Wednesday, September 28, 2011
For as long as the culture of business has been an integral part of American life, it has also been frowned upon by important sectors of our society. Among our intellectuals especially, the business world has been the subject of many brutal caricatures, portraying corporations large and small, and the people who run them, as heartless, soulless agents of greed. These caricatures have shaped our implicit understanding of the nature of the business world, so much that they have come to pass for conventional wisdom.
In recent years, one of the clearest expressions of the reigning caricature was that offered by the commencement speaker who addressed the graduating class of Arizona State University in May 2009. Warning the students away from what he described as the familiar American formula for success, the speaker put forward what he took to be the ethic of the business world:
You're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this "who's who" list or that top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car. That's the message that's sent each and every day, or has been in our culture for far too long — that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf — that's how you will measure success. Now, you can take that road — and it may work for some. But at this critical juncture in our nation's history, at this difficult time, let me suggest that such an approach won't get you where you want to go; it displays a poverty of ambition.
As it happens, those words were spoken by the president of the United States, Barack Obama. But they could easily have been uttered by almost anyone with his education and intellectual pedigree. Those words convey an image that the architects of our elite culture's self-understanding — especially America's foremost authors and playwrights, who do a great deal to shape the way that other intellectuals, and Americans in general, think about our country — have long labored to construct.
The business of America may be business, but the business of American literature in the past century has been largely to insist that the nation is, in pursuing business, wasting itself on unworthy objects. In the eyes of most novelists and playwrights who deal with the subject, business is not an honorable vocation, but rather an obsessive scramble for lucre and status. Tycoons are plunderers. Salesmen are poor slobs truckling to their bosses, though most of them aspire to be cormorants and highwaymen, too. The mass desire to strike it rich has launched a forced march to nowhere. In short, American literature hates American business for what it has done to the souls of the rich, the poor, and the middling alike.
Right-thinking people now take it for granted that, in criticizing business, American literature has saved (or at least elevated) the nation's soul. But after a century of slander, that assumption needs revisiting. In so doing, it is worth examining the process through which our literati have framed the way we think about capitalism, and especially those who practice it. How did our culture come to hold the image of the businessman that it now does? Which literary works and authors have had done the most to shape that (mostly negative) image? And in this casting of the entrepreneur as villain in America's morality tale, which culture has been exposed as more corrupt — that of American business, or American letters?
RAKING THE MUCK
Boodle, graft, scam, gyp, hustle, hoodwink, chisel, flim-flam, chicanery, rake-off, skullduggery, swindle: Our language has a rich and evocative technical vocabulary for snake-bellied business dealing and the government malfeasance that is its indispensable servant. And beside the distinguished native tradition of underhandedness runs a counter-tradition of moral outrage and attempted reform, which emerged with force just as the culture of business was peaking at the turn of the 20th century.
In The Shame of the Cities (1904), Lincoln Steffens — dean of the muckrakers, the vanguard of investigative journalists who early in the 20th century drew the public's attention to the filthier aspects of our national life — pronounced all Americans complicit in sin: "We break our own laws and rob our own government, the lady at the custom-house, the lyncher with his rope, and the captain of industry with his bribe and his rebate. The spirit of graft and of lawlessness is the American spirit."
Soon after, Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle (1906) became the most celebrated muckraking work of its time; a century later, it is the only one still widely read. The story relates the brutal suffering of a Lithuanian immigrant meat-packer in Chicago, and sickened the country with indignation at the execrable manner in which food was processed. Nauseating the readership had practical benefits: President Theodore Roosevelt's admiration for the novel — qualified by his distaste for Sinclair's socialism — issued in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Amendment the same year as The Jungle's release.
Sinclair's socialist loathing for the capitalist oppressors thunders through the novel. Here a speaker who will inspire the downtrodden hero to join the Socialist Party roars at the prevailing injustice:
There are a thousand [in Chicago] — ten thousand, maybe — who are the masters of these slaves, who own their toil. They do nothing to earn what they receive, they do not even have to ask for it — it comes to them of itself, their only care is to dispose of it. They live in palaces, they riot in luxury and extravagance — such as no words can describe, as makes the imagination reel and stagger, makes the soul grow sick and faint. They spend hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes, a handkerchief, a garter; they spend millions for horses and automobiles and yachts, for palaces and banquets, for little shiny stones with which to deck their bodies. Their life is a contest among themselves in ostentation and recklessness . . . .
Thorstein Veblen, whose Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) provided the muckrakers with an abstract sociological foundation, lamented with a characteristically dry eye that vice does a man more good than virtue if he wants to get on in the world: "Freedom from scruple, from sympathy, honesty, and regard for life, may, within fairly wide limits, be said to further the success of the individual in the pecuniary culture." From Veblen, whom he read with "a continuous ebullition of glee," Sinclair learned the shame of conspicuous consumption: Lives wasted in profligate expenditure never appear more repulsive than through Sinclair's eyes. His novel The Metropolis (1908) is a 200-page catalogue of exorbitant self-indulgence by the wealthiest people in New York. Preposterous extravagance and pretensions to gentility constitute the obverse of tearing wolfishness; persons of savage appetite bare their teeth when denied their rightful pleasures. In The Moneychangers (1908), a priapic 80-year-old banker — the most powerful man on Wall Street — destroys his sexual rival and the young woman he wants, and brings on a nationwide depression in the process, just to teach the rabble to fear their masters. Sinclair's villains are peerless in their malignancy.
In some of the muckrakers' critiques, however, there was a sense that the reckless excess of capitalism was a distortion of a proper business culture — and therefore that there could be such a thing as a proper business culture. If Sinclair was the most famous of the muckrakers, Ida Tarbell was the most judicious. In The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), Tarbell takes pains to distinguish the bestial ruthlessness of the great oil monopolist John D. Rockefeller from the robust laissez-faire energy of the smaller oil men, who represent the best in American business: "They believed in independent effort — every man for himself and fair play for all. They wanted competition, loved open fight." Tarbell's aim in exposing Rockefeller's nefariousness was to revive the flagging decency of American commerce, which the magnate's enormous power had undermined. Tarbell was scrupulous about just whom to indict for corruption, and she believed in the fundamental virtue of free enterprise honestly pursued.
