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Saturday, March 8, 2003

Emersonians against war.

In an article about Eli Pariser, the 22-year-old whiz kid who turned the Internet into the mass-mobilization tool of the American antiwar movement, George Packer observes: "There is a very old American type of protester — think of Emerson's friend Thoreau, or of John Brown — who sees politics as an expression of personal morality." He explains:

The strongest tendency at the Feb. 15 rally (and in the movement generally) was not anti-Americanism or antiglobalism or pro-Arabism; it was simply a sense that war does more harm than good. A young woman from Def Poetry Jam shouted: ''We send our love to poets in Iraq and Palestine. Stay safe!'' The notion that there is little safety in Iraq and, strictly speaking, there are no poets — that the Iraqi people, while not welcoming the threat of bombs, might be realistic enough to accept a war as their only hope of liberation from tyranny — was unthinkable. The protesters saw themselves as defending Iraqis from the terrible fate that the U.S. was preparing to inflict on them. This assumption is based on moral innocence — on an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis live, and a desire for all good things to go together. War is evil, therefore prevention of war must be good. The wars fought for human rights in our own time — in Bosnia and Kosovo — have not registered with Pariser's generation. When I asked Pariser whether the views of Iraqis themselves should be taken into account, he said, ''I don't think that first and foremost this is about them as much as it's about us and how we act in the world.''

Packer adds: "For now, clarity and a sense of righteousness have created the most potent American protest movement in a generation. What isn't clear is how the new movement will sustain itself once a war begins."

P.S. Having attended a Ralph Waldo Emerson bicentennial celebration just last night where English professors Wesley Mott and David M. Robinson talked about Emerson's influence, I did a bit of Web browsing and found Robinson's 1997 essay, "Transcendentalism and the Utopian Mentality." I can't wait to read it.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 8 March 2003 at 6:37 PM

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