YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 13, 2016

“…a pretty face”


Linda Darnell silenced

Linda Darnell silenced

The last few days in the 2016 campaign have seen an increase in the chatter about feminism, mostly focused on the gap between Millennial young women and [relics] from the feminism as it is imagined to have existed in the second wave of “feminism” in the 1970s.

Even the Washington Post has taken notice, starting a new series on “New Wave Feminism” (http://link.washingtonpost.com/public/6095592), while right-leaning Fox News Channel invited Harvard Crimson staffer Molly Roberts to represent the Ivy Millennials in an evaluation of the same subject. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/hillary-clinton-2016-young-women-gender-213620. Ms. Roberts, close to scowling during the entire segment, is apparently unaware that the second wave feminists of the 1970s came out of the antiwar movement, and were equally “anti-racist” and “anti-imperialist.” (Some were right-wing social democrats, while many were communists.)

The media have been equally ignorant of 60s-70s politics. Gloria Steinem has been castigated for stating (jokingly) that the millennial girls are simply “going where the boys are.” Persons of my age will remember that the antiwar demonstrations were a magnet for protesters of both genders looking for hook-ups. Indeed Steinem got lots of publicity because of her glamour and well-known connections with powerful males in publishing.

Also making news this week was Madeline Albright, consigning non-Hillary Clinton supporters to eternal damnation in hell. What this signaled to me was the moralism of both “Left” and “Right.” Meanwhile, fashion magazine of the Wall Street Journal today has reduced to sexual objects even the “privileged” women who can afford the major designers.

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz had to pull a political ad directed against Marco Rubio because the production company failed to vet a “soft porn” actress (Amy Lindsay), whose chief line was that it was foolish to trust “a [lying] pretty face.” Nobody in the press noticed that this was a slap against an allegedly effeminate Rubio.

So much for progress in gender relations: “plus ça change….”

February 9, 2016

Is the Nature-Nurture debate over?

stress_general_shutterstock-ollyy_0This blog is about an alarming turn toward the legitimation of “race” and “ethnicity” as the prime influences on “personality.”

Are you fascinated with genealogy, particularly the ethnicity of your ancestors? (See the popularity of Ancestry.com commercials, where “ancestry” seems to 1. Have replaced American melting-pot identity; and 2. reinforced the notion of “ethnicity” or “race” as the primary components of “personality”; and 3. ignored the sociopolitical and economic sources of “stress” and depression, as if political polarization was not operating on individuals apart from diet, exercise, and positive thinking. (See http://clarespark.com/2015/12/16/the-depression-grand-challenge-ucla-style/)

It was not always the case that variants of “multiculturalism” dominated our own self-images. It was assumed by such as E. O. Wilson (a Harvard professor) that the Nature-Nurture controversy was controversial, and our term paper assignments included taking the side of either those who believed in the inheritance of “innate” characteristics or those who believed that “acquired characteristics” were determinative of behavior. I should have smelled a rat, for I had been under the [outdated] impression that it was impossible to separate the “innate” from the “acquired.” I still believe that, despite the relatively recent field of “epigenetics” that subtly may favor “social engineering” while appearing to resolve the Nature-Nurture controversy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics; http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/180963-lamarcks-revenge-the-epigenetics-revolution-may-redeem-one-of-darwins-oldest-rivals.)

This is no small academic point, for some sociobiologists have quietly been reinforcing the notion of biological determinism, once discredited as invented by 19th century racists. (This is the subject of hot controversy, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociobiology.)

Can a recrudescence of Social Darwinism, with its appeal to Nature over Nurture, be far behind? Ask any populist. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism.)


February 2, 2016

Bernie’s kids

Maxfield Parrish painting

Maxfield Parrish painting

I am wondering if we should reorganize the way we think about “class” in America.

In a media, political, and academic environment that confuses the working class with the “middle class,” and calls everyone who is not a “moderate” or a “conservative” a leftist, it seems to me that we should consider the young people that turn out for Bernie Sanders as a group unto itself, with the analysis appropriate to its numbers.