Muckraking was thus not simply agitprop — though it could be that when a Sinclair or a Steffens got carried away. At their best, the muckrakers addressed real ills and re-directed the nation toward probity, or the hope of probity, in business and politics. Their successors may have taken up only the dark side of capitalism exposed in their works, but the muckrakers themselves often understood the good that was being perverted by industrialism's excesses. Unlike their successors, the muckrakers grasped the complex mix of greatness and shallowness evident even in the worst perverters.
One of those successors was Theodore Dreiser, whose Trilogy of Desire — comprising The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The Stoic (1947) — relates the monumental business achievement and hectic erotic career of Frank Algernon Cowperwood. (Though fictional, Cowperwood was modeled not all that loosely on Charles T. Yerkes, the sultan of urban street railways who helped modernize Philadelphia and Chicago and made one of the great American fortunes.) A 20-year-old junior stock broker as the first book opens, Cowperwood looks to the day when he will rise above the common run and be a commanding force. His ambition is to be one of "the men who schemed and built the railroads, opened the mines, organized trading enterprises, and built up immense manufactories." Bravado, decisiveness, and ruthlessness get him what he wants in business and love — though what he wants most in love is an orgy that never quits.
His motto is "I satisfy myself." Many lesser men and women have adopted it as their credo; in living it, however, few have been so pitiless and so superb. The conventional morality that brings down weaker men does not trammel Cowperwood: "He had no consciousness of what is currently known as sin. There were just two faces to the shield of life from the point of view of his peculiar mind — strength and weakness. Right and wrong? He did not know about those."
The respectable and conventionally dishonest world does not appreciate "the Machiavellian, corrupting brain of Cowperwood," which is not always sufficiently Machiavellian to assume the cover of virtue. When the failure of a Cowperwood business scheme threatens the thoroughly grimy Philadelphia political machine — and when Cowperwood's adulterous affair with the daughter of an ethically flyblown but stoutly Catholic pol infuriates decent fathers and husbands — he goes to prison for a stretch. But doing time only makes him shrewder. The failure of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873 precipitates a panic that will ruin multitudes and bring on a ferocious depression. This national disaster affords Cowperwood his chance, and several days of cunning and frantic trading make him a millionaire once more. To turn fortune, whatever it might be, to one's advantage is the hallmark of the Machiavellian prince.
Cowperwood is a visionary of practical affairs, with the brass and brainpower to make his visions real. In The Titan he quits Philadelphia for Chicago, a city in the ascendant, and sees its inevitable sprawling growth as the opportunity to build a street-railway system of imperial dimensions. He outmaneuvers all manner of sharpers with consummate skill. The man who sees what the city can become bests those who fail to see beyond their immediate interests. In the end, however, Cowperwood fails to accomplish his plan for ultimate control. Not even his adroit bribery and political strong-arming can overcome the outrage of the masses, which is exploited by his financial rivals. "A giant monopoly is really reaching out to enfold [Chicago] with an octopus-like grip. And Cowperwood is its eyes, its tentacles, its force!" Editorial writers flay him with the most damning truth one can utter about a man in democratic America: "Frank Algernon Cowperwood does not believe in the people." Dreiser's irony cuts both ways: Democracy in action is the meeting of the bought-off pol with the violent mob. The author does not seem glad to see this dubious virtue triumph.
In The Stoic — written three decades after the first two books, and with a spirit that evinces the evolution of the literary culture's view of business toward a more crude cartoon — the 60-year-old Cowperwood, a pariah in Chicago, takes his act to London, where he hopes to expand the underground train system throughout the city. His death intervenes. The woman he loved most of all — the 20-year-old Berenice Fleming, daughter of a Louisville madam who has gone legit, incredibly beautiful and incredibly intelligent and incredibly sensitive (only superlatives on a Trumpian scale will do) — uses her share of his estate to seek wisdom in India. The wisdom she finds of course annihilates the very purpose of Cowperwood's existence — "the natural and ordinary desire to acquire" that Machiavelli extols, the endless longing to heap up wealth, power, renown, pleasure, beautiful objects and surroundings.
On the final page of the manuscript Dreiser left unfinished at his death, Berenice vows to establish a hospital for the poor of Manhattan's Lower East Side, as Cowperwood wanted. Someone has to atone for the tycoon's voraciousness. Nearing the end himself, Dreiser made the obligatory genuflection in the direction of conventional virtue.
In betraying his artistry this way, Dreiser perhaps saved his own soul — but one rather wishes he had not. Dreiser's final move made Cowperwood less an admirable villain than a caricature — and so pointed toward the anti-business caricaturists who had risen by then. This new crop of writers crudely simplified the muckrakers' critique of the businessman, thereby losing sight of the potential of commerce, properly understood, to be edifying and not just corrupting.
A STALE OLIGARCHY
When Sinclair Lewis became in 1930 the first American awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, he said Dreiser was more deserving. He was right, as far as that goes, but he might have gone further: Almost anyone would have been more deserving.
Lewis made his reputation as the sardonic observer of American middle-class mores, most notably in Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922). Main Street is the story of Carol Milford Kennicott, a young college-educated woman with vague yearnings for high culture and romance who marries a small-town doctor. The novel traces her efforts to accommodate herself to the folkways of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota; her revulsion from the meanness of life there; her flight to the big city; and her return to her loving and patient husband. Gopher Prairie is the American commercial republic in miniature, seen through Lewis's magnifying glass, which he focuses as a burning lens to annihilate the nasty bugs scurrying there. There are kind and gentle people in town, but it is ruled by the miserable — "small busy men crushingly powerful in their common purpose, viewing themselves as men of the world but keeping themselves men of the cash-register and the comic film, who make the town a sterile oligarchy."
