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B-Sides: Studying, Race, and “Robert’s Guidelines of Order”

B-Sides: Studying, Race, and “Robert’s Guidelines of Order”

2023-04-30 02:47:18

The Earlier Query doesn’t refer, as its title would indicate, to the earlier query.

—Henry M. Robert, Robert’s Guidelines of Order Revised (1915)


Does anybody learn Robert’s Guidelines of Order? We frequently threaten to seek the advice of it, but it surely’s arduous to think about somebody actually studying any of the numerous variations of Henry Robert’s 1876 textual content. Even in Robert’s personal early editions, the steering on secondary, subsidiary, incidental, privileged, unclassified, and different motions was offered in a pointedly systematic kind that invited not gradual perusal however relatively tactical, and generally supercilious, session. “If solely you had checked out web page 47 of Robert’s Guidelines,” we will hear somebody saying, “you’d have recognized {that a} Movement to Suppress the Query requires a two-thirds vote. You moron.”

Its talismanic energy is such that an efficient use of the ebook won’t even require session. Sitting down at a committee desk and putting an unopened, unread copy the place others may see it’s a energy transfer all its personal: an index of the paradoxically occult sway of ostensibly clear process, a menace and a promise. Its potential as each an efficient device and a bespoke weapon has lengthy been part of the ebook’s enchantment. Arthur T. David, in his 1937 Robert’s Guidelines Simplified, acknowledges that for some, Robert’s guidelines seem like “a ‘bag of methods’ with which a number of members can run issues to go well with themselves.” In his Notes and Feedback on Robert’s Guidelines, Jon Ericson acknowledges that, for a lot of, “parliamentary process is that difficult, pedantic, officious, boring, boring, unfair system that tyrants use to suppress the rights of all us good folks.” “Conferences,” says Mary A. De Vries in The New Robert’s Guidelines of Order, “are one of many few issues in life which might be pursued relentlessly despite the fact that they provoke infinite complaints of frustration, stress, wasted hours, and dissatisfaction with the end result.” And Doris P. Zimmerman dedicates her Robert’s Guidelines in Plain English “to everybody who has served as a member or chief of a bunch, and who has, at one time or one other, felt ignorant, ineffectual, helpless, annoyed, repressed, or simply plain bored.” Whether or not as a cudgel wielded by others or as a method of creating the most effective of an basically unhealthy scenario, Robert’s Guidelines isn’t one thing that one reads for pleasure or, strictly talking, one thing that one actually reads in any respect.

That mentioned, there are methods to learn Robert’s Guidelines. Though the flat, Gideon Bible ubiquity of the ebook makes it appear inevitable and even pure, its model, its origins, its afterlife, and, certainly, its kind are combined up with the historical past of democracy in America in unexpectedly deep methods. A better have a look at Robert’s Guidelines permits us to say one thing concerning the historical past of guidelines and thus the historicity of types. In his authentic introduction, Robert made a degree of characterizing his guidelines as a rugged and nervy American various to the stately rhythms and traditional types of English widespread regulation. “As a folks we now have not the respect which the English have for customs and precedents,” he notes approvingly, “and are all the time prepared for such improvements as we expect enhancements; therefore modifications have been and are continually being made within the written guidelines which our legislative our bodies have discovered finest to undertake.” The formal autonomy of Robert’s Guidelines was thus a means to not reject, however relatively to embrace what he understood because the stressed, propulsive, and historic character of Nineteenth-century American democracy. As a result of, as his modern Walt Whitman may need put it, an basically changeable America demanded types that might be fittest for its days, one needed to articulate summary and restricted guidelines that might, in flip, permit these traditionally particular and socially productive types to return into being. The autonomy of the rule as pure kind was not a rejection of historical past however relatively a method to handle and to stay inside historical past’s erratic midst.

The ebook’s provenance is, nevertheless, each extra specific and extra fraught than even that. Greater than an aspirational and summary index of a Whitmanian democracy-to-come, Robert’s Guidelines was an particularly formal response to the very actual issues and particularly American violence of white supremacy, segregated democracy, and civil conflict.

Growing, deciphering, and wielding a system of semiautonomous guidelines makes for arduous studying, as Robert himself acknowledged within the 1915 Guidelines of Order Revised. After pages of detailed steering about how one ought to use the handbook, Robert appends a really temporary and gnomic notice “to the reader,” implying that one way or the other “the reader” is somebody different and extra specific than whomever has been studying Robert’s Guidelines to this point. “The reader is suggested,” he writes, “to learn this Guide within the order steered within the Plan for the research of Parliamentary Legislation, web page 305.” On web page 305, one is directed to right away flip again and browse from pages 275 to 292 after which again once more from pages 25 to 51, then bounce again to web page 5 earlier than shifting ahead to web page 20 after which ahead once more to web page 313 after which again to web page 134, and so forth.

