Fascism, the Musical: Ecology of the Santa Fe Opera, Part 3

Author’s note: the long lapse between Part 2 and this installment was due in part to my awareness of how inadequate my understanding of C. H. Douglas’s ideology was, since I was relying on a handful of secondary sources. A step toward correcting that shortcoming was a careful reading of Douglas’s Social Credit, the book synonymous with the movement his writings inspired in the 1920s and ’30s.

 

Fascism, the Musical: Ecology of the Santa Fe Opera, Part 3

By ERIC SHULTZ

Ez sez

P.S. (I’ve been in Europe some time. There is nobody over here who can help the inhabitants of New Mexico to govern New Mexico.)

–Ezra Pound1

It is hard to say whether Pound is better known to Americans for his literary greatness or for treason. Famously, he delivered pro-Axis propaganda over Italian radio during the war. And his obsessions with economics aside, Nazi-dominated fascism must have harmonized with his own seething anti-Semitism. After the war he faced life in prison, but forensic psychiatrists found him “insane and mentally unfit for trial” and he spent nearly thirteen years in a Washington, D. C. asylum.2 In the late 1950s, the charges were dropped and he moved back to Italy, first to Rapallo and then to Venice, where he was buried in 1972. The Last Savage author Gian Carlo Menotti befriended Pound during his final years and gave him a kind of social rehabilitation as a repeat performer at the Spoleto arts festival. But for us, in our review of fascist influences in Santa Fe and at the Santa Fe Opera, was Pound just another fascist among Menotti’s famous friends? No. There is more.  There is a more intimate Santa Fe connection.

By now we know plenty about Menotti, but about Pound, I’ve come across something quite amazing. In the mid-1930s, this father of Anglophone modernism, who edited The Wasteland and midwived Ulysses into print, this fascism-booster extraordinaire, wrote an exclusive column for the Santa Fe New Mexican!

Santafesinos became an audience for Pound’s fascistic musings due to his epistolary friendship with New Mexico Senator Bronson Cutting. A blue-blood New Yorker, Cutting was one of the ‘lungers’ who had sought a desert-air cure for respiratory illness. Among others, he is reputed to have said “I came to New Mexico to die.”3 Educated, literate and a polyglot, Cutting was a leading opponent of censorship. At a crucial moment, the issue was the U.S. Customs Service’s power to seize books bound for America. One cause célèbre was Lady Chatterly’s Lover,4 but Ulysses had also been refused entry. Failing to abolish customs censorship outright, Cutting’s forces won a compromise: customs agents could only initiate book seizures, now subject to the courts. Under this legislation Judge Woolsey of the New York Southern District ruled in 1933 that Ulysses “is not pornographic… [and] may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.”5

Pound was a fellow foe of the censor. As a literary giant, he drew on his prestige to engage political leaders and found in Cutting a strong and congenial ally. Pound wrote Cutting to encourage him also to go after the Postal Service’s power to confiscate printed matter under Section 211, Article 321:

8 Nov. 1930

My dear Senator Cutting

Article 211 of the Penal code was, as I have had occasion to remark “obviously made by gorillas for the further stultification of imbeciles”. The late Chief Justice Taft was somewhat shocked at this expression but I see no reason to soften it.6

Thus began a correspondence cut short by Cutting’s May 1935 death in a plane crash. At first their exchanges were confined to the legislative agenda and identifying friends in the fight against censorship. At Pound’s request, Cutting compiled a list of “literate” senators: they totaled 12, himself included. But the scope of their exchanges broadened. Pound soon began supplying quotations from Jefferson, which Cutting used to salt his own speeches.7

Both Cutting and Pound considered themselves progressive or “Bull Moose” Republicans of the Teddy Roosevelt stripe. But Roosevelt was not the only he-man Pound admired, and he applied Teddy’s nickname to another: “The Bull Moose down in Rome, is the best thing in Europe.”8 As early as 1931, Pound was unabashed about lobbying Senator Cutting in Mussolini’s favor. With tongue only partially in cheek (as posterity would prove), he offered “to advocate the starting of a nice little club for the 12 literates in the senate…..with me and Benito as honorary members.”9 Favorable references to Mussolini occur throughout the correspondence. But by early 1932, Pound had gotten onto the hobby horse he would ride throughout the 1930s: the political and economic ideas of C. H. Douglas.

