The Temptation, the Mad Compulsion

Billy Bragg, one of my favorite singers once upon a time, had the following lines which came back to me recently:

The temptation
To take the precious things we have apart
To see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again

(“Must I Paint You a Picture”)

He was talking about love affairs – and describing the sort of affair those of my generation experienced so commonly, left on our own with no pressure to make a commitment, and indeed encouraged to “experiment.” I imagine the scenario is no less common today.

Yet the warning applies equally to the reckless stresses we are placing on our society. A conservative thought from Bragg, whose political philosophy was nevertheless precisely that described by Robert Frost in the following lines:*

A Case for Jefferson

Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
He’s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day he’s Marxian Muscovite.
It isn’t because he’s Russian Jew.
He’s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.

A nice description of the radical impulse! I believe Frost was thinking of the radical 1920s or maybe ’30s here.

The compulsion to destroy seems to rule our society today – though there is now much less of any solid society remaining to be smashed. Let’s hope for a revival of the conservative impulse – to save what we can of what we have left.

*Bragg has continued to struggle with his conservative side, as shown in his book The Progressive Patriot (which I originally learned of from the Oz Conservative, and left a comment).

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9 Responses to The Temptation, the Mad Compulsion

  1. Terry Morris says:

    Wow! What an appropriate poem to describe the dominant political philosophy of our time. I myself have argued with any number of people who fit this billing to a “T”.

  2. stephenhopewell says:

    Terry – yes, this is the true meaning of “patriotism” as far as the liberal elites, and their clientele, are concerned. Frost gets it just right.

  3. I’ve never read that poem by Frost. Good find. Thanks for posting it.
    I’m familiar with Billy Bragg’s music, at least what he did back in the late 80s or so, but I didn’t know he had a patriotic side; I thought he was very much involved in that left-wing antifascist stuff. Interesting.
    -VA

  4. goner says:

    Bragg has a very annoying accent. Just like John Cruddas.

  5. stephenhopewell says:

    VA – yes, I have been aware of Frost’s conservatism (perhaps more tempermental than political) and so sometimes dip in to see what I can find.

    I would stress that Billy Bragg remains thoroughly left-wing and supports the awful British “antiracist” movement. I think, like Orwell, he thinks of himself as a socialist who also loves the particular culture of his country, or at least working-class culture. Similar to the Communist “love of country” of people like Pete Seeger, whom Bragg likes. Also, he describes himself as “mellowing out” with fatherhood in the album William Bloke – the last one of his I really listened to. I agree with Mark Richardson that Bragg’s wish to be patriotic is not compatible with his radicalism.

    goner – Actually that is a funny thing – Bragg and groups like the Clash started singing in a Cockney style to sound more “working class,” but they got the idea from the American group the Ramones, who were doing it as a joke. The Ramones, I think, got it from Herman’s Hermits’ “Henry the Eighth.” Or something like that.

  6. Liam says:

    Billy Bragg transplanted himself and his family well away from the multicultural paradise of east London to “hideously white” Dorset quicker than you can say “hypocrite”.

    “Must I Paint You a Picture” remains a beautiful song though.

  7. stephenhopewell says:

    Yes, he captures something real there.

  8. james mason says:

    Bragg has a very annoying accent. Just like John Cruddas.

    Exactly. Proleier-than-thou. Horrible.

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