YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 2, 2009

A Rough Ride Through The Culture Wars

Image (81)

Pierrot Escapes by Jaques Lipchitz (1927)

Materialists without materials

.  Within corporatist liberalism two varieties of “pluralism” (superficially similar either to Federalism or Jeffersonian republicanism) are deployed in fights over the curriculum.  Although they bitterly oppose each other neither faction questions organic formulations of society by positing the legitimacy and value of the dissenting, creative individual above their undefinable, indescribable, irreplaceable “group cohesion”; therefore neither can fully explain either antisemitism or fascism although they may be obsessed with issues of “control.”  For the culture warriors, “the Enlightenment,” like “the world community” or “the West” or “the spirit of an age” is an integrated whole, angelically pure and healthy, or diseased, depending upon its designated genealogy:

 [Aase:] Peer, you’re lying….

[Peer Gynt:]…Downward rushed we, ever downward.

But beneath us something shimmered,

Whitish, like a reindeer’s belly.–

Mother, ‘twas our own reflection

In the glass-smooth mountain tarn,

Shooting up towards the surface

With the same wild rush of speed

Wherewith we were shooting downwards…

[Aase:] Yes, a lie, turned topsy-turvy,

Can be prinked and tinselled out,

Decked in plumage new and fine,

Till none knows its lean old carcass.

That is just what you’ve been doing,

Vamping up things, wild and grand,

Garnishing with eagle’s backs

And with all the other horrors,

Lying right and lying left,

Filling me with speechless dread,

Till at last I recognised not

What of old I’d heard and known!

[Peer:] If another talked like that

I’d half kill him for his pains.

[Aase:] Oh, would God I lay a corpse;

Would the black earth held me sleeping.

Prayers and tears don’t bite upon him.–

Peer, you’re lost, and ever will be!

 [Peer:] Darling, pretty little mother,

You are right in every word;–

Don’t be cross, be happy—

[Aase:]                           Silence!

Could I, if I would be happy,

With a pig like you for son?…

[Peer Gynt:] Shall I write my life without dissimulation,–

A book for guidance and imitation?

Or, stay–! I have plenty of time at command;–

What if, as a travelling scientist,

I should study past ages and time’s voracity?

Ay, sure enough, that is the thing for me!

Legends I read e’en in childhood’s days,

And since then I’ve kept up that branch of learning.–

I will follow the path of the human race!

Like a feather I’ll float on the stream of history,

Make it all live again, as in a dream,–

See the heroes battling for truth and right,

As an onlooker only, in safety ensconced,–

See thinkers perish and martyrs bleed,

See empires founded and vanish away,–

See world-epochs grow from their trifling seeds;

In short, I will skim off the cream of history.–

I must try to get hold of a volume of Becker,

And travel as far as I can by chronology.–

It’s true–my grounding’s by no means thorough,

And history’s wheels within wheels are deceptive;–

But pooh; the wilder the starting point,

The result will oft be the more original.–

How exalting it is, now, to choose a goal,

And drive straight for it, like flint and steel!

                                        [With quiet emotion.

To break off all round one, on every side,

The bonds that bind one to home and friends,--

To blow into atoms one’s hoarded wealth,--

To bid one’s love and its joys good night,-- 

All simply to find the arcana of truth,

                                    [Wiping a tear from his eye.]

That is the test of the true man of science!–

I feel myself happy beyond all measure.

Now I have fathomed my destiny’s riddle. 

Now ‘tis but persevering through thick and thin!

It’s excusable, sure, if I hold up my head,

And feel my worth, as the man, Peer Gynt,

Also called Human life’s Emperor.–

I will own the sum-total of bygone days;

I’ll nevermore tread in the paths of the living.

The present is not worth so much as a shoe-sole;

All faithless and marrowless the doings of men;

Their soul has no wings and their deeds no weight;–

                                   [Shrugs his shoulders.

And women,--ah, they are a worthless crew!

                                   [Goes off....

[Solveig:]…The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap.

They two have been playing all the life-day long.

