by Frances A. Chiu
“Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.” So said Khrushchev at a reception for Western ambassadors in 1956. Some time later, he clarified his statements, explaining “Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.” At this moment in 2012, the end results remain to be seen: especially with the stream of protests against the 1% and other assorted powers-that-be spreading across the globe separately, yet almost collectively. Nonetheless, there is palpable, undeniable truth in Khrushchev’s words when applied to the underclasses and underprivileged in the West itself: the abolition of slavery (within its own territories, that is), the enfranchisement of its citizenry, as well as the acknowledgement of civil rights and equal opportunity all attest broadly to the notion that “history is on our side”–on the side of what Hotel Queen Leona Helmsley once disparaged as “the little people.”
Not that this truth has always been apparent. It’s easy to forget this given the sheer absence of large-scale protests over the last 30 years, particularly when corporate sponsored media and members of our political establishment have colluded to protect the wealthiest and most powerful 1%, frequently with recourse to faux populism: you know, by pontificating that it is wrong to “share” one’s hard earned money with scroungers and “welfare cheats.” That it is “un-American” to question any of the workings of capitalism. That it is “class warfare” to question the growth of CEO compensation. Etc. And if any of this weren’t misleading enough, they’ve also managed to distort history in the process, culminating in the Tea Party with their “Founding Father” chic. It’s almost enough to make one believe that history has never been on our side.
It is time, then, to revisit history—and to remember that although much of it involves the efforts of the 1% to repress the 99%, the 99% haven’t always been so quiet or docile: that’s why our predecessors have been able to win as much as they did. In fact, this is why the 1% has increasingly felt compelled to borrow the rhetoric of the Left, from Hannah More taking her cues from Paine in her own anti-Paine pamphlets to Newt Gingrich adopting Occupy Wall Street’s rhetoric against crony capitalism in 2012.
Since today marks the 275th birthday of Thomas Paine, the first (English-born) American progressive and populist, it is especially fitting to launch a blog that explores how members of the 99%–and those who’ve identified with them—have written back at the 1%: how they’ve voiced their own frustrations, raised consciousness, challenged the entrenched assumptions of the powers that be, and proposed their own solutions. Because sadly enough, many of these ideas remain relevant even after 200 years. For someone who continues to study and teach 18th and 19th century British reform and radicalism, it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu—a sense of history passing through a glass darkly, whether it’s the first push towards universal suffrage in the 1770s, the French Revolution debate, the Luddite risings, the Swing riots, or the Chartist struggle: movements in a transitional period that was beginning to witness a seismic shift in modes of production and consumption, not to mention a rapid rise in the dissemination of media and a growing awareness of the widening disparities between the rich and the poor. Perhaps the 99% of yore—the “swinish multitude” as Edmund Burke labelled them—can inspire us, and maybe offer us new ways of approaching our problems.
But because this is a blog–rather than a series of lectures–I won’t necessarily proceed chronologically or limit myself to 18th and 19th history. My topics will be guided by rereadings of chosen texts, or inspired by events in the here and now. I encourage and welcome all meaningful discussion. However, I should add that comments will not be posted until I’ve approved them (mostly in order to eliminate spam). Lastly, all materials here are copyright protected—so do not even think of copying without proper citations.
About the Blogger, Frances A. Chiu: When you study populist politics and the rise of horror in 18th/19th-century Britain and Ireland, you can’t help but identify with the 99%: even if your doctorate in English literature just happens to be granted by the venerable, 1000-year-old Oxford University. Much of my scholarship and teaching is focused on the writings of Jeremy Bentham, William Godwin, James Murray, Thomas Paine, Ann Radcliffe, Granville Sharp, Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and a host of other familiar and not-so-familiar names. My published work includes the first modern scholarly editions of Ann Radcliffe’s posthumous GASTON DE BLONDEVILLE and J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ROSE AND THE KEY, as well as articles in 18th-century Life (“From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies”), Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (“Dark and Dangerous Designs”; “Faulty Towers”), and Le Fanu Studies (“History repeats Itself”). My courses at The New School (NYC) include The Rise of the Gothic novel, 19th century horror, Women and the Gothic Novel, The Age of Paine, and the Origins of Popular Democracy. In 2011, I was nominated for a Distinguished University Teaching Award.
Fortunately for me, my leisure activities coincide with my scholarly interests: I enjoy watching horror–good horror that is, such as Kubrick’s SHINING, Medak’s CHANGELING, and more recently, Murphy’s and Falchuk’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY. I also serve on the board of directors of Thomas Paine Friends, Inc., which promotes knowledge of the works and accomplishments of this overlooked founding father.