Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Collingwood: "Man Goes Mad", with comments, Pt. 12

I call upon John Lukacs where I think Collingwood has left a void.
The love of our country, therefore, its hills and valleys, rivers and fields and woods, is not an aesthetic enjoyment of the ‘beauties of nature’. Indeed, our country as it stands is not a product of nature; it is a garden kept and dressed by generations of men, whose whole character and aspect have been moulded by their labour. Nor is it a patriotic pride in our nation’s history as written upon the face of the earth; it is something far deeper and more primitive than that, something into which national pride and national rivalries do not enter. It is an experience neither aesthetic nor political, but in the deepest sense religious.

            It may be called the worship of our land as terra mater, Demeter, our divine mother; it may be called the love of the land God has given us for our home; whatever it is called, it is a thing of religion, our share in the primitive religion of the earth-goddess and the corn-god, the religion of all agricultural civilizations. And upon the vitality of this religious feeling depends the vitality of our civilization as a whole.

. . . .

            Many crimes have been laid at the foot of the Industrial Revolution, but in a direct and immediate sense the ruin of the English countryside cannot be included among them. The scarring of its surface with mines and the building of mills were not in themselves fatal to it. Both mine and mill have a dignity of their own, not wholly discordant with the spirit of the country to which, after all, they belong no less intimately than barn and dovecote and oast-house. But nevertheless, our present outrages can trace their pedigree back to the beginnings of the machine age.

From here, Collingwood catalogs the economic decline of the countryside and its conversion into a virtual museum piece and space for new housing tracts. His complaint is not aesthetic, or so he claims, but it's clearly one in which aesthetics plays a prominent role. He concludes the entire essay with these words: 

Instinctively, we turn to the country when we seek for a renewal of emotional power, as Antaeus in the fable derived fresh strength from touching the earth: in walking and camping and fields sports we try not so much to exercise our bodies as to refresh our minds. But these are only drugs for a jaded civilization. The earth whose contact would heal us is no mere playing-field. It is the fruitful, life-giving soil from which in the sweat of our brow we win our bread: not a weekly cheque to be exchanged for bread, but consciously nourishes itself from roots in agriculture, is well. Cut off from those roots, it is a kind of madness which may endure for a time im a fervish and restless consciousness, but can have no lasting vitality. Of this we are beginning to be aware; we know that our civilization has in it a sickness of the mind, a morbid craving for excitement, a hyperaesthesisa of emotion, for which it offers no cure. There is a cure, if only we could get it: the deep primitive, almost unconcious emotion of the man who, wresting with the earth, sees the labour of his hands and is satisfied. 
I must admit the Collingwood's conclusion flummoxes me. I accept his paean for the land, and I, too, believe that our land, this earth, is now our garden. But Collingwood fails to link this intuition about the value of the land with the rise of illiberalism. England was at this time, along with the U.S., the most advanced industrialized nation in the world. It has certainly been industrialized for the longest time. So why did places like Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, and Romania, opt for fascist or militarist regimes when they were much more tied to the land by a greater number of people linked to the land? If spoliation of the countryside and a concentration of the population in the cities should create the most and most significant (negative) emotional reactions--sicknesses--then why was England perhaps the sanest nation in Europe during this time? 

Also, how realistic is Collingwood here? This man was an academic, who certainly loved the outdoors. He was an accomplished sailor and did a great deal of archeological fieldwork. But he was not a farmer! Nor can or should we all be farmers (unless things really go to hell). He was a man of Oxford and London, not of the far reaches of the countryside. How is civilization to function? To wit, no cities, no civilization. 

Indeed, if Collingwood hadn't here (and elsewhere) written so eloquently about liberalism, one might find a hint of Blut und Boden (blood and soil) in this musings in this last section. As it is, Collingwood, in the first quoted paragraph, despite his dismissal of the feeling as one of patriotism, seems to be very close to the understanding of patriotism offered by John Lukacs. Lukac's patriotism contrasts with virulent nationalism, and it's a distinction that I believe Collingwood could have endorsed. Lukacs describes the difference: 

Patriotism is defensive; nationalism is aggressive. Patriotism is the love of a particular land, with its particular traditions; nationalism is the love of something less tangible, of the myth of a “people”, justifying many things, a political and ideological substitute for religion. Patriotism is old-fashioned (and, at time and in some places, aristocratic); nationalism is modern and populist. In one sense patriotic and national consciousness may be similar; but in anther sense, more and more apparent after 1870, national consciousness began to affect more and more people who, generally, had been immune to that before—as, for example, many people within the multinational empire of Austria-Hungary. It went deeper than class consciousness. Here and there it superseded religious affiliations, too.
John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism: Fear & Hatred (2005), 36.

I'd expected Collingwood to explore more deeply down a similar path and to tie-in this change in popular feeling that Lukacs identifies. As he left it---and remember, Collingwood did not publish this article--it lacks a satisfactory conclusion, one that ties together his concluding observations, which in the end are left standing alone. Perhaps he realized this, too. 

I'll be reading more Collingwood, including Essays in Political Philosophy and re-reading this The New Leviathan to try to fill in this gap. 

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