The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast

All the life-day long.  God’s blessing on my joy…

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee;

Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy! [Ibsen, 1867].[1]

 [Three Foucauldian feminist social theorists, 1992:] “…events in America and throughout the world have made the body a very contemporary issue.  New medical technologies have made state regulation of the body a pressing concern and raised serious ethical questions for scientists and humanists alike.  In many countries, politics has been reduced to a question of “image,” that is, the most “effective” presentation of a political figure’s body in the media.  In other countries, governmental policies (enforced sterilization, torture and genocide) attack the body and with it, individual freedom.  AIDS, overpopulation, and world hunger all raise difficult political issues involving the body and its protection.

      Such ethical and political issues all have their origins in the seventeenth or eighteenth century.  This period witnessed the creation and elaboration of a host of cultural and political practices which are still with us.  For example, the absolutist courts of the seventeenth century established new norms for bodily behavior, stressing restraint and civility over medieval impulsiveness and spontaneity.  At the same time, philosophers rethought the relationship between the mind and body and created a new epistemology based upon reason and bodily sensations, that is, observation.  With the scientific revolution, biology and psychology emerged as distinct disciplines, and thinking about the body had to be revised.  Twentieth-century discourses on race and gender find their roots in this critical period, and so too does modern political theory.  The emergence of more democratic forms of government opened up new questions about the appropriate extent and nature of the state’s control over the body.  As citizens replaced subjects, individuals wondered how they were to “embody” their new enfranchisement, how they were to act on the new-formed political stage.  The developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries–the scientific revolution, the emergence of the modern state, the birth of political democracy–created new ways of thinking about and experiencing the body.” [2]

      How do we know when we are not fascists?  Or pluralists?  It has been my contention that the scientific revolution bequeathed a method of investigation, not foreordained conclusions about the goodness and suitability of any particular economic system; moreover that the radical puritan (“Hebraic”) interpretation of the Old Testament insisted that each individual had worth and was a potentially rational, creative, and moral creature, capable of self-knowledge and self-management.  I have also argued that the German Romantics and their inheritors appropriated the scientific search for truth and turned it to the service of reaction with the propagation of ethnopluralism and the concept of “the-individual-in-society” seeking equilibrium (a return to the cradle or Momma’s lap?), not enlightenment.  Thus in speculating about reform it behooves the political dreamer  to start with the ideal of the freely developing, cherished individual, then to imagine alternative social structures capable of serving everyone without destroying excellence.  Meanwhile, Adam Smith or Hayek and the Progressives continue to confront one another. For today’s canon warriors the Enlightenment is part of their arsenal; you will find no racists among them, but neither are there many free-wheeling artists, the poet-type that Plato banished from his Republic and that Budd Schulberg evoked in his novel The Disenchanted (1950). 

     He’s not “our” Hitler. The cultural pluralists are class-conscious organic conservatives promoting  “diversity,” creatively coping with “mass society” and its kitsch-culture, and opposing nationalism and racism as obstacles to the global integration of money and markets.[3]  For this group there was one, unitary Enlightenment; it proved that capitalism was rational and politically correct, and they are its inheritors, whereas Hitler, a proto-New Leftist, is their antithesis: like other German Romantics (including Marx), Hitler simply opposed modernity and its intellectual tools.  For Alan Bloom, who assimilated Locke to the idealist tradition, the Enlightenment carried the rationalism ascribed to Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant and Goethe.[4]

      Other “anti-racists”–the “anti-pluralist” cultural relativists, New Left multiculturalists, critical theorists (followers of Adorno and Horkheimer), libertarian socialists and the Foucauldians–are the idealist descendants of Herder and other German Romantics.  For them there was one, unitary Enlightenment and bourgeois, materialist, “extraceptive” Hitler and other Western imperialists, similarly agents of state repression, genocide and ecocide, were its logical culmination.[5]  Thus pluralists and anti-pluralists alike would tend to see Nazi antisemitism as a form of irrational racism and hypernationalism/chauvinism produced by their rivals: for the neoliberals, German Romanticism, or, for some multiculturalists and even poststructuralists, a congeries of Enlightenment philosophers.[6]  For the corporatist liberal social educators/policy-makers I have studied, Nazi antisemitism functioned as “scapegoating”: a projection of exclusively inner conflicts upon the outside world by petit-bourgeois “respectable” authoritarian personalities.  Nazi antisemitism rarely was understood to function as outright robbery, as professional rivalry, or as a pseudo-classical response to fear of the mob. [7]