First, there is the obvious appeal to the Sanders platform: soaking the “rich” (with possible repercussions for the “middle class” parents of his enthused following; free college; fully socialized medicine; and even legalization of marijuana (http://feelthebern.org/bernie-sanders-on-drug-policy/). I.e., a prolonged childhood with lifelong “sticking it” to parents who hoped that their kids would someday grow up and assume adult responsibilities. Here we have all the elements of generational conflict.

But more, second, there is the education that young people have experienced. From popular culture to both public and private schools, their education has been either rebellious (leaning toward anarchism: http://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/) or “progressive,” dumbed down and forgetful of the fierce and instructive debates that energized the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the 1930s, when only the very young and the very old failed to distinguish between communism, right-wing social democrats, and FDR’s “progressive” version of moderate conservatism.

Many an academic has suggested that “youth revolt” was instrumental in the rise of the Nazi party after the Great War. I am not comparing Sanders to a young Hitler, but rather to a frightening pied piper, leading his young followers over a cliff, while promising new and better solidarities.

Young Sanders as Mayor of Burlington, Vt.

Young Sanders as Mayor of Burlington, Vt.

January 25, 2016

Is the US Constitution “godless”?

flag-cross-elephantI had always assumed that economist and social theorist Friedrich Hayek was interchangeable in his philosophy with Milton Friedman, until I reread Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (1969) in which he gave all honor to the English antecedents of the Founders, consigning the French philosophe input to the disreputable rationalist tradition and the horrid French Revolution that it spawned.

It was not until I read a trade book The Godless Revolution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State (by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, Norton, 2005) that I understood the longstanding gap between defenders of the Christian Commonwealth idea (exemplified by Hayek and his admired predecessors Edmund Burke and Lord Acton) and those Jeffersonians who defended religious pluralism/the secular state.

Kramnick and Moore’s book is a full throated attack on the “religious Right” from the New Deal left-liberal side of the political spectrum, and takes its place as a major tool in the culture wars. To be fair, the authors take care not to be confused with atheists; religion should take its place in public policy debates, as long as theocracy is not advocated, but it is clear where their morality lies: in Big Government programs, including environmentalism and other compassionate legislation, such as feminist abortion rights, and the single payer health plan. They acknowledge that Jefferson’s minimalist state was suited for an agrarian society, but assume that the Industrial Revolution initiated a new system of morality. (They might have mentioned those who transformed Jefferson’s negative state to a positive state, a.k.a. Big Government, historian Carl Becker’s input is MIA.)

Their book is a boilerplate left liberal argument: dropping the name of Milton Friedman, the advocate of free markets, but ignoring his theme of upward mobility made possible by laissez-faire economics. (See http://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/.)

Their heroes include John Locke, Jefferson, FDR, JFK, and the Clintons; their villains are such as James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Lyndon Johnson (!, who went too far? or was it Viet Nam?) and George W. Bush who ostensibly made his conversion from scapegrace to piety the major theme of his 2004 campaign. (Which is odd, because the authors clearly want to convert the readers from laissez-faire economics to the positive, hyper-moral state.)

As proper pluralists, they frown on public displays of the Ten Commandments, for the first four laws are too Jewish; i.e., not inclusive.


January 19, 2016

“New York values”

New-Yorker-NY-Daily-News-side-by-side-CruzWhen presidential aspirant Ted Cruz accused his rival Donald J. Trump of professing “New York values” (ultra-liberal sponsorship of gay marriage and “pro-abortion” sentiments) I immediately took offense, for I recognized the latent antisemitism in that remark. Not so on Fox News Channel, with the notable exception of Geraldo Rivera, whose mother is Jewish.  Last  night (1-18-16) Irish Catholic Bill O’Reilly sharply distanced himself from the Geraldo diagnosis, perhaps  oblivious to his semi-conscious feelings. (As a culture warrior, O’Reilly blames “secular progressives” for assaulting Christmas. His [deicide] guests from that ostensibly atheistic faction have had “Jewish” names, though O’Reilly has not been an obvious antisemite.)

This blog goes over old ground, for since 1986 I have been studying both latent and explicit antisemitism, and I will be very specific.

