Nationalism and Culture by Rudolf Rocker–an early book review by Merritt Clifton

In sorting through some old newspapers I have collected over the years, I came across a 36-year-old issue of The Book Mart–issue #40, July/August 1980, which contained a review by Merritt Clifton of my publishing of Rudolf Rocker’s classic, Nationalism and Culture.  Those interested in the author or the book may enjoy reading Mr. Clifton’s review which I reprint, slightly condensed, below.  Since publishing Nationalism and Culture, I have issued over twenty other books, two of which are related directly to Rudolf Rocker: The Six and 33 Dunstan Houses.  The first was written by Mr. Rocker while the second came from the hand of his son Fermin.   When I re-published Nationalism and Culture, I wondered whether Mr. Clifton was being generous in his assessment that my publishing “career” was “just getting started.”  I figured it might be my one and only book, but I was proved wrong, and I’m glad I was.

Rudolf Rocker's masterpiece

Nationalism and Culture by Rudolf Rocker

Merritt Clifton

The Book-Mart, issue #40, July/August 1980

“Probably no recent small press undertaking, political or otherwise, is as ambitious as Michael Coughlin’s recent re-issue of Rudolf Rocker’s Nationalism and Culture. The book itself is ambitious enough; an historical survey of the origins, functions and real nature of government, from prehistoric times through the rise and fall of Hitler’s Reich. Author Rocker spent most of a very long lifetime researching and writing it, often while on the run from  the German secret police.  But beyond the scope of Rocker’s text, Coughlin faced significant technical problems.  Nationalism and Culture runs nearly 600 pages. Though endorsed and praised by Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Charles Beard, Will Durant, and Lewis Mumford, among others, it had been out of print for thirty years and had never been commercially published; friends of Rocker’s printed and distributed the first edition of 1948.

Coughlin, however, has reintroduced Rocker to American anarchist though anyway, in a handsome cloth-bound edition.  . . .  Moreover, Coughlin seems to have found the widespread audience that Nationalism and Culture never reached in Rocker’s own lifetime. . . . The Coughlin edition may become a landmark in both publishing history and North American political history, because Rocker addresses the major issues involved in the Iranian situation, the Quebec separatist movement, and the Third World drive toward unity against the superpowers. In Rocker’s view, nationalism and legitimate cultural evolution are mutually exclusive; nationalism tends to solidify past trends, resisting change, while culture develops through the process of change. That is, art and literature are inspired by the various social conflicts and that change aggravates, while lay citizens turn toward art and literature most intensely in times of change. In times of stasis, they require no such inspiration and inner reinforcement.

Rocker died in 1958, while Coughlin was still a boy.  Coughlin’s other great inspiration, E. Haldeman-Julius, died the year before he was born.  Coughlin grew up as a conventionally conservative Midwesterner, served . . . in the U.S. Navy, and then became a technical writer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along the way, however, he discovered Rocker, Haldeman-Julius, and others and came to share their opinion that government is but disguised violence against the very human liberty and dignity it purports to protect.  He got into the book-business upon learning in 1976 that a large portion of Haldeman-Julius’s unsold Little Blue Books had survived a 4th-of-July warehouse fire in Kansas.  Buying out the stock, he went into mail-order distribution, and remains today the leading source of Little Blue Books, new and used.  Meanwhile, finding things to say of his own, he founded the anarcho-libertarian journal DANDELION,  published quarterly.  The first dozen issues have explored the careers and teachings of Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner, discussed the reasons why anarchists and libertarians must oppose the death penalty, and most recently, attempted to dispel the widespread myth that anarchism equals terror. . . . From all indications, Coughlin is still just getting started, and his career is well worth following.”


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Until later  . . .

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