Michael Moore & Voltaire's Public Intellectual

Capitalism: Aggressively Indifferent or Passively Aggressive ,it is a an easy target; a path of least resistance for our current head priest of the churchof secualar leftism, Michael Moore to preach from the sermon of this years new film release Capitalism: A Love Story. Like priests caught with child pornography on their laptop , Michael Moore has a briefcase full of money and a homey, common man personna ,equally at odds with the welfare of his flock; and also he is an adept at using smoke and mirrors to mask to convey an illusion of who not  he appears to be ….basically B quality movie maker with the poetic imagination of the capitalists he decries.

Scratching the surface and putting bandaids on the wound, Moore is to the left what Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are to the GOP, an entertainment phenomenon rather than an artistic or social force. As Nobel laureate, economist Paul Samuelson said, ‘‘If you’re so rich, how come you’re so dumb?” moore5

It is Michael Moore, not the content , however both appear to be infinetly recyclabe; repitions of illusion. The documentary or documockery is pushed to the extremes of bias that this form allows. Style trumps substance. There is an excess of style that diverts any lyrical and emotional connection back to Michael Moore, our resident campy, aw shucks social philospher , and away from the subject matter more complex and comprehensive than Moore’s simplistic narrative would suggest.He is everyman, a wannabee Voltaire’s public intellectiual. We are far removed from Henry George.george1

Henry George ( 1839-1897 ) was probably the initial prototype for Moore. A seaman and later printer and typesetter,by the 1860’s he was a crusading reporter for several newspapers and eventually became owner of the San Francisco Evening Post. George wrote Progress and Poverty (1877 ) a treatise on social action and taxation.At the outset, All he knew of economics were the basic rules of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and other economists, and the new philosophies of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, much of which he gleaned from reading in public libraries and from his own painstakingly amassed library. George argued that the gap between rich and poor could only be closed by replacing the various taxes levied on labour and capital with a single tax on the value of property. Progress and Poverty sold over two million copies. 

” He had that rarest of all attributes in the scholar and historian that gift without which all education is useless. He had mother wit. He read what he needed to read, and he understood what he read. And he was fortunate; he lived and worked in a rapidly developing society. George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization — the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a fine town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses. And as he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the first appearance of pauperism. He saw degradation forming as he saw the advent of leisure and affluence, and he felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently.”george2

His ideas stand: he who makes should have; he who saves should enjoy; what the community produces belongs to the community for communal uses; and God’s earth, all of it, is the right of the people who inhabit the earth. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” As George said, “The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago. If that could be, it would never have been obscured.”

Michael Moore, brand-name spokesman for product left, could take solace, lick his wounds and find refuge in the words of Agnes George de Mille, grand daughter of Henry George:

”I do not wish to be misunderstood as falling into the trap of the socialists and communists who condemn all privately owned business, all factories, all machinery and organizations for producing wealth. There is nothing wrong with private corporations owning the means of producing wealth. Georgists believe in private enterprise, and in its virtues and incentives to produce at maximum efficiency. It is the insidious linking together of special privilege, the unjust outright private ownership of natural or public resources, monopolies, franchises, that produce unfair domination and autocracy.The means of producing wealth differ at the root: some is thieved from the people and some is honestly earned. George differentiated; Marx did not. 

We have reached the deplorable circumstance where in large measure a very powerful few are in possession of the earth’s resources, the land and its riches and all the franchises and other privileges that yield a return. These positions are maintained virtually without taxation; they are immune to the demands made on others. The very poor, who have nothing, are the object of compulsory charity. And the rest — the workers, the middle-class, the backbone of the country — are made to support the lot by their labor.”( Agnes George de Mille, 1979)

 How it is that despite the enormous advances in society’s ability to create wealth with a fraction of the labour required in times past more people than ever suffer poverty and distress for want of work and the wealth which only work can provide? These are the questions Moore should be addressing.

George’s remedy was to be the appropriation of rent by the community, thus making land virtually common property, while giving the user, acting as a trustee, secure possession and leaving to the producer the full advantage of his exertion and investment without taxation. george3

Moore’s effort to marshall public opinion against perceived prejudice, irrationality and ignorance can be seen in the light of Voltaire’s concept of the public intellectual. The problem being, Moore seems to reinforce existing stereotypes, while positing a parsimonious helping of  worthwhile critique.The content presented is caricatural in nature; simplistic, telegraphed ,and based on fear. There is an emotional personalization of the information that channels populist frustrations into mild, reformist oriented anecdotes.

The present crisis is somewhat surreal and virtual. A crisis of a service economy in an age of de-materialization.Perhaps there is something reassuring about Moore, something perversely ”cool” about embracing an artifact, even if it smells like old clothes found in your parents closet.

”While writers like Voltaire attempt to combat prejudices and replace them with what they consider to be reason, Rousseau argues that they, in fact, are merely seeking to replace one form of intolerant dogmatism with another” ( The Public Intellectual, Melzer ) Jean Jacques Rouseau’s expose of the potential phoniness inherent in Voltaire’s enlightenment idea of the public intellectual is very relevant to Michael Moore and the spirit of charlatanism it engenders:

”…frequently these elements are adopted as a self conscious pose rather than an honestly held conviction. There are people who seek out controversial public stands containing no real risk and solely for the purpose of cultivating an image of independence. There are others who denounce the system while parasitically profiting… Finally, there are plenty of spokesmen for the common man who make no genuine effort to share in the real concerns of their fellow citizens.” ( Public Intellectual. ibid .p64)

Perhaps the Michael Moore phenomenon is all about the cultivation of new consumers, and not young minds. An attempt to squeeze a few last eggs from the golden goose.

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One Response to Michael Moore & Voltaire's Public Intellectual

  1. Suzanne Meunier says:

    Maybe we should apply today this old principle given to the children of Israël in the desert about the “man”:
    “Some gathered more,some less;…whoever had gathered much
    had no excess;and whoever had gathered little had no shortage;…”

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