     Stalinist ideologues, whose vile authoritarian ways were ostensibly rejected by critical theorist “Western Marxists” and “libertarian socialists,” have equated “existing socialism” with its antithesis: “bourgeois society” run by sneaky Zionists/Jews/rootless cosmopolitans that were strangling “the peoples” with their octopus grip.  Zionists were perpetuating commercial fraud and consumerism, the illusion of American exceptionalism, and the Amerikan Big Lie of a Soviet military threat that had pointlessly militarized consciousness by advancing a cynical policy of thoroughgoing mind-control identical to Hitler’s.  For one powerful Soviet general and tactician, the late Dimitri Volkogonov, Nazi antisemitism was totally invisible: Hitler and his imperialist allies were hung up on anticommunism. There was one Enlightenment, and the peace-loving, tolerant Soviets and their anti-imperialist Third World allies were its sole legatees.  This could be Hitler talking; the Zionists control everything:

      [An example of official Soviet propaganda, written by Volkogonov before his conversion:] “The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support.

     The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good.

     This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them. ” [8]

 And yet, like poststructuralists or new historicists who reject “totalitarian” objectivists, Stalinists were appalled at the idea of an intelligentsia claiming authority while standing apart from state or faction: what middle-class conceit!  We may rest assured that Volkogonov was not a fascist because he says so.

 [At Martha’s Vineyard, 1968, Kenneth Boulding, Professor of Economics and Director, Program in Social and Economic Dynamics, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorador, Boulder, Colorado brainstorms racism and educational policy with other liberal leaders: [9]] “…I must confess that I am deeply, intensively bored with the subject of race.  I think it is the most boring subject in the world.  Unfortunately, we have to go on talking about it.

     My own hunch is that the main problem in this country is not race at all but class.  And we are extremely unwilling to admit this because our ideology says that ours is a classless society.  The brute fact is that we ain’t.  We are a society for the middle class, of the middle class, and by the middle class, and we don’t really care much for the lower class…Talking about attitudes, the main attitude I think we have to change is that of the good liberal white.  I must say that I have been observing with a little sadistic pleasure a number of white liberals exhibiting catatonic culture shock because of the black-power types and the brown-power types–the brown-power types in our part of the country are much more fun than the black-power types….(30,31).

 [Emerging from this conference, a concluding “Agenda for Action”:]“…we recommend…that college and university teaching and research in the social and behavioral sciences, history, the humanities and the arts, and research be made more vital in terms of contemporary social issues and problems, in terms of the need for effective social action and democratic social change.  The concern of the present generation of American college students that their education be made more relevant to society and to racial and social justice should be mobilized in behalf of such a strengthened program…[“Dangers” are noted:] 1. Racial segregation in schools may be temporarily or permanently increased through adoption of tactical and interim efforts to increase quality of education for minority-group children. 2. Compensatory and enrichment programs could obscure the basic issue of the incompatibility between high-quality education for all children and the existence of segregated schools. 3. Decentralization of schools could reinforce the neighborhood-school concept, which is related to the perpetuation of a segregated school system. 4. Remedial and special-admission programs could perpetuate double racial standards for judging academic performance of minority students, thereby reinforcing racial stereotyping and racism in education (158-159).”

