Excerpted From: Joshua J. Schroeder, Singing the Force of the Imagination: How to Wonder about the Emotional-Reportage in Immigration Advocacy, 21 UC Law Journal of Race and Economic Justice 1 (February, 2024) (497 Footnotes) (Full Document)

JoseSchroederRage is all the rage in America, so it was no surprise that channeling rage about political figures like Donald J. Trump became an unofficial theme of the Advocating for Children in Migration symposium of September 21, 2023 at the University of Colorado, Anschutz. The emotion of rage is a powerful force in human societies, but, as Thomas Hobbes observed, it is a form of “Madnesse” that arises, alongside “causelesse fears” and terrors, from the oxymoronic emotional state of pride and dejection. Thus, activist Valarie Kaur wisely distinguished rage from anger, because if rage hardens in our hearts it becomes hatred, whereas justified anger is an essential defense of the beloved.

Attempting to channel rage into artworks is inspired by a mistaken belief that rage-inducing figures like former President Donald J. Trump can safely be treated as an artistic muse. Akin to Hobbesian rage and terror, facilitated by pride and dejection, the channeling of rage into art seems to arise from the oxymoronic emotional state of despair and presumption. As defined by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, who lifted his imperfect virtue theory from Aristotle, these pairs of vices correspond with the mutually supportive virtues of hope, magnanimity, and humility that were said to mark a greatness of soul. However, the ultimate madness of both Aquinas and Aristotle was gleefully revealed by Hobbes as their pride in the reason of humankind, known as Rationalism, which Hobbes successfully manipulated to advocate for despotism.

Today, the presumptuous belief in the rationality of humankind is disproven in history as well as science. For example, the First French Republic devolved into a great national suicide known as the French Reign of Terror when the Montagnards channeled their rage to successfully overawe the Gironde's appeals to French reason. In the years leading up to the Terror, the American poetess Mercy Otis Warren received the poetic baton from Wheatley and wisely appealed to the French imagination to inspire them to resist “new joys, mistaken for divine.”

But Maximilien Robespierre upstaged Warren and Wheatley, who attested to the divinity of love over reason, when he established a horrific combination of church and state that worshipped French actresses seated on a throne in Notre Dame, to symbolize the divinity of reason over love. Robespierre led the French people in the loveless worship of reason while they slaughtered the very Hébertists who toppled French Christianity and established the cult of reason. The sanguinary rounds continued in the style of a festival with dismembered human heads marched through the streets on the ends of poles with ribbons fluttering radiantly about. In these patriotic festivals of terror in France women baptized their newborns in the names of Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat instead of God and Christ, and Thomas Paine published his oxymoronic Age of Reason pamphlet while narrowly escaping the guillotine himself. The Terror only concluded when the French prophet of “reason” Robespierre was destroyed by the very Terror he called down on his fellows.

While they were beheading themselves in bloody rounds of carnage, the French people actually believed they were following reason. In reality, they were following their (very wild) imaginations that falsely dressed up revenge fantasies as reason, and reason as a god. The American Revolutionaries wisely presaged this horror by recognizing the imagination's role as the leader of the mental train and by listening to artists who inspired their imaginations to reveal magnanimous, humble, and selfless ways of action for the benefit of the whole people.

The problem of the imagination revealed by the French is that it is a double-edged sword. The imagination can cause a new nation to be born out of a time of suffering if nurtured by Ciceronian artists like Phillis Wheatley, who wondrously transformed the “cumbrous shackles” of death into a symbol of freedom, a sluffing off of this mortal coil. However, the imagination can also lead to a Reign of Terror and a national suicide as occurred in the First Republic of France right after the United States was formed.

This reality was foretold by Mercy Otis Warren, who accompanied Wheatley's widespread observations about the imagination by sending a letter to John Adams in 1773 warning him of the dangers of the imagination. In her poem to Adams, Warren defined the imagination as: “That airy queen who guides the helm of hope.” She carefully warned Adams that the imagination: “Holds a false mirror to the dazzled sight / A dim perspective, a delusive light.”