The commercial instinct infects every thought and propels every activity in Gopher Prairie. Almost nobody seeks elegance or grandeur, but everyone grasps at his petty material desires with fierce claws. "[The town's] conception of a community ideal is not the grand manner, the noble aspiration, the fine aristocratic pride, but cheap labor for the kitchen and rapid increase in the price of land." Even Dr. Kennicott, who practices a noble profession nobly, grabs the chance to turn a not-entirely-honorable buck in property investment when farmers are compelled to sell their land at a terrible loss. Few people have anything like a calling, but everyone is open for business. The owner of a planing mill livens up a party with his rodomontade on the patriotic obligations of the business owner:
All this profit-sharing and welfare work and insurance and old-age pension is simply poppycock. Enfeebles a workman's independence — and wastes a lot of honest profit. The half-baked thinker that isn't dry behind the ears yet, and these suffragettes and God knows what all buttinskis there are that are trying to tell a business man how to run his business, and some of these college professors are just about as bad, the whole kit and bilin' of 'em are nothing in God's world but socialism in disguise! And it's my bounden duty as a producer to resist every attack on the integrity of American industry to the last ditch. Yes — SIR!
Selfishness, boorishness, viciousness — such are the real heartland values as Lewis sees them.
Lewis's most famous creation is of course George F. Babbitt, whose name has become a byword for the businessman's avarice, triviality, and conformity. "He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay." Babbitt is a zealous booster of his native metropolis, Zenith, a city of 362,000 somewhere in the Midwest. When he gazes upon the limestone skyscraper of the Second National Tower, one sees the desolation of his spiritual life. "He beheld the tower as a temple-spire of the religion of business, a faith passionate, exalted, surpassing common men; and as he clumped down to breakfast he whistled the ballad ‘Oh, by gee, by gosh, by jingo' as though it were a hymn melancholy and noble."
The businessman in Lewis's eyes possesses a standard-issue, manufactured self, and he would be nothing if he didn't have public opinion to stamp his persona. He believes what the Chamber of Commerce and the Presbyterian Church and the Republican Party tell him to believe, and he buys what advertisers convince him he must have. "These standard advertised wares — toothpastes, socks, tires, cameras, instantaneous hot-water heaters — were his symbols and proofs of excellence; at first the signs, then the substitutes, for joy and passion and wisdom." Babbitt is his toothpaste — and he wants always to afford the very best toothpaste. Lewis tells us: "He serenely believed that the one purpose of the real-estate business was to make money for George F. Babbitt." The public virtue he ardently professes is just a cover for the one thing that matters. Who could possibly be more crass than Babbitt?
Sinclair Lewis could be. His novel is smothered in adolescent irony and cheap contempt. If anyone is more insufferably smug than the business type at his worst, it is the literary type who despises him. Although Lewis allows Babbitt redemption of a sort at the end, when the businessman exhorts his son not to live an unreal life, the novel is overwhelmingly full of loathing. It draws a hateful cartoon that has remained fixed in the public mind, and its effect has been thoroughly baneful. Anyone hoping to be taken for an intellectual knows that businessmen are empty suits, and that the preponderant American activity is a shameful waste from which no good can come.
While the successors to the muckrakers contorted the critique they inherited, the heirs to Lewis were all too eager to reinforce his cartoonish view. Arthur Miller, for instance, is still widely regarded as the foremost American playwright, and he owes his rank chiefly to his skill at manipulating the principal stereotypes of the businessman: the hard-faced boss and the broken underling. He milks contempt for the former and compassion for the latter to make the audience's knees jerk, fists clench, and eyes brim on command.
In All My Sons (1947), Joe Keller — a 60-year-old "man among men" who started out as a factory hand and wound up a manufacturing kingpin — has successfully denied any responsibility for the deaths of 21 American aviators, caused by cracked cylinder heads he sold to the Army Air Force during the war. It transpires that he set up a poor schmo to take the fall and go to prison, but even when Keller's guilt becomes clear to his beloved son Chris (who survived military service while his brother Larry did not), the father swears he could not have done otherwise: "You're a boy, what could I do! I'm in business, a man is in business; a hundred and twenty cracked, you're out of business; you got a process, the process don't work you're out of business . . . . "
In the end Keller must face the truth. Chris's fiancée, Ann — who had been Larry's fiancée, and whose father was the fall guy for the corrupt and lethal oversight — produces a letter Larry wrote the day he flew his last mission. The letter reveals that Larry had read about his father and hers in the newspaper, and had been overcome by disgust. "Every day three or four men never come back and he sits back there doing business," Larry had mused, before disclosing that he had deliberately flown to his death. His father goes into the house and shoots himself.
The businessman's suicide was a favorite ending for Miller. The most famous suicide in American theater is that of Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman (1949). Exhausted by years on the road, his mind going, Willy is suitably beaten down by heartless business forces, so that his killing himself is at once supremely pitiable and supremely noble: He fakes a car accident so his widow and sons can collect the $20,000 insurance payout. Willy's wife admonishes her sons, who despise their father's doddering and weakness and failure, "But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid."
Miller's attention is fixed on larger concerns than the fate of one man. For him, the universal tragedy of American life is the fundamental capitalist insistence that business is business. That's exactly what Willy's boss says as he's firing him; Willy agrees reflexively, but then goes on to qualify and plead. The truth is incontestable nevertheless: If you can't make a killing you get murdered.
Of course, like so many writers before and after, Miller made a career, and a killing, out of contesting this supposedly incontestable truth. Miller's golden status will last as long as business remains the tragic influence in the fashionable interpretation of American woes. And that looks to be a very long time indeed.
David Mamet inherited Miller's moral authority and popular success. His plays, especially American Buffalo (1975) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1983), feature four-, seven-, ten-, and twelve-letter words flying through the air like knives at a family reunion of psychopaths. Obscenity is the mother tongue of his real-estate hustlers and junk dealers who dabble in housebreaking, because business in America is inherently obscene. In American Buffalo, two petty crooks planning a burglary discuss the philosophical underpinnings of their trade.
TEACH: You know what is free enterprise?
DON: No. What?
TEACH: The freedom . . .
DON: . . . yeah?
TEACH: Of the Individual . . .
DON: . . . yeah?
TEACH: To Embark on Any F- - -ing Course that he sees fit.
DON: Uh-huh . . .
TEACH: In order to secure his honest chance to make a profit. Am I
so out of line on this?
TEACH: Does this make me a Commie?
TEACH: The country's founded on this, Don. You know this.
This is the capitalist ethos as it has worked its way down to second-story men. The authorial voice sings in the cracked, parched, and uproarious tones of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Marx-influenced musical satire, The Threepenny Opera.
