Today we officially open Praxis Circle’s blogging and operating period for 2020. Yes, we’ve already published some posts this year, but that activity was just to stay limber & avoid injury once the true season begins.
And today, April 13, is an appropriate day to start A Journey posting: It’s the day after Easter Sunday, as well as the day after the anniversary of South Carolina’s firing on Fort Sumpter, the beginning of the American Civil War.
In 2020, our blogs will feature much of the not-yet-presented video content developed last year, while we generate more worldview video and begin other new activities.
Lastly, while I’ve published four A Journey posts since beginning on October 22 last year (my daughter’s birthday), this post also officially begins a personal effort to explain Praxis Circle’s origins, founding, and mission (to explore and build worldviews), unavoidably involving a bit of personal history about my own worldview development.
My primary goal in A Journey will be to explain why conscientious Americans, especially Christian Americans, should lose the word capitalism from their vocabulary and replace it with new words that actually describe our Western story.
Clearly, the American Experiment is quite alive and remains extremely influential worldwide, as well as our true, good, and beautiful Western narrative, but we’re creating significant problems by not changing more rapidly with the times. It’s gotten out of hand, really, and I hope to explain why during the course of this year.
I’ve been thinking about and researching “what to do with capitalism” constantly since 1976, as this post will show, and I’ll continue this effort from today for the rest of my life.
Of course, it’s not an issue original to me. There’s a growing chorus. Those sensitive to the issue have noticed the issue for decades, some already Praxis Circle Contributors.
What I know is that I truly dislike the world capitalism more than any other man or woman alive, including all modern-day Marxists and postmodernists.
Well, it’s time to make the break, and I can’t take it back.
But before beginning A Journey with a brief discussion of the Thomas Cole painting to the right above and our featured video at top, a warning is in order that’s already obvious to many: My point about capitalism is tough for many to understand, even some family and friends who’ve been forced to listen to me spew over the years.
I will catch some heat for this.
The reason is the word’s so darn ingrained in our national mindset and vocabulary, much to the advantage of all who would harm America, Christians, Christianity, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the West in particular.
So, this will be a long and difficult slog, and much repair work will be required on other related words.
Indeed, this vocabulary change won’t be as simple as changing the lipstick on a pig; we’ll need to transform our vision of a hag into ultimate reality, a beautiful lady.
The Beautiful Lady and the Hag:
Americans must change how they look at their history and world.
Do you see the two females above?
My Fair Lady?
Well, you might say so. Talk about romance.
The issue itself involves time and space and epochs of history, religion, philosophy, society, and culture, not only economics or economic systems, which often are falsely tagged as being based on “selfish” private interests alone.
But, as with any Aha! realization of changing worldview or paradigm, once you gain the insight, you never lose it; in other words, true metamorphosis always changes the way we see and interact with all and everything around us.
So, to begin to explain this particular post’s illustration and story, the painting featured to the right above is Thomas Cole’s “Garden of Eden” (1828). It portrays where the Jewish and Christian stories begin and where I had surfaced from – Never, Never Land – when I entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall of 1974 from a rural town in Eastern Virginia.
In my case, it was “babe in the woods” meets the big bad academic reality of a not-always-friendly world.
Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848) was a romantic and the founder of the Hudson River School, perhaps the first recognized school of American art. The article linked here provides a good overview of Cole and his work in the context of a 2018 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition.
A married father of five, Mr. Cole died tragically in Catskill, NY from inflamed lungs at the height of his career, a good lesson somehow for all of us during this most bizarre C-19 crisis.
Of course, Romanticism was a broad artistic movement across the West during the late 18th and the 19th centuries in reaction to Classicist and Enlightenment reason; i.e., early modernity. (The link is not an overview of Romanticism, but a short video intended to spur thinking about romanticism and worldview.)
Romantics emphasized emotion and beauty in aesthetics as a pathway to truth, and they continue to influence the West today. Furthermore, they often opposed aspects of “capitalism” and institutional religion, and we’ll be returning to Mr. Cole’s paintings in later posts.
Now, the video at top introduces Dr. Samuel H. Baron (1921 – 2017), my History Honors advisor whom I studied under for three years at UNC, beginning in 1975. At the time he was the world’s foremost authority on George Plekanov, the so-called Father of Russia Marxism. I double-majored in Political Science and Russian History (with an effective minor in Business), concentrating on the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.
Dr. Baron supervised the writing of my honors paper over two years, 1977-78, which addressed Leon Trotsky’s life and theory of permanent revolution prior to his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1928. Basically, the project involved reading everything Trotsky had written during the time translated into English, supplemented with the best biography and secondary research available.
In my opinion, George Plekhanov was maybe like John Locke was to the Glorious Revolution and American Revolution, and Trotsky himself was a strange combination of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison to the Russian Revolution, certainly in his own mind, though Lenin, Stalin, and the rest of the notable Russian revolutionaries would surely have disagreed.
Dr. Baron and I remained in contact a bit during the 1980’s, then reconnected for his Praxis Circle interview on June 26, 2013, when he was 93. What a treat to have spent that time with him again. Hearing his voice and sitting in his presence felt like traveling back in time 40 years to a session in his office in Hamilton Hall. Subsequently, we kept in touch until his death in 2017.
