(With apologies to Matthew Arnold)
(Written 19 February 1986. Webbed 25 November 1996. Lightly updated 6 January 2018.)
This fundamental struggle(1) is the ongoing war between capitalist and socialist ways of thought. This struggle is fundamental to our nature; as such, it is a fundamental struggle which, fundamentally, forms a base, no matter how controversial, for our daily lives.
Let us go back, though, to the immortal words of Bishop Ruk(2), who tells us: “Over all, there is a smell of fried onions.” This immediately brings to light several extremely important questions, most of which must remain unanswered. However, the most important question brought to mind is—where? on a park bench?—no; in a church?—no; at the seaside?—no; but at the Onion Ring Cafe on Park Avenue, a favorite lunchtime retreat of the Bishop, a man of whom it is said: “Quid pro quo,” a man who brought to the face of modern literature, past overwhelming opposition, a mediocrity unheralded in all of American literary history. This famous quotation of the Bishop’s is only another demonstration of our preference for a free enterprise system over Godless Communism as embodied, in a metaphorical sort of way, beyond all doubt, by the International Communist Conspiracy, a non-profit organization dedicated, if we can believe Argot(3), to the worthwhile ideals embodied in a slogan which, if taken seriously, and interpreted literally, could possibly become the most serious threat the free world has ever known; I refer, of course, to the ridiculous doctrine of “Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est.” We may regard this dogma, this strange bit of ancient wisdom, this unusual saying of clear, obvious importance, as representative of one school of thought. However, as an eminent French philosopher once said: “La plume de ma tante est sur le table.” This indicates a manifestation of the aforementioned free enterprise system, a system which is said to rival, and even to surpass, the ancient system, known all around the world, of barter. Unfortunately, this capitalistic idea of individual entrepreneurism is in direct opposition to Communist ideals; these two forces, like the forces of True Good and Icky Bad, or like Hebraism and Hellenism, can, in a sense, perhaps be regarded as somehow being rivals—but rivals only as exhibited in man’s quest for the truly perfect economic system, not in purpose. These two forces, or perhaps ideals, move the world to one side or the other at various times, and each attempts to attract, magnet-like, more powerfully than the other, the economy of the world; and the world “ought to be, though it never is, evenly and happily balanced between them:” as Matthew Arnold once said(4).
The aim of both systems of economics, in the end, is, as may be said to be true of all systems, perhaps very similar: to promote trade and abundant harvests for all humankind. Despite their rivalry, these two systems use many near-identical methods; as Maledict Arnold(5) once declared, in imperfect French (understandable, as he was an American), “Je ne sais quoi:”—that is to say, he felt Socialism, despite, arguably, his lofty ideals of helping the common people as a group, to be an unfortunately unworthy system: “Quid nunc?” On the other hand, those unhappy revolutionaries under whose iron hand was founded the greatest of the current Socialist nations preferred to think of the situation in a different light: as Czar Nicholas the first was wont to say, long before that Revolution: “C’est la guerre.”(6)
At this point, I think it necessary to refer, in passing, to those South American hailstorms, those snows of iniquity, in which we have placed all our hope for the future of Chilean banana farmers, whose ways, though we find them odd, have been maintained unabashed and unaltered (Cogito ergo sum, as it were) for century upon century in unceasing tribute to the valor of those hardy pioneers who brave the chilling intemperateness of the banana fields month after month, year after year, setting a perfect example for any form of government or economy under which they happen to live at any given time. As Tom Lehrer, a man who should not be mentioned without some degree of laughter, once said: “But I digress.”(7)
The aims of both systems, Americanism and Sovietism, if such the twain can be called, for the two nations most exemplify the ideals of Democracy/Capitalism and Socialism/Communism, are, as has been said, remarkably similar. However, the ineffable and yet somehow indescribable difference between the two is perhaps best illustrated in the following example: a Soviet soldier and an American soldier once met on a battlefield and killed each other. Καρθαγα, as has been said, Δϵλϵνδα Εστ.(8)
Democracy, or Americanism (as it certainly was not called before the 18th century), has a long and time-honored tradition that is both lengthy and ancient. This governmental system, says Dr. Matthews(9), has been passed down to us from the time of the ancient Greeks; there has been little change and less improvement since then. The Communist system of government, on the other hand, is a relatively new and modern innovation;—“There is a spectre haunting Europe,” as Karl Marx(10) once declared....
