Every Political Ideology Explained in 8 Minutes


From the guy who brought you 51 Pro­pa­gan­da Tech­niques Explained in 11 Min­utes comes this: Every Polit­i­cal Ide­ol­o­gy Explained in 8 Min­utes. You get the usu­al suspects–conservatism, lib­er­al­ism, social­ism, com­mu­nism and fas­cism. And then some less fre­quent­ly encoun­tered ide­olo­gies: tran­shu­man­ism, syn­di­cal­ism, and com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism. By the end, he cov­ers 23 dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems that orga­nize our polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic lives. The video is brief, nec­es­sar­i­ly super­fi­cial. But it’s a place to start. To take a deep­er dive, you can explore Andrew Hey­wood’s book, Polit­i­cal Ide­olo­gies: An Intro­duc­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist by Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary



How George Washington Became President of the United States: It Was Weirder Than You Think

After serv­ing two terms as the first Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, George Wash­ing­ton refused to con­tin­ue on to a third. We now see this action as begin­ning the tra­di­tion of peace­ful relin­quish­ment of pow­er that has con­tin­ued more or less ever since (inter­rupt­ed, as in recent years, by the occa­sion­al trou­bled tran­si­tion). At the time, not every­one expect­ed Wash­ing­ton to step down, his­to­ry hav­ing most­ly offered exam­ples of rulers who hung on until the bit­ter end. But the new repub­lic’s cre­ation of not just rules but cus­toms result­ed in a vari­ety of unusu­al polit­i­cal events; even Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion was “weird­er than you think.”

So declares his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist in the video above, an expla­na­tion of the very first Unit­ed States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1789. “There were no offi­cial can­di­dates. There was no cam­paign­ing for the office. There were no polit­i­cal par­ties, no nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions, no pri­ma­ry elec­tions. The entire elec­tion sea­son was very short, and the major issue of this elec­tion was the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.” It also took place after thir­teen pres­i­dent-free years, the U.S. hav­ing been not a sin­gle coun­try but “a col­lec­tion of thir­teen sep­a­rate colonies,” each tied more close­ly to Britain than to the oth­ers; there had­n’t even been a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per se.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion changed that. Draft­ed in 1787, it pro­posed the exec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive, and judi­cial branch­es of gov­ern­ment, whose names every Amer­i­can who’s tak­en a cit­i­zen­ship exam (and every immi­grant who’s tak­en the cit­i­zen test) remem­bers. Set­ting up those branch­es in real­i­ty would prove no easy task: how, to name just one prac­ti­cal ques­tion, would the exec­u­tive — the pres­i­dent — actu­al­ly be cho­sen? Con­gress, the leg­isla­tive branch, could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly do it, but that would vio­late the now prac­ti­cal­ly sacred prin­ci­ple of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. The vot­ers could also elect the pres­i­dent direct­ly, but the framers reject­ed that option as both imprac­ti­cal and unwise.

Enter “the famous elec­toral col­lege,” a body of spe­cial­ized vot­ers cho­sen by the indi­vid­ual states in any man­ner they please. Hav­ing reject­ed the Con­sti­tu­tion itself, North Car­oli­na and Rhode Island did­n’t par­tic­i­pate in the 1789 elec­tion. Each of the oth­er states chose their elec­tors in its own way (exem­pli­fy­ing the polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry of Amer­i­can fed­er­al­ism as orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived), though it did­n’t go smooth­ly in every case: the wide­spread divi­sion between fed­er­al­ists and anti-fed­er­al­ists was pro­nounced enough in New York to cre­ate a dead­lock that pre­vent­ed the state from choos­ing any elec­tors at all. The elec­tors that did make it cast two votes each, with the first-place can­di­date becom­ing Pres­i­dent and the sec­ond-place can­di­date becom­ing Vice Pres­i­dent.

That last proved to be a “bad sys­tem,” whose mechan­ics encour­aged a great deal of schem­ing, intrigue, and strate­gic vot­ing (even by the sub­se­quent­ly estab­lished stan­dards of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). Only with the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the twelfth amend­ment, in 1804, could elec­tors sep­a­rate­ly des­ig­nate their choice of Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent. In 1789, of course, “Wash­ing­ton eas­i­ly got all 69 elec­toral votes,” and went on reluc­tant­ly to pre­vail again in the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which more recent­ly became the sub­ject of its own Pre­mod­ernist video. Both of them mer­it a watch in this par­tic­u­lar moment, as the run-up to the U.S. con­test of 2024 gets into full swing. This elec­tion cycle cer­tain­ly won’t be as short as 1789, but it may well be as weird.

