I have always hated The Holidays, a seemingly endless series of three or even four day weekends, during which the real world stops and one is coerced into false shows of good cheer. The days get shorter, even in North Carolina cold weather sets in, and the reliable rhythms of life begin to slow perceptibly. Everything seems to be running on idle for me at the moment. I have bought and sent off Christmas presents for my two grandchildren [a real telescope for Samuel, who is turning four, and two books of fairy tales for little 18 month old Athena, even though her reading skills are, as yet, somewhat underdeveloped]. I have completed the preparations for the two courses I shall begin to teach in just about five weeks, and the health care debate in the Senate grinds on minus any real excitement.
What to do? Well, idle hands are the devil's playground, as someone else's ancestors used to say, so I fiddle with my computer and descend into embarrassing displays of narcissism. Some of you may recall that an Oxford doctoral student named Jeremy Farris caught my attention by referring to me [another bit of narcissism] as "almost an octogenarian." His blog post was actually quite friendly, and included a quotation of what he said was his favorite line from my writings. I remembered the line, but could not for the life of me recall where I had said it. Well, after completing yet another Sudoku puzzle, eating lunch, and reviewing Tanya Mears' outline for her book [see previous posts], I decided to see whether Google could find the missing passage.
Not to worry! In about seventeen seconds, there it was. The long of it is this: In 1970, I published a little book called In Defense of Anarchism. The times being what they were, it had a rather unexpected success. A bright young philosopher named Jeffrey Reiman [we were all young in those days, alas], wrote a book-length reply to my effort, called In Defense of Political Philosophy, which the original publishers, Harper and Row, agreed to publish. I was asked to write a reply to Reiman as a new Preface, which I did and lo and behold, the elusive passage turns out to be the last paragraph of that reply. Here it is:
"The belief in state authority comes naturally to men, it would appear. A band of robbers ride into town with guns drawn and demand all the gold in the bank. They are called criminals. They return the next year on the same day and repeat their demand. Again they are called criminals. They put on uniforms and return each year on the same day. Eventually, they are called tax collectors. Finally, the smallest and least offensive of the bandits rides into town unarmed and the townspeople give him their gold without struggle. The state has arrived."
As those of you who have appeared in print can perhaps attest, there is a quite peculiar erotic quality to the experience of reading one's own published words. They flow with the greatest of ease, the mind glides over them unimpeded, free of the quibbles and hesitations and doubts that attend the reading of other people's words. "Oh yes," one thinks, "well said, quite right, nicely put, so convincing, so completely comme il faut."
I think the new year can come none too soon.