Quixote’s Death Revisited

I posted a while ago about the death of Don Quixote, which I thought worthy of thought. Interestingly enough those who read and commented on the post tended to focus on Quixote’s life. In that regard, I struck out, though I can understand that Quixote’s life was wonderful and worth pondering in itself. The notion of Don Quixote, a middle-aged man garbed in make-shift armor riding through the Spanish countryside on a sway-back nag alongside the indomitable Sancho Panza — the idealist alongside the man of practical good sense — is fascinating, as are the adventures they encounter along the way.

The novel is interesting for so many reasons, and has so many possibilities, that it allows for a great many interpretations and has spoken to countless generations since its first appearance in the 17th century. But one thing seems assured, and that is that Cervantes was saying a sad good-bye to an age in which chivalry was alive, men worried about glory and honor, factories were aborning (though technically the first factory, a water-powered silk mill in Derby didn’t start up until a century after Cervantes’ death), and warfare was becoming mechanized. This last fact was a strong motivator for the novel, most critics insist, as Cervantes, while a soldier, was wounded in the arm by a bullet, an injury that rendered his arm nearly useless for the rest of his life. He seemed to prefer the notion that, as a soldier, the wounding and killing ought to be done man-to-man — not at distance. What would he think of the drones that are controlled thousands of miles away and kill hundreds of “enemies,” including innocent people, while the operator eats a Big Mac and an order of fries in his comfortable chair in Kansas somewhere manipulating joy sticks as he looks at a television screen?

In any event, the death of the idealist is the interesting thing I was asking my readers to ponder. What does it mean to the rest of us?

The Knight of the White Moon (Samson Carrasco) and Don Quixote agreed at the outset that the winner of a joust between the two of them would mean the the loser must acknowledge the greater beauty of the winner’s beloved. They also agreed that Don Quixote would give up the life of the knight errant for a year “or until whatever intervening date I may direct.” Upon being hurled from his nag by the Knight of the White Moon’s superior horse, Don Quixote refused to allow that Dulcinea was not the most beautiful women in the world and his victor allowed that concession because the real point was to make sure Don Quixote went home and settled down, leave off knight-hooding, as it were. This Quixote agreed to do. It is this sad event that is significant, which drew comments both within the novel and from people like Heine and Dostoevsky many years later.

The idealism of youth must always, it seems, give way to the common sense of middle-age and the cynicism of old age.  Don Quixote steps aside in the Third Sally and watches as Sancho Panza, the embodiment of commonsense, governs his “island” — a small village he is sent to “govern” by the wealthy Don Antonio Morena as a joke.  In doing this, Sancho exhibits the wisdom of Solomon and the good sense that Quixote obviously lacks. Sancho is becoming more like Quixote and vice versa. In any event, the idealism of Don Quixote affects those around him and when he is defeated the light goes out in the eyes of those who saw him as funny, to be sure, but also heroic in his blind determination to do the right thing.

Today’s heroes wear camouflage and go off to battle for the corporations, or they wear padding and smash heads with one another on a football field. They seldom exhibit the idealism that motivated Don Quixote in their determination to simply follow orders or struggle to increase their already obscene incomes. It is the death of idealism, the death of the joy the man finds in the world around him, the death of the imagination that can see in a barber’s basin the helmet of  Mambrino, the death of a courage that stems from an adoration of beauty and goodness, it is these deaths that folks like Heine and Dostoevsky lament. It is the death of Don Quixote that should make us take stock and think again about what is and what is not truly important.



I recently came across a most interesting piece on-line that deserves thoughtful consideration. It was written by a woman by the name of Rebecca Unger and it begins as follows:

I am a 22-year-old Democrat living in New York City. I work in a creative industry that pays a low salary. I am socially liberal: I believe in LBGT rights, a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights across the board, racial equality, gun control and confronting climate change in a major way. I am upset about income inequality. I believe rich people should be taxed more to help fund policy initiatives that benefit poorer people: healthcare and education and better infrastructure, for example. And yet the idea of voting for Bernie Sanders never once crossed my mind.

This is not about disagreeing with the message Bernie is preaching to Americans — I happen to agree with a lot of what he says. This is about the simple fact that his is an idealistic, naïve agenda that could never be put into practice in America. In this country, to legislate even one tenth of such an ambitious plan would take degrees of cooperation, sacrifice, even manipulation and such an immense amount of ‘give-and-take’ tactics that an idea that once stood untarnished, glistening at the campaign podium, would come out looking like a child’s napkin after a meal of spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, there may be some white patches left around the edges, but no bleach will ever get out all the stains.

Rebecca says much better than I do something I have been trying to say for some time. As exciting as Bernie is and as attractive as he is to all of us who care about the future of this democracy, there are serious questions about his ability to get a single thing done were he elected to the presidency. Unless he could somehow bring enough Democrats along with him into office (who are not bound to corporate sponsors), he would face a belligerent and uncooperative Congress — the same Congress that Barack Obama has had to deal with for eight years — and there is simply no way such a group would support any of his programs. And this is true even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that his programs are feasible and of tremendous benefit to the country — as, indeed, they are.

The problem is the Congress, of course. It has been bought and paid for by the corporations and they are not about to allow a politician of Bernie’s ilk to stand in the way of inreasing their profit margins. They will doubtless meet and agree, as they did upon Obama’s election, not to support any of Sanders’ programs. And we will have another four years (at least) of gridlock. This would be bad for the country, to say the least.

Thus, despite the fact that Hillary has many battle scars and is a far less principled politician (and there are precious few of them any more) she does have the experience and political savvy to know how to get progressive programs through a recalcitrant Congress. She is flawed, to be sure, but those who now support Bernie Sanders and who insist that they will not support Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee are terribly naive. After all, the alternative — given the nature of the Republican candidates, especially the one who is currently leading the pack — is simply unacceptable. In the end, we must be realistic. And in this regard, Ms Unger’s determination not to vote for Sanders strikes me as equally unrealistic. Again, consider the alternative.

The sad fact is that Bernie has been an outsider all along as an Independent Senator from Vermont. He has few, if any, powerful friends in the Senate who could support, much less sponsor, any of his programs. He is right about so many things. But he is reminiscent of Don Quixote flailing against windmills. And, as we all know the windmills win in the end. It is sad, because Bernie represents a possible way not only to restore the middle class, as he says, but also to return a semblance of the democratic system to a government that is heading non-stop toward oligarchy. Hillary wouldn’t stop that trend, sad to say. But she is assuredly preferable to the alternative — no matter which off those clowns the Republicans finally come up with. And if Sanders were to become the candidate I would most assuredly vote for him even though I agree with most of what Ms Unger says. I prefer an ineffective idealist to an ignorant despot.