The Last of the Romantics

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 13, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI met Sophia Chote once but was enchanted her intellectual sophistication and emotional maturity of her columns. Her writing reminded me of the qualities that one found in the thinkers of the romantic movement of the nineteenth century: a belief in democracy and republicanism; an appreciation for the sublime and transcendence; and most of all, a belief in the power of imagination.

Two weeks ago Chote wrote her last column for the Express. She reminded us of the dissimulation that takes place at the governmental level and the banal aspects of social media that “is filled with junk news about ‘celebrities,’ rank consumerism, meaningless diatribes, polluted environments and so on.”

She also objected to archaic legislative policies and a “slavish adherence to practices which are not necessary or suitable.” She warned legislators about developing the habit “of the unreflecting herd,” begged them to vote “according to conscience” and, occasionally, to ask “their leaders hard questions (publicly) about the impact of government policies on their constituents.”

Martin Daly also underscored the need for a new dawn. He expressed his regret about how our politicians receive criticism and emphasize the need for our leaders to back off the authoritarian manner in which they lead.

He says: “The Minister (Terrence Deyalsingh) belongs to a government whose primary response to challenge, criticism and even to specific proposals, is frequently to take offence. This response takes the form of snarling, accompanied by an immediate attempt to represent the perceived offender, whether an individual or a representative body as unimportant, uninformed, contemptible or malicious” (Express, June 28).

He reminded us of a former prime minister who complained, in the words of the Mighty Sparrow, “Who is not with me, is my enemy. Who give you the privilege to get up and object? Pay your taxes, shut up and have respect. When I talk, no damn dog bark.”

Even Keith Rowley got into the authoritarian and dictatorial mode when he warned: “I will not forgive Tobagonians if they Progressive Democratic Party political Winston Duke to Parliament.” Wasn’t Kwame Nkrumah elected to the Ghanaian parliament while he was imprisoned?

Chote and Daly comments allowed me to reflect on a Facebook post (June 15) that Fitzgerald Hinds offered in response to my article, “Be careful How You treat Black People.” He described my article as “a hotheaded attempt to denigrate the PNM and its leadership,” called it part of my “vooping know-it- all arrogance,” a figment of my “UNC-affected mind,” “dirty rubbish” and “misguided lies.” That was before the public disruption a week ago.

He called me “Selout Selwyn” even though I do not know who I sold out to and for how much. He praised his leader: “I have absolutely no fear for Dr. Keith Rowley! I trust him! I respect him big time! I find him to be shoulder to shoulder only with my deceased father, as being hard-wired on principle.”

Still, I do not understand how Hinds includes so many personal insults in a 400-word post but little reasoned intellectual response to the conditions in which Black people find themselves? Moreover, does Hinds’ insults help young people under his care to realize their better selves? Is there any difference between physical and verbal violence?

As deputy political leader, Hinds is responsible for bringing the PNM members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and local government representatives together to discuss legislative matters on a monthly basis. Does he bring this low level of intelligence to his leadership responsibilities?

Incidentally, could Hinds tell us when last he convened a meeting of the various members of government branches under his purview as the PNM constitution calls for?

There have been different modes of intellectual leadership within the PNM. C. L. R. James wrote PNM Go Forward when he broke with Williams and A. N. R. Robinson penned The Mechanics of Independence (MIT Press). Does Hinds or his fellow ministers find intellectual inspiration from any of his former party stalwarts?

De Wilton Rogers, former education secretary of the PNM, was a devoted party member until he differed with Dr. Williams’s leadership style. He noted that Williams began to abuse his role as party leader as early as 1957 when he “assumed the function of Social Brain” in the party.

He outlined the characteristics of the Social Brain: “The Social Brain must think for all.” It has “the monopoly of thinking not only for the millions of its subjects…(but) reserves the right to think for the present generation (as well as) the future generation.”

The Social Brains arrogates to itself “omnipotence, infallibility and even impeccability…It thinks of itself as the party (and) draws around itself a moronic band of rejects to form the Cabinet” (The Rise of the People’s National Movement).

Hinds has every right to abase himself at the feet of his leader and endow him with divine powers but he should not expect others to follow. Some of us treasure our ability to think for ourselves and to act as responsible human beings. We do not believe that the privileges of the powerful are divine and property is an eternal right.

One hopes that Hinds and his friends free themselves from the herd mentality of which George Orwell spoke and refrain from melting into that larger annihilating Social Brain against which Rogers warned us. Trinbagonians deserve better from our leaders.

I hope Chote remains a romantic who is always activated by her dreams of a more humane society. Her articles allowed us to reflect on what matters in our crazy world while her resplendent humanity has been a source of enormous encouragement to many of us. May she continue to whatever brings her happiness.

2 thoughts on “The Last of the Romantics”

  1. The words of Mr.Francisco Slinger are ‘right on time’. He tells it all in “Prophets of Doom and Gloom’. Nothing has changed. Little is likely to change.

  2. Selwyn Cudjoe begins with the protocol expected of all black journalists in the Trinidad Express, praise one rather mediocre journalist as the “last of the romantics”, bash Dr. Eric Williams, he’s the “social brain” who must “think for all” and who arrogates for himself “omnipotence, infallibility…” I think the piece is interesting because it gives us an insight into Cudjoe’s own psychological architecture. The last of the romantics, interesting idea but what was the Romantic Movement? And who has been called the “last of the romantics”? We can think of three broad streams of epistemologies emanating from Europe after the Enlightenment – Empiricism, based on empirical data; Rationalism, based on the process of reasoning and Romanticism, based on feeling or passion. So Romanticism is a kind of counter-Enlightenment, it placed feeling and emotion above the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, it is Friedrich Nietzsche who has been called by many “the last of the romantics”. It is to these “romantics” that psychology owes a great debt, because what they said was how we interpret the world, what we say about it, is based not on our rational understanding of the world, but on our feelings and emotions. We should look not at our rational processes, but on our subconscious and unconscious. So the Freudian psychologist looks at our actions and asks – behind all this rationalization, what is really motivating this? That’s where Nietzsche comes in. What Nietzsche sees as motivating all our actions is what lies prior to rationality, the will to power. And here Nietzsche sees two types – the higher human beings and the herd. The will to power drives both types but in one type the will to power is expressive of genius, in the other the will to power is checked, it is frustrated and the result is ressentiment. “Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one’s own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be “blamed” for one’s own inferiority/failure.” So here is the explanation for all that bashing of Dr. Eric Williams, as given by the Romantic Movement and “last of the romantics” himself – the ressentiment felt against the genius of Dr. Eric Williams. So there are many labels applied – “social brain”, “arrogant”, and many other epithets, they are all a reflection of that feeling of inferiority that make many who are unwilling to acknowledge greatness, fall back into ressentiment and smallness. And for Nietzsche, the last romantic, this is what greatness entails “being noble, wanting to be by oneself, being able to be different, standing alone and having to live independently.” That and all the ressentiment it inspires.

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