Relat­ed con­tent:

George Wash­ing­ton Writes to the First Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tion of New­port, Rhode Island: “The Gov­ern­ment… Gives to Big­otry No Sanc­tion, to Per­se­cu­tion No Assis­tance” (1790)

Sal Khan & the Mup­pets’ Grover Explain the Elec­toral Col­lege

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

Elect­ing a US Pres­i­dent in Plain Eng­lish

George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civil­i­ty and Decent Behav­ior

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

51 Propaganda Techniques Explained in 11 Minutes: From Cognitive Dissonance to Appeal to Fear

The con­cept of pro­pa­gan­da has a great deal of pow­er to fas­ci­nate. So does the very word pro­pa­gan­da, which to most of us today sounds faint­ly exot­ic, as if it referred main­ly to phe­nom­e­na from dis­tant places and times. But in truth, can any one of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry go a day with­out being sub­ject­ed to the thing itself? Watch the video above, in which The Paint Explain­er lays out 51 dif­fer­ent pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques in 11 min­utes, and you’ll more than like­ly rec­og­nize many of the insid­i­ous­ly effec­tive rhetor­i­cal tricks labeled there­in from your recent every­day life.

You won’t be sur­prised to hear that these man­i­fest most clear­ly in the media, both offline and on. The list begins with “agen­da set­ting,” the “abil­i­ty of the news to influ­ence the impor­tance placed on cer­tain top­ics by pub­lic opin­ion, just by cov­er­ing them fre­quent­ly and promi­nent­ly.”

Scat­tered through­out the news, or through­out your social-media feed, adver­tise­ments bring out the “beau­ti­ful peo­ple,” which “sug­gests that if peo­ple buy a prod­uct or fol­low a cer­tain ide­ol­o­gy, they, too will be hap­py or suc­cess­ful” – or, in its basest forms, oper­ates through “clas­si­cal con­di­tion­ing,” in which “a nat­ur­al stim­u­lus is asso­ci­at­ed with a neu­tral stim­u­lus enough times to cre­ate the same response by using just the neu­tral one.”

In the even more shame­less realm of pol­i­tics, the com­mon “plain folk” strat­e­gy “attempts to con­vince the audi­ence that the pro­pa­gan­dis­t’s posi­tions reflect the com­mon sense of the peo­ple.” When “an indi­vid­ual uses mass media to cre­ate an ide­al­ized and hero­ic pub­lic image, often through unques­tion­ing flat­tery and praise,” a pow­er­ful “cult of per­son­al­i­ty” can arise. And in pro­pa­gan­da for every­thing from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to fast-food chains, you’ll hear and read no end of “glit­ter­ing gen­er­al­i­ties,” or “emo­tion­al­ly appeal­ing words that are applied to a prod­uct idea, but present no con­crete argu­ment or analy­sis.” You can find many of these strate­gies explained at Wikipedi­a’s list of pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques, or this list from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia of “pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to rec­og­nize” — and not just when the “oth­er side” uses them.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

A Field Guide to Fake News and Oth­er Infor­ma­tion Dis­or­ders: A Free Man­u­al to Down­load, Share & Re-Use

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

“Glo­ry to the Con­querors of the Uni­verse!”: Pro­pa­gan­da Posters from the Sovi­et Space Race (1958–1963)

The Red Men­ace: A Strik­ing Gallery of Anti-Com­mu­nist Posters, Ads, Com­ic Books, Mag­a­zines & Films

Sell & Spin: The His­to­ry of Adver­tis­ing, Nar­rat­ed by Dick Cavett (1999)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Meet the Man Who Created the Iconic Emblem of the Day of the Dead: José Guadalupe Posada

Odds are you’re acquaint­ed with the lady pic­tured above.

She’s called La Cat­ri­na, and her like­ness adorns count­less t‑shirts and tote bags.

She is a pop­u­lar Hal­loween cos­tume and a main­stay of Day of the Dead cel­e­bra­tions.

She pops up in the ani­mat­ed fam­i­ly fea­ture, Coco, to guide its young hero to the Land of the Dead. 