 Gemeinschaft vs. Gemeinschaft?  Perhaps the culture wars are something of a tempest in a teapot, a generational conflict, a distinction without a difference, the younger generation acting out the primitivist holidays forbidden to their staid predecessors.  What they share is a view of the Enlightenment and the West as a unitary phenomenon transmitting “rationalism,” an organic entity to be either revered or toppled.  Neither side is capable of a materialist history, hence cannot and will not historicize “fascism,” and unlike some 1930s left-liberals or Trotskyists, neither side distinguishes between organicist and materialist intellectual traditions; instead they blame each other for autocratic behavior.  Modern artists, scientists, and other materialist intellectuals are unsafe in either camp.

      The older pluralists (defenders of The Great Tradition) want to protect their national culture from the assaults of New Left postmodernist crypto-fascist crazies.  The democratic pluralists do not ignore class conflict, do not mystify class with “race”; rather, following Aristotle, Montesquieu and Mosca, a plurality of economic interests are said fruitfully to clash, check and balance each other; its free-for-all unmasking operations leading to truth, rational compromise and thus “equilibrium.”  Democratic capitalism, paradise to the clear-eyed middle-class, offers equal opportunity.  Failures have no one to blame but themselves or utopian romantic rabble-rousers slandering an imperfect but solid system triumphally arched by the neutral state.  Thus revolt can only be diagnosed as an irrational “acting out” or “deviance” or “sentimentality,” the stubborn refusal of adjustment “essential to the maintenance of dynamic democracy imperative for humanity and national stability.”[10]  Of course this same generation of intellectuals (many of whose most articulate representatives are former 1930s Jewish Marxists) supported the war in Vietnam and other imperialist adventures; moreover to 1960s student radicals they seemed unmoved by urban squalor, the nuclear threat and a dangerously degraded environment.  Thus 1930s “scientific” Marxism, purging opposing voices on the Left, soft on the domination of nature and lacking respect for “traditional” cultures (flaws which are conflated in the imaginations of primitivist “deep ecologists”?) seemed part of this tainted “modern,” “Hebraic,” “Western” heritage to the children of 1930s radicals and 1950s conservatives alike.

      The maturing academics who entered the professoriate after their baptism in tumultuous 1960s social movements, movements without linkage to the disorganized and quiescent working class whose members were often understandably resentful of privileged “draft dodgers” and “anti-Americans,” responded indignantly to the claims of “equal opportunity,” the pride of upwardly mobile urban ethnics embracing the tradition of Jackson and Lincoln.  Since women and non-whites were so obviously underrepresented in university faculties and curricula, and since many 1960s veterans were sympathetic to black power and other national liberation movements (viewed as responding to internal colonialism and imperialism), some insurgents accounted for the absence of women and non-whites in leadership positions as symptoms of “white male” or “patriarchal” intolerance/hegemony.  The “multiculturalists” did not argue that the position of women/non-whites in the family and labor force precluded the lengthy period of leisure, privacy, travel and acculturation anyone (including working-class white males) needed to become a scholar; rather their “difference” made their cultures of “the Other” unfathomable to transparently obtuse white males.  The new pluralists settled into ghettoized ethnic studies and women’s studies programs which, by virtue of their particular institutionalization in response to the 1960s black power and radical feminist movements suggested ethnic and gender difference as the most relevant variables, the engines of history for non-whites and women (however often “class” might be dropped into the mix of “class, race, and gender”).  As was feared by the conservative liberals at Martha’s Vineyard promoting the coöptation of black nationalism, race (and gender) had virtually erased class as an objective category.  Not surprisingly the dissenting individual also went the way of all flesh, collapsed into a notion of “individuality” as a feature of groups (race or ethnicity).

      Fitting neatly into the idealist counter-Enlightenment which had promoted the concepts of racial, ethnic and national character, many theorizing young scholars, adopting a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Freudian rhetoric and, following the subjectivism, irrationalism, and group-think of Herder and Kant , defined themselves as revolutionary postmodernists, declaring that the categories of race, class, and gender, like literary taste, were all “socially constructed,” historically rooted, and thus “radically Other,” i.e., resistant to empathic readings or universal standards of truth and craft.  These anti-pluralist pluralists, champions of diversity and tolerance, have not been promulgating “hegemonic” Enlightenment or Victorian notions of species-unity (other than Herder’s international yet localist crazy quilt); they have mostly attempted to demolish the rationalism and universalist ethics spawned by the radical Reformation and scientific revolution then borne by the philosophes, “Old Jewry”–radicals like Price and Priestley as they were characterized by a hostile Edmund Burke–liberal feminists, and anti-slavery men or  “Black Republicans” like Charles Sumner.