Cruz’s characterization of “New York values” evokes the rural hostility to “Cain’s cities” that, in the [Iowan] agrarian argot signify violence and decadence. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/11/17/melencolia-i-and-the-apocalypse-1938/.) Moreover, New York has always been a target of politicians for its Jewish population, and it is accurate that “liberal” Jews have, since they were supposedly agents of ferment hostile to WASP America, risen in the socio-economic scale, and arousing fear of “the Jewish vote” (see http://clarespark.com/2011/06/17/the-famed-jewish-vote/).

But consider the two policies specified by Senator Cruz: “pro-abortion” and “gay marriage.” First, no feminist (female or male) is in favor of slaughtering babies. That expression “pro-abortion” evokes the blood libel, an ancient fantasy that Jews murder Christian infants for their matzo-flavoring blood. (Some feminists may refer to “abortion rights” but I prefer the notion of “choice.”)

“Gay marriage” offends some ultra-conservatives, because it evokes androgyny, blurring the sharp separation between male and female that, it is believed, are necessary ingredients for abolishing poverty in the (restored) patriarchal family. Hitler (in Mein Kampf) referred to the “feminized masses” who, in my reading, were oddly both gullible and too curious about the affairs of their betters. Hitler, like many historians, abhorred “mass politics” pandering to the base instincts, unlike the displaced aristocracy.

Caruba/Flickr in Reason.com

Caruba/Flickr in Reason.com

Close reading is necessary to decode propaganda. It is unlikely that Ted Cruz intended to vilify Jews. But when sharp eyed and sensitive students of stereotypes call him out on at least latent name-calling, it behooves him and all politicians and journalists to wise up, as O’Reilly likes to say. (Update: I found the Leipzig postcard under Google images for “mass politics”; i.e., the loss of the “good King” opens the door to the “special interest group” that divides and ultimately conquers “the body politic.”)

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group




January 6, 2016


Damian Gordon slideshow image

Damian Gordon slideshow image

(Update 1-8-16: This is NOT an anti-religion blog. My point is that secular, pluralistic societies are notorious for undermining the claims of particular religions.)

The agitated response to the claim by N. Korea that it had tested an H-Bomb reminded me of Eisenhower’s seminal 1961 farewell speech warning of a [godless] “military-industrial complex.” The heart of progressivism lies in this warning: that the Bomb unleashed powers that heretofore were reserved for the deity. The (moderate conservative) remedy is love in the service of international understanding, i.e., multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and the prophetic vision of Woodrow Wilson that eventuated in the United Nations (preceded by the League of Nations).

That is the overarching message of Carroll W. Pursell Jr.’s Readings in Technology and American Life (Oxford UP paperback, 1969).  The running theme in this solely “progressive” roundup of source readings was echoed by historian Friedrich Meinecke’s explanation for the rise of Hitler: technology, unharnessed by the moderating power of religion, would raise a race of monster technicians from the lower orders, unimpressed by elite leadership. (The German historian’s analysis is found here: http://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/.)

Make no mistake: Pursell is a devoted progressive, hence not hostile to the rule of experts (a salutary effect of professionalization in the applied sciences): experts who would be motivated by such dodgy and indefinite notions as a knowable “public interest,” the planning state, and “service” (a.k.a. “duty”). What Pursell is pitching is Conservative Enlightenment in the service of Big Government. (Radical Enlightenment leads to free market economics, not bureaucratic collectivism. See http://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/.)

Where would godless technology lead in a secularizing society? To the rule of robots with selected human features? If we feel ourselves turning into mindless machines, perhaps we should look to the apparent benefits of conformity to rules handed down by “experts,” not to advances in our particular understanding of the material world we inhabit.


December 29, 2015

Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

lassiz_faireI recently read Friedman’s magnum opus for the first time, and was surprised to see how far current Republican, conservative and libertarian politics have conceded to the progressivism that many of them abhor as excessively statist and even communistic. The Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman) plays up Friedman’s divergence from Keynesian economics, which is true enough, but fails to note the novelty of his adherence to free market principles, given the domination of New Deal policies in postwar administrations, and in progressivism in general.

I have written before of the regression to medieval economics and culture, but now I must revise my old blogs, for Friedman’s big book made me realize that we have only partly emerged from the Late Middle Ages into modernity; that is how vanguard Friedman’s free market capitalism is, given his emphasis on equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of condition/outcomes.

