“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
First of all, let’s announce the good news. Professor David Hawkes has declared war on the forces of anti-Logos in our age, telling us that the “profound hostility to logos,” which “permeates every aspect of modern and especially postmodern culture” is “only the latest in a long historical series of dialectical clashes between logos and eidolon.”1 Eidolon is the Greek word for idol, which is his word for graven images of the sort which should be immediately smashed. Professor Hawkes’ book announces his engagement with the forces of anti-Logos, but does this mean that he supports the Logos? His attack on eidolon gives us some indication of where his sympathies lie, which is another way of saying that Professor Hawkes is an iconoclast in the 16th century meaning of that term.
If conservatism is invariably a defunct revolutionary movement, viewed through the lens of nostalgia, as a way of dealing with the revolutionary spirit’s most recent manifestation, the one currently in power, then David Hawkes is a revolutionary conservative. In this Hawkes is not unlike Edmund Burke, who opposed the French Revolution by being a supporter of the Glorious Revolution in England. When Mary Wollstonecraft, the proto-feminist, asked how far back in English history Burke’s conservatism was willing to go, and whether he was willing to return to the time when Englishmen worshipped bread as God, no answer was forthcoming.
We can say something similar about David Hawkes, whose position is based on an amalgam of obsolete revolutionary movements. He is a nominalist, an iconoclast in the tradition of Andreas Karlstadt and Leo Jud, and a paleo-Marxist who hates the Foucaudian transformation of economic conflict over the means of production which characterized proto-Marxism into the sexual identity politics which characterizes left wing politics in academe today.
Hawkes is also an English professor at the University of Arizona who has been fighting a losing rear-guard action against the queer studies and critical race theorists who have turned our universities into one big Cambodian re-education camp where students squat in the hot sun chanting incomprehensible phrases from Gramsci, Foucault, Joe Buttigieg and a host of lesser lights in the grand climactic battle against Logos in our day. Hawkes is annoyed that “first women, then African-Americans, then homosexuals and, most recently, the queer movement in general, have replaced the working class as the vanguard promoted by revolutionary intellectuals,”2 and his book is an attempt to settle that score. Hawkes is determined to turn back the clock to a time before classical Marxism was superseded as the avant garde of the revolutionary spirit in human history. That moment happened when “the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci . . . first distinguished between the ‘war of position’ (a struggle for physical control of state institutions like parliament, police, and the armed forces) and the ‘war of maneuver,’ a battle for cultural influence in such institutions of ‘civil society’ as the church, the media, the creative arts, and the education system.”3 By the time Hawkes became an English professor at the University of Arizona, “Gramsci’s ‘war of maneuver’ within the cultural institutions of Anglo-American capitalism had effectively been won,” and Hawkes, who had studied English literature under the classical Marxist Terry Eagleton, found himself “marginalized,” along with a “proletariat, whose institutional and ideological power had been decisively crushed over the same period.”4 Thanks to academic interpreters and translators like Cornell West and Joseph Buttigieg, Gramsci got weaponized against the communists themselves as racial and sexual minorities shoved the proletariat aside as the main beneficiaries of a marginality which had become “an end-in-itself.”5
By leaving Michel Foucault out of this equation, Hawkes misses an important fact contributing to this marginalization, namely, the capitalist class’s embrace of sexual liberation. This embrace on the part of both the financial oligarchs, symbolized best by the Rockefellers, and the New Left, symbolized best by the neoconservative David Horowitz, then got weaponized and codified by the CIA, who began studying Foucault in the 1980s. With the collaboration of Buttigieg pere at Notre Dame, the government’s intelligence agencies combined with government funding created the current unwritten constitution of academe, which was then able to engrain in three successive generations the motto of the new regime, which was “Give us unlimited sexual liberation, and we will become docile wage slaves and won’t trouble the oligarchs with demands for economic justice.” This shift of emphasis from decent wages for the working man who needs to support a family to discos and set-asides for queers who are controlled by their sexual compulsions is one of the main reasons why the homosexual replaced the worker as the avant garde of the revolutionary movement in our day.
