Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!
Published on: January 30, 2013
show comments
  • Gary Novak

    At the end of “The Heretical Imperative,” Berger says: “It is not given to men to make God speak. It is only given to them to live and to think in such a way that, if God’s thunder should come, they will not have stopped their ears.” Would not this way of thinking or cognitive style be “free association” (minus the psychoanalytic presuppositions)? Not my thoughts, Lord, but thine! I do not find that cognitive style irritating.

    I think it was R. G. Collingwood who said that, to some men you must give a problem, and they then bring to bear on it what competence they have. Others have something to say before they know what it is. They are the free associaters, and they are the ones most fun to listen to. They are the ones who, between their scholarly papers, hop a freight to Canada to visit flea market existentialists or take the plunge with cowboy Baptists in a Texas cattle trough. A delightful post— vintage Berger!

  • WigWag

    Off topic (to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what the “topic” of this post is) but perhaps of interest to Professor Berger’s readers is a new book pertinent to a wonderful essay the Professor published at this site on December 14, 2011. The post was entitled “Do The Three Abrahamic Faiths Worship The Same God?”

    As most of Berger’s posts are, the essay was very thought provoking and I could not help but remember it while I was reading Jon Levinson’s new book, “Inheriting Abraham.” Levinson is a well respected Professor of Theology at Harvard’s Divinity School; perhaps Berger is personally acquainted with him.

    Levinson indirectly references the question that Professor Berger poses in the title of that essay by examining the manner in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam view the Patriarch, Abraham.

    In a nutshell, Levinson demolishes the liberal myth that Abraham provides a point of confluence around which the three “Abrahamic faiths” can reconcile their differences and foster mutual understanding.

    A review of the book can be found here,


    and a description of the book can be found here,


    I mention this in the hope that some of the readers of Professor Berger’s excellent blog will find this information useful. Of course, if Professor Berger or Damir Marusic object to my comment that is relevant to a year-old post but not this post, they should feel perfectly free to omit it.

    I’ve never seen a book review by Professor Berger. Getting his take on Levinson’s book would be a real treat.

  • On the contrary

    There is nothing essentially violent about anarchism, just as there is nothing essentially hostile to religion in atheism. It just so happens that most of those who bother to profess anarchism or atheism as ideologies, tend to be edgy and hostile people traumatized in some way by the institutions they conceive themselves to be in opposition to.

    True anarchists, however, are opposed to government, per se, precisely because they correctly understand that governments are necessarily founded on coercion, intimidation, and if necessary, violence. Thus, it really is true that “all decent people are anarchists deep down.” And Farnsley’s acknowledgement that “most of us have too much to lose to chuck it all and sell socks at a flea market” or for that matter to live the life of our choosing, but strictly according to libertarian or anarchist principles, is in reality an admission that we are all compromised by ceding our moral responsibility to governments, in return for the monetary and status handouts that they can provide. Virtually all Americans are thus complicit in the essentially immoral coercion of governments, and have too much to lose just in self-esteem to be honest about it and to recognize the fact.

    One unique person, a politician no less, who though no anarchist, has lived his political life according to a strict construction of Constitutional law, is Ron Paul. And while the principled stances he took in Congress for decades were generally seen as quixotic, Paul came surprisingly close last year to winning the Republican nomination, and if his ground team had been as well organized as that of Barry Goldwater in 1964, he might well have succeeded. And the polls near the end of the nominating process (in the run up to the Republican Convention) showed both Romney and Paul running neck and neck with the President. Had the Republican Party hacks not been temperamentally incapable of supporting a man of principle, Paul would actually have had a decent chance to win the election, whereas Romney was pretty much a sure loser, precisely because so many of Paul’s supporters were unable to bring themselves to vote for a Big Government (“Rockefeller”) Republican like Romney.

    Constitutionalism is in principle just a way station to anarchism (and don’t forget that most Virginians were opposed to ratification until Madison promised George Mason and other anti-federalist leaders to enact a bill of rights), but these recent political facts show that roughly half the American people have become sufficiently radicalized due to the accelerating political, economic, and moral deterioration of our society that they are ready to embrace radical change if need be. Our supposed leaders, and their media sycophants, will be the last to recognize the revolution cum civil war when it comes, and like the first American Revolution, and the Civil War (which was a counter-revolution, laying the foundations for modern Big Government) it will be fought out over anarchist, or at least libertarian, principles.

  • Wig Wag says she isn’t sure what the topic is. I read Berger’s topic to be, as in the last paragraph: continuing his efforts to understand the different ways individuals choose to deal with “the challenge to the institutions of liberal democracy,” namely “balancing order and freedom,” and how individuals find a way to fit into this process of balance or turn their backs to fly “under the radar,” opting out of both “affiliated” and “unaffiliated” (or “nones”), not trusting the mega institutions and not trusting the mediating structures to “renew civil society.”

