Wow. What a rich couple of episodes! I am going to reverse my usual procedure, and start with quick thoughts, before moving into the meat of what I want to talk about:
• Since you mentioned at the end (of episode 62) your ongoing confusion about the term "the free people", I thought I'd re-up an interpretation I offered a few posts back, and say that I think it is (also, if not only) a Kipling reference, to The Jungle Book where the tribe of wolves (wolves!) call themselves "The Free People". As for how a people lacking basic rights would come to call themselves that, this seems to me easy enough to explain in several ways: A) perhaps the name predates the French conquest, and was intended to contrast the marsh-men with the hill tribes (the term is specifically said to be only about the later, after all), or B) they see (or at some point in the conquest saw) their way of life as the authentic free way, but that doesn't mean that, with the conquest now completed, they don't also want rights in the colonizer's system.
• You mentioned that this is Marsch's first fieldwork, which (IMS) the text supports. But we're told he has his Ph.D. already. You certainly can't get a Ph.D. in anthropology without doing fieldwork! (These days it doesn't mean camping, of course; it can be in an urban setting. But it's fieldwork as defined in the field.) Not sure what to make of this — perhaps Marsch did the fieldwork but didn't really appreciate it? Perhaps we're meant to indicate that standards of changed? Perhaps Wolfe simply blundered? — but it's odd.
• And, not to contradict the wish that I (and Marc) expressed in the previous thread, but I will say I was quite, quite impressed by how much evidence for Marsch's being replaced you saw, to the point of being basically sure that the prisoner was VRT by these episodes. I, at least, didn't pick that up until the second time through. In some ways, sufficiently slow and careful reading can replicate on a first reading the experience of a second! It's quite impressive, particularly for first-time reader Brandon.
• I loved your readings of how our ideas of the authorship of "'A Story' by John V. Marsch" change, particularly your observations about what is left out (the cliff) being things that VRT doesn't like, the lack of fathers in the story, etc. Marvelous.
Okay. To saddle sideways into the main thing I want to talk about, I would say that, without contradicting the echoes of Vichy you were both hearing (they seem to be clearly there), I would note that you hardly need to go to Vichy to get to this sort of police state. I think that both St. Anne and St. Croix can be seen as variations on common colonial patterns. (In an earlier episode, you described the "conquer but not replace" version as not colonialism but imperialism. This may be true according to some strict definitions, but since a very large number of the central, canonical examples of colonialism — the British in India, the Europeans broadly in Africa broadly, the French in Indochina, to say nothing of the U.S. in the Philippines, Puerto Rico & many other places — were not replacement systems, so I think the word clearly has evolved to include that meaning.) Brandon mentions in passing that you can't conquer other nations without replacing their people, but obviously this is historically not true: the way described as occurring on St. Croix — co-opt the elites — was precisely how the British ruled in India, the French in Indochina & all the rest. All of which is to say, do we need to reach to Vichy, given that this is a common colonialist pattern in a story all about colonialism? The only additional thing Vichy gets us, I guess, is the French as ruled not rulers, which isn't nothing, I grant you. But I am hearing other echoes.
I say this in part because I think that Americans are too quick to think of Nazis as examples of evil, despite the presence of plenty of evil in our own history (and the history of societies we identify with, like the British). Another example from these episodes: you said that the rhetoric from Constant about how their government is the greatest reminded you of Nazi rhetoric. Well, Americans also have a very long history of saying that our government is "the greatest ever on God's foot-stool" and many similar things, from shortly after independence all the time to the present day, when our confidence that we have the greatest government (and therefore society) leads some Americans to disregard examples of other systems on issues where we could improve (health care & gun control come to mind).
Which brings me to the main thing I want to talk about: the slavery section.