As Hawkes correctly notes, Buttigieg pere et fils played a major role in this transformation. Gramsci, according to Buttigieg pere, who wormed his way onto an endowed chair at Notre Dame University on the basis of a warmed over doctoral dissertation on James Joyce which retailed all of the modernist cliches he would later ridicule, used “the phenomenon of marginality” to dispossess the proletariat, which had always proven to be ideologically feckless and more interested in banal issues like higher wages, and handed their banner over to truly “marginal” groups like homosexuals, whose war against nature was better suited to the ontology of revolution, as E. M. Forster had pointed out in his homosexual novel Maurice.
The man who carried the Gramscian virus out of its academic host and into the world of national politics was Buttigieg fils, a man Hawkes rightly characterizes as someone who “could not be less interested in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. To the contrary, Buttigieg Jr. is deeply committed to consolidating the rule of financial capital. He is just as committed to furthering the assimilation of homosexuality into mainstream culture. The obvious question raised by his candidacy is the nature of the connection between these commitments.”
Having lost that war, Hawkes has been forced to conduct a rearguard action from the academic equivalent of the caves in Okinawa after World War II. But in the 1520s, Hawkes would have been fighting on the front lines of the revolutionary movement, at the side of Thomas Muenzer in the Bauernaufstand. Without losing his place at the heart of the struggle, he then could have migrated north to Muenster, where in the 1530s with Jan Bookelzoon, the tailor king as his spiritual guide, he would have joined forces with the horny nuns and priests who flocked to Bookelzoon’s banner in support of the communality of property (but perhaps not the communality of wives) as a proto-Marxist avant la lettre. Hawkes would have then joined with Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli in their attack on the Catholic notion of transubstantiation. Finally, as an iconoclast he would have picked up a crowbar and engaged in the Beeldenstorm in Antwerp in 1566 after having had his mind wrecked by the Scholasticism of William of Ockham, from whom he received the final component of his eclectic identity as a nominalist.
Let’s deal with Hawkes’ multiple personalities one at a time. Hawkes’ defense of the Iconoclasm of the radical “Schwaermer” Andreas Karlstadt gives some indication of how deeply Hawkes has internalized the thought of the radical Protestant Reformers of the 16th century. In his tract On the Removal of Images, which appeared in 1522, five years after the beginning of the Reformation:
Andreas Karlstadt claimed that religious images exerted an objective effect on the soul of the observer. Karlstadt’s On the Removal of Images (1522) claimed that “images bring death to those who worship and venerate them” on the grounds that: “Pictures are loathsome. It follows that we also become loathsome when we love them.” He mocks the popular practice of making ex voto offerings to religious images, in order to thank them for their beneficent actions, as a form of sympathetic magic, and therefore also of idolatry: You bring them wax offerings in the form of your afflicted legs, arms, eyes, head, feet, hands, cows, calves, oxen, tools, house, court, fields, meadows, and the like, just as if the pictures had healed your legs, arms, eyes, heads, etc. or had bestowed upon you fields, meadows, houses, honours and possessions. Therefore you confess other gods. Karlstadt’s thought was structured around a rigid polarity between logos and eidolon.6
Unlike Pope Gregory the Great, who described sacred images as “the books of the poor,” Hawkes refers to them as idols without really explaining why, substituting fulmination for explanation. “How,” Karlstadt wonders, “can a piece of wood or a lump of stone teach? It may well be decorated with silver or gold, but there is no spirit in it.”7 If he had studied the great achievement of Italian art since the time of Giotto, Karlstadt could have answered that question for himself instead of posing it rhetorically. By the time Karlstadt wrote his treatise, Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgement had adorned the walls of the Sistine Chapel for ten years, but the nude figures which comprised its dramatic tableau as well as the inclusion of pagan themes like Charon ferrying souls across the River Styx had caused controversy even among the notoriously tolerant Italians.