      The underlying unity between generations is illustrated by their common periodization of Cold War-style repression of civil liberties in “McCarthyism.” Little attention is paid to centuries-old élite resistance to mass literacy and numeracy and the torrent of democratic ideas that followed.  After the brief hiatus of the Nazi-Stalin Pact (1939-1941), American Stalinists dropped that short-lived campaign against American warmongers, once more supporting corporatist New Deal policies against the assaults of “fascist Republicans” or “monopoly capital.”  The prolific Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation and foe to racism and censorship, was impressed by the methodology of Talcott Parsons and other “moderate” top-down planners who, after the war, opposed the arms race as an excessive drain on the welfare state.  Like many of the other corporatist thinkers described here, McWilliams was a regionalist and a populist; whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party as charged, he was certainly never a materialist.  His papers from the 1930s (at UCLA) suggest that he was following the Communist line, switching from a view of the New Deal as “social fascism” to best friend of the working class during the Popular Front (1935-1939).  Like other New Deal social democrats, he wanted to strengthen capitalism by bringing good labor unions and racial minorities into the system to stabilize the base.  After the war, “McCarthyism” was bad because it confused conservative reformers like himself with real communists.

      Writing in the late 1960s, political scientist Michael Rogin denied that populists were antisemites, as neoconservative Richard Hoftstadter had charged in his Age of Reform (1957).  McCarthy was not a populist, Rogin argued, but a spokesman for traditional conservative élites, the selfish laissez-faire crowd of materialists participating in the (bad) American Lockean consensus.  Denouncing white supremacy (hitherto an emblem for Wall Street and the power of Jewish money), proto-New Left radicals like McWilliams and Rogin internalized the Soviet-Tory terror-gothic scenario for the history of the last five centuries: Frankenstein monsters, the unique progeny of crazy scientists, Victorian prudery, and “the culture of narcissism” i.e., the ever unitary Jewish West, have produced genocide, exploitation of the Third World and the colonization of domestic minorities, mind-control by the mass media and CIA, urban snobbery, reification, commodification, luxury, and consumerism.  The radical scholars apparently hate money (commercialism) more than they love the creative, questing individual.  Do these populists resist the market as a coercive, brutal mechanism or, like displaced feudal clerics and aristocrats, would they ban the site of judgment by upstart “consumers” they cannot control?  Or, as anticapitalists and anti-imperialists, have they carved out their own super-moral niche on the market while apparently rejecting it?

 [Kenneth Boulding:] “Suppose we do something like this: We go to a voucher plan.  You give every child $500 to $1000 a year, and he can spend it any way he wants.  And give every Negro child $1500.

[Jerome Wiesner:] But that’s racism.

[Kenneth Boulding:] But I mean I am in favor of racism.  I think racism is important.  Well, they call it discrimination–not the same thing as racism at all.  These are two quite different subjects.  If you want to introduce some kind of counterweight to discrimination, this is where the federal government comes in.  We may see the federal government, the whole taxing-and-subsidizing business, as a total picture weighted toward correcting some of these ills of society.  This seems to me to be its major function (32).