Major Douglas – as he was commonly called – was an English engineer and “not a highbrow theoretician,” Pound approvingly noted.10  As an assistant director of the Royal Aircraft Works during WWI, Douglas:

made comprehensive studies of cost accounting which led him to the conclusion that, in over 100 industrial establishments, the weekly sum total of wages and salaries was continually less that the weekly collective price of the goods produced.11

In other words, he observed that in advanced industrial societies, the consumers’ purchasing power lagged behind production. Economies were floundering due to under-consumption from the general population’s lack of means. “Poverty in the midst of plenty” became a rallying cry in the 1920s and ’30s, in situations not unlike those decried by the Occupy! protesters of today.

Major Douglas had identified under-consumption and singled it out, not as a symptom of capitalism’s cyclical dynamic, but as its chronic disease. To explain the causes, he was equally simplistic: everything stemmed from the control of credit by private financial institutions. In American terms, he would say the problem was Wall Street.

In an endless stream of books and pamphlets, Douglas argued that banks and other financial institutions were manipulating credit to cause economic disaster. His remedy, though expressed in obscure and eccentric concepts, was essentially very simple: nationalize all instruments of finance, and let the government issue purchasing power as needed to all citizens.12

Propounded as the theory of Social Credit, Douglas’s program contemplated the State distributing purchasing power to individual citizens as something called a “national dividend.” When Depression grain prices fell through the floor, yet banks demanded mortgage payments same as always, a Social Credit movement blossomed in Canada’s wheat country. Promised a provincial dividend of $25 per month, Social Credit voters swept Alberta’s 1935 elections in the movement’s hour of glory. Holding power in Alberta for the next 36 years, Social Credit governments survived on pain and promises, never able to effect their reforms or distribute a penny in dividend.13

The idea of lifting an economy out of depression through consumption – that is, by upping “aggregate demand” to stimulate greater investment and production (i.e. “growth”) – was part of the solution J. M. Keynes proposed in his 1936 General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money as an answer to the practical failings of “classical” economics. In Chapter 23, Keynes considered theories of under-consumption put forward by “heretic” economists through the ages, devoting several pages each to Mandeville, Malthus, Gesell and Hobson. But he dispatched with Major Douglas qua economist in a single paragraph, concluding that in the army of heterodox thinkers, he was “a private, perhaps, but not a major.” With characteristic insight, Keynes attributed his contemporary’s popular successes more to deficiencies in classical Ricardian economics than to any virtue inherent in Douglas’s ratiocinations: “The strength of Major Douglas’s advocacy has, of course, largely depended on orthodoxy having no valid reply to much of his destructive criticism.” In short, according to the consummate “highbrow theoretician,” while Douglas “has not been wholly oblivious of the outstanding problem of our economic system,” nevertheless his formulations contain “much mere mystification.”14

Yet it is not Major Douglas’s economics, but rather his socio-political world view that is most revealing of him, and most suggestive of his attraction for Pound. In Part 2, I considered the phenomenon of fascism posing as anti-fascism, and we see it again in the case of Douglas. In Social Credit, he is equally critical of Mussolini’s Fascism and Russian Bolshevism as systems in which the individual is completely subordinated to collectivism,15 and he ends up articulating what for Americans is familiar right-wing libertarian individualism. But his anti-fascism, couched in his attack on collectivism, quickly begins to turn:

…the Jews are the protagonists of collectivism in all its forms, whether it is camouflaged under the name of Socialism, Fabianism, or “big business,” and […] the opponents of collectivism must look to the Jews for an answer to the indictment of the theory itself. It should in any case be emphasised that it is the Jews as a group, and not as individuals, who are on trial, and that the remedy, if one is required, is to break up the group activity.16

Already miles down the road toward a Final Solution, Douglas obligingly cites the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” arguing that the authenticity of the document is of little importance: forgery or not, in his view, it describes reality quite perfectly.17

But Douglas has more in common with the fascist upsurge of the 1920s and ’30s than anti-Semitism. Italian Fascism especially cultivated what its ideologues termed the corporate state, as opposed both to individualistic democracy, and to socialistic collectivism based on class struggle. The corporate ideal was the human body, its organs and appendages working together according to the dictates of the head (a complex metaphor we also find as Hobbes’s Leviathan, and as the Catholic Church’s “mystical body of Christ”). It also gives figurative representation to the personhood of modern business corporations. Major Douglas proposed a corporate model for his country, which he fittingly called “Great Britain, Limited.”18 Offered as an analogy to illustrate his idea of a national dividend, citizenship amounted to an automatic share in the company’s stock from which dividends would be paid by the directors, that is, the State. As if his corporatist vision of society were not frightful enough, his specific words are more disturbing. For “citizens” he substitutes “natural born inhabitants”19 (emphasis added), a nativist phrase reminiscent of Hitler’s naturalized concept of race.20 Although Douglas openly criticized Mussolini, the core of his social vision is both fascistic and anti-Semitic.