Robert’s discursive zigzagging by means of 18 distinct classes would, in principle, permit one to assemble a comforting pedagogical various to Robert’s Guidelines, a reader’s Robert’s Guidelines. The impact is, nevertheless, one thing just like the deliberately fractured and disorienting design of Sven Lindqvist’s A Historical past of Bombing. As Lindqvist places it within the opening part, “Easy methods to Learn This Ebook”: “Comply with the threads, put collectively the horrifying puzzle, and, upon getting seen my century, construct one in every of your personal from different items.” The narratologist Gérard Genette says that basically, “the narrative textual content, like each different textual content, has no different temporality than what it borrows, metonymically, from its personal studying.” The identical could be mentioned about accounts of strategic bombing and parliamentary regulation. Or, provided as a newbie’s path by means of the thickets of parliamentary process, the unusual and jagged reader’s Guidelines may really feel much less like a guidebook and extra like one in every of Raymond Queneau’s Oulipian combinatorial experiments—literary works that relied on the systematic adoption of formal constraints to generate new sorts of content material. And, certainly, in the identical means that Queneau treats the poetic line each as part of a poem and as one thing autonomous and thus indefinitely generative in Cent mille milliards de poèmes (A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems), Robert understands the rule of order as one thing oddly and unexpectedly autonomous. “Whereas it can be crucial that an meeting has good guidelines,” Robert writes, “it’s extra vital that or not it’s not with out some guidelines to manipulate its proceedings.”

The excellence right here between “good guidelines” and “some guidelines” is significant. A “good rule” is, one takes it, good as a result of it emerges from and speaks to the widespread character and expertise of a bunch. An expression of a selected and located ethos, the “good rule” contributes to a person’s or a bunch’s content-rich view of the great life. “Some guidelines,” alternatively, are “vital” as a result of and solely as a result of they’re guidelines. In different phrases, they function sensible postulates or procedural fictions with out which a deliberative group can’t functionally exist. One thing like a “zero phoneme” in Roman Jakobson or “mana” in Claude Lévi-Strauss, the “some rule” is a placeholder, a formalized “vital absence” upon which the coherence of a bunch or meeting should rely. The place the residing stuff of “good guidelines” could be good, a gift however empty set of “some guidelines” is, paradoxically, a structural necessity.

As soon as seen, the vacant and but obligatory aesthetic autonomy of the “some rule” appears to contaminate the entire of Robert’s Guidelines. Squint just a bit, and the suppositional depth of a few of its relentless, summary, and wholly imaginary procedural scene setting feels much less like sensible recommendation than one thing from a Speaking Heads file: “If he isn’t very optimistic, he might say, ‘The ayes appear to have it.’” Or, “a member might say that if the modification of the modification is voted down, he’ll provide such and such an modification of the modification.” Or, “chances are you’ll ask your self, ‘How do I work this?’ … ‘This isn’t my stunning home.’” As a result of, in that case, the “some rule” versus the “good rule” is a kind that exists nearly other than its content material, it makes a sure if perverse sense that it could possibly be mixed and recombined to invent or to find completely different and extra advanced variations of the identical textual content. Think about, when you dare, 100 thousand billion committee conferences. Due to the combinatorial energy of Robert’s Guidelines, you may! If, nevertheless, this begins to get at what’s unexpectedly wealthy and unusual concerning the type of Robert’s Guidelines, what about its content material, its origins, its which means? Why, in different phrases, did it appear self-evident to Robert or anybody else that what America wanted in 1876 was a scientific compendium of semiautonomous “some guidelines” with which “to manipulate its proceedings”?

In actual fact, the obvious abstractions and “some rule” formalisms of Robert’s Guidelines weren’t an escape from however relatively a barely displaced expression of tensions that outlined American life within the instant wake of the Civil Struggle.

“Robert’s Guidelines” was an particularly formal response to the very actual issues and particularly American violence of white supremacy, segregated democracy, and civil conflict.

Henry Martyn Robert was born in 1837 close to Robertville, South Carolina. His father, Joseph Thomas Robert, was a Baptist clergyman and a member of a slave-owning household that made its cash rising rice and indigo. Following a late spiritual awakening, Joseph grew to become more and more against slavery, a proven fact that stored him and his spouse, Adeline, continually on the transfer between South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, and Georgia. With the onset of the Civil Struggle, home tensions between Joseph and Adeline grew to become acute: “when,” write R. Frank Saunders and George Rogers with inadvertent bathos, “the conflict got here … Joseph Robert would expertise the nightmare of a private civil conflict in his personal family.” Although Joseph’s opposition to slavery, and thus to the Confederacy, grew to become increasingly more pronounced, Adeline “retained robust southern sympathies” and, much more, felt distraught at her compelled separation from her slaveholding father and brothers. This battle was made harder when her son Henry, who had entered West Level at 16, determined to stay an engineer within the service of the Union Military. “The concept,” she later wrote, “that younger Henry and one in every of my brothers could be introduced in precise contact on reverse sides pursued me like a ghost.” She tried and didn’t persuade Henry to modify sides and battle for the Confederacy.