 [Christopher Edley, explaining that his support of black power in the 1950s and 60s did not entail a belief in racism:]  Now some excesses have come to the fore.  There is a danger of black nationalism, there is a danger of black separatism that goes beyond the temporary withdrawal to recoup our strength, to regroup and to seek out the powers that we want–the economic and social powers that seem to be attainable for us as a group only through the use of black identity.  Now I think there are roles that Negroes have to play.  It seems to me that the power structure has only responded to the excessive demands that have been made in the Negro community, and that there are certain Negroes who because they are bold and courageous, because they have little to lose, must demand things of the power structure which are excessive.  And I think that if we–the Ken Clarks and the Chris Edleys and perhaps the Lisle Carters–have a role to play, it is to capitalize on the softening up process that results from the excessive demands… [Black identity and race pride] will enable [students] to band together to overcome the obstacles.  I think that subconsciously they are seeking to get into the melting pot and the mainstream of American life.  I don’t believe that black nationalism will be the major thread…I don’t think that we need condemn [black-power studies], and I think many of us get caught in the situation where we have to think as Americans, as Negroes, and perhaps as something in between.  And I think it is possible to identify rationally the roles that people are playing and to realize that really in the long run they complement each other rather than being antagonistic to each other (71-72).”

    So much for checks and balances.  In all cases, the Romantic Wandering Jew (the Byronic hero, Ahab, Peer Gynt as historian, myself) and our critical apparatus curse the strange diagnostics of democratic pluralists and anti-pluralist multiculturalists alike; s/he totes “the melting pot”[11] that jams Durkheimian solidarities too close to bad Jews, the latter identified in the nineteenth century by one republican theorist with “the moral nature of Anglo-Saxondom, with its virile instincts of right, freedom, and humanity, defending our cause against all comers, with indomitable courage and constancy of faith.”[12] Such troubling figures were revising and reconfiguring the past and present to produce what the “pluralists” regard as protofascist anomie, the alarming switch from homey, heimlich Gemeinschaft to intrusive and alienating, unheimlich Gesellschaft. [13]

 [Untitled poem submitted to London Mercury by an Englishman, Lawrence Binyon (a William Blake reviver of the 1920s):] From the howl of the wind/ As I opened the door/ And entered, the firelight/ Was soft on the floor;/ And mute in their places/ Were table and chair/ The white wall, the shadows,/ Awaiting me there./ All was strange on a sudden!/ From the stillness a spell,/ A fear or a fancy,/ Across my heart fell./ Were they awaiting another/ To sit by the hearth?/ Was it I saw them newly/ A stranger on earth?    [14]

      My estranging romantic Lockean psychodynamics or history would achieve a provisional “balance” through  1. experience and achieved understanding, learned afresh in each generation, not through the inheritance/quick fix of acquired characteristics;  2. tracking the history of the imagination, not völkisch instincts or the stamp of “material culture”;  3. recognition of the historical specificity of “roles” and conflict while comparing analogous structures and processes in other societies;  4. application of universalist ethical criteria, like Freud in The Future of an Illusion, not site-specific opportunism in evaluations of protest movements and tactics;  5. affirmation of species-unity and interdependence with humanity and nature in the never-finished search for truth and justice (legitimate authority), not ethnic or gender “identity,” as the basis for solidarity;  6. comprehensive, detailed description of controversial individuals, societies and policies without the use of buzz words like “moderation,” “excess,” or “extremism” ; and  7. preservation of the achievements of the past without ancestor-worship.  Nor would our “Captain Ahab” admit to (fatal) “subjectivity” as a “participant-observer” or “new historicist” while conducting our sleuthing expeditions, as if “bourgeois” historians/artists had never thought about their biases, welcomed “diversity” or attempted to restore the context of the facts they discover in archives or in other societies and sub-cultures.


                [1] Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt, Theater Guild Edition, transl. William and Charles Archer (N.Y.: Scribner’s, 1923): 37, 41, 43, 44, 215-216, 320-321.

                [2] Ann K. Mellor, Kathryn Norberg, Sara E. Melzer, “Constructing The Body,” Clark & Center Newsletter 22 (Fall 1992): 2.  A recent Clark Library conference on “Vitalism and the Enlightenment” (January 1994) continued the anti-empiricist tendency, attempting to rehabilitate German idealism by reversing the usual association of “mechanical materialism” with the Left and vitalism and organicism with the Right.