Unfortunately for America, John Adams did not heed Warren's warnings. Instead, Adams proved Warren's observations about the dangers of the human imagination real when he signed the Alien & Sedition Acts into law and moved to exclude women from public life piteously citing “the Despotism of the Peticoat [sic].” In the end, Warren broke off her relationship with Adams publically when she accused him of being a monarchist in republican clothing, something like an American Oliver Cromwell.

Adams, whose emotion-suppressing Rationalism still speaks for many in the legal profession, believed that the government was instituted to “contend [] with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion.” Nevertheless, even Adams appeared to believe that his controversial quasi-religious strategies for suppressing American emotions should not exist perpetually. For example, while visiting France, Adams surveyed several marvels and wonders of art and concluded that by devoting his life to the science of government that his children's children ought to eventually share in the French “right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick [sic], Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine [sic].”

So it was that, akin to Adams' uncomfortable alliance with French artistry prior to the French Revolution, a mixture of rage and wonder swirled about us at the Advocating for Children in Migration symposium at the University of Colorado, Anschutz. For a rare moment, the wonderers and the enraged were in the same building all at once, in a conversation among ourselves. This article demonstrates how to wonder about the emotional-reportage in immigrant advocacy flowing in five parts: (Part I) How Hope For Immigrants Lives in Wonder Created By Artists; (Part II) How Trump Led America To Wonder About An Anti-Immigrant America; (Part III) How Anti-Immigrant Rage Became a Muse of The 1619 Project; (Part IV) How Trump Used Rage to Impede Wonder About Pro-Immigration Policy; and (Part V) How Loving Strangers, Our Opponents, and Ourselves Nurtures Wonder. The article concludes with an exposition of Phillis Wheatley's striking use of wonder to reverse Hobbesian despotism.

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Phillis Wheatley, who was a child in migration not entirely unlike the precocious “ten-dollar founding father” Alexander Hamilton, winsomely soothed the grief and rage of all Americans, loyalist and revolutionary alike, in the years leading up to the Revolution of 1776. Of course, while she courageously beheld the rampant death and suffering of her American friends by encouraging them to lift themselves up off the floor despite their pain, she did not invent the human practice of healing others through art. However, Wheatley may have been the first in the English speaking world to soothe others as an end in itself, rise or fall, win or lose, whether or not she personally received a lasting benefit for helping others through their suffering.

Prior to Wheatley's stand in 1772 where she won her right of attribution before a panel of some of the most illustrious and powerful men of Boston, it was Thomas Hobbes who originally soothed the cares and worries of humankind in the interest of globalized despotism. The Hobbesian practice of soothing the cares and worries of the English and French peoples was candidly political, for the elevation and preservation of absolute monarchies in the name of the people. Paradoxically, the serene monarchs of the absolute variety who Hobbes hoped would dole out public benefits to his favorites while culling his detractors like livestock never sustainably arose from Hobbesian philosophy.

In practice, Hobbesian ideology inspired occasional, self-aborting reigns of terror symbolized by Cromwell and Robespierre, a true paradox especially as Hobbes took care to soothe the rage of his readers with wonders and marvels, perhaps, never before put down in a book. The wonders of monarchy, which are outwardly expressed with the symbols of glittering crown, scepter, orb, and jewel possessed by a man or woman seated upon a throne in a marvelous hall surrounded by lovers and benefactors of high culture, religion, and influence exist to soothe the passions of the people. To go without these dignified comforts of the imagination is to suffer rage and grief, and, according to the American Revolutionaries, it is part of the suffering humans feel as they wait for that kingdom of God or heaven that may come in the future.

