Monday, August 04, 2014

Unsanctioned Voice; Individualism and the Garrett novels; Harangue; Lincoln Steffens; Emma Goldman; Wobblies - IWW; American Omen; Rockefeller Center

Click these links for discussions of the Writer's Note , Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 3, Chapters 4-6, Chapters 7-10 , Chapters 11 and 12 , Chapter 13 , Chapter 14 and Chapters 15 and 16 of Bruce Ramsey's Unsanctioned Voice.

Chapter 17 focuses on individual self-reliance and its relation to capitalism and Christianity. Ramsey expands on this focus with discussions of three of Garrett's novels - The Driver, Cinder Buggy and Satan's Bushel. Click here for the first part of my 2008 recap/review of The Driver, here for the beginning of my 2004/2005 recap/review of Satan's Bushel and here for part 1 of my recap/review of Cinder Buggy.

Ramsey discusses the Ayn Rand connection with The Driver, including alternative origins for the name "Galt." (p. 121, n. 4). My own belief is that there is enough Garrett material that influenced the Rand novels that the name "Galt" doesn't matter. Even if Rand got the idea for the name "Galt" from The Driver, there is nothing wrong with that. There was no plagiarism. Rand wrote very different books than Garrett, partially by building on some of Garrett's ideas and integrating those ideas into a philosophically-based plot.

Garrett, failing to foresee the plot of Atlas Shrugged, had written in 1913 that "Capital cannot strike." (p. 121, n. 4).

Ramsey writes that "The Driver is not a good novel." (p. 117). I am sure that it does not measure up to the classic fiction works of the past and would not hold the attention of a modern audience. But the story does have merit. The plot of an investor fighting to gain and remain in control of a struggling company despite attacks from all sides is compelling. Gail Wynand's struggle in The Fountainhead is more compelling because Rand was better at integrating philosophical issues into the plot. Modern fiction regarding large companies is spiced with sexual content and/or violence to appease modern audiences. But The Driver serves as an example where the plot turns on a company's value without relying on modern plot devices extraneous to capitalist considerations. Rand's plot elements were definitely based on capitalist issues, but also involved far deeper and more basic philosophical issues.

Ramsey quotes one noncommittal statement about The Driver from Bernard Baruch (p. 117), but Baruch also made a very positive statement here, in which he referred to The Driver as "one of the great novels of the day." Also click here for Time Magazine's review from March 17, 1923.

Ramsey barely mentions Cinder Buggy, except to say that it is similar to The Driver. (p. 117). I think Cinder Buggy showed growth, as the personal stories were more closely integrated into the capitalist message than in The Driver. Garrett did a better job of demonstrating the importance of the underlying industrial activity (iron and steel) and such activity's role in the history of mankind.

Ramsey also quotes Cinder Buggy on the issue of luck as it relates to individualism (p. 119) - a quote that I did not mention in my review. The quote appeared at a point where luck played a role in the advancement of the plot and the characters' fortunes (pp. 201-202 of Cinder Buggy). I had criticized the use of luck as a plot device without realizing that Garrett might have used the concept of luck to help explain individualism.

Ramsey quotes Weaver's speech from Satan's Bushel and compares Dreadwind to Mered from Blue Wound (pp. 117-119).

Ramsey provides clues to the roots of Garrett's economic beliefs (pp. 119-121), citing Herbert Spencer, Simon Newcomb and Francis Amasa Walker.

Garrett understood inflation as confiscatory theft based on his own reporting from post-WWI Germany. (p. 120). This writing shows how far down modern "conservatives" have sunk when they criticize this or that president for "failing to control" or "failing to stop" inflation.

Most importantly, Garrett understood that capitalism was not merely a "system" imposed upon a nation or a people, but was a natural part of life. Capitalism "grew out of life . . . gradually, and is therefore one of the great natural designs." (pp. 119-120). Reading even Ramsey's brief quotation from Garrett's writing is refreshing in light of modern conservatives who fumble in attempting to justify capitalism as merely the best among many "systems."

Chapter 18 begins with the statement that "[a]ll of Garrett's fiction is about work, industry and making a living." [p. 123]. [I made a similar comment in August 2007.]

Most of Chapter 18 is about Garrett's 1927 novel, Harangue and his fictional socialist takeover of North Dakota. Ramsey speculates that the title was conceived by the publisher, and that the subtitle (used as the title in the Saturday Evening Post serialization) was more descriptive. Ramsey identifies this subtitle as having come from the Book of Judges. [p. 123].

Ramsey identifies Harangue as Garrett's best novel. [p. 124]. Ramsey includes a more detailed description of the plot than he does for Garrett's other novels. [pp. 124-127]. Part of the plot overlaps real life events surrounding the Wobblies (IWW) [pp. 125-126].

Ramsey notes that Garrett's condemnation of socialism "lacks the bite" of his later attacks on the New Deal. [p. 127]. I have noted many times before that the New Deal would focus Garrett's writing. In the post-1932 world, Garrett wrote with the understanding that the battle against the New Deal was the only relevant issue.

Ramsey also discusses (and cites sources for) Garrett's association with Emma Goldman and Lincoln Steffens. [pp. 127-129]. Footnote 12 [p. 129] is one example that gives the reader some appreciation for Ramsey's task in ferreting out the various pieces of information that he would string together to create Unsanctioned Voice.

Chapter 19 focuses on American Omen and Garrett's travels around the United States. It begins with the sentence, "The 1920's was the last decade in which Garrett was optimistic about America." [p. 131]. I suspect that this statement applied to many people in addition to Garrett, although many people since the 1920's would display "optimism" about superficial matters far different than what Garrett marvelled at in the passages referenced in Chapter 19.

Ramsey focused on the portions of American Omen (1928) that described innovations in business training and management, the role of profit and the relation of technology to labor. [pp. 131-133].

The rest of Chapter 19 quotes Garrett's first-hand descriptions (in various articles) of American highways, Kansas City rail yards, Birmingham steel plants, California redwood forests and the softening effects of mild climates on the work ethic and ambition of the inhabitants. [pp. 133 - 137]. Much of this chapter has the feel of small portions of the old "Route 66" television series (without the drama). There was much about America that justified optimism at that time. Industry was growing and beginning to show its full potential. The changes in American life were visible and inspiring. Today, "urban explorers" seek out and examine the ruins and rubble that once created so much optimism before the government began its scorched earth policy of destruction known as the New Deal (and all that followed).

The chapter ends with curious quotes about the economic justification for skyscrapers in New York and the entire cities of Los Angeles and Wichita. Garrett speculates that these items were not economically motivated, but were created solely as a showcase for American economic power. The final quotation is from a 1929 Garrett article that applies this theory to Rockefeller center, which was under construction at that time. [p. 137].

Click here for a discussion of Chapter 20 and the shooting incident.

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