-spluttering neo-Quaker on Twitter read like Cicero.]

Roth’s novel is merely one example from a cottage industry in virtue katharsis as alternate history to be found in both literature and visual media. Another tired trope is that of the Southern victory in the American Civil War. The 2004 satire C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America was yet another foray into the dystopias that result when villains win (with the corollary of why it’s vital to oppose them – or their remnants – today). As a literary genre – that is, considered as art – Alternate History as Leftist Katharsis is an abject failure, relying as it often does on caricature, omission, and outright libel to draw the stark moral contrasts that are its stock-in-trade. It amounts to an endless, circular parade of Emmanuel Goldsteins, like Soviet missiles rolling past the Kremlin on Mayday. That it is so often lavishly praised is indication that many leftist critics see it serving tutelary function, imposing a form of social conditioning through the desire for belonging, eliciting in turn the too-familiar impulse toward the displays of Leftist piety and conformity that have become the bane of the contemporary arts, from poetry to painting.

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