Brandon mentioned in passing in episode 61 that Constant's defenses of slavery are odd, and you both spoke in the following episode about how they might be religiously interpreted, etc, and called them obviously wrong. But to me, as an American historian, all of them uncannily echoed some of the common arguments for slavery offered by Americans in antebellum times (to the extent that I have to assume Wolfe read some in a class somewhere). The idea that slave-owners have to take better care of their slaves if they're sick, for instance, was offered by Southerners in the antebellum era — for instance George Fitzhugh, possibly the most famous pro-slavery intellectual of the 1850s (intellectual as opposed to politicians like Calhoun) said precisely that. He also argued, explicitly, in his book Cannibals All! that northern workers were slaves as well, just as Constant argues that workers were slaves. That last point, actually, was not limited to slave-owners; socialists of the time made it too, they just drew the opposite lesson from it, not that slavery was good but that the emerging system of industrial capitalism was bad. (Richard Hofstatder, one of the most famous American historians of the mid-twentieth century, once called Calhoun "the Marx of the master class": namely, he saw what Marx did, but from the point of view of the owners/capitalists. And Fitzhugh read deeply in contemporary socialist critiques of northern working conditions, citing them (with a great deal of distortion and denial about life in the south, naturally) in his pro-slavery arguments.) These arguments may seem obviously wrong to us, but in a society in which slavery actually exists — such as the antebellum American south, and, presumably, St. Croix — their wrongness isn't self-evident in the slightest.
And this brings me to the most puzzling line in that section of the story, whcih you spoke about at length: "Then you see who their owners are." (p. 210). You seemed, over the course of the episode, to go from assuming that this is a line that Wolfe might agree with (comparing it to some of his critiques of government in Operation ARES) to assuming that it is one he disagrees with (since it centers the body not the soul). Honestly I don't know what to think. On the one hand, Wolfe puts it in the mouth of a defender of slavery, which suggests he disagrees with it.
On the other hand, it is, as you correctly note, continuous with Wolfe's critiques of government in OA. It is also quite similar to then-contemporary conservative critiques of American policy. One of the most prominent American conservatives in the Buckley tradition (as Wolfe said he was, shortly before this writing if not still) — not yet the most prominent, but already one of the most — was, of course, Reagan. One of the things (alongside his support of Goldwater) by which Reagan came to public attention as a political figure (and not just an actor) was his attack on Medicare and Medicaid. In a famous speech — released as a record; you can hear it now on youtube if you google it up — called "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine" he makes something quite similar to this case, saying that those then-proposed programs will lead to socialism and "one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free." (This is sometimes still quoted, rather risibly, by contemporary conservatives as a bit of Reagan's insight, rather than as a prophecy that fell completely flat on its face as an example of unwarranted scare-mongering about social programs. Reagan himself eventually embraced those progams he said would lead to the end of American freedom, to the point that he lied, at least by omission about it: his famous line to Carter in their debate — "there you go again" — was when Carter said that Reagan was an opponent of medicare & medicaid.)
To some extent, this simply reveals the rather uncomfortable but clearly true fact that proslavery thought in the U.S. falls centrally within the conservative tradition, and the continuities are still quite visible — if you look at histories of conservative thought which don't pretend it began in the 1950s, this is pretty clear — e.g. Russell Kirk's* enormously influential The Conservative Mind, which devotes half a chapter to John Calhoun. I'm not, repeat not, saying that Wolfe was secretly pro-slavery. What I am saying is that none of us are entirely free of the complexities (including the unknown complexities) of our own history, including the history of ideologies we believe in. And that the confusion over whether this line is something that Wolfe would support might be an example of those things I think we should always bear in mind as a possibility, namely, not a confusion planted by Wolfe as a subtlety, or a trick, or a clue, as he does with so much of his work, but an actual honest-to-God confusion within Wolfe's own thought, one that he might not himself have fully grappled with.
You said at the end of episode 62 that you hope that these podcasts are enriching our readings of Wolfe. All I can say is: they certainly are for me, more than I can say (even by repeating myself on this point (as I am doing (sorry))). So thanks.
* In the "don't I know you from somewhere" department, Kirk in addition to being one of the most prominent intellectuals of the mid-20th century conservative revival, was also a writer of genre horror and fantasy, and a winner (after 5th Head was published) of the World Fantasy Award, which is to say, he was a contemporary of Wolfe's, and Wolfe may well have known his work both as a conservative thinker and as a fantasy writer. Years later, they shared a table of contents in (long-time Wolfe editor) David G. Hartwell's marvelous anthology The Dark Descent.