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Mark Twain and “the nigger question”

Updated: Jul 17



While we are on the subject of American classics—or, rather, the books and films that Americans are told to regard as classics; and who decides what is “a classic” exactly?—let us deal with Mark Twain. Superficially, you might think that Twain is a reactionary; for his books are often cited in polls, possibly spurious, as are most polls, of the “most banned” or “challenged” books in American schools and libraries—and the presumption is that Twain is challenged for suspicious and inegalitarian views on race. The case is quite the contrary.


Who was Mark Twain? He was a staunch atheist and, to judge from his writings, a bitter and sneery person; he had a fantastic contempt for people, and his own style was not elegant or beautiful. In short, I submit that he was a man, for his time, very much in keeping with what is known as American progressivism, with the general direction in which America was moving. After all, he wrote in the mid-to-late 1800s; he was on the scene relatively late. Twain’s “crime”, as with many other leftists, was to be overtaken by the general religious movement within leftism and so become out-group, it is a fate that plain reactionaries avoid; leftists who breach taboos are demonised, even retrospectively—reactionaries are ignored and forgotten.


Tom Sawyer is meant to be the typical American boy, the archetypal American boy. Tom Sawyer is a liar: he is a cheat, lazy, a womaniser, impious, and sadistic. He has a healthy contempt for school, and that is about the only good thing to be said about him. He hangs around with another reprobate, Huckleberry Finn, and a black boy, “Nigger Jim”. Now, you might say that there is no mileage in virtuous characters in fiction; it is only the devilish ones who interest—and yet…there is no need to make a character sadistic.


Sawyer takes delight when his cousin is blamed for a crime; and Twain accurately depicts a human emotion, pleasure in another’s troubles, schadenfreude, and yet we are meant to sympathise with Sawyer—with the boy who takes pleasure in another’s pain. Sawyer is an orphan; we do not know how—he lives with his aunt, and perhaps her sister was some shameless hussy; perhaps he was born from corruption, we know the type. My view is that Sawyer and Huck are bad boys, bad examples; they are not people you want to be, not really; and I do not even think they are fun, but I think that those intellectuals who think they know what fun is tell us to like them.


Twain’s case is similar to Rudyard Kipling; for Kipling is now jeered at as some arch-racist and bigot, and yet his work is full of appeals for racial sensitivity and decency; he was an active and vocal liberal. As usual, it is the older iteration of leftism that is demonised; the new heresy abominates the old heresy. Reactionaries are, so to speak, “not even wrong” as far as the religion goes: the observations they make are so far outside the religious norms that they are generally ignored; truth is invisible, it has no status function.


I return again to the novel Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836); it defends responsibility and private property, and even features a black character in a “questionable” role relative to a young white protagonist—yet nobody talks about it, even though it was once popular; not even to criticise or critically reassess it as part of an academic exercise. It is not talked about because it does not figure in the leftist purity spiral; it contradicts too many assumptions.


The story tells how a boy is born to a leftist family; the father believes in the abolition of private property, and he venerates “the rights of man”; as does his son, but his son has the fortune to join the Royal Navy. There he learns about personal responsibility and private property; he becomes a successful privateer, restores the family estate, and gets the girl. As you can see, the novel makes it quite clear to the contemporary reader that liberalism—the spirit of the French Revolution—is just communism; Midshipman Easy’s father wants to do away with private property; it is the same game all over again, liberals are communists; and this is probably why the regime wants novels like this forgotten—too many obvious truths are pointed out in it.


Interestingly, the novel’s author, himself a former naval captain by the name of Frederick Marryat, was also very acute as to the real character of people who profess leftist ideas. Midshipman Easy’s father eventually goes mad and employs very nasty criminal servants that ruin his estate—shades of Stalin, I think. Despite his repeatedly expressed desire to do good for mankind, the elder Easy is obsessed with phrenology—the mapping of lumps and bumps on the head, said to relate to character—in the hope that he can, through adequate pressure on the bumps, remove man’s benevolence. The parallel to leftist scientism, so familiar even today, is clear; but what makes Marryat even more acute is that he understands the true motivation behind the leftist’s ideology; not to help mankind, but to destroy what genuine capacity for benevolence man does enjoy. It is a view little expressed; the left is really motivated by a hatred for man, and this is why the novel is forgotten—it is too dangerous even to condemn it, lest it be brought to everyone’s attention through the Streisand effect.


In contrast to Marryat, Twain and Kipling, being older leftists, are recognisable in intent and can be painted as “heretics”. Consequently, novels like Midshipman Easy are memory-holed, there are no movies or television adaptations of these works, really the only way the mass public knows these stories now—the story is not even controversial. I suspect, really, that the only books worth having, the only valuable books, are either in private hands known to a few people or have been destroyed—anything you can actually buy in our rather distorted economy is either neutral in effect or actively harmful to your perception of the world.