In Glengarry Glen Ross, when the manager of a real-estate office unwittingly fouls up an improvised song and dance by a couple of salesmen trying to close a deal, the ace salesman Roma looses a foul-mouthed tirade at the fool who has just cost him $6,000 and a Cadillac. The capper: "Whoever told you you could work with men?" To be a man is to be hard, a cutthroat competitor, a bandit, a beast of prey. Fear, hatred, and rage define the salesman's world; rampaging needs are what he has in place of a moral compass. The sales palaver never stops, and necessity is the mother of lie after lie. These hell-bent desperados, most of them barely holding on to a place in the middle class, sweat misery in buckets. Mamet creates an atmosphere of savage pathos so potent it almost makes one overlook the cultural clichés at the root of the drama. The prevailing caricature doesn't get any better handling than this, but it remains a caricature, and, by this time, an unhappily overworked one.
In more recent years, Mamet is said to have undergone something of a political conversion. He now considers himself not an angry liberal but an angry conservative. Yet one wonders if his treatment of business in his earlier plays is so far off from that which some conservatives might offer — and, indeed, what some conservatives have offered. Our few right-leaning novelists have tended to be cultural conservatives (who, while not yearning for socialism, are generally disapproving of the cultural face of capitalism) or strident libertarians (who view any but the purest and mightiest tycoons as pitiful).
Indeed, the principal political conservatives among our leading novelists do little to speak up for business. Saul Bellow's greatest novel, The Adventures of Augie March (1953), abounds with vivid schemers out to make a quick buck. Business types in Bellow's novels tend to be foils for eggheads who get their brains beaten in by tough reality. The Chicago-born Augie, wised up yet pretty decent, makes a go of a European business career involving black-market dealings, but he also composes a novel in the most original first-person voice since Huckleberry Finn's. One might say that Augie March's life is a triumph despite his business success; if he had not written the story of his adventures, he stood to become another Bellow hustler.
Tom Wolfe similarly employs his pen to puncture the self image of the men of business. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) shreds the moral and intellectual pretensions of the Reagan-era yuppie investment bankers who style themselves Masters of the Universe. Here, Wolfe represents the characteristic position of the cultural conservative: disdain for the so-called country-club conservative, the advocate of freewheeling enterprise who believes that the greatest thing about America is everyone's supposed chance to make his fortune and that the greatest Americans are the richest. Bonfire's Sherman McCoy — delighted to be a WASP, a Yalie, and a hotshot young financier — has made his fortune and couldn't love himself more. His 14-room, $3 million Park Avenue co-op is "the sort of apartment the mere thought of which ignites flames of greed and covetousness under people all over New York and, for that matter, all over the world." His clothes show the world what a formidable man it is dealing with, or so he believes. "He wore a blue-gray nailhead worsted suit, custom-tailored in England for $1,800, two-button, single-breasted, with ordinary notched lapels. On Wall Street double-breasted suits and peaked lapels were considered a bit sharp, a bit too Garment District."
But when Sherman and his mistress, lost and terrified in the Bronx, kill a young black man with his car and flee the scene, the perquisites of wealth cannot save him from descent into the hell of criminal law and race politics. He takes it all like a coward and poltroon; losing everything, he plainly gets what Wolfe thinks he has deserved all his life. Wolfe's resentment may not be driven by liberal sensibilities, but is no less potent for it.
And what of Ayn Rand? Surely she seeks to be a cheerleader for the virtues of capitalism. She is certainly singular in the vehemence with which she champions the American tycoon. But she despises the typical businessman as an incompetent who makes his corrupt bargain with dirty politicians, nonsensical intellectuals, and assorted "looting lice." Rand sings the hero of titanic force bent on reclaiming the American founders' intention of a land perfected in liberty, with its capitalist engine running unimpeded by any government. In her view, the smallest grain of state regulation in the mechanism wrecks the entire system. Economic liberty must be utterly uncompromising in order to work at all.
Rand certainly has a following: Polls suggest that her 1,100-page novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) is the most influential book in America after the Bible. But intellectually honest people who take one of those books seriously cannot in good faith admire the other. For Rand considers the economic and political catastrophes of modernity to derive from Biblical wisdom: The meek don't deserve to inherit the earth, and the opportunists who administer power in their name and call the sad result democracy are the bane of the few good men left.
Against the unfortunate teachings of Jesus Christ, Rand pits the life-giving exhortations of John Galt. Galt is the most heroic businessman: an engineering swami who designs a motor that converts static electricity from the air into kinetic energy, a philosopher who proclaims a political-economic order of unexampled freedom that is flawless not only in theory but also in practice. At least, it should be flawless in practice, for Rand presents Galt as the smartest and most sensible man in the world. When the company Galt has been working for is taken over by fools and plunderers, he gathers men of genius and talent indispensable to the world's work in a Rocky Mountain hideaway that his technical mastery renders invisible to the common sight. Galt commandeers the airwaves to deliver a 30,000-word disquisition outlining his philosophy and announcing his revolution. The invaluable brainworkers go on strike at Galt's order, and the world plunges into violent chaos. With multitudes dead and civilization ground to a halt, Galt returns to sow prosperity in the place of devastation.
Rand clearly enjoys the devastation at least as much as the prosperity. Ideological hatred is the hallmark of American literature's treatment of business, and Rand's hatred for the haters of unadulterated capitalism — she assails conventional conservatives as well as liberals — is of a piece with her veneration of genius tycoons and industrial innovators. She utterly detests those who ruin her theoretical purity with their miscreant compassion. Compassion, one of her imperious heroines says, is what you feel at the sight of a caterpillar being squashed. To feel it for a person desecrates human dignity. John Galt loathes compassion as love for the unworthy; better the beaten should crawl off and die where the best men and women won't be revolted by the sight and smell of their suffering. The best men and women in Rand's world have quite enough to do in the pursuit of their own happiness, in self-fulfillment unencumbered by the pain of the weak.
Compassion combines with envy and arrogance to corrode business integrity, honest self-regard, and political soundness. This analysis of Rand's is not without truth: It describes accurately enough the origins and malign consequences not only of full-blown socialism but also of "pharaonic liberalism," to use the late Michael Kelly's phrase for government so large and interventionist that the label "nanny state" is "far too kind a term." And Rand, a refugee from Bolshevik Russia, comprehended the monstrosity of this collectivist impulse run amok. In her revulsion, however, she imagined that the only antidote to collectivist dystopia was laissez-faire utopia. This utopia, no less radical, is mankind's sole chance at salvation. Moderation, temporizing, half-measures — the fundamentals of American political economy — spell doom. Nothing less than economic perfection suited Rand, for anything less than the rational ideal would result in abomination.
