Pen and Sword
Voltaire and the French Revolution. Lenin and the October Revolution. Thomas Paine and the American Revolution. Martin Luther and Protestantism. There are times when print matter seems regal. There are also times when print matter is anything but. There is so very much of it. Computerization, self-publishing, laser wi-fi printers, etc. have cheapened the art of writing into a non-art. Is it writing or spelling? And yet, it is only too easy to be dismissive. The written word is a powerful tool. So is the spoken word, except that very few are able to master so fine an art and effectively put it to use. Often enough, the pen is favorably compared to the sword, the more powerful of the two. In reality, when united, there is always the possibility of profound trouble.
Hubpages helps conduct the fight to rescue this most abused of crafts from oblivion. But in the final analysis will it only be death with dignity? That is, if the serious, hard work of writing is to be ushered out of existence and replaced by tawdry wordsmithing? At one time, and not too long ago at that, individuals made their own, variable decisions as to how many words to absorb in a day's time and in what form. There was the morning newspaper, for instance, and then, if possible, another in the afternoon. There were a certain amount of conversations and telephone calls, lasting predictable durations. Readers might make time to pick up a book while non-readers pursued other interests. Then there was radio, television, and maybe song lyrics. But now, one can spend an entire day reading vanity license plates, grocery labels, and cryptically composed text messages. News programs enable viewers to read and watch at the same time. Gyms are wired for sound with as many screens as sports bars. Words, words, words . . . all the time. Read 'em, and very truly, weep. The eye was never made for 2013 culture. Nor the ear.
The written word is always in the process of recovering its former glory, and just as always in perpetual decline. Naturally, a negative assessment of this sort is due more to sentiment than science. But it pays to remember that the reverential phrase "it is written" usually refers to a kind of writing held in awe that has long since faded from view.
The Kennedy Inauguration in 1961 is among the most memorable, if not the most memorable, and is so because of its words and the way in which they were delivered. They do not fall flat. Anything but. The power to inspire, more than fifty years later, is still extant. One can, if willing, go over transcripts delivered by John Kennedy in the Senate that were nothing short of exceptional. Obviously, they are the product of a gift. This kind of charisma and wordmanship is not anything one can study up on and by virtue of persistence and practice actually master. And yet, anyone so gifted can bring the magic back. Once it goes, unfortunately, the power of words cannot be replaced. If the ease of communication and dissemination of ideas ever reaches a point of excess that borders on meaninglessness, verbosity alone will not suffice. Clever wordplay will not measure up either. Quality sacrificed to quantity is the end of everything.
Kennedy Inauguration 1961
still in print
Fighter and Writer
While Kennedy was a veteran of major distinction, he was not by trade a man of arms. Still, no President in this day and age, going back quite some time now, can afford not to be fluent in the language of battle and knowledgeable in its waging. Someone who was a military careerist, however, and later ascended to the presidency, Ulysses S. Grant, also wrote. He was not known for words, and yet, with the help of Mark Twain, managed to publish, shortly before his death, a memoir that has ever since been held in high esteem.
Jefferson's pen, Washington's sword
A gentleman farmer is not by nature a troublemaker. But being a man with a literary bent, Thomas Jefferson's document stated precisely in words what George Washington later accomplished in deed. There is a certain style and cadence to this litany of grievances that never once explicitly mentions the need to take up arms to oppose the foe. But there is little doubt as to what is meant to ensue by the persistent denial of "certain unalienable rights" by King George III. And the build-up is fierce, touching upon "mock trials" for the English, "pretended offenses" for Americans, and numerous other hardships imposed upon a peaceful citizenry. "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people," writes Jefferson. General Washington will take it from here.
The Communist Manifesto
gone but not forgotten
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels of 1848 led to incredible, unforeseen events. The tragedies that ultimately unfolded may not have been due to this single document. But it placed a utopian idea into the world arena that was once the domain of thinkers in left bank cafes and libraries. It has only been a little more than twenty years since most of the world, with the great exception of China, has shaken itself free. In the mid-19th century, Marx wrote mainly about Europe, haunted by a "specter of Communism". In the beginning of the 21st century, few fear a return of the hammer and sickle. It might be that communism is in retreat, disrepute, and a state of disrepair. And yet, Europe has never stopped developing socialist elements as well as full-fledged socialist governments. They have not fully advanced into full-blown communism, but neither do they circle back entirely to the democracies, or parliamentarian and, as has happened, autocratic arrangements from which they originated. That is to say, there is always the chance that in the free marketplace of ideas, those that are ascendent now, and those that are descendent, might at some point in the future switch. In all this time, however, nothing like this Manifesto has ever yet emerged to replace or update it. This is hard to believe. Or, possibly, an information gap lurks between progressive and conservative forces. Forms of capitalism have come and gone. Re-invention in free market economies is commonplace. One cannot rule out a renewed interest in an alternative system. So what is to be next?