The French Revolution immediately discussed “rights,” so they had a clue. This is a basic idea of our times — a touchstone of what it means to be a member of civil society, since that Revolution we just mentioned.

James MacGregor Burns — whose work I recently encountered so this is based on one reading — expects way too much. Western persons expect everyone to be geniuses or immortals (“the immortals of the academy” see NOTE).

When none are. Geniuses? The French had all they needed. They were rich in thought really. They had a whole attitude, and a good grounding in that attitude. I love the French, really. It was a good opportunity and who can blame them for trying?

Burns, on the other hand, is filled with arrogance. He thinks everybody was a genius. Supposedly they had some kind of agreements. If we are not happy with ordinary persons and we want a genius instead, what kind of people are we? With a little more thinking on my part, yes, I realize Burns has his reasons for what he is saying and his book is well-thought out (see second NOTE), but my initial response is that Burns has a really disgusting, arrogant attitude. He keeps veering towards some kind of theory of the individual, which in turn replaces, devalues, or just obfuscates social thought per se. Especially those French, who are rascals.

The discussion of “rights” was a great, history-changing achievement. One can argue that it marks the last gasp of class and aristocracy — as an unchallenged construct. These were things you just could not argue about (see Aristotle on slavery, for example, or anyone writing in a society where they assume slavery is OK). That society, at the time of that “Revolution” we mentioned above (the Fr. one), was the last aristocratic class system.

I disagree with Marx. Capitalism does not initiate a new phase of class. This is contrary to what Marx believes and I see him as wrong, sorry but it is just not correct. What is also something else here I want to mention. The dissolving of class happened only for a tiny group. (Probably this means it only made sense to a tiny group.) There is this view of “the individual” that persons like Burns always harp on. This really annoys me. This is a view about something “individual” that thing, whatever it is, is supposed by Burns, to be very widespread. Well, it is spread over a whole spectrum of literature, I have no doubt. Books like this one! So, these are your “individualists,” who always (like Ron Paul) say “liberty” instead of “freedom” and never anything “social.” We cannot even use the word “society” in our immortal America. Except maybe in a very high-class setting, like graduate school, or a professional journal called “Society.” There is is OK. Of course. It is that tiny group again!

So this fellow whom I was so privileged to encounter one day, one of the individuals or individualists, James MacGregor Burns, has strong and articulate things to opine. “The individual” is universal for him. I don’t even know what he is talking about. There is no basis for that, it is opinion. Some persons like “The individual,” I know. Hey. Some might like “The society”?

Thus, a bias exists towards the individual. A statement on p. 210 whipped up a lot of ridicule in my bosom, I must say. He does not apparently like “organized society.” The French documents talk about that consistently. That is what Burns dislikes. As if he does not participate in organized society?

I have NEVER in my life heard a plausible argument that the individualism point of view is better by default. It is just a claim some make.

Because (maybe some other word should be here) the ideas are different there is a comparison possible. You can compare the individualistic view and the social one. Authors like Burns always write off the social or socialist kind of thing. I do not understand what is going on here. I also got the thought, when pausing in my perusal of the book (which I left in a park near Damen and North) that what troubles Burns is that he actually came very close to joining the “social values” side of the matter. Burns calls the French Revolution a “trumpet call and historic archetype.” And Burns came close to joining?

The connection to the material world is essential. What do men really do? Are certain persons responsible in how they conduct their affairs in relation to the material world? What causes the global warming crisis? Maybe a tilt towards “the individual” instead of watching out for our responsibility as participants?

NOTE http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR36.5/noam_chomsky_responsibility_of_intellectuals_redux.php

http://www.scottlondon.com/reviews/burns.html

In my work, I take a look at a particular American intellectual formulation, a view that says capitalism is “private,” as if there were no public/social aspects