James Madison and Elia Kazan: Theory and Practice

James Madison, Federalist 51:

The constant aim is…that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.

Elia Kazan, on why he named names:

Reason 1: “I’ve got to think of my kids.”

Reason 2: “All right, I earned over $400,000 last year from theater. But Skouras [head of Twentieth-Century Fox] says I’ll never make another movie. You’ve spent your money, haven’t you? It’s easy for you. But I’ve got a stake.”


  1. stephenkmacksd February 19, 2014 at 8:56 pm | #

    “I hate the Communists and have for many years and don’t feel right about giving up my career to defend them. I will give up my film career if it is in the interests of defending something I believe in, but not this.”
    Careerism was Mr. Kazan’s philosophy! Mr. Richard Schickel’s apologetic biography, rather filmography overlaid with selectively chosen personal information, only confirms that destructive self-interest. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favorite movies.

  2. John Emerson February 19, 2014 at 11:06 pm | #

    Natalya, however , remembers Yezhov with love. She has said in an interview “He spent a lot of time with me, more even than my mother did. He made tennis rackets for me. He made skates and skis. He made everything for me himself.” And the authors of the first English-language biography of Yezhov write, “At the dacha, Yezhov taught her to play tennis, skate, and ride a bicycle. He is remembered as a gentle, loving father showering her with presents and playing with her in the evenings after returning from the Lubyanka.

    –Robert Chandler, “Appendix” to Vasily Grossman, The Road.

    Yezhov was the head of NKVD and presided over the Stalinist terror during 1937 and 1938; after being replaced by Beria in 1939, he was shot in 1940. He was responsible for the deaths of close to a million people, including much of the Russian intelligentsia.

    Yezhov was nice to his daughter. Stalin was nice to his daughter. Adolf Eichmann was nice to his kids. Hitler was nice to children and dogs.

    People! Quit being nice to children!

    That’s where it all starts!

  3. Roquentin February 20, 2014 at 11:01 am | #

    The slogan “the personal is political” has been popular on the left for some time. I think this is the less savory side of that. I’m thinking also of the things in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus about tmolecular individuals vs molar aggregates and how the two are not and by necessity can not be congruent. Ultimately the whole is not the same as its parts. Self-interest in the neoliberal, Randian sense is not enough either. It’s amazing how such a simplistic conception of human psychology can be taken seriously in 2014, but then again those ideas aren’t popular because they’re accurate, they’re popular because they give necessary ideological support to a particular set of social and economic relationships. Basic Freudian psychoanalysis already conflicted with this conception of human behavior. Even back then it was understood that people were not merely driven by the pleasure principle, there was also a death drive, a drive which made humanity desire a return to the inorganic which was every bit as strong as the libido. It’s worse for “rational self-interest” than merely capturing half the picture though. It’s cruder and more narrowly defined than even the pleasure principle, which at least allows for individual conceptions of jouissance rather than some sort of tyranny of the rational dictating to you what you can and can’t enjoy.

    I say this not excuse Kazan for selling out his friends. He could have stuck to his principles. Under the right circumstances most anyone can coerced into doing something against his or her wishes. Sometimes the saddest part of an event like the Red Scare is just how little it takes to buy people off or how much people will give up for even the most illusory chances of saving themselves. A realistic politics needs to take into account the fragility of human psychology rather than simply passing judgement and chastising people for not adhering to a specific set of ethics.

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