Bob Dylan’s “Political World” – On infidels, the politics of force, and General Clausewitz

220px-Carl_von_Clausewitz

General Carl von Clausewitz 1780-1831

Bob Dylan, in the songs “Political World”  and “Sweetheart Like You,” and in an excerpt from “Chronicles Volume 1,” presents a fairly negative view of our political world. But I find his negative assessment to be difficult to argue with.

We live in a political world
Love don’t have any place
We’re living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don’t have a face

We live in a political world
Icicles hanging down
Wedding bells ring and angels sing
Clouds cover up the ground

We live in a political world
Wisdom is thrown into jail
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last

We live in a political world
The one we can see and can feel
But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck
We all know for sure that it’s real

We live in a political world
In the cities of lonesome fear
Little by little you turn in the middle
But you’re never sure why you’re here

We live in a political world
Under the microscope
You can travel anywhere and hang yourself there
You always got more than enough rope

We live in a political world
Turning and a-thrashing about
As soon as you’re awake, you’re trained to take
What looks like the easy way out

We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all
It’s turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his
Climb into the frame and shout God’s name
But you’re never sure what it is

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

(“Political World” is the first track on “Oh Mercy”)

Oh Mercy

Excerpt from Sweetheart Like You from the album “Infidels.” Think he is saying that some “infidels” have very prominent places in society? This part of the song is about how one gets “into” the political world:

Got to be an important person to be in here, honey
Got to have done some evil deed
Got to have your own harem when you come in the door
Got to play your harp until your lips bleed

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king

Infidels

Excerpt from Chronicles Volume 1 of Bob Dylan commenting on “On War, by General Carl von Clausewitz,” (Published 1832):

“Clausewitz’s book seems outdated, but their’s a lot in it that’s real, and you can understand a lot about conventional life and the pressures of environment by reading it. When he claims that politics has taken the place of morality and politics is brute force, he’s not playing. You have to believe it. You do exactly as you’re told, whoever you are. Knuckle under or you’re dead. Don’t give me any of that jazz about hope or nonsense about righteousness. Don’t give me that dance that God is with us, or that God supports us. Let’s get down to to brass tacks. There isn’t any moral order. You can forget that. Morality has nothing in common with politics. It’s not there to transgress. It’s either high ground or low ground. This is the way the world is and nothing’s gonna change it. It’s a crazy mixed up world and you have to look it right in the eye. Clausewitz in some ways is a prophet.”

(Chronicles, 1: 45; note that Dylan is commenting on books he had perused in the library of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kief, while staying with them in New York City, in the early 1960’s. This probably provides some vital background for his 1963 song “With God On Our Side” and other songs.)

Quote from General Clausewitz: 

“WAR IS ONLY THE CONTINUATION OF STATE POLICY BY OTHER MEANS.”

Quote from the introduction to Clausewitz’s “On War”:

“it reveals “War,” stripped of all accessories, as the exercise of force for the attainment of a political object, unrestrained by any law save that of expediency…”

What do you think? Is Bob Dylan to negative? Or has America’s “separation of powers” and religious/moral foundation all but yielded to “the politics of brute force?” Do you think some American politicians are engaged in a “domestic” war here “at home” by an improper threat or use of “force?”

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013.

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