Pound lobbied Cutting to adopt a Social Credit agenda, and with considerable success. In 1934, Cutting hosted Major Douglas in Washington and arranged a meeting with some three dozen members of Congress. Though many of the invited had “mostly crank notions of their own,” others Cutting considered “open-minded” on Social Credit, “but I’m afraid there were few conversions,”21 he wrote to Pound in Rapallo. It was in this context that Pound approached Cutting about the problem of propagating their shared beliefs among people of influence. In his increasingly eccentric style, Pound asked Cutting:

Surely the blithering ignorance of american “educated” and governing classes OUGHT by now to have indicated the need of a little mental life in our “inschtooshunz of learning”. Didn(t you once have a noozpaper.. or isn’t there some noozpaper that wd/ let me loose. (Even the London Morning Post has admitted me to noise column.)22

Indeed, Cutting did own a “noozpaper,” three of them in fact. And it was on his flagship New Mexican that he let Pound loose with a column called “Ez Sez, Being Some Pithy Promulgations by Ezra Pound.”

Between March and October of 1935, the New Mexican printed 17 Ez Sez columns.23 While he did not sing Mussolini’s praises directly,24 Pound promoted the celebrity of para-fascists such as the rabidly anti-Semitic Father Coughlin and the populist Huey “the Kingfish” Long. But he expended most of his effort grinding his Social Credit axe and devoted many inches to Douglas, another heterodox economist named Gesell, and articles of faith such as the national dividend. Pound’s version of Social Credit had some particularly worrisome features. He invoked a society made whole – hence undivided by diversity – by a State that regulates society’s very metabolism of production and consumption. It is a totalitarian vision implying some kind of national socialism. Even his August 3, 1935 memorial for Cutting becomes a positively völkisch pitch for Social Credit:

I also put it to men who knew Senator Cutting intimately that he had a clearer perception of economic fact than any other man in the senate, and that he was finally for Social Credit. That is, he saw the nation owns its own credit, and that the whole people should benefit by this fact, and that the whole people should be able to buy what the whole people produces.25 (My emphasis.)

After Cutting’s death, Pound turned to Long as a likely presidential contender educable in Social Credit. To his New Mexican readers, Ez said: “You’re a gone coon, Huey, unless you git aboard NATIONAL DIVIDEND.”26 Long’s assassination in September 1935 crushed that dream, too.

Social Credit rested on little more than a critique of usury and over the years, Douglas’s thinking drifted into even more elaborate Jewish conspiracies.27 Pound was on a similar trajectory. On the occasion of Long’s death, he told the New English Weekly:

The senate… has lost two men recently, neither of ’em adorers of USURY…. With Cutting gone, and the Kingfish murdered, the American people will have to do its own saving of itself.28

Within a few years, Pound was ridiculing his president, “Franklin D. Frankfurter Jewsfeld,” over Radio Roma.29

Several of the passages I have quoted from Pound’s letters and columns display savage spellings and barbarous grammar that William Bedford Clark called “crackerbarrel antics” he dignified with comparison to Will Rogers, whose Will Rogers Says columns appeared in numerous American papers during the ’20s and ’30s. Clark’s appraisal is but another example of mainstream scholarship cleansing  a major cultural figure of her or his fascism, as noted previously in the case of D. H. Lawrence. In his last Ez Sez column, Pound ridiculed the life of the intellect in America as follows: “…the murkn peepul spend millyums a year on eddykayshun and don’t never learn nuthin’ useful.”30 Both the affectation of his style, and the message he conveyed, exemplify a fascistic disdain for intellect expressed by verbal primitivism. Through a literary voice he cultivated in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Ezra Pound became the modern savage. He became an American fascist.

I began this review asking, among other things, how Santa Fe had come to be such a place as would applaud fascist culture and cherish an institution that produced it. Was it something Ez said? Did he soften us up – our predecessors, rather – and start a local tradition of fascist appeasement? Such a claim would be tendentious at best, although those were aims consistent with his public agenda.31 If we ask whether Pound’s beliefs became diffused and inculcated among our citizens, his short-lived column may not be the likeliest channel to suspect. Though also short-lived, Senator Cutting had several years – and three noozpapers – to sow his learned friend’s ideas, and Pound was much more open in his correspondence with Cutting than in his columns. Did Cutting spread Pound’s fascism? After all, according to former State Historian Myra Ellen Jenkins, “He was, apparently, a very persuasive and commanding person.”32 I believe we get closer to the truth by looking not at Cutting’s words but at his organizing.

