A new study has come up with unsurprising confirmation that bullies actually derive pleasure from hurting people or seeing them in pain, the New York Times reports. The great novelist Anthony Burgess pointed out the dangers of assuming that the presence of such impulses absolves individuals of responsibility for their actions.
The Times‘ conclusion is certainly a truism, as anyone who grew up among other human beings has observed that some people just like to hurt others. Nonetheless, I suppose it is good to get scientific confirmation of the fact, for those who just have to doubt everything.
What is of immense importance, however, is what we do with such insights. As Anthony Burgess illustrated in his classic novel A Clockwork Orange, during the twentieth century the impulse was to treat evil actions as if they were simply manifestations of diseases, not choices. Throughout most of human history, on the other hand, people have assumed otherwise.
Burgess’s novel sees the "therapeutic state" as an atrocity in which an all-powerful government "cures" criminals instead of exacting retribution on them. This policy destroys freedom of the will and turns the entire government into a criminal enterprise under the protection of "rehabilitated" thugs.
All of this was done, Burgess’s novel makes clear, in an attempt to relieve the state from assigning moral responsibility to individuals—an avoidance of social responsibility that has been central to the agenda of modern liberalism, the exact opposite of the goal of classical liberalism.
If the insight into the pleasure some people take in seeing other people in pain incites society to absolve people of responsibility for their actions, the consequences will be real and immensely damaging both to social order and to the countless individuals who will be left to the depredations of sadists who know the worst potential personal consequence of their actions will be a little therapy and a quick ticket back to the streets.
Burgess’s brilliant novel remains well worth reading.
Sam, because of your original post I purchased the book from Amazon. In case you don’t have this version, which it sounds like you don’t, Burgess gives his perceptions on why the last chapter was left out of the novel in America, and why Kubrick, although shooting the movie in Britain chose to leave is out as well. After finishing the novel I went back again and just read Burgessâ€™ introduction and it makes perfect sense why his first New York publisher would leave out the last chapter. It makes even more sense why Kubrick in 1971 would choose do so as well.
He definitely did not want the 21st chapter left out, but the publisher said either they take it out or they wouldnâ€™t publish it. For those obviously â€œenlightenedâ€ souls the last chapter was too Pollyannaish, just not edgy enough. As he says, the publisher thought it was a â€œsellout.â€ Indicative word, that. This was 1961, and he being a struggling writer needing the money accepted the deal. He regrets it very much in hindsight, because the power of choice and moral transformation are at the heart of what he felt the novel was about.
Of course Kubrick came to the story at the height of the Vietnam War and the late 60s counter culture. Cynicism was de rigueur and the possibility of moral transformation was just so bourgeois. So having Alex â€œcuredâ€ just wasnâ€™t acceptable. It was a Nixonian world with no shred of optimism in it, or so the cultural elites of the time thought. I think Burgessâ€™ objection is classically simple wisdom: â€œthat is not a fair picture of human life.â€ Imagine an artist wanting to portray life as he sees it, not as a means to push an ideological agenda.
Lastly, Iâ€™m not so sure Burgess was as focused on the immoral use of government power to control their subjects as you think, although that is certainly instrumental to the story. He mentions â€œthe Almighty State,â€ but he is just as weary of using God or the Devil as an excuse for some sort of determinism. Moral choice and the ability of a person to change and act is the essence of life: anything that endangers this, for lack of a better term, is evil.
Pascal, I think that the last chapter shows that the entire activity of the megastate in brainwashing its inhabitants is unnecessary in addition to being destructive of the citizens’ humanity (the latter having been firmly established in the previous chapters). Hence there aren’t even any utilitarian justifications for it.
Thus the raw power of the state is shown for what it is, merely the actions of the powerful to increase their power. Remember what is reported as happening to the writer whose wife Alex and his gang raped and killed? He’s apprehended as a revolutionary and terrorist. Thus the victim is the criminal, and the criminal is a hero (as noted in the previous chapter).
Sound familiar? In A Clockwork Orange we have the same totalitarian processes as in 1984, combined with all the social manipulation employed in Brave New World. Burgess adds a government-allowed rule of terror by criminals and creates a chillingly accurate horror story about the modern megastate, which uses multiple means to manipulate, terrorize, and if necessary, brutalize the population into submission.