Thus John Galt, the consummate philosopher-businessman, must bring on the collapse of the decadent old order — which resembles the New Deal more than it does Stalinism — and must call into being a breed of strong, self-sufficient, entirely rational men and women deserving the name of humanity. The Judeo-Christian ethic, the most pernicious lie human beings ever told themselves, will give way to the everlasting truth of dignified atheism and virtuous selfishness. In the final sentence of Atlas Shrugged, Galt supplants the sign of the cross with the benediction that heralds the new dispensation: "He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar."
What does Rand's teaching amount to? Mamet nailed it: the freedom of the Individual to Embark on any F- - -ing Course that he sees fit in order to secure his honest chance to make a profit. One should take Rand no more seriously than that.
Does anyone, then, deserve to be taken seriously? Has any American writer of note offered a depiction of business that captures the good as well as the bad about the place of commerce in our commercial republic?
The most outstanding example of such a deeper depiction is likely an unexpected one: James M. Cain, in his 1941 novel Mildred Pierce. Cain is commonly looked down upon as a purveyor of noir semi-trash to the unwashed, but he in fact offers a far more nuanced, sympathetic, and generally intelligent treatment of the American businessman — businesswoman in this case — than any of the more celebrated works discussed above.
Mildred Pierce finds herself in hard straits in 1931. Her husband, Bert, had inherited a ranch outside Los Angeles, but his efforts at fruit-growing were a bust. The real-estate boom of the 1920s, however, made the land he was sitting on extraordinarily valuable, and "he became a subdivider, a community builder, a man of vision, a big shot." Investing in AT&T stock made him seriously rich, until Black Thursday in 1929 made him seriously poor. His success had intoxicated him, so that he couldn't admit his high flying was strictly a matter of luck. To look for a job was beneath him. Mildred starts baking cakes and pies for sale to bring in a little money, and comes to despise her husband for his fecklessness, and especially for his affair with a slatternly widow.
When Mildred kicks Bert out of the house, she has to scrape by on her own, with two daughters to support, and times are bleak. Job-hunting delivers one hard knock after another. Her pride complicates the picture: Mildred looks upon her supposed degradation through the eyes of her clever and snobbish 13-year-old daughter, Veda, and what she sees will not allow her to accept work as a waitress or housekeeper.
Then one day she happens to be sitting at a lunch counter when a waitress is fired, and she jumps at the chance to fill the opening. Cloddish at first, she works hard to become adept, and brings in extra money by selling her exceptional pies to the restaurant, enlisting the other waitresses' help to win over the reluctant owner in a campaign worthy, in its own small way, of a masterly general or wheeler-dealer. The aristocratic Veda is scalded, though, when she discovers the shameful way her mother is supporting them; to appease her, Mildred blurts out that waiting tables and baking pies are just the means to her acquiring a restaurant of her own one day. Restaurant owners can get rich, and for Veda getting rich almost makes life worth living.
Mildred learns the high price of aspiration: To advance from employee to owner takes a lot of money and a lot of worrying about where the money will come from. On the eve of the restaurant's opening, Mildred's younger daughter Moire is hospitalized, and Mildred faces the hard choice between tending to her new business and being with her sick child. She takes care of business and stands vigil at the hospital. But when Moire dies, altogether unexpectedly, business is forgotten. "The restaurant seemed remote, unreal, part of a world that no longer concerned her."
The day after the funeral, however, Mildred opens the restaurant, and her pride and pleasure in her accomplishment are patent. "There [the neon sign] was, as beautiful as ever, casting a bluish light over the trees. She drew a deep breath and came inside. At last she was open, at last she had her own business." It's not exactly the stuff of high romance, but one breathes with moral exhilaration here; the beauty of commercial neon may not be apparent to everyone who passes, but Mildred knows, and the reader knows, what enterprise and hardihood it signifies. The delight in being her own boss is richer than the austere satisfactions of Max Weber's famed virtuous capitalism. Mildred even relishes the sensuous thrill of handling the money she has made. "[T]here had been a mob, and she found she had taken in $46, or $10 more than her wildest hopes. She folded all the bills together, so she could feel their fat thickness."
Energy, will, and courage power Mildred to success, just as slackness, arrogance, and demoralization sink Bert in defeat. Mildred represents the best in can-do individualism; she is a born entrepreneur, though it takes some unusual turns in fortune to make her realize her capacities. Not even maternal heartache can wreck her indomitable drive to make it. She will open three more restaurants, and will make it quite handsomely.
But her triumph is unmade by the two most passionate human connections in her life — her affair with Monty Beragon, a rakish polo ace and heir to a fruit-exporting concern, and her overwhelming love for her daughter Veda, who grows into an ambitious classical musician and ravishing beauty. Beragon epitomizes unearned luxury without ambition; he dazzles Mildred at first, but looks down on her for cooking food and selling it, and she comes to look down on him for despising work. Veda glows with longing for fame and luxury; she idolizes Beragon's open-handed elegance and can't endure her mother's scrimping chintziness. Beragon and Veda are soul mates in corruption. When Beragon's family business goes belly-up, he effectively becomes Mildred's gigolo, until she dumps him in contempt. When Veda scores big with a sexual blackmail scheme against the son of a prominent family, Mildred throws her out, and Veda is only too glad to leave.
But Mildred loves Veda beyond all reason, and Veda's ascent to stardom as a coloratura soprano inflames Mildred's desire to have her return. To win Veda back, Mildred marries the now-penniless Beragon, though they sleep separately, and she buys his dilapidated and unsalable Pasadena castle; these are at last a home and family Veda considers worthy of her remarkable self, and she returns. The idyll is blighted, however: Restoring and maintaining the house drains Mildred's finances; she takes to borrowing, or pilfering, from her own restaurants, and creditors threaten to take the business unless she can make good on her debts. Veda, now 21 and wealthy, is her only hope, and in the night Mildred goes to her for help.