Cutting first built a political base by organizing American Legion posts in New Mexico. Asked by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (Teddy’s son), “Cutting accepted the assignment and traveled throughout the state, forming a network of personal contacts that later became the foundation of his electoral constituency.”33 He also built a network of patronage – especially in the northern counties – involving among other benefits, hundreds of small loans from his personal fortune.34 Cutting left in his will that all the I.O.U.s be burned upon his death, a fact underscoring the personalism of his patronage: all obligations died with the man.35 His attention to veterans and to northern villagers contributed to his ‘machine’ having a definite ethnicity:

Many of his closest political allies were Hispanics, such as Miguel Antonio Otero, Sr., Jesus M. Baca and Herman Baca; and his most loyal voters resided in the predominantly Hispanic counties of northern New Mexico.36

But let us look a bit more closely at the particular characteristics of Cutting’s political organization.

Although functioning within a democracy, a patronage system is inherently anti-democratic. Rather than voting to choose candidates who best represent their interests, under patronage voters show obeisance to the established boss in order to earn his beneficence. Though not fascism in itself, knowing who’s the boss is part of the “art of being ruled”37 that is a precondition for fascism. As for the American Legion, this national network of clubs has a reputation for political conservatism, but conservatism per se is not exactly an attribute of fascism. From an earlier section, we recall fascism’s symbiosis with modernism. According to Ezra Pound’s dictum for modernism, you take ancient material – from Catullus or Confucius, say – and you Make It New!38 As a veterans’ organization, the American Legion honors the military virtues. Combining the cult of authority with dutiful violence, militarism is an ‘element’ of the fascist physiology. Santa Fe’s traditional community structure was neighborhood-based (specifically, it was organized around the acequia or communal water supply). The American Legion transcends traditional community in order to make it new at the municipal and national levels, under a militaristic ideology of patriotic nationalism. As one sourcebook of fascism teaches:  “War and courage have done more great things than love of one’s neighbor.”39

We find that apart from his and Pound’s expressed fascistic beliefs, Cutting had been actively cultivating social conditions congenial to fascism within his New Mexico district. But in this series, we are concerned specifically with the social conditions congenial to the founding of an opera company that produces fascist culture. We have struck the vein, but we must dig deeper! Stay tuned for Part 4, where we learn more about the Santa Fe Opera’s fascist roots.

Notes:

1  Pound, Ezra. Editorial, the Santa Fe New Mexican, March 26, 1935. In E. P. Walkiewicz and Hugh Witemeyer, eds. Ezra Pound and Senator Bronson Cutting: a political correspondence, 1930-1935. Albuquerque: UNM Press 1995, p. 186.

2 Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. New York: Pantheon 1970, pp. 418-19.

3 Pound, p. 12. For another retelling of the Santa Fe ‘lunger’ experience – including details about Cutting – see Paul Frank’s “How I came to Santa Fe to Die” in La Farge, pp. 225-43. Instead of dying within the year of arrival, Frank had a long life with wife Letitia “Tish” née Evans, who was Mabel Dodge’s granddaughter and the only one of my parents’ friends on whom I had a boyhood crush.

4  Ibid., p. 18. Opposing Cutting in favor of customs censorship was Utah Senator Reed Smoot, who described D. H. Lawrence as “a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black he would even obscure the darkness of hell.”

5  Ibid., p. 19.

6 Ibid., p. .

7 Ibid., p. 47. Writing on February 6, 1931 with the salutation “My dear Mr. Pound,” Cutting mentioned that “I used your Jefferson quotation in speaking at the National Republican Club the other day.”

8 Ibid., p. 107. Letter, Pound to Cutting, 1934[?].

9  Ibid., p.66. Letter, Pound to Cutting, Dec. 23, 1931.

10 Ibid., p. 76. Letter, Pound to Cutting, February 12, 1932.

11 Irving, John A. “The Evolution of the Social Credit Movement.” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. 14, No. 3 (August 1948), p. 323.

12  Flanagan, Thomas. “Social Credit in Alberta: a Canadian ‘cargo cult’?” Archive de sociologie des religions. 17e Année, No. 34 (Jul.-Dec., 1972), p. 40.