She’s spent the bet­ter part of a cen­tu­ry mak­ing cameos in numer­ous artists works, most famous­ly Diego Rivera’s sur­re­al 1947 mur­al, Sueño de una Tarde Domini­cal en la Alame­da Cen­tral, a fever dream that places her front and cen­ter, arm in arm with a dis­tin­guished-look­ing, mus­ta­chioed gent in a bowler hat.

That gent is her orig­i­nal cre­ator, José Guadalupe Posa­da, a hard­work­ing print­mak­er and polit­i­cal car­toon­ist who pro­duced over 20,000 images dur­ing his life­time, on sub­jects rang­ing from the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and oth­er events, both cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal, to pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment and the dai­ly lives of aver­age men and women. 

The artist fre­quent­ly ham­mered his point home by depict­ing the par­ties in his works as calav­eras - exu­ber­ant skele­tons seem­ing­ly unaware they had lost all flesh and blood. 

Posa­da was still a teenag­er in 1871 when a home­town paper picked up his first car­toons. One report­ed­ly enraged a local politi­cian to such a degree that the paper was forced to cease pub­li­ca­tion.

La Cat­ri­na was pub­lished posthu­mous­ly in 1913, as a broad­sheet illus­tra­tion accom­pa­ny­ing a satir­i­cal poem about chick­pea ven­dors. It’s believed that Posa­da intend­ed his image to be a jab at upper class Mex­i­can women obsessed with Euro­pean fash­ions.

(Rivera was the one who changed her name from La Cucaracha — the cock­roach — to the much more lyri­cal La Cat­ri­na. He also plant­ed the seed that Posa­da, who died pen­ni­less and large­ly for­got­ten, had been a rev­o­lu­tion­ary. The Mex­i­can pro­gres­sive print­mak­ing col­lec­tive El Taller Grafi­ca Pop­u­lar took graph­ic inspi­ra­tion from his calav­eras, while embrac­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing this myth.

What’s that they say about imi­ta­tion being the sin­cer­est form of flat­tery?

After Posada’s death, his col­leagues at the pub­lish­ing firm of Anto­nio Vane­gas Arroy­or, saved time and mon­ey by con­tin­u­ing to pro­duce work from his blocks and plates. 

As Jim Nikas, found­ing direc­tor of the Posa­da Art Foun­da­tion told Atlas Obscu­ra “If the image was neu­tral enough, you could change the text and use it as an illus­tra­tion for any sto­ry.”

Whether increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of harm­ful agri­cul­tur­al pes­ti­cides, protest­ing Amer­i­can immi­gra­tion poli­cies, or, uh, sell­ing tequi­la, 21st cen­tu­ry artists, activists, and entre­pre­neurs con­tin­ue to har­ness Posada’s vision for their own pur­pos­es.

Nikas, who sam­pled Posada’s La Calav­era de Don Quixote for an Occu­py Wall Street col­lab­o­ra­tion with Art Hazel­wood and Mar­sha Shaw writes that “the calav­era is some­thing we all have bio­log­i­cal­ly in com­mon and, accord­ing­ly, may be used to con­vey mes­sages:

Posa­da and his pub­lish­ers used depic­tions of calav­eras not only to remind us of our col­lec­tive mor­tal­i­ty but also to shed light. His illus­tra­tions were often satir­i­cal car­i­ca­tures uproot­ed from the cur­rent polit­i­cal cli­mate and used to poke fun at our human con­di­tion. This use was evo­lu­tion­ary, occur­ring over time, and as applic­a­ble today as it was over a cen­tu­ry ago.

See more of José Guadalupe Posada’s calav­eras in the Library of Con­gress’ Prints and Pho­tographs Divi­sion col­lec­tion.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Charlie Chaplin’s Final Speech in The Great Dictator: A Statement Against Greed, Hate, Intolerance & Fascism (1940)

The nar­row “tooth­brush mus­tache” caught on in the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, first in the Unit­ed States and soon there­after across the Atlantic. When Char­lie Chap­lin put one on for a film in 1914, he became its most famous wear­er — at least until Adolf Hitler rose to promi­nence a cou­ple of decades lat­er. By that point Chap­lin had become the most famous com­e­dy star in the world, which may have inspired the Nazi Par­ty leader, a known fan of Chap­lin’s work, to adopt the same mus­tache as a kind of tool of self-advance­ment. Chap­lin him­self could hard­ly have approved of his new dop­pel­gänger, and it trou­bled him to dis­cov­er their oth­er shared qual­i­ties: their births in April of 1889, their poor child­hoods, their love of Wag­n­er.