Hawkes could have contextualized Karlstadt’s iconoclasm by taking his objections to the sexuality in Italian images more seriously. Instead of mentioning the crisis which sensual realism had caused in Italian art and the Italians’ discernment in solving that problem, Hawkes ignores the bigger issue and uncritically adopts the iconoclast point of view because it supports his war on eidolon:
Images were . . . dangerous because they enticed people to worship them using a quasi-sexual appeal to the senses. Thus Karlstadt warns “we can be violated by them in an instant,” and calls them “knavish and seductive blocks of wood” which must be “driven” from the churches “under pain of appropriate punishment.” He also claims that “in many places the godless commit whoredom with images as whores do with youths.” Idolatry was itself a sexual perversion, so that “all who venerate images or seek help from them or worship them are whores and adulterous women” and “churches in which images are placed and venerated ought in all fairness to be regarded as whorehouses.”8
Five years after Karlstadt wrote his tract, Lutheran mercenaries stabled their horses in the Sistine chapel after the sack of Rome. Karlstadt’s fulminations against the sensuality of images prepared them to do this and paved the way for more iconoclasm when they returned home to Germany full of lurid tales about decadent Italian art. Karlstadt’s tract indicates familiarity with the crisis which sensuality had caused in Italian painting, as well as the Reformers’ eagerness to use that crisis as a pretext to break with the Church. The Reformers needed the collaboration of the princes to make that break, and they were avid supporters of the reformed party because of their desire to appropriate Church property. You would think that Hawkes the Marxist would be aware of the real cause of the Reformation, which was the desire to steal Church property, because Karl Marx clearly understood this when he claimed that Capitalism began with theft, but unfortunately, Hawkes’ adoption of Protestant categories prevents him from mentioning this.
In response to the iconoclasm which swept Germany in the wake of Karlstadt’s treatise, the Council of Trent issued a statement on sacred images during their final session in 1563 urging the bishops to use sacred images to teach the faith, because:
by means of the histories of the mysteries of our Redemption, portrayed by paintings or other representations, the people are instructed, and confirmed in [the habit of] remembering, and continually revolving in mind the articles of faith; as also that great profit is derived from all sacred images, not only because the people are thereby admonished of the benefits and gifts bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the miracles which God has performed by means of the saints, and their salutary examples, are set before the eyes of the faithful; that so they may give God thanks for those things; may order their own lives and manners in imitation of the saints; and may be excited to adore and love God, and to cultivate piety.9
Many found the statement disappointing because “the decree lacked specificity concerning both subject matter and style.”10 The Council’s prescriptions on sacred art were, however, kept deliberately vague because two of the main implementers of the Council, Federico Borromeo and his more famous uncle Carlo before him, believed that individual bishops should interpret the decree in light of the situation in their respective dioceses in order to define for themselves the appropriate content and appearance of sacred art. The example of Gabriele Cardinal Paleotti, Bishop of Bologna, who wrote his Discourse on Sacred and Profane Images to deal with licentious pictures as part of the Church’s plan to rehabilitate the moral and didactic value of works of art, showed that the implementation of the document was much more specific than the document itself and deliberately so. The reforms inaugurated by Federico Borromeo would show the same sort of specificity, but their results were not immediate. The short-term reaction to the Council of Trent was violent rejection.
As if in defiant response to the Council’s decree on art, a mob of Dutch Calvinists, German Anabaptists, and English hooligans attacked the Cathedral in Antwerp on August 20, 1566, igniting a wave of iconoclasm known as the Beeldenstorm, which swept north and east, all but obliterating the patrimony of sacred art in the Netherlands. According to Richard Clough, a Welsh Protestant merchant living in Antwerp at time, the Church of Our Lady “looked like a hell, with above 10,000 torches burning, and such a noise as if heaven and earth had got together, with falling of images and beating down of costly works, such sort that the spoil was so great that a man could not well pass through the church. So that in fine, I cannot write you in x sheets of paper the strange sight I saw there, organs and all destroyed.”11 Nicolas Sander, an English Catholic exile who was a professor of theology at Leuven, witnessed the destruction of the same church, standing by helplessly as:
these fresh followers of this new preaching threw down the graven [sculpted] and defaced the painted images, not only of Our Lady but of all others in the town. They tore the curtains, dashed in pieces the carved work of brass and stone, brake the altars, spoilt the clothes and corporesses, wrested the irons, conveyed away or brake the chalices and vestiments, pulled up the brass of the gravestones, not sparing the glass and seats which were made about the pillars of the church for men to sit in. … the Blessed Sacrament of the altar … they trod under their feet and (horrible it is to say!) shed their stinking piss upon it … these false bretheren burned and rent not only all kind of Church books, but, moreover, destroyed whole libraries of books of all sciences and tongues, yea the Holy Scriptures and the ancient fathers, and tore in pieces the maps and charts of the descriptions of countries.12
This is the sort of behavior Hawkes defends in his book, but iconoclasm is only one of his identities.
[…] This is just an excerpt from the April 2021 Issue of Culture Wars magazine. To read the full article, please purchase a digital download of the magazine, or become a subscriber!