New Introduction to “Romantic Total Revolution” (2017)
“A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thought of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts …. The poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” —Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry”
Prophets, in the modern sense of the word, have never existed…. Every honest individual is a Prophet; he or she utters their opinion both of private & public matters…. A Prophet is a Seer, not an Arbitrary Dictator. —Blake
"Other states indicate themselves and their deputies … but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures … but always and most in the common people …. Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest …. Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall…. The Americans of all nations at any time on the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature." —Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas”
“But ‘vision’ is also used in another sense, as when one talks about an aesthetic vision or religious vision. In this second meaning, it is the imaginative, not the descriptive, element that is uppermost…. We can easily dispose of the possibility that political theorists were unaware that they were injecting imagination or fancy into their theories. There are too many testimonials to their self-awareness on this score. Rather, they believed that fancy, exaggeration, even extravagance, sometimes permit us to see things that are not otherwise apparent. The imaginative element has played a role in political philosophy similar to that Coleridge assigned to imagination in poetry, an ‘esemplastic’ power that ‘forms all into one graceful intelligent whole’…. Fancy neither proves nor disproves; it seeks, instead, to illuminate, to help us become wiser about political things. The same time, most political thinkers have believed imagination to be a necessary element in theorizing because they have recognize that, in order to render political phenomenon intellectually manageable, they must be presented in what we can call ‘a corrected fullness’…. Imagination is the theorist’s means for understanding a world he can never ‘know’ in an intimate way.” —Sheldon S. Wolin, “Vision and Political Imagination”
Since this musical essay series for Independence Day was first broadcast back in 2010, there is for the GS today, with the election of Trump as president of the USA and thus the dire state of our “democracy,” a strong sense of urgency—“there is no time.” Given such, the GS felt compelled to dig into the Tower of Song archives and retrieve the musical essay series entitled “Romantic 'Total Revolution': The Democracy of Soul & The Goddess of Liberty,” which was last broadcast on radio for Independence Day 2015. Now more than ever the GS feels an urgency that our citizens be reminded of the promise and hope of what America represented to the world in the “Age of Revolution” during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Therefore, with this essay series for the Fourth of July, the GS will see America as essentially an idea, a vision or dream. It is a musical essay on the imagination of America that explores the relationship of poetry and politics, as seen through the eyes of visionaries both in Europe (Tocqueville and Blake) and America (Emerson and Whitman). Here the GS brings attention to what he calls “Romantic Total Revolution,” which fused together mythopoetics and politics; that is, the poetic tradition of imagination and the political tradition of democracy.
In other words, this musical essay for Independence Day is about those political visionaries who gave voice to the deeper democratic life of the people and sang the “Song of Liberty” (Blake) in past dark times. Thus, this musical essay would serve, in a period that has been recently diagnosed as “an epidemic of hopelessness,” to remind the GS’s fellow citizens of the visions/dreams of America’s higher ideals and possibilities. The main concern of this musical essay, then, given the desperate state of our “democracy” today, is to recall, through Romantic dreamers such as Blake, Emerson and Whitman, the archaic, visionary, and ecstatic roots of American democracy from its near oblivion. To that end, the GS sees it in harmony with the same project as the Romantic Essay of the nineteenth century: “to revive in the reader the original passionate response of hope and conviction of justice, and the human passion for justice and for faith in the victory of the good.”
“Democracy is the religion of the west and perhaps the greatest religion that the west has produced because it affirms other religions. Most religions have a lot of trouble affirming other religions. A great religion affirms other religions and a great culture affirms other cultures, and democracy is a faith, and it is an ideal and I think it is the greatest expression of western experience, this notion that there is a fraternity of men and women is a very, very high idea. It involves a deep, deep appetite that cannot be denied.” (Leonard Cohen, CBC Radio Interview, August 26, 1995)