European Diary

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In the 1970’s, when I lived in America, McDonald’s, apart from being a fast-food chain, was a powerful symbol of everything that was wrong with that country.  Neither I nor anybody I knew ever referred to the leviathan as a source of nourishment; invariably, its name was placed in a quarantine of ironic quotation marks, in the manner of Soviet dissidents speaking of Stalin’s constitution; and, if anyone did eat there, he kept it to himself, evasive as a respectable citizen who frequents a lugubrious part of town.

Either with voluble and thoroughgoing political theorizing, like myself, or else tacitly, like many in my circle of acquaintance, everybody seemed to agree that McDonald’s was a significant step in the preparation of a global concentration-camp mentality, a state of mind enfeebled by Pavlovian conditioning whereby man accepts any kind of indignity in exchange for any kind of alimentation.  It picked up where the authoritarian regimen of the school left off, in the dining hall, with its Dickensian rations of mystery meats and hydrocephalic potatoes.  Obviously, in those days, none of my friends had served in the Army or been to prison, and the American private school was a common point of reference.

The McDonald’s polity was a convincing caricature of untrammeled democracy as the leveling tyranny so richly adumbrated by John Stuart Mill, as well as to some extent by several...

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