Until I read Philip Wylie’s best seller A Generation of Vipers (1942), I had assumed that the sprinkling of red-diaper babies who rose to prominence in the social movements of the 1960s, were the bearers of the intellectual ideas that gave rise to the women’s movement, the antiwar movement, the back to Nature movement, and to multiculturalism, with its emphasis on “race” over “class.”
(I should have known that no true communist would sort people out by “race” as the anti-racist Soviet Union was adamant about the conception of proletarian internationalism; moreover, communists wrote A World View of Race in the mid-1930s, that identified the fiction of “race” with the aims of the imperialist bourgeoisie, letting workers off the hook.)
I had already learned at Cornell U. in my course with David Brion Davis that “evil was back” with the renewed popularity of Reinhold Niebuhr, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 1940s. And the “evil” within each of us (to cite Penny Dreadful), was there to offset excessive progressive optimism about the promise of American life, which enabled upward mobility for the Common Man or Woman.
What stunned me about the Wylie “sermon,” that echoed everything that Henry A. Murray and his Harvard associates alleged (e.g., Walter Langer, Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, etc.), was his diatribe against Cinderella turning into Mom, the source of all angst in the male sex, including the medical profession. Here is a sample of Wylie’s vituperative book of essays:
“MOM IS THE END PRODUCT OF SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis, of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)
Wylie, like Henry Murray, was a convinced Jungian and primitivist, and like the pagan Murray, was an avowed elitist, also a free-love kind of fellow (but not an advocate for gay rights, for “nances” were sub-textually tied to Mom.) So Wylie was obviously attacking “sentimental” conservatives of a fundamentalist religious bent. He shared with Murray an admiration for the true grit of the Russian people, a taste for internationalism, and for FDR’s personality, with Wylie going so far as to suggest that those who lacked the [independent, masculine, upper-class unsentimental education] should not even vote or hold elective office.
Moreover, the immigrants, preceded by the Nature-wrecking pioneers were a bunch of rowdy rascals. Anyone who denied this was a Mom-identified sentimental “patriot” and deserving of contempt—in short, a viper of the type that devout Christians embodied. Such conservatives, he alleged, had twisted the life and legacy of Christ, ignoring the imprecation to “know thyself,” i.e., to know thy limitations, that such (feminized) devils are not “trained to rule” (Murray’s notes to Melville’s White-Jacket).
I have reported elsewhere that Murray thought that Hitler had Jewish blood (http://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, footnote 2), and I didn’t understand this until I read Wylie on the Jews. Wylie spurned vulgar beliefs that upper-class Jews controlled the world (they were but a small portion of the elite, though they controlled the new media), but agreed with Talcott Parsons (Murray’s colleague) that the Jews were vain and believed in their chosen-ness and separateness. And Hitler’s crime was not just to persecute the Jews, but to imitate Jewish pridefulness; the Germans were the new Chosen People.
Where could Hitler have gotten this horribly mistaken idea unless he was something of a Jew himself, putting on airs and vain…rather like Mom.
The Wikipedia bio of Wylie states that he went on to become an early Green and fierce opponent of nuclear power. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Wylie.)
Philip Wylie, nature-lover
Although recent research has to some degree vindicated Joe McCarthy, uncovering the presence of Communist spies out to steal secrets for the benefit of Soviet-style internationalism, we should pay more attention to the dour pessimism of the old WASP establishment, who were the true parents of New Left movements, all smacking of the populism and “middle way” espoused by Philip Wylie and his contemporaries.
Wylie’s daughter, a novelist herself, has insisted that her father was no misogynist, it should be noted that “Mom” is a middle-class clubwoman married to a businessman, beguiled by materialism/consumerism/: the Northeastern elite’s idea of a Republican. And such benighted sentimentalists shouldn’t be trusted to vote.