In its first summary of his accomplishments, the Wiki condenses his contributions:

[Wiki:] “Friedman was an advisor to Republican U.S. President Ronald Reagan[12] and Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His political philosophy extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. He once stated that his role in eliminating U.S. conscription was his proudest accomplishment. In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and school vouchers. His support for school choice led him to found the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.”

A reader could have concluded that Friedman was an antagonist to Big Government, with its bloated bureaucracies, illegitimate claims to mandatory regulations, and obsession with “income inequality” and legislating minimum wages, but Wiki highlighted his most problematic view—that doctors were jacking up prices for medical care by monopolizing the field. (My sole objection to the abolition of licenses: before the market has done its work in expelling frauds, the patient may have suffered irreparable harm, even death. The same could be said with respect to harm to the environment: there is no room for trial and error when we entirely deregulate pollution, for instance. Indeed, Friedman declares that the case for deregulating medical care is the most difficult to allege.)

Wiki also downplays Friedman’s belief in both (limited) public and private sectors, instead (?) devoting much space to Friedman’s effects on the Chilean government after the Pinochet coup, perhaps a slap at classical liberalism tout court. But Wiki does acknowledge Friedman’s chief claim: that economic freedom is the necessary foundation of political freedom, and hence that Chile would eventually become more democratic.

To conclude, today’s Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, while embracing many of Friedman’s advocacy of free market principles, have a long way to go in meeting up with his thoroughgoing classical liberalism. For instance, in the “debates” (http://clarespark.com/2015/12/21/debates-as-pseudo-events-with-pseudo-moderators/), no moderators or candidates are taking up the necessity for school choice, or, for that matter, choice in general.

Apparently, religious orthodoxy, not Friedman-esque economic freedom, controls the Right in this election season, at least for the influential “social conservative” wing of the Party.


December 21, 2015

“Debates” as pseudo-events with pseudo-moderators

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

gladiatorsI find the recent debates in both parties infuriating. Why are they called debates, when they are nothing but pseudo-events and have nothing to do with the traditional meaning of a debate, which is a disciplined, precise, and detailed back and forth on a narrowly focused policy topic?

In US history, the debates between opposing individuals running for office, or, earlier, ratification of the Constitution, were (at times) occasions for public education, as were religious sermons in colonial New England. But in the age of the Great Dumbing Down, these much commented-upon current circuses/boxing matches offer nothing new to cogitate upon, or even to refine the details of a proposed social policy.

Nor are these “debates” even competently moderated. The candidates interrupt each other and take charge of the discourse, the bloodier the better. One might compare our political debates with gladiatorial combat, often egged on by “moderators” with an agenda more directed to obfuscation, the drawing of blood, and slogans than to public enlightenment. Is anyone paying attention to the time limits, supposedly agreed upon by the participants? To me, as observer, this creates anxiety, as the press (including cable  news) elevate these performances as some kind of revelation of character, and as examples of rational discourse in the interest of public appreciation of the fine points of public policy. Who are the performers—candidates and moderators are all acting.

No wonder many Americans are disgusted by political and media establishments, and are mobbishly attracted to populist demagogues. Those social theorists who have deplored the rise of the “spectacle” are correct. (http://clarespark.com/2012/09/10/index-to-blogs-on-populist-demagoguery/)

Thumbs down on our contemporary political combat.





December 19, 2015

Still Looking for Mr. Goodbar: the fear of individual liberty and self-direction

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:44 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Mr_GoodbarI was much influenced by Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom (1941). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Freedom. Wiki leaves out Fromm’s theory of working class authoritarianism to account for Nazism and makes him a typical social democrat, critical of experts and advertising whose origin and targets are “the mobocracy.”) This blog is about the nostalgia for monarchism providing definite authority and the novelty of free market economics. It is not about Fromm’s notion of the authoritarian personality, a preoccupation understandable in the face of Nazism and related isms.

Like most of my readers and FB friends, I have been trying to situate myself somewhere in the current political campaign for president. I am particularly interested in the Frank Luntz focus groups, for a variety of ordinary people seem to be seeking a manly, stable “leader,” whatever the flaws or evasions in his social policy views.