The last chapter confirms this by utterly destroying any utilitarian arguments for such activities.
Thanks Fortunato. I had no idea this last chapter existed. I’m intrigued why it was left out of the book. I would not be surprised to find many might think the book was treated like a feature film needing; shortening for commercial reasons. I doubt that could be it.
Sam, I’d really like to know why you think the last chapter essential?
At first glance, the chapter seems a bit like scene 34; not really being necessary except for the dimmest reader.
Surely it is not because only here does Burgess explicitly writes of the wind-up toy and of the orange “Bog” rolls in His hand?
As I’ve only just read this chapter, maybe it hasn’t had time to leaven. At great risk of foolishness, I offer you this:
Alex explicitly tell us of his sense of passage from youth. He is moving on seemingly lacking any remorse as apparently did Pete. Unless: Are we to presume it is with some regret that Alex already resigns his son and grandsons to traveling his same sorry path? Why?
I think Burgess strikes here — though quite a bit off-center — at the prospects for any society lacking moral touchstones and thus not pressing the need to correct errant behavior where and when it is most needed. After all, its regrets are merely vague, and thus it is resigned to its horrors — endlessly.
I agree with you at how excellent a writer was Burgess. All by itself, his language invention and consistency in use is outstanding. Maybe it was because he himself felt this last chapter wasn’t quite right, didn’t meet his standards, that he chose to leave it unpublished in some editions. What is known?
Thanks for asking, Fortunato. I think that the last chapter is essential to a full and proper understanding of the book. It’s appalling that the first quarter-century of U.S. editions left it out.
What do you make of the book’s last chapter (the one absent from American editions up to 1986?
JER: Brilliant, simply brilliant. I think your analysis is fascinating and bears further discussion. I invite you to write a short essay on this for submission for publication here.
In the context of what you have said here, I think it is interesting to observe that our global war against terrorism has followed a therapeutic approach, seeking to reform Islam rather than simply punishing it, i.e., holding it accountable for its bad behavior. We have even created a “disease” from which it suffers, “extremism,” which we fear may become contagious.
The problem intensifies when “diseases” revolt under the banner of “equality” and demand to be treated as alternative life-styles.
Pascal, I certainly agree with your excellent analysis here and greatly appreciate your contributing it. You are quite correct to note that while Kubrick’s film version is an appalling vulgarization of a beautiful book, Kubrick does attempt to preserve the book’s overall meaning and in fact make it obvious even to the dimmest audience members (though they will probably take nothing from the film other than the lesson that violence is damn fun, unless it happens to be happening to you). Scene 34, as you note, is crucial to the film’s social-political satire, and it reveals the film as fashionably and facilely cynical. In that respect the film is distinctly unlike Burgess’s book, which never descends to the promulgation of pat political bromides.
I urge you to contrast here the aims of Burgess and that of Kubrick in using the same material.
Burgess, promoting human moral choice, wishes for his readers not to allow politicians to reduce all aspects of life to utilitarian valuations.
Kubrick sensationalized the same material and thereby demonstrated — maybe not intending to do so — how politicians seek to gain by all antics that dehumanize — by the government or by the self appears not to matter to him. Just in case it wasn’t clear enough from all that transpired in the first 33 scenes on the DVD, the prime minister explicitly tells Alex in scene 34 that his government is working to protect the criminal because public fear of the monster promotes government power.
Burgess may not have intended for his novel to be any more than a plea to understand that free moral choice is essential to humanity. However, there is something also to be noted about what horrors are unleashed when this choice is tampered with both internal (education, thought, conscience) and external (environment, consequences, pleasures) the individual.
What you note here — the effects of such tampering — proves how thoroughly egalitarian liberals have gained hegemony over public policy. The need for individuals to choose to behave conscientiously has been severely stunted. “Responsibility? Who needs it? Leave that — and the thinking — to us!” The monsters thereby unleashed is what Kubrick says is the aim of those who want power.
I think this contrast very effectively parallels the quote attributed to John Adams. “Our Constitution [limiting government actions] was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Destroy individual conscience and the void will be filled by those who pretend to fill it.
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