Sam was quite supportive of the Praxis Circle effort in its early stages, even though we both knew we differed somewhat on politics. In any case, all of Praxis Circle’s work is very much designed with Dr. Sam Baron’s spirit in mind.
As an important aside, I must note: Dr. Baron was a model college professor in every conceivable way.
He was brilliant and could boil down complicated ideas to simple constructs and words; he was always friendly, helpful, and would pitch in, if needed; he designed and conducted rigorous classes, while insisting students be prepared for every class and his challenging exams.
Well, it worked – his classes weren’t for everyone, but we all left them with an excellent command of the material.
Moreover, and just as important, never once between 1975 and 1978 do I recall Dr. Baron bringing politics into the classroom.
In fact, Dr. Baron rarely, if ever, talked about his personal life, common for the humble Greatest Generation.
Indeed, I didn’t know that he was a WW II U.S. Army veteran, naturalist, social democrat, and second generation Jewish American, whose father was a clothier, a Russian from Odessa, living originally in Buffalo, NY, and whose mother was American with recent immigrant parents from Polish Galacia, until after our Praxis interview. Dr. Baron himself was born and raised in Brooklyn and a big baseball fan as a boy. I remembered meeting his wife, Mary, in Chapel Hill one sparkling, beautiful day in the spring of 1978 at their home, within walking distance of campus just off Franklin Street, and was quite saddened to learn she had passed away several years before the interview.
Dr. Baron was always upbeat when I saw him between 2013 and 2017, no doubt much to the credit of his three daughters, who survived him.
And I wish I’d known all of that background much sooner because I’d love to have learned more and talked to him about it extensively. (As we’ll discuss next time, during Dr. Baron’s interview we discovered to my amazement and fascination – no, shock – that there might have been additional reasons for his reticence to go beyond teaching boundaries respected then.)
And you know what? I still don’t know whether Dr. Baron considered himself a “Marxist.”
But, clearly, he believed Marxism was an extremely useful way to look at the world, which no one can seriously doubt, and to that we’ll now turn briefly in closing.
I decided to major in Russian history early my sophomore year, after having taken a full year’s survey course on the subject my freshman year, because, in hindsight, I wanted to learn all about the most important and different worldview relative to American culture then – Russian Communism.
Of course, this was during the Cold War’s peak when the world’s two “superpowers,” America, primarily a theistic nation, and the Soviet Union, an officially atheistic nation, were competing globally for dominance. Now we know what happened, but the important thing to understand is that during the 1970’s, no one (and I mean no one) had any idea how it would end.
Those who experienced the times remember that books and papers were written each year about how easily and likely it was that those amazing Russian tanks, so superior to our own technology, it was argued, could and would any day roll over Western Europe in a flash and extend the Iron Curtain.
Then what Marxism represented to me was a fully comprehensive naturalist worldview that reached across every academic discipline and walk of life, in contrast to my own theistic view which seemed mere patchwork.
In addition, Marxism appeared to be just as much a “religion” as my own Protestant Christianity, often inspiring as much fervor and faith in its revolutionary evangelicals; indeed, Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks early on even had an apocalypse or end times in sight, too – a world revolution. Trotsky called it permanent revolution.
And yet it was fully apparent almost immediately that Marxism was clearly wrong, not so much because it left out God, but because of how it characterized man, human life, and basic human motivation. Furthermore, while Marxists wrote about almost nothing but capitalism, they didn’t write as if they’d ever seen or participated in any.
As a result, while studying Marxism’s influence in Russia and China, I developed an extreme dislike for the word capitalism as mispresenting our country, society, and culture, its place in Western history, and the Western narrative itself. My thinking was that if the average American could see how Lenin and Trotsky and the rest were describing our world, he or she would stop dignifying “stupid” terminology.
After graduation, I left UNC not only wanting to understand worldview much better, but also my own worldview in particular. Secretly, I was jealous of Trotsky and his “comrades” and wanted a worldview just as comprehensive as theirs, when, as far as I could see, no one in any of our universities was teaching it. Certainly, few then really were and almost no one is today.
In sum, since then I’ve determined what that comprehensive Western worldview is, eliminated capitalism from my vocabulary, and replaced it with better, more descriptive words that can stand up to any Russian, Chinese, or, worse still, ideological tanks. (Even though, so far, I’ve done so only in my own mind.)
What A Journey will do over the course of 2020, then, is walk through the first five Praxis Circle Contributor Profiles shown on the Homepage under “Latest Blog Posts,” where it says “Selected Contributor Profiles”: through the Baron, McWhorter, Novak, Eberstadt, and Williams introductory clips. (Click on any of those Contributor Profile photos, and you’ll link to the respective video.) We’ll also supplement this walk with many other viewpoints and materials.
By the time we finish in 2020 you’ll have lots of new key words and narratives to consider, and you’ll understand how worldviews are often alike, yet radically different. Frequently, the words we use determine how we think and what we do, and, as a consequence, they can determine what we experience and can expect.
I hope you’ll join us here and there in A Journey over the next few months as we walk out from Thomas Cole’s Garden of Eden into that big bad world and universe, now capitalism-free, called from this day forward – Creacratia (the power of creation).
There, I’m glad we’re finally done with capitalism.