Still, as an invet­er­ate enter­tain­er, Chap­lin grasped the comedic poten­tial of his and Hitler’s par­al­lel icon­ic sta­tus. The result, released in 1940, was The Great Dic­ta­tor, his first gen­uine sound film. Chap­lin had con­tin­ued mak­ing silent pic­tures, and refin­ing his sig­na­ture visu­al humor, well into the era of “talkies.”

But he could only have done so much to ridicule Hitler, who had come to pow­er in large part through speech­es broad­cast over the radio, with­out being able to use his voice as well. Yet he deliv­ers his most mem­o­rable lines not in the role of Hitler sur­ro­gate Ade­noid Hynkel, but that of the unnamed Jew­ish bar­ber who — through, of course, sev­er­al absurd turns of events — ends up mis­tak­en for Hynkel and made to address the nation.

“I’m sor­ry, but I don’t want to be an emper­or,” says Chap­lin-as-the-Bar­ber-as-Hynkel. “That’s not my busi­ness. I don’t want to rule or con­quer any­one. I should like to help every­one — if pos­si­ble — Jew, Gen­tile, black man, white. We all want to help one anoth­er. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s hap­pi­ness, not by each other’s mis­ery.” Through­out the three-and-a-half-minute mono­logue, he speaks against “greed,” “clev­er­ness,” “nation­al bar­ri­ers,” and “the hate of men”; he advo­cates for “kind­ness and gen­tle­ness,” “uni­ver­sal broth­er­hood,” “a world of rea­son,” and “the love of human­i­ty.” These may not be espe­cial­ly pre­cise terms, but, know­ing his pub­lic well — much bet­ter, indeed, than Hitler ever knew his — Chap­lin also knew just when to go broad.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Did Hitler Rise to Pow­er? : New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Pro­vides a Case Study in How Fas­cists Get Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly Elect­ed

When Mahat­ma Gand­hi Met Char­lie Chap­lin (1931)

Carl Jung Psy­cho­an­a­lyzes Hitler: “He’s the Uncon­scious of 78 Mil­lion Ger­mans.” “With­out the Ger­man Peo­ple He’d Be Noth­ing” (1938)

When Char­lie Chap­lin Entered a Chap­lin Look-Alike Con­test & Came in 20th Place

The Famous Down­fall Scene Explained: What Real­ly Hap­pened in Hitler’s Bunker at the End?

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


Fascism!: The US Army Publishes a Pamphlet in 1945 Explaining How to Spot Fascism at Home and Abroad

Fas­cism is a word that’s been used a great deal these last few years,” says the arti­cle pic­tured above (scanned in full here at the Inter­net Archive). “We come across it in our news­pa­pers, we hear it in our news­reels, it comes up in our bull ses­sions.” Oth­er than the part about news­reels (today’s equiv­a­lent being our social-media feeds, or per­haps the videos put before our eyes by the algo­rithm), these sen­tences could well have been pub­lished today. Some see the fas­cist takeover of mod­ern-day democ­ra­cies as prac­ti­cal­ly immi­nent, while oth­ers argue that the con­cept itself has no mean­ing in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. But 78 years ago, when this issue of Army Talk came off the press, fas­cism was very much a going — and fear­some — con­cern.

“Begin­ning in 1943, the War Depart­ment pub­lished a series of pam­phlets for U.S. Army per­son­nel in the Euro­pean the­ater of World War II,” writes his­to­ri­an Heather Cox Richard­son. The mis­sion of Army Talks, in the pub­li­ca­tion’s own words, was to help its read­ers “become bet­ter-informed men and women and there­fore bet­ter sol­diers.”