The well-known biblical prophet Margin once predicted that there would be “two great political systems in the world:” and that one would make more money than the other; however, we must remember that both systems are deep, profoundly spiritual manifestations of what can only be called a higher reality, unbeknownst to we who crawl upon this earth. Fortunately, or perhaps, as it may be, unfortunately, all is not “comme il faut,” as Hemingway(11) might have said had he thought of it and had he known French. Be that as it may, the dialectic of continuing forceful confrontation betwixt the rival forces can be interpreted as a struggle between the workers, who declare “Fiat lux,” as they place soap on foreign sportscars, and the imperialist warmongers of the capitalist regime; nonetheless, it can also be seen as a struggle between the honest middle-class who are “just tryin’ to earn a livin’” and the communist warmongers of the socialist regime—which leads one to the misleading but somehow reassuring conclusion, stated so wonderfully by Socrates(12) only yesterday: “Tempus fugit.”
“Everywhere we see the beginnings of confusion, and we want a clue to some sound order and authority,” suggested Matthew Arnold(13), but we are unlikely to find order anywhere in this somewhat demented universe, much less in an obscure essay written 115 years ago. As if in reply to him, we find Edward the third(14), or someone with a similar name, declaring, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” which only seems to indicate, once again, that despite the obvious superiority of a capitalist government to one which embraces those ideals, if such they can be called, espoused so enthusiastically by communists, both systems must exist in a sort of equilibrium to ensure the safety of the world’s citizens. As Thomas More(15) might have said to Henry the eighth as he was about to be executed, “Amo, Amas, Amat; morituri salutant.”
Quod Erat Demonstrandum
(1) A reference to a previous essay by another author.
(2) Bishop Nait Ruk (1800-1810), a theologian, chessplayer, and child prodigy.
(3) Thomas Argot (1765-1865), prominent Japanese statesman and translator.
(4) Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), writer. (“Hebraism and Hellenism,” from Great English and American Essays, p. 94).
(5) Maledict Arnold (1756-1776), patriot and first, albeit littlest known, martyr to American Independence.
(6) Nicholas I (1796-1855), Russian politician.
(7) Tom Lehrer (1986-1886), American humorist.
(8) “so it goes.”
(9) Arnold Matthews (1850-1901), authoritative English historian.
(10) Karl Marx (1818-1883), influential German author.
(11) Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Flemish philosopher.
(12) Socrates (c. 470-399 B.C.), Greek sportscaster; his knowledge of Latin is doubtful.
(13) Matthew Arnold, p. 104.
(14) Edward III (1312-1377), British lord and founder of the Royal Order of the Garter.
(15) Thomas More (1478-1535), English saint and martyr.
I wrote this in AP English class my senior year of high school. We had read some essays, including one by Matthew Arnold called “Hebraism and Hellenism” that I found completely incomprehensible. I believe Arnold was contrasting the emotional with the rational, referring to one as Hebraism (derived from Judeo-Christian thought) and the other as Hellenism (derived from classic Greek thought), but I’m still not entirely certain. At any rate, it was one of the most tortuously convoluted essays I’d ever tried to read, due largely to Arnold’s penchant for extraordinarily lengthy and redundant sentences filled with bizarre punctuation. Arnold was also inordinately fond of quotations in Latin, Greek, and other languages which scholars of the time presumably knew but which were so much gibberish to me. (The more so since the Greek quotations were written with Greek characters rather than transliterated.)
(It was also full of footnotes, but I imagine those were added by the anthologist, explaining to students who various people were.)
Of course our writing assignment was to write an essay, perhaps loosely modeled after one we’d read. I decided to write a parody of the Arnold essay. I’m something of a stylistic chameleon, and overblown prose comes easily to me, so the exercise went pretty quickly; I suspect most of the writing time was taken up with finding silly foreign-language phrases to use. I’m not certain, but I think that all combinations of punctuation in my parody can be found in the original.
I showed the paper (on which, by the way, I got an A) to Mykle Hansen, and he responded with a parody of my parody. When I was cleaning my room preparatory to leaving on my Wanderjahr, I found Mykle’s version but not my essay; I figured mine was lost forever (since the computer file was on a 5.25" Commodore PET disk). Fortunately, when I visited Northampton in December of 1996, DH mentioned in passing that he had an old high-school paper of mine, and sure enough this turned out to be it.
One further note: in the original paper version of my parody, “Karthaga Delenda Est” was hand-written in in Greek letters (despite not being in Greek). For the web version of this piece, in 1996, I transliterated; but when I looked at this page again in 2018, I realized that I could now use Greek letters, so I changed them.