            [3] See Lewis Coser, “Europe’s Neurotic Nationalism,” Commentary, June 1946, 58-63: “Cultural pluralism–the right of each people to its own culture–is perfectly compatible with unification on the economic and political plane, and it is absurd to pretend that those who favor such unification call for the standardization of European culture.  On the contrary, a diversified European culture is no longer possible except through political and economic integration.  “Balkanization” will mean not only material, but cultural poverty.  The only political, economic, or cultural hope of the peoples of Europe lies in an over-all community that goes beyond the separate nation.”  Coser’s cultural pluralism was asserted against “totalitarianism” resulting from nationalism (gradually transformed from democratic revolution to racism and imperialism).  These thinkers are vigorously “anti-racist,” but have substituted ethnicity as the category to study “the problems of group adjustment” and “real group differences that are the soil and raw material of democratic society.”  See Melvin Tumin, “The Idea of “Race” Dies Hard,”Commentary, July 1949, 80-85.  Cf. the Progressive A.A. Berle, Jr., “The Rise and Fall of Liberal Democracy,” Democratic Pluralism and the Social Studies, ed. James P. Shaver and Harold Berlak (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968): Scorning the “Jeffersonian” sentiments of New Left framers of the Port Huron statement demanding participatory democracy, Berle explained to high school teachers that participation could not exist in a scientific, bureaucratic culture (143); however, “democracy” was time-tested: “Throughout history democracy has been the most effective device for complex societies to coordinate the action of masses of people performing a large variety of complex functions (142).”

     If constitutional checks and balances are obsolete, then there is no basis for unity in this country other than the organic solidarity promised in ethnicity; perhaps “multiculturalism” is a way for technocratic élites to micro-manage “group” (but really class and institutional) conflict.  Ritual obeisances to the Founding Fathers would be used then to create the illusion of popular sovereignty; i.e., both Federalism and Jeffersonian republicanism are obsolete for technocrats.

            [4] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1987).  Note the organicist title; however Bloom distances himself from “the progressives of the twenties and thirties” whom he blends with Stalinists (32) and New Leftists.  For an example of the tug-of-war for the Enlightenment, see Roger Kimball’s review of Todd Gitlin’s book (cited above), “Whose Enlightenment Is It?” New Criterion, April 1996, pp. 4-8.  Kant is favorably cited, suggesting that the neocons are closet German Romantics.  But see F.A. Hayek, Individualism: True and False (Blackwell, 1946).  Hayek places the German Romantics with jacobins, utilitarians, and Marxists in the category of totalitarian thinkers.  His preferred lineage for the true individualist includes Locke, Mandeville, Smith, Hume, Ferguson, Burke, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton.  Anyone who claims to grasp the big picture is arrogant and deceptive.  In a fragmented world, only experts can judge other experts.  The placement of Locke in this pantheon is curious since Hayek has rendered rationalism (Locke’s contribution to popular sovereignty) as hubris.

            [5] Cf. Milan Hauner, “The Professionals and Amateurs in National Socialist Foreign Policy: Revolution and Subversion in the Islamic and Indian World,” The Führer State: Myth and Reality, ed. Gerhard Hirschfeld and Lothar Kettenacker (Stuttgart:Klett-Cotta, 1981): 305-327, for a discussion of anti-imperialist proposals supported by aristocrats in the foreign service, with similar efforts (1914-18) predating Nazism and opposed by inexperienced Nazis.  (The targets were the imperialist West; Cf. Lukács, 1952).

     Should some of today’s postmodernists and New Leftists be seen as anticapitalist/ anti-statists similar in outlook to the prewar Right (for instance, the Catholic Distributists Belloc and Chesterton, or T.S. Eliot)?  G.C. Webber calls the type “the aristocratic backwoodsman”; his classification of the interwar British Right could be useful today.  Rejecting the Fascist vs. right-wing Conservative division as too crude and non-descriptive, Webber suggests four categories: anticapitalist antistatists, anticapitalist statists (reactionary Tories), capitalist statists (managing capitalism like FDR’s New Deal or Mosley’s BUF), and capitalist anti-statists (like today’s New Right); all were to the Right of the liberal conservatives and of course Liberals and socialists.  See G.C. Webber, The Ideology of the British Right 1918-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