Phillis Wheatley entered into this suffering of America to vindicate the Ciceronian basis of natural human equality through friendship (amicitia), rather than the paradoxical Hobbesian basis of natural human equality in murder, war, and slavery. She transformed the equality that Hobbes identified as a human flaw to be cured by despots, tyrants, and kings into the ultimate basis of the U.S. republic. The created equality of humankind in nature, defended by James Otis in the name of the voting rights of women and the basic human equality of Black people, was soon after adopted as the social compact of the country on July 4, 1776.

As a result, when the Americans shouted out of their churches “no king but God!” they proved that they really did not go without. Instead, they enjoyed the significant charms of “[t]he languid muse in low degree,” because the “pitying eye” of heaven saw her and “deigned to string [her] lyre.” Phillis Wheatley was the first, but not the last, American artist to fill the role of heavenly comforter in the place of the royal symbols that Hobbes used to manipulate the English people into enslaving themselves. Wheatley used wonder, not to crown herself a queen, but to release the American people from the bonds of monarchy and to give them a post-feudal second chance by singing of the majesty of children in migration like Christopher Snider who were imported here as property, like herself, as revolutionary sovereigns even in death.

Paradoxically, Wheatley received payment for her books even as she released them for the comfort and elevation of others, which became the origin of the author-owned U.S. copyright system. Wheatley's lived paradox of finding her life by losing her life, which is a biblical mystery, corresponds with John Milton's vicious attempts to claim value in his books only to die a pauper with no right to profit from his own writings. In fact, Wheatley built her poetic strategies as a businesswoman of letters directly upon Milton's earlier cause and revolutionized them in favor of the necessary role of women in public life that would, despite Milton's candid misogyny, defend his rights to literary property as well.

We are only now beginning to experience the benefits of the revolutions in thought that Wheatley first inspired in America by redeeming the wonderment originally propagandized by Milton and Hobbes for the benefit of kings and despots. As Professor Warren Binford and her colleagues at Project Amplify recognized in their movement to defend children in migration from harmful systems fashioned by Trumpist wonderers in their own right, there are a whole fleet of wondering artists who are ready to assert their positions in the public fray. For example, the former child asylee from Russia Regina Spektor recently responded to the American reaction to Russia's war in Ukraine with a call to love our enemies. Her new song Loveology is dedicated to the comfort and elevation of the American mind to the kind of incurable humanism that can make us shine like stars, as beacons of hope to foreign nations.

Such inspiring artists easily reveal the boring, tastelessness of Trumpian art by a gentle juxtaposition with their own revolving lights of marvel, strung with the mournful longingness of blue notes repurposed from the American jazz and blues, and other striking charms. Or as Kesha Sebert recently concluded: Only Love Can Save Us Now. Kesha demonstrated through her recent victory over Dr. Luke in the highest court in New York State that the artists of America may decide the fate of the law in the United States, and it would behoove the legal and medical professionals still raging in their own echo chambers, to take a moment to listen to them.

The vibrant artists of America, including Kristen Grainger & Dan Wetzel of True North who performed their wondrous songs The Ghost of Abuelito and Still Life Cafe at the Advocating for Children in Migration symposium, are casting a spell of comfort over the people in order to make the observation of injustice bearable for us. They are telling the stories of strangers and immigrants dreaming of a new life and hoping for a new beginning, a rebirth, an American renewal. As long as it remains possible for the artist to move the lawmaker and the physician to engage their natural capacity to feel love by wondering about the wellbeing of their fellow human neighbors, there is still hope for us all. By petitioning artists who have the power to fortify our wandering hearts as we risk the snares of grief and rage in pursuit of justice, Professor Binford is leading a new movement of legal and medical professionals to a deeper understanding of the ancient uses of art as advocacy in the Advocating for Children in Migration symposium as part of the Testimony series of events at the University of Colorado, Anschutz.

Joshua J. Schroeder is owner/founder of SchroederLaw in Oakland, CA where he practices immigration law, constitutional law, and intellectual property law.