According to a young curator from a significant local arts institution, the younger scholars are in backlash mode against their Marxist, Maoist or New Left professors. Instead of looking at artworks from the standpoint of whether or not the artist is a right-on revolutionary or a tool of the bourgeoisie, they are doing archival research! GOOD NEWS! In passing, he mentioned that there was a widespread belief amongst the post-60s professoriate that there was something called “the system” (the oppressor) and that “the system” has “agency,” which is to say that its tentacles extend to every aspect of the society and TOTALLY determine the content of its cultural productions. Such a postulation did not meet his approval. Which signifies to me that art historians are starting to look at the art object first, then moving on to the conditions of its production, as opposed to starting with “the system” (always an art-crushing system).
This is the best news from academe and its associated institutions that I have had in years.
If you have been reading the blogs on this website, you already know that I focus on the curriculum and how the teaching of the humanities can affect mental and even physical health. As I reflect upon changes in the university from the 1960s on, I believe that the New Left generation did behave like a gang, muscling its way into the universities and the media in fields that were most susceptible to their influence: sociology, journalism, U.S. and European history, American Studies, art history, and literary history/theory. One wonders how they pulled it off. Perhaps the preceding generation of liberals (take Lionel Trilling for instance) were too invested in moderation (progressivism as conservative reform) to recognize the threat to what I have been calling true liberalism posed by their proudly “activist” graduate students. And of course the activists were pointing to real weaknesses in American institutions, which the civil rights movement had pounced upon for decades. So the guilty liberals virtuously caved to “anti-imperialism,” and we have the current polarization that I have been criticizing here as creating a mobbish political culture, but for this I blame the Left with its fictional “system” more than I do the tea party protesters, who are currently sounding more libertarian and fiscally conservative than bent on foisting “traditional values” on those of us who are proudly secular in separating church and state.
David Brooks, the “moderate” Republican who writes for the New York Times made a distinction in his column of Sept. 17, 2009 between the progressives and the populists. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/18/opinion/18brooks.html?emc=eta1) Brooks opines that the tea-party protesters should not be dismissed as racists, but as [misguided?] Jeffersonian “populists,” to be contrasted with the “Hamiltonian” progressives [progressives were Jeffersonians, not Hamiltonians]. In the historiography on the progressive movement in the early 20th century, however, populists and progressives are generally grouped together as a single movement. Both wanted the state to break up monopolies. One might argue that aspects of the Populist Party program of the 1890s were co-opted by the Progressives under Woodrow Wilson, but the populist-progressive ideology posited a “system” (the omnipotent money power/ laissez-faire capitalism) that had to be fought on behalf of the little guy. (David Brooks should have read Edward Berkowitz and Kim McQuaid, Creating the Welfare State (1980), which traced the transformation from Wilsonian localism though Hoover’s New Era on to Roosevelt’s ever more statist New Deal.) One of their most important publicists (whose ideas were in sync with Christian Socialism and Fabian Socialism) was the popular British journalist and economist J. A. Hobson (1858-1940), author of Imperialism: A Study (London: Constable, 1905), and an important influence on Lenin. Here are my notes from this seminal book:
p.51 [finance capital/Jews] “These great businesses—banking, broking, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting—form the central ganglion of international capitalism. United by the strongest bonds of organization, always in closest and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every State, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to manipulate the policy of nations. No great quick direction of capital is possible save by their consent and through their agency. Does any one seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European State, or a great State loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connexions set their face against it?” From his chapter “Economic Parasites of Imperialism.” P.54: they control the Press, and hence “public opinion.”
Page 149: On racial and national antagonisms that preclude international cooperation: “I can only repeat that this is a matter for experiment, and that the experiment has never been tried. Racial and national antagonisms have been so fed, fostered, and inflamed, for the class and personal ends and interests that have controlled politics, that the deeper underlying sympathies and community of different peoples have never been permitted complete expression, much less personal assertion. The most potent and pervasive forces in the industrial, intellectual, and moral life of most European races, so far as the masses of the peoples are concerned, have so rapidly and closely assimilated during the last century as of necessity to furnish a large common body of thought and feeling, interests, and aspirations which furnish a “soul” for internationalism.” Cf. p.198. Laissez-faire capitalism is “ethically indefensible.” [end, Hobson quotes. As I reread these notes I am reminded of the founding principles of the Pacifica Foundation, which echo Hobson, almost word for word. See my blog http://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/]
Is it any wonder that during the prewar late 1930s and 1940s, Nazis were linked by corporatist liberals, not to the populist, antisemitic left (its primary origin as a social movement), but to the laissez-faire Right, to “fascist Republicans?”* (I am not ignoring the conservative nationalists who thought they could use Hitler as a tool to defeat communism, or the monarchists in the military who hated the Weimar Republic.) Similarly, Brooks’s “populists” are small-town or rural Social Darwinists, hard-hearted, possessed by the puritan work ethic, and anal-retentive.
David Brooks’s essay is the second most emailed article in the NYTimes. [9-19, it is now number one, which means that Brooks’s revisionism may have gone viral on the net.] It appears that we are still arguing about this crucial assignation/assignment.
*The left-populist Strasser wing was lopped off after Hitler was put in power, and in his Table Talk, Hitler presented himself as a Third Way moderate:
[Hitler:] The English have to settle certain social problems which are ripe to be settled. At present these problems can still be solved from above, in a reasonable manner. I tremble for them if they don’t do it now. For if it’s left to the people to take the initiative, the road is open to madness and destruction. Men like Mosley would have had no difficulty in solving the problem, by finding a compromise between Conservatism and Socialism, by opening the road to the masses but without depriving the élite of their rights. Class prejudices can’t be maintained in a socially advanced State like ours, in which the proletariat produces men of such superiority. Every reasonably conducted organization is bound to favour the development of beings of worth. It has been my wish that the educative organisations of the Party should enable the poorest child to lay claim to the highest functions, if he has enough talent. The Party must see to it, on the other hand, that society is not compartmentalized so that everyone can quickly assert his gifts. Otherwise discontent raises its head, and the Jew finds himself in just the right situation to exploit it. It’s essential that a balance should be struck, in such a way that dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives may be abolished as well as Jewish and Bolshevik anarchists….(Jan. 27, 1942, p. 253).