She finds her daughter in Beragon's bed. Mildred strangles Veda and nearly kills her. Mildred loses the business and divorces Beragon, who flies off with Veda to New York. Mildred is back baking pies for the restaurant in which she once worked as a waitress, and she is back with Bert. The novel's final line sums up the desolation: "Yes — let's get stinko."
Work, self-reliance, and the pride of ownership were the purest things Mildred had. She possessed the solid strengths of the middle class, and if she could have remained content with these her life might have been a small-scale triumph. But the hankering for lots of the best of everything that obsessed Beragon and Veda afflicted Mildred. With a sharp sense of moral complication, Cain shows that the affliction even contributed to Mildred's success: Her ambition for her daughter's sake helped carry Mildred beyond her original limitations. Still, Mildred's success never raised her from the ranks of the ordinary; that was what Veda, who was born to shine, could not stand about her mother. Veda gets what she is after, but forfeits her soul, if she ever had one, and Mildred ends up a loser in every respect. Thus the great American peril, Cain instructs, lies not in wanting but in wanting too much — or, more precisely, in wanting it the wrong way.
THE ETHIC OF AMBITION
Mildred Pierce depicts more movingly than perhaps any other American novel the satisfactions to be had in the life of commercial diligence and routine and regularity, and the killing dissatisfactions of people who must have more and more. Where some of the most distinguished writers of fiction and drama resort to dim-witted lampooning, savage jeering, and gross sentimentality in their works about business, the novelist known as the pulp master creates as his heroine a vital and inspiring businesswoman, quite superb for all her commonness, worthy of respect and even of tragedy.
Cain speaks for the decency of moderate ambition and temperate desire. And he understands the overpowering American need to rise higher than one's oxygen supply can sustain normal brain function. Mildred did not seek the stratospheric heights for herself, but she needed them nevertheless. Her fate illustrates a great cautionary tale, in which the supreme virtues of the commercial republic are destroyed by the vices of Heliogabalus.
But Cain's book is not a cautionary tale about the perils of the business ethic. It is instead a cautionary tale about the perils of the larger American ethic, the ethic of boundless desire. That desire can be elevated to preposterous heights by capitalism, but it is not a function of capitalism. Indeed, it is at times helpfully restrained by the pressures of running a business and competing in the marketplace.
This is what so many of our writers miss about the business world, and what is ignored by the grossly oversimplified caricature of that world that dominates the imagination of our cultural elites. To be a businessman is not to lose one's soul. Rather, to be an American — whether one sells insurance, runs a company, or writes novels or plays for a living — is to aim high, but to thereby run the risk of letting ambition get the better of sense. Often, it seems that America's leading writers have fared worse in managing that risk than many men of business.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, Israel has extended its hand in peace from the moment it was established 63 years ago. On behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, I extend that hand again today. I extend it to the people of Egypt and Jordan, with renewed friendship for neighbors with whom we have made peace. I extend it to the people of Turkey, with respect and good will. I extend it to the people of Libya and Tunisia, with admiration for those trying to build a democratic future. I extend it to the other peoples of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, with whom we want to forge a new beginning. I extend it to the people of Syria, Lebanon and Iran, with awe at the courage of those fighting brutal repression.
But most especially, I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace.
Ladies and gentlemen, in Israel our hope for peace never wanes. Our scientists, doctors, innovators, apply their genius to improve the world of tomorrow. Our artists, our writers, enrich the heritage of humanity. Now, I know that this is not exactly the image of Israel that is often portrayed in this hall. After all, it was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland—it was then that this was braided—branded, rather—shamefully, as racism. And it was here in 1980, right here, that the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt wasn’t praised; it was denounced! And it’s here year after year that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It’s singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel—the one true democracy in the Middle East.
Well, this is an unfortunate part of the U.N. institution. It’s the—the theater of the absurd. It doesn’t only cast Israel as the villain; it often casts real villains in leading roles: Gadhafi’s Libya chaired the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; Saddam’s Iraq headed the U.N. Committee on Disarmament.
You might say: That’s the past. Well, here’s what’s happening now—right now, today. Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the U.N. Security Council. This means, in effect, that a terror organization presides over the body entrusted with guaranteeing the world’s security.
You couldn’t make this thing up.
So here in the U.N., automatic majorities can decide anything. They can decide that the sun sets in the west or rises in the west. I think the first has already been pre-ordained. But they can also decide—they have decided that the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest place, is occupied Palestinian territory.
And yet even here in the General Assembly, the truth can sometimes break through. In 1984 when I was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, I visited the great rabbi of Lubavich. He said to me—and ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want any of you to be offended because from personal experience of serving here, I know there are many honorable men and women, many capable and decent people serving their nations here. But here’s what the rebbe said to me. He said to me, you’ll be serving in a house of many lies. And then he said, remember that even in the darkest place, the light of a single candle can be seen far and wide.
Today I hope that the light of truth will shine, if only for a few minutes, in a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country. So as Israel’s prime minister, I didn’t come here to win applause. I came here to speak the truth. The truth is—the truth is that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East at all times, but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I first came here 27 years ago, the world was divided between East and West. Since then the Cold War ended, great civilizations have risen from centuries of slumber, hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, countless more are poised to follow, and the remarkable thing is that so far this monumental historic shift has largely occurred peacefully. Yet a malignancy is now growing between East and West that threatens the peace of all. It seeks not to liberate, but to enslave, not to build, but to destroy.
That malignancy is militant Islam. It cloaks itself in the mantle of a great faith, yet it murders Jews, Christians and Muslims alike with unforgiving impartiality. On September 11th it killed thousands of Americans, and it left the twin towers in smoldering ruins. Last night I laid a wreath on the 9/11 memorial. It was deeply moving. But as I was going there, one thing echoed in my mind: the outrageous words of the president of Iran on this podium yesterday. He implied that 9/11 was an American conspiracy. Some of you left this hall. All of you should have.
Since 9/11, militant Islamists slaughtered countless other innocents—in London and Madrid, in Baghdad and Mumbai, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in every part of Israel. I believe that the greatest danger facing our world is that this fanaticism will arm itself with nuclear weapons. And this is precisely what Iran is trying to do.