    I like the way Berger weaves the root insight of the anarchist sensibility of dealing with the fictions of those institutions that “disaffect and disenchant” (hence his work on the need for renewal of civil society through “mediating structures”).

    When I lived in No. Virginia in the early and late 70s, early 80s, all the “rage” was garage sales (miniature flea markets by the affluent), flea markets (by the non-affluent as described by Berger, which the affluent garage sale-ers enjoyed), cowboys (regular farmers for which it is a 24-7 occupation as well as those who were “gentlemen farmers” for whom farms were weekend diversions, tax shelters, or both. One could add ad hoc farmer’s markets that set up and take down on weekends in the same manner of flea markets, which also were part of the No VA landscape.

    I’m further intrigued by how Berger uses both flea markets and hoboes / bums as examples of what he calls an “anarchist sensibility” of having “a fierce devotion to individual freedom” as they seek survival and safety from large institutions.

    I encountered this category of men during my boyhood in the 40s and early 50s, when we lived in a parsonage on the main street, 5 blocks from the railroad tracks. With layovers or load/unload stops, some would seek day work; others would go to phone booths to find a phone book to look up the nearest churches and knock on the door of the parsonage (sometimes front door, sometimes back door), seeking a sandwich or meal (in those days parsonages were usually next to the church). They treated my mother with deference and good manners. We were not afraid of them (1889 Hobo Code #2: “When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.” See below for others parts of the code).

    PBS ran a special, “Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression,” reporting that “At the height of the Great Depression, more than a quarter million teenagers were living on the road in America, many crisscrossing the country by illegally hopping freight trains.” A fascinating footnote is that Warner Brothers made a 1933 film, Wild Boys of the Road, with the purpose “to scare young people away from life on the rails,” only to find – no surprise to students of the unintended consequence — that although it did scare some, it “inspired” other young men who saw the film “to take to the rails,” for “adventure and freedom”.

    As one commentator put it in 2008, the “hoboes” in the 30s “were mainly intelligent, honest people trying to get by.” Another wrote about the 30s: “see hoboes for who and what they really are – people like the rest of us doing the best they can to get by in this world.”

    The closest they came to a community was to agree to follow their Cole of Ethics, established in 1889, geared to maintaining that balance to their sense of freedom and liberty with order along the rails, so hoboes coming through didn’t jeopardize places for following riders. Examples include
    #1: “Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.”
    #4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again?
    #9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
    #12. Do not cause problems in a train yard; another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
    #15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

    1860s: when it began in large scale: unemployed veterans of the Civil War.
    1930’s: Great Depression: unemployed teenagers, 250,000 strong) joined unemployed adults.
    1980s: unemployed “train gangs” emerged. The leading train gang, “The Freight Train Riders of America” (FTRA), established in Montana in 1984 by Vietnam veterans “unable to make a transition back to civilian society.” The romance of riding the rail is mostly gone, as now it is often about “violent drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and today’s type of homeless person, often mentally ill.”

    Today’s riders of the rails have reversed the situation from “saying no to the oppressors” to becoming oppressors themselves. The latter, no matter who or where, are on the negative side of the calculi of meaning and pain.

    Following the logic of the topic, may we not surmise that there may well be another “choice” for folks for their lives/livelihood that will enable them to sing the song of two cultures: “Hallelujah, I’m a bum,” which is OK because, “Hallelujah, I’m free.” Given current social welfare policy trends and the debate over makers and takers, will new chants emerge, such as “Hallelujah, I’m a taker” and, therefore, “Hallelujah, I’m free”? or “Hallelujah, I’m a maker” and, therefore, “Hallelujah, I’m free”?

  • Brenda Rigdon

    Hee is some more free association for you: in my husband’s family the song Hallelujah, i’m a Bum is considered a Christmas Carol and we sing it around the piano every holiday, along with Camptown Races.
    Why, you ask?
    Because my husband’s Grandmother had a very old copy of the sheet music in a book called American Folksongs, printed in the late 1940’s i believe.
    It included many traditional Christmas songs, and the aforementioned folks songs among many others.
    My Father in Law and his younger borther were asked one holiday,w hen they were children, to choose a favorite song to sing on Christmas eve–and one chose Hallelujah I’m a Bum and the other chose Camptown Races.
    Being blessed with excellent senses of humour, their parents agreed to sing them, and a new holdiay tradition was born.

    We all still sing them each year to this day.

  • Pingback: Bums, Anarchy, and Homicidal Fictions | Acton PowerBlog()

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2018 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.