This last week, I read Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962), which is a systematic defense of free markets and untrammeled cultural freedom, an outcome that Friedman finds inseparable from capitalism in its most laissez-faire mode. (I agree with most of what he writes, but wonder if “choice” is invariably wise, given the fatal possibilities of succumbing to quacks and other “professional” frauds.)

At the same time, I have been studying very old fights among historians about the major turning points in the history of our sorry species. My most vivid recollection is that of Louis XIV and the prestige of his absolute despotism as the embodiment of the State. It occurred to me that we have, in spite of our Constitution, not progressed very far from Louis’s [vulgarity], using the magnificence of Versailles-like splendor, for instance, to wow the masses and the King’s underlings, rather like the glitterati, “traditional” mansions, and “special effects” in film celebrated especially during the holiday season to induce spending, notwithstanding the solemnity of religious observance.


Back to Luntz’s focus group regarding Trump and his competition (broadcast on Fox 12-18-15, on The Kelly File). Numerous persons in the Luntz focus group referred to “the people” as the preferred source of authority. But through the centuries, “the people” have been acted upon by elites, and the efforts of individuals to assert liberty have been criminalized as demonic and sneaky. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.) Moreover, there is no such animal as “the people”: that is a construction by “traditional” organic conservatives seeking a compact mass to dominate. Friedman, like Charles Sumner before him, favored small government, and saw “society” as a collection of individuals.

Is it not the case that we are, more often than not, scared to death of asserting our individual rights, in what Fromm correctly called an escape from freedom?


David Bog Big Picture


December 17, 2015

Whither the white working class?

gilded-age-populism“Independent” Megyn Kelly mentioned William A. Galston’s op ed in the WSJ (“The Bleak Reality Driving Trump’s Rise,” 12-16-15). This blog takes issue with Galston’s characterization of the flagging economy that is supposedly driving [racist] white labor to the open arms of Donald J. Trump.

Galston, had he been an honest journalist and a reader of Milton Friedman, for instance, might have blamed the slowing economy on the statist practices of the increasingly left-wing Democratic Party.

There used to be a major dispute among historians of the condition of the English working class in the early 19th century after the rise of industrialism, but such figures as Marx, Dickens, Carlyle, Toynbee, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, the Fabians, and more recently Eric Hobsbawm, fixed all that, declaring (against entirely contrary statistics) that life was hell for the new industrial working class. Their twentieth century “progressive” followers are now in charge of the public school system and the major universities, buttressed by cultural nationalists who hate “capitalism and imperialism,” so it is any wonder that a contempt for “white supremacy” is now characteristic of students in the “better” private and public schools, and whose spokespersons can now be heard on the “moderate” and “balanced” newspapers and cable news shows?

Are your college-age kids English majors? If they are not besieged by medieval literature and “ethnic” literatures, they might choose to drown in the anti-modern, proto-Green fulminations of the Romantics, deemed today to be the advocates of soothing Nature, certainly not the beguiling “Nature” identified by “Romantic” Herman Melville, who saw the White Whale as not only Leviathan but a representative of Nature with a false face, harboring “the charnel house within.” Moreover, Melville rejected either Whiggish “optimism” or Tory “pessimism,” plumping for “realism.” [For the UCLA English syllabus see http://www.english.ucla.edu/academics/course-listing/660. Whether or not many of these entries are anticapitalist/antimodern, the reader can decide for herself. Thanks to Prof. Jon Morse of the U. of Hawaii for the  reference to the UCLA course list.]

Galston’s final paragraph gives his politics away: Warning “professional elites” against complacency, he writes “Cultural liberalism is not enough. Without a plan that offers a better life for Americans born to fewer advantages, populism, not progressivism, could capture the future.”


The WSJ  is apparently unaware that the populist movement was originally for “the people” (mostly small producers but not workers, who may inhabit the entire spectrum of socioeconomic opinion; see http://clarespark.com/2011/02/02/the-legitimate-aspirations-of-the-___-people/). Even worse, Democrat William A. Galston doesn’t know that the progressive movement co-opted populist demands. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, especially the footnotes.)




Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 499 other followers