Can you imagine that man who ranted here yesterday—can you imagine him armed with nuclear weapons? The international community must stop Iran before it’s too late. If Iran is not stopped, we will all face the specter of nuclear terrorism, and the Arab Spring could soon become an Iranian winter. That would be a tragedy. Millions of Arabs have taken to the streets to replace tyranny with liberty, and no one would benefit more than Israel if those committed to freedom and peace would prevail.
This is my fervent hope. But as the prime minister of Israel, I cannot risk the future of the Jewish state on wishful thinking. Leaders must see reality as it is, not as it ought to be. We must do our best to shape the future, but we cannot wish away the dangers of the present.
And the world around Israel is definitely becoming more dangerous. Militant Islam has already taken over Lebanon and Gaza. It’s determined to tear apart the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan. It’s poisoned many Arab minds against Jews and Israel, against America and the West. It opposes not the policies of Israel but the existence of Israel.
Now, some argue that the spread of militant Islam, especially in these turbulent times—if you want to slow it down, they argue, Israel must hurry to make concessions, to make territorial compromises. And this theory sounds simple. Basically it goes like this: Leave the territory, and peace will be advanced. The moderates will be strengthened, the radicals will be kept at bay. And don’t worry about the pesky details of how Israel will actually defend itself; international troops will do the job.
These people say to me constantly: Just make a sweeping offer, and everything will work out. You know, there’s only one problem with that theory. We’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked. In 2000 Israel made a sweeping peace offer that met virtually all of the Palestinian demands. Arafat rejected it. The Palestinians then launched a terror attack that claimed a thousand Israeli lives.
Prime Minister Olmert afterwards made an even more sweeping offer, in 2008. President Abbas didn’t even respond to it.
But Israel did more than just make sweeping offers. We actually left territory. We withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from every square inch of Gaza in 2005. That didn’t calm the Islamic storm, the militant Islamic storm that threatens us. It only brought the storm closer and make it stronger.
Hezbollah and Hamas fired thousands of rockets against our cities from the very territories we vacated. See, when Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, the moderates didn’t defeat the radicals, the moderates were devoured by the radicals. And I regret to say that international troops like UNIFIL in Lebanon and UBAM in Gaza didn’t stop the radicals from attacking Israel.
We left Gaza hoping for peace.
We didn’t freeze the settlements in Gaza, we uprooted them. We did exactly what the theory says: Get out, go back to the 1967 borders, dismantle the settlements.
And I don’t think people remember how far we went to achieve this. We uprooted thousands of people from their homes. We pulled children out of—out of their schools and their kindergartens. We bulldozed synagogues. We even—we even moved loved ones from their graves. And then, having done all that, we gave the keys of Gaza to President Abbas.
Now the theory says it should all work out, and President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority now could build a peaceful state in Gaza. You can remember that the entire world applauded. They applauded our withdrawal as an act of great statesmanship. It was a bold act of peace.
But ladies and gentlemen, we didn’t get peace. We got war. We got Iran, which through its proxy Hamas promptly kicked out the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority collapsed in a day—in one day.
President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams. Yeah, hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons now flowing into Gaza from the Sinai, from Libya, and from elsewhere.
Thousands of missiles have already rained down on our cities. So you might understand that, given all this, Israelis rightly ask: What’s to prevent this from happening again in the West Bank? See, most of our major cities in the south of the country are within a few dozen kilometers from Gaza. But in the center of the country, opposite the West Bank, our cities are a few hundred meters or at most a few kilometers away from the edge of the West Bank.
So I want to ask you: Would any of you—would any of you bring danger so close to your cities, to your families? Would you act so recklessly with the lives of your citizens? Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank, but we’re not prepared to have another Gaza there. And that’s why we need to have real security arrangements, which the Palestinians simply refuse to negotiate with us.
Israelis remember the bitter lessons of Gaza. Many of Israel’s critics ignore them. They irresponsibly advise Israel to go down this same perilous path again. Your read what these people say and it’s as if nothing happened—just repeating the same advice, the same formulas as though none of this happened.
And these critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel’s security. They praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam as bold statesmen. They cast as enemies of peace those of us who insist that we must first erect a sturdy barrier to keep the crocodile out, or at the very least jam an iron bar between its gaping jaws.
So in the face of the labels and the libels, Israel must heed better advice. Better a bad press than a good eulogy, and better still would be a fair press whose sense of history extends beyond breakfast, and which recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
I believe that in serious peace negotiations, these needs and concerns can be properly addressed, but they will not be addressed without negotiations. And the needs are many, because Israel is such a tiny country. Without Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, Israel is all of 9 miles wide.
I want to put it for you in perspective, because you’re all in the city. That’s about two-thirds the length of Manhattan. It’s the distance between Battery Park and Columbia University. And don’t forget that the people who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel’s neighbors.
So how do you—how do you protect such a tiny country, surrounded by people sworn to its destruction and armed to the teeth by Iran? Obviously you can’t defend it from within that narrow space alone. Israel needs greater strategic depth, and that’s exactly why Security Council Resolution 242 didn’t require Israel to leave all the territories it captured in the Six-Day War. It talked about withdrawal from territories, to secure and defensible boundaries. And to defend itself, Israel must therefore maintain a long-term Israeli military presence in critical strategic areas in the West Bank.
I explained this to President Abbas. He answered that if a Palestinian state was to be a sovereign country, it could never accept such arrangements. Why not? America has had troops in Japan, Germany and South Korea for more than a half a century. Britain has had an airspace in Cyprus or rather an air base in Cyprus. France has forces in three independent African nations. None of these states claim that they’re not sovereign countries.
And there are many other vital security issues that also must be addressed. Take the issue of airspace. Again, Israel’s small dimensions create huge security problems. America can be crossed by jet airplane in six hours. To fly across Israel, it takes three minutes. So is Israel’s tiny airspace to be chopped in half and given to a Palestinian state not at peace with Israel?
Our major international airport is a few kilometers away from the West Bank. Without peace, will our planes become targets for antiaircraft missiles placed in the adjacent Palestinian state? And how will we stop the smuggling into the West Bank? It’s not merely the West Bank, it’s the West Bank mountains. It just dominates the coastal plain where most of Israel’s population sits below. How could we prevent the smuggling into these mountains of those missiles that could be fired on our cities?