13 A concise but detailed overview of the Alberta Social Credit phenomenon is Irving’s “Evolution…” cited above. Also cited above, Flanagan’s anthropological consideration of the Alberta movement’s millenarianism gives interesting perspectives on the irrationality of Social Credit. In “The petite bourgeoisie and Social Credit: A reconsideration,” Edward Bell reveals a trend among scholars who through the decades have characterized Social Credit in Alberta as a petite bourgeois movement based on theoretical assumptions and with scant demographic evidence. His initial findings indicate a more complex composition with a significant working class component. In The Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol.14, No. 1 (Winter 1989), pp. 45-65. Thanks to Colin Danby for sending me these articles.

14 Keynes, John Maynard. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Amherst, New York: Promethius Books 1997, pp. 370-71.

15 Douglas, C. H. Social Credit (3rd edition). London: Eyre and Spottiswoode 1933, p. 38.

16 Ibid., p. 30.

17Ibid., p. 146.

18Ibid., p. 185.

19Ibid.

20Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock 1940, p. 392: “Just as little as Nature desires a mating between weaker individuals and stronger ones, far less she desires the mixing of a higher race with a lower one, as in this case her entire work of higher breeding, which has perhaps taken hundreds of thousands of years, would tumble at one blow.”

21Pound, pp. 128-29. Letter, Cutting to Pound, May 24, 1934.

22 Ibid., p. 117.

23 Ibid., p. 161.

24 Not all of the columns Pound submitted were printed, but he seems to have censored himself with respect to his feelings toward the Italian dictator.

25 Ibid., 206.

26  Ibid., p. 215.

27 Flanagan, p. 40: “In his later years, Douglas reached bizarre heights of paranoia on this point. Influenced by the spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he came to believe that the Jews, bankers, Bolsheviks, and Nazis (!) were all part of the same conspiracy against the free capitalist world.”

28 Quoted in Pound, p. 234.

29  Ibid. p. 235. Pound/Cutting scholars Walkiewicz and Witemeyer sum up Pound’s transition from the pages of the New Mexican to the airwaves of Europe – and Social Credit’s American denouement – as follows: “Pound’s attempts to justify and rally support for Italy’s indefensible invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935 lost him many American acquaintances… Having now quite publicly thrown his lot with the fascists, Pound renewed his efforts to become a personal confidant of Mussolini. American Social Credit activists, into whose ranks Pound had tried to recruit Cutting, began to grow disgusted with Pound’s anti-Semitism and ties to fascism, and the movement itself unwound as Douglas’s own increasingly conspicuous anti-Semitism divided the fold.”

30 Clark, William Bedford. “‘ez sez’: pound’s ‘pithy promulgations’.” The Antioch Review, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Autumn, 1979), p. 426.

31 Pound, pp. 234-35. According to Walkiewicz and Witemeyer, Pound persisted with his agenda at the highest levels of government. “By the time Pound made a last-ditch visit to Washington in 1939 to lobby personally for peace [with the Axis] and economic reform, his interactions with American leaders were merely perfunctory. Hoping to use the maximum efficiency of one-to-one communication to his advantage, he was treated with courtesy by a number of senators, representatives, and at least one cabinet minister; but the president refused to see him….”

32 Jenkins, Myra Ellen. “Colorful New Mexico Politics,” in La Farge, p. 100.

33 Pound, p. 13.

34 Gonzales, Phillip B. “El Jefe: Bronson Cutting and the Politics of Hispano Interests in New Mexico, 1920-1935.” Aztlán: A journal of Chicano Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 67-108. Gonzales shows how Cutting certainly built his machine on patronage, but was not a traditional patrón rather a modern jefe político.

35 La Farge, p. 100. According to Jenkins, “[Cutting] had papers that So-and-so owed him such-and-such, but in his will, it was instructed that those all be burned.”

36 Pound, p. 14.

37 Quoted in Taruskin, The Oxford History…, p. 751. The Art of Being Ruled is the title of a book of essays by Wyndham Lewis, who according to Taruskin was “a British modernist writer and painter who was notoriously a Fascist sympathizer in the years preceding the Second World War.”

38  The title of a 1935 book of essays by Pound, “Make It New!” became a slogan for modernism.

39 Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: a book for all and none. Adrian del Caro and Robert Pippin, eds.; Adrian del Caro, trans. New York: Cambridge University Press 2006, p. 33. From among Nietzsche’s work, the Nazis made this in particular a sourcebook for their militaristic ideology.

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