Adeline died quickly after the conflict’s finish, and Joseph moved to Augusta after which to Atlanta, Georgia, the place he would turn out to be the primary president of Morehouse School. As Benjamin Brawley notes in his historical past of Morehouse, the fraught tales of the Roberts père et fils got here collectively “throughout the yr 1877–8, [when] Main H. M. Robert, of the U.S. Engineer Corps, offered one thousand copies of his Parliamentary Information to be on the disposal of the President for the advantage of the Institute.”

Simply because the conflict’s aftermath led his father to one in every of America’s first traditionally Black faculties, so did Henry’s expertise of intractable private and political battle over the query of slavery feed into his effort, begun in 1863 and first completed in 1876, to think about guidelines which may stop social battle from sliding into disaster. “The place there may be radical distinction of opinion in a corporation, one aspect should yield,” he wrote in 1923. “The good lesson for democracies to be taught is for almost all to present to the minority a full, free alternative to current their aspect of the case, after which for the minority, having didn’t win a majority to their views, gracefully to submit and to acknowledge the motion as that of all the group, and cheerfully to help in carrying it out, till they will safe its repeal.” Though abstracted to the purpose of virtually pure kind, Robert’s Guidelines should be seen as a product of the Civil Struggle and of the arguments about slavery that roiled the nation and his family.

The ties between race and Robert’s Guidelines returned with a vengeance only some years later whereas Henry’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Corbin Robert, was a “trustee” of Robert’s Guidelines of Order—which she would edit and totally revise in 1970—and the president-general of the ultraconservative Daughters of the American Revolution.

In January 1939, Charles Cohen, chairman of Howard College’s live performance collection, contacted the DAR and sought to order Structure Corridor in Washington, DC, for an Easter Sunday live performance by Marian Anderson. The singer had labored with Toscanini and Sibelius, and carried out to nice acclaim all through the US and Europe for over a decade. Referring to a “white artists solely” clause that they’d inserted into their commonplace rental contract in 1932, the DAR refused to permit Anderson to carry out. Though they claimed that such a clause was widespread amongst Washington venues, it was, in actual fact, “in no way compelled by native customized. The exclusion of black performers was an excessive measure for town of Washington.”

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Following a number of protests, which might culminate with Eleanor Roosevelt’s public resignation from and condemnation of the group, Robert “convened the [DAR] Board of Administration, persuaded them … that no exception could possibly be made for Anderson so far as the ‘white artists solely’ clause was involved, and gained a victory of 39 to 1.” With the committee and its guidelines behind her, Robert wrote to Anderson in phrases that had been each morally grotesque and procedurally right: “The inventive and musical standing of Miss Marian Anderson isn’t concerned in any means. In view of the existence of provisions in prevailing agreements with different organizations and live performance bureaus, and the coverage which has been adopted up to now, an exception can’t be made on this occasion.” She was, she argued, simply following the foundations.

“In mild of the D.A.R.’s historical past all through the Nineteen Twenties and a lot of the Thirties,” writes Allan Keiler, “these explanations on the a part of the president-general look like excessive comedy.” “Right here,” he continues, “was a corporation that was portraying itself as helplessly restricted by prevailing coverage, swallowed up by social and political forces over which they might hardly be anticipated to have any management or affect. But right here was a corporation whose management had for years circulated a blacklist of all those that opposed the D.A.R.’s views, that had testified earlier than congressional committees in help of anti-liberal laws, that had summarily expelled members who disagreed overtly with D.A.R. coverage.” Regardless of what Robert and the DAR had accomplished with their guidelines, Anderson did carry out in Washington that Easter, singing not in Structure Corridor however relatively on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 and to thousands and thousands extra over the radio.

The historical past, the existence, and even—or particularly—the distinctive formalism of Robert’s Guidelines of Order are something however impartial. Actually studying Robert’s Guidelines permits us to see yet one more level the place historicism and formalism should not opposed however relatively two intertwined strands of any thoroughgoing evaluation of politics, ideology, and artwork. On the one hand, the Guidelines are a historic artifact, a system that emerged out of a traumatic encounter with the very fact of white supremacy and the expertise of the Civil Struggle. Then again, extra typically, as a result of all guidelines are historic, no rule can ever be impartial or really autonomous; we have to see even the formal autonomy of the rule qua rule as one thing actual, obligatory, and doubtlessly violent.

It’s precisely the apparently ahistorical pressure of a rule’s formalism that lends it the capability each to help the functioning of teams, assemblies, and different communities and to present cowl to resolutely historic abuses of energy. Whereas some guidelines (and “some guidelines”) are essential to the construction and coherence of any neighborhood or group, the truth that some guidelines (and “some guidelines”) are all the time obligatory doesn’t imply that each one guidelines will essentially be good. icon

This text was commissioned by John Plotz.   Featured picture: Marian Anderson singing on the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939. {Photograph} by Robert S. Scurlock / Courtesy of Smithsonian Establishment, Nationwide Museum of American Historical past, Archives Middle.

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