Each issue includ­ed a top­ic for dis­cus­sion, and on March 25, 1945, that top­ic was fas­cism — or, as the head­line puts it, “FASCISM!” Under that ide­ol­o­gy, defined as “gov­ern­ment by the few and for the few,” a small group of polit­i­cal actors achieves “seizure and con­trol of the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al life of the state.” Such rul­ing class­es “per­mit no civ­il lib­er­ties, no equal­i­ty before the law. They make their own rules and change them when they choose. If you don’t like it, it’s ‘T.S.’ ”

Fas­cists come to pow­er, the text explains, in times of hard­ship, dur­ing which they promise “every­thing to every­one”: land to the farm­ers, jobs to the work­ers, cus­tomers and prof­its to the small busi­ness­men, elim­i­na­tion of small busi­ness­men to the indus­tri­al­ists, and so on. When this regime “under which every­thing not pro­hib­it­ed is com­pul­so­ry” inevitably fails to deliv­er a per­fect soci­ety, things turn vio­lent, both in the coun­try’s inter­nal strug­gles and in its con­flicts with oth­er pow­ers. To many Amer­i­cans at the time of World War II, this might seem like a whol­ly for­eign dis­or­der, liable to afflict only such dis­tant lands as Italy, Japan, and Ger­many. But a notion­al Amer­i­can fas­cism would look and feel famil­iar, work­ing “under the guise of ‘super-patri­o­tism’ and ‘super-Amer­i­can­ism.’ Fas­cist lead­ers are nei­ther stu­pid nor naïve. They know that they must hand out a line that ‘sells.’ ”

That some­one’s always try­ing to sell you some­thing in pol­i­tics — and even more so in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics — is as true in 2023 as it was in 1945. Though who­ev­er assumed back then that “it could­n’t hap­pen here” pre­sum­ably fig­ured that the Unit­ed States was too wealthy a soci­ety for fas­cist temp­ta­tions to gain a foothold. But even the most favor­able eco­nom­ic for­tunes can reverse, and “lots of things can hap­pen inside of peo­ple when they are unem­ployed or hun­gry. They become fright­ened, angry, des­per­ate, con­fused. Many, in their mis­ery, seek to find some­body to blame. They look for a scape­goat as a way out. Fas­cism is always ready to pro­vide one.” And not only fas­cism: polit­i­cal oppor­tunists of every stripe know full well the pow­er to be drawn from “the inse­cure and unem­ployed” look­ing for some­one on who “to pin the blame for their mis­for­tune” — and how easy it is to do so when no one else has a more appeal­ing vision of the future to offer.

You can see a scan of the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment here, and read the text here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Wal­ter Ben­jamin Explains How Fas­cism Uses Mass Media to Turn Pol­i­tics Into Spec­ta­cle (1935)

Sin­clair Lewis’ Chill­ing Play, It Can’t Hap­pen Here: A Read-Through by the Berke­ley Reper­to­ry The­atre

Hunter S. Thomp­son Gets in a Gun­fight with His Neigh­bor & Dis­pens­es Polit­i­cal Wis­dom: “In a Democ­ra­cy, You Have to Be a Play­er”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Martin Amis (RIP) Explains Why American Populism Is a Con

In the lat­er decades of his 50-year-long career as a nov­el­ist, the late Mar­tin Amis had a rep­u­ta­tion as some­thing of a con­tro­ver­sial­ist. This made more sense in his native Eng­land than in the Amer­i­ca to which he lat­er relo­cat­ed, and whose large­ly non-lit­er­ary provo­ca­teurs tend to an aggres­sive plain­spo­ken­ness bor­der­ing on — and more recent­ly, dri­ving well into the ter­ri­to­ry of — vul­gar­i­ty. “Intel­lec­tu­al snob­bery has been much neglect­ed,” says Amis in the Big Think inter­view clip above. His plea is for “more care about how peo­ple express them­selves and more rev­er­ence, not for peo­ple of high social stand­ing, but for peo­ple of decent edu­ca­tion and train­ing.”

This against pop­ulism, which “relies on a sen­ti­men­tal and very old-fash­ioned view that the une­d­u­cat­ed pop­u­la­tion knows bet­ter, in its instincts, than the over-refined elite, that leads to anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism, which is self-destruc­tive for every­one”: the lion­iza­tion, in oth­er words, of the kind of fig­ure giv­en to dec­la­ra­tions like “I go with my gut.”

In every oth­er land, as Amis sees it, “brain has won over gut, but in Amer­i­ca it still splits the nation.” It would be one thing if the vis­cera-trust­ing rab­ble-rousers actu­al­ly worked to fur­ther the inter­ests of the com­mon man, but in every real-world sce­nario it turns out to be quite anoth­er. “It’s an act, pop­ulism. It’s always an act.”