But what about “nigger”? This is what mostly springs to mind with Twain; it is his supposed crime today, and has been for at least thirty years—if not more. Now, the word “nigger” has always been low status, or has been so for over 150 years; but the rationale for its low status has changed somewhat over time. When Twain used it extensively in the 19th century it shocked people; his act was transgressive, and you would expect that—his characters are generally transgressive and anti-social. The grounds for the word’s condemnation were politeness and vulgarity, not ideology. Contemporary conservatives excuse Twain, “It was the times.” No, the times were as they always were; perverts gonna perv. What Twain produced in the 1870s was considered a shock to sensibilities at that moment; unfit for women, boys, and girls—and he would have shocked sensibilities in any age.


Twain’s relation to race is, in fact, not so different to the contemporary progressives of which he is an ancestor. Twain wants to be best friends with black people, as Huck and Tom are with Nigger Jim, so much so that he can use their patois freely; he is “in”—they let him do it. It is narcissistic; an element in the white saviour complex: I can transcend racial tensions to such a degree, through goodwill or ideology, that I can actually act in ways considered “racist”, because I have, to use contemporary jargon, “done the work”.


The relation to “nigger” has changed over the centuries for people of Twain’s sort, the taboo has changed; and yet the general outlook is the same. Tom Sawyer is “best friends” with the slave, though the slave is actually treated as his inferior—and white liberals who support BLM think the same today. They are also transgressive and anti-social people, except today they say “fuck” in a post on Medium instead of Twain’s “nigger” in a novel—a more permissible transgression within their value system, within their counter-signal against what is generally taken to be normal. Otherwise, nothing has changed: liberals see themselves as the black man’s best friend and protector, while their actual policies stymie his progress.


They are still playing at being best friends with Nigger Jim, while calling him Nigger Jim—obviously, they are not his friends; people who call you “Nigger Jim” are not really your friends. Indeed, Robin DiAngelo—a noted theorist of so-called white supremacy and, unfortunately, a tireless anti-racism campaigner—has recently admitted that one of her first acts in her crusade against racism was to visit a black friend’s house for dinner and recount to the family all the racially-charged things her family had ever said; in other words, she turned up and insulted a black family in the guise of anti-racism.


Again, we see similar shades—no joke—of this attitude in Kipling’s Kim, in which a white Anglo-Indian lad seamlessly integrates with the natives. Kipling started life as a journalist, Kipling was leftist; he suffered from the same narcissism as Twain, whom he sought out on a pilgrimage. He thought he could literally be another race—be one of the real niggas, and so do anything he wished…After he visited Twain, Kipling produced an article that described how all the viceroys and ambassadors in Washington would be jealous—envious, to use his exact words—that he had visited Twain, while they “merely” had their occupations. You get the picture: Kipling and Twain both had viceroy envy—and it shows in their work, especially in their approaches to race.


This is what the progressive desires; he retains the assumed racial superiority over the black man, yet acts as if he is his closest friend and equal—though this is mainly to demonstrate a change in his status position to other whites: “I know they are lower, yet I treat them as higher; with status to burn, I can lower myself.” People who indulge in this behaviour also get a certain frisson from the idea that they can now say “nigga”, perhaps even “nigger” in front of a black; and they can do so because, supposedly, they have made the approach in the correct way. This is probably more in the realm of fantasy than reality; possible only with an ideologically corralled middle-class black, if at all—but a great status move if possible, to be able to say what nobody else can say and yet remain orthodox within in-group ideology. It is this mentality, still prevalent today, that is given expression in Twain’s works.


Nigger Jim is an escaped slave; and Twain approves. Progressives: we will free the slaves so they can play the fool and we can mock them—although we will claim to be best pals with them at the same time, and quite determined to help them escape their wicked masters. Hm. Here we see more clearly what slavery’s end really meant: the transfer of property from private owners to the state—the state has been the master of black Americans since the Civil War, and it has been a bad master; it is indifferent and cruel. Eventually, through various perverse twists in incentives, it has come to actively degrade them. The intermediate stage, as depicted by Twain, saw the slaves roam free—exposed to maximum suffering and death, and occasional ridicule from deviant children.


Indeed, for a prolonged period Huck and Tom keep Jim in ignorance as to the fact that he is free; they have crossed the state line and he is under a different jurisdiction. Instead, to please themselves, they keep him in ignorance to satisfy their various narcissistic games. This shows the attitude in play; Nigger Jim has escape his legitimate masters, whether cruel or kind, but has merely swapped them out for two irresponsible errant schoolboys, a bad deal. The entire process relies on those like Twain who encourage people to become “best buddies” with Nigger Jim. “Lordee, but you do be good to ‘awl niggah Jim, massah Huck.” “Yes, Jim. We do. Really.”


The real reason Twain is challenged in schools and libraries is not to do with “nigger” exclusively, though this may often play a role—it is that his books present bad behaviour as desirable. Twain was “frequently challenged” from day one, because he presented negative behaviour as desirable. We should ask, in fact, how Twain came to be on the syllabi for so many in schools in the first place. The left has long run the schools and libraries, so Twain is there because they put him there. They want to teach children to be Tom Sawyer: a liar, a cheat, and a criminal who takes advantage of escaped slaves. When they eat Twain, they eat their own. Parents, decent parents anyway, do not want their children to be Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn; two boys who want to light out for the territory—because they are criminals on the lam.

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