I bring up these problems because they’re not theoretical problems. They’re very real. And for Israelis, they’re life-and- death matters. All these potential cracks in Israel’s security have to be sealed in a peace agreement before a Palestinian state is declared, not afterwards, because if you leave it afterwards, they won’t be sealed. And these problems will explode in our face and explode the peace.
The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state. But I also want to tell you this. After such a peace agreement is signed, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. We will be the first.
And there’s one more thing. Hamas has been violating international law by holding our soldier Gilad Shalit captive for five years.
They haven’t given even one Red Cross visit. He’s held in a dungeon, in darkness, against all international norms. Gilad Shalit is the son of Aviva and Noam Shalit. He is the grandson of Zvi Shalit, who escaped the Holocaust by coming to the—in the 1930s as a boy to the land of Israel. Gilad Shalit is the son of every Israeli family. Every nation represented here should demand his immediate release. If you want to—if you want to pass a resolution about the Middle East today, that’s the resolution you should pass.
Ladies and gentlemen, last year in Israel in Bar-Ilan University, this year in the Knesset and in the U.S. Congress, I laid out my vision for peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state. Yes, the Jewish state. After all, this is the body that recognized the Jewish state 64 years ago. Now, don’t you think it’s about time that Palestinians did the same?
The Jewish state of Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the more than 1 million Arab citizens of Israel. I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day—in fact, I think they made it right here in New York—they said the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. They’ll be Jew-free—Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing. There are laws today in Ramallah that make the selling of land to Jews punishable by death. That’s racism. And you know which laws this evokes.
Israel has no intention whatsoever to change the democratic character of our state. We just don’t want the Palestinians to try to change the Jewish character of our state. We want to give up—we want them to give up the fantasy of flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians.
President Abbas just stood here, and he said that the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the settlements. Well, that’s odd. Our conflict has been raging for—was raging for nearly half a century before there was a single Israeli settlement in the West Bank. So if what President Abbas is saying was true, then the—I guess that the settlements he’s talking about are Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva. Maybe that’s what he meant the other day when he said that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for 63 years. He didn’t say from 1967; he said from 1948. I hope somebody will bother to ask him this question because it illustrates a simple truth: The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict.
The settlements have to be—it’s an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations. But the core of the conflict has always been and unfortunately remains the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border.
I think it’s time that the Palestinian leadership recognizes what every serious international leader has recognized, from Lord Balfour and Lloyd George in 1917, to President Truman in 1948, to President Obama just two days ago right here: Israel is the Jewish state.
President Abbas, stop walking around this issue. Recognize the Jewish state, and make peace with us. In such a genuine peace, Israel is prepared to make painful compromises. We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects. They should live in a free state of their own. But they should be ready, like us, for compromise. And we will know that they’re ready for compromise and for peace when they start taking Israel’s security requirements seriously and when they stop denying our historical connection to our ancient homeland.
I often hear them accuse Israel of Judaizing Jerusalem. That’s like accusing America of Americanizing Washington, or the British of Anglicizing London. You know why we’re called “Jews”? Because we come from Judea.
In my office in Jerusalem, there’s a—there’s an ancient seal. It’s a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there’s a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That’s my last name. My first name, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin—Binyamin—the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Sumeria 4,000 years ago, and there’s been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since.
And for those Jews who were exiled from our land, they never stopped dreaming of coming back: Jews in Spain, on the eve of their expulsion; Jews in the Ukraine, fleeing the pogroms; Jews fighting the Warsaw Ghetto, as the Nazis were circling around it. They never stopped praying, they never stopped yearning. They whispered: Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in the promised land.
As the prime minister of Israel, I speak for a hundred generations of Jews who were dispersed throughout the lands, who suffered every evil under the Sun, but who never gave up hope of restoring their national life in the one and only Jewish state.
Ladies and gentlemen, I continue to hope that President Abbas will be my partner in peace. I’ve worked hard to advance that peace. The day I came into office, I called for direct negotiations without preconditions. President Abbas didn’t respond. I outlined a vision of peace of two states for two peoples. He still didn’t respond. I removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints, to ease freedom of movement in the Palestinian areas; this facilitated a fantastic growth in the Palestinian economy. But again—no response. I took the unprecedented step of freezing new buildings in the settlements for 10 months. No prime minister did that before, ever. Once again—you applaud, but there was no response. No response.
In the last few weeks, American officials have put forward ideas to restart peace talks. There were things in those ideas about borders that I didn’t like. There were things there about the Jewish state that I’m sure the Palestinians didn’t like.
But with all my reservations, I was willing to move forward on these American ideas.
President Abbas, why don’t you join me? We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace.
I spent years defending Israel on the battlefield. I spent decades defending Israel in the court of public opinion. President Abbas, you’ve dedicated your life to advancing the Palestinian cause. Must this conflict continue for generations, or will we enable our children and our grandchildren to speak in years ahead of how we found a way to end it? That’s what we should aim for, and that’s what I believe we can achieve.
In two and a half years, we met in Jerusalem only once, even though my door has always been open to you. If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations?
And I suggest we talk openly and honestly. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s do as we say in the Middle East: Let’s talk “doogli”(ph). That means straightforward. I’ll tell you my needs and concerns. You’ll tell me yours. And with God’s help, we’ll find the common ground of peace.
There’s an old Arab saying that you cannot applaud with one hand. Well, the same is true of peace. I cannot make peace alone. I cannot make peace without you. President Abbas, I extend my hand—the hand of Israel—in peace. I hope that you will grasp that hand. We are both the sons of Abraham. My people call him Avraham. Your people call him Ibrahim. We share the same patriarch. We dwell in the same land. Our destinies are intertwined. Let us realize the vision of Isaiah—(speaks in Hebrew)—“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.” Let that light be the light of peace.
In this essay I explore the critical concept of "form as world." I apply my elaboration of this concept to the early to middle novels of Mordecai Richler. I relate his changing use of form to his changing themes, arguing that ultimately these form different worlds--world being the metaphysical fullness of any novel. I contend, too, that literary criticism ought to be an argument.
The novels discussed are: The Acrobats, Son Of A Smaller Hero, A Choice Of Enemies, The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz, The Incomparable Atuk, Cocksure and St Urbain's Horseman.