An admir­er of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy, Amis acknowl­edged the right to free speech as a vital ele­ment of that sys­tem. “You’ve got it or you haven’t,” he says in the clip just above, “and every diminu­tion of free­dom of speech dimin­ish­es every­one, and lessens the cur­ren­cy of free­dom of speech.” But he also lays down a caveat: “The con­tro­ver­sial state­ment has to be earned. It can’t just be tossed off. You have to be able to back it up.” He even describes him­self as “a fan of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” — of not “the out­er fringe P.C., but rais­ing the stan­dards about what can be said.” This process comes with its own chal­lenges, and “you have to sort of work round it a bit.” But since greater restric­tions demand, and reward, more skill­ful sub­tle­ty, an adept writer will always be of two minds about free speech. It will sure­ly be a while before we see anoth­er writer quite as adept as Mar­tin Amis.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Mar­tin Amis Explains His Method for Writ­ing Great Sen­tences

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Mar­tin Amis Explains How to Use a The­saurus to Actu­al­ly Improve Your Writ­ing

Nor­man Mail­er & Mar­tin Amis, No Strangers to Con­tro­ver­sy, Talk in 1991

P. J. O’Rourke (RIP) Explains Why You Can Nev­er Win Over Your Polit­i­cal Adver­saries by Mock­ing Them

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How The Parthenon Marbles Ended Up In The British Museum

Last month, we delved into a pro­pos­al to use dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to clone the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Mar­bles cur­rent­ly housed in the British Muse­um.

The hope is that such uncan­ny fac­sim­i­les might final­ly con­vince muse­um Trustees and the British gov­ern­ment to return the orig­i­nals to Athens.

Today, we’ll take a clos­er look at just how these trea­sures of antiq­ui­ty, known to many as the Elgin mar­bles, wound up so far afield.

The most obvi­ous cul­prit is Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, who ini­ti­at­ed the takeover while serv­ing as Britain’s ambas­sador to the Ottoman Empire from 1798–1803.

Pri­or to set­ting sail for this post­ing, he hatched a plan to assem­ble a doc­u­men­tary team who would sketch and cre­ate plas­ter molds of the Parthenon mar­bles for the even­tu­al edi­fi­ca­tion of artists and archi­tects back home. Bet­ter yet, he’d get the British gov­ern­ment to pay for it.

The British gov­ern­ment, eying the mas­sive price tag of such a pro­pos­al, passed.

So Elgin used some of his heiress wife’s for­tune to finance the project him­self, hir­ing land­scape painter Gio­van­ni Bat­tista Lusieri — described by Lord Byron as “an Ital­ian painter of the first emi­nence” —  to over­see a team of drafts­men, sculp­tors, and archi­tects.

As The Nerd­writer’s Evan Puschak notes above, polit­i­cal alliances and expan­sion­ist ambi­tion greased Lord Elgin’s wheels, as the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain found com­mon cause in their hatred of Napoleon.

British efforts to expel occu­py­ing French forces from Egypt gen­er­at­ed good will suf­fi­cient to secure the req­ui­site fir­man, a legal doc­u­ment with­out which Lusieri and the team would not have been giv­en access to the Acrop­o­lis.

The orig­i­nal fir­man has nev­er sur­faced, and the accu­ra­cy of what sur­vives — an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of an Ital­ian trans­la­tion — casts Elgin’s acqui­si­tion of the mar­bles in a very dubi­ous light.

Some schol­ars and legal experts have assert­ed that the doc­u­ment in ques­tion is a mere admin­is­tra­tive let­ter, since it appar­ent­ly lacked the sig­na­ture of Sul­tan Selim III, which would have giv­en it the con­trac­tu­al heft of a fir­man.

In addi­tion to giv­ing the team entry to Acrop­o­lis grounds to sketch and make plas­ter casts, erect scaf­fold­ing and expose foun­da­tions by dig­ging, the let­ter allowed for the removal of such sculp­tures or inscrip­tions as would not inter­fere with the work or walls of the Acrop­o­lis.

This implies that the team was to lim­it itself to wind­fall apples, the result of the heavy dam­age the Acrop­o­lis sus­tained dur­ing a 1687 mor­tar attack by Venet­ian forces.

Some of the dis­lodged mar­ble had been har­vest­ed for build­ing mate­ri­als or sou­venirs, but plen­ty of good­ies remained on the ground for Elgin and com­pa­ny to cart off.

In an arti­cle for Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine, Hel­lenist author Bruce Clark details how Elgin’s per­son­al assis­tant, cler­gy­man Philip Hunt, lever­aged Britain’s sup­port of the Ottoman Empire and anti-France posi­tion to blur these bound­aries:

See­ing how high­ly the Ottomans val­ued their alliance with the British, Hunt spot­ted an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a fur­ther, deci­sive exten­sion of the Acrop­o­lis project. With a nod from the sultan’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Athens—who at the time would have been scared to deny a Briton anything—Hunt set about remov­ing the sculp­tures that still adorned the upper reach­es of the Parthenon. This went much fur­ther than any­one had imag­ined pos­si­ble a few weeks ear­li­er. On July 31, the first of the high-stand­ing sculp­tures was hauled down, inau­gu­rat­ing a pro­gram of sys­tem­at­ic strip­ping, with scores of locals work­ing under Lusieri’s enthu­si­as­tic super­vi­sion.

Lusieri, whose admir­er Lord Byron became a furi­ous crit­ic of Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon mar­bles, end­ed his days believ­ing that his com­mit­ment to Lord Elgin ulti­mate­ly cost him an illus­tri­ous career as a water­col­orist.

He also con­ced­ed that the team had been “oblig­ed to be a lit­tle bar­barous”, a gross under­state­ment when one con­sid­ers their van­dal­ism of the Parthenon dur­ing the ten years it took them to make off with half of its sur­viv­ing trea­sures — 21 fig­ures from East and West ped­i­ments, 15 metope pan­els, and 246 feet of what had been a con­tin­u­ous nar­ra­tive frieze.

Clark notes that although Elgin suc­ceed­ed in relo­cat­ing them to British soil, he “derived lit­tle per­son­al hap­pi­ness from his anti­quar­i­an acqui­si­tions.”

After numer­ous logis­ti­cal headaches involved in their trans­port, he found him­self beg­ging the British gov­ern­ment to take them off his hands when an acri­mo­nious divorce land­ed him in finan­cial straits.

This time the British gov­ern­ment agreed, acquir­ing the lot for £35,000 — less than half of what Lord Elgin claimed to have shelled out for the oper­a­tion.

The so-called Elgin Mar­bles became part of the British Museum’s col­lec­tion in 1816, five years before the Greek War of Inde­pen­dence’s start.

They have been on con­tin­u­al dis­play ever since.

The 21st-cen­tu­ry has wit­nessed a num­ber of world class muse­ums rethink­ing the prove­nance of their most sto­ried arti­facts. In many cas­es, they have elect­ed to return them to their land of ori­gin.

Greece has long called for the Parthenon mar­bles in the British Muse­um to be per­ma­nent­ly repa­tri­at­ed to Athens, but thus­far muse­um Trustees have refused.

In their opin­ion, it’s com­pli­cat­ed.

Is it though? Lord Elgin’s ulti­mate moti­va­tions might have been, and Bruce Clark, in a bril­liant nin­ja move, sug­gests that the return could be viewed as a pos­i­tive strip­ping away, atone­ment by way of get­ting back to basics:

Sup­pose that among his mix­ture of motives—personal aggran­dize­ment, rival­ry with the French and so on—the wel­fare of the sculp­tures actu­al­ly had been Elgin’s pri­ma­ry con­cern. How could that pur­pose best be served today? Per­haps by plac­ing the Acrop­o­lis sculp­tures in a place where they would be extreme­ly safe, extreme­ly well con­served and superbly dis­played for the enjoy­ment of all? The Acrop­o­lis Muse­um, which opened in 2009 at the foot of the Parthenon, is an ide­al can­di­date; it was built with the goal of even­tu­al­ly hous­ing all of the sur­viv­ing ele­ments of the Parthenon frieze…. If the earl real­ly cared about the mar­bles, and if he were with us today, he would want to see them in Athens now.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Restores the Orig­i­nal Col­ors to Ancient Stat­ues

Robots Are Carv­ing Repli­cas of the Parthenon Mar­bles: Could They Help the Real Ancient Sculp­tures Return to Greece?

John Oliver’s Show on World-Class Art Muse­ums & Their Loot­ed Art: Watch It Free Online

Take a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tour of the World’s Stolen Art

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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