      Frankfurt School theorists reject (bogus) pluralism (as in Marcuse’s theory of repressive tolerance):”pluralism” masks a totalitarian (but fragmented) U.S.; Fredric Jameson argues for an overarching Marxist dialectic as the umbrella to local Marxisms (as there are national variants in late capitalism); this seems to me to be “rooted” cultural relativism, an apology for cultural nationalism; similarly other “historical materialists”/”cultural materialists”/postmodernists are idealists.  See Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, Cornell U.P., 1981): 31-32, 54, 74, 86, 87; Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of “late capitalism”(Durham: Duke U.P., 1991): xx. Cf. Ralph Bischoff, Nazi Conquest Through German Culture (Harvard U.P., 1942): 3, who writes “[Following an argument for unconditional victory as prelude to peace:] It is the thesis of this book that the march of National Socialism to power was in part due to the inborn cultural and blood nationalism of the German people, and the ability of their leaders to reawaken, reemphasize, and re-form certain characteristic traditions and faiths already existent in Germany and other German communities.” (This book was part of the Harvard Political Studies series).  Are these irrationalist portraits veiled arguments for total victory (or defeat), not negotiated settlements?

            [6] See for instance Richard Popkin, “The Philosophical Basis of Eighteenth-Century Racism,” Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture, ed. Harold E. Pagliaro, Vol.3 (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve, 1973): 245-62.  Locke is mentioned 245, 254, without citation for racist statements (as opposed to affiliations). In any case, the racism charge is present-minded.  Locke is included with Berkeley, Hume, Voltaire, Franklin, Jefferson, and Kant.  Popkin’s standard for anti-racist philosophy seems to be “egalitarianism and relativism.” I read Locke as opposed to the identity politics I am criticizing here; see Christopher Fox, “Locke and the Scriblerians,” Eighteenth Century Studies, Vol. 16 (Fall, 1982): 1-25.  For Locke, identity was fluid and based on (learned) “consciousness,” not (inherited) “substance.”  The violence of rude and barbarous peoples is not inscribed, but learned.  Relativism is supported in recent research supported by the Clark Library (UCLA); see Mario Biagioli, “Civility, Court Society and Scientific Discourse,” Clark & Center Newsletter 21 (Fall, 1991): 2-3: “…what we see emerging from very recent historical work is that the acceptance of the new science rested largely on the ways in which the practitioners managed to present themselves, their theories, their discoveries, their arguments and disagreements, and their experimental practices as fitting the proper cultural (and behavioral) codes.  In short, to gain acceptance and credibility, the practitioners of the new science needed to present themselves as fitting the codes of those who had the social status and power to legitimize their knowledge–that is, princes, aristocrats, and gentlemen.”

      See also Michael Denning, “The Academic Left and the Rise of Cultural Studies,” Radical History Review 54 (Fall 1992): 21-47: “The roots of United States cultural studies lie in the pioneering work in the 1930s and 1940s of such figures as Kenneth Burke, Constance Rourke, F.O. Matthiessen, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and Carey McWilliams…they shared socialist or leftist social-democratic politics, an interest in the popular arts, a desire to rethink notions of race and ethnicity and nation and people, and a concern for social theory.”  But neither Matthiessen nor McWilliams was a materialist; Denning’s imprecision in describing what were many distinct and embattled left and liberal tendencies during this period is typical of the vagueness, organicism, and anti-intellectual populism of the “radical” scholars I am criticizing.  Denning even cites the attacks upon 1890s populist social scientists, etc.”…which grew into the postwar “McCarthyist” purge of the universities.” (33)  Cf. Stalinist accounts of fascism: there was no populist (petit-bourgeois) movement or working-class support, solely the big bourgeoisie, inevitably fascist in decadent late capitalism; both Matthiessen and McWilliams agreed with this formulation.

            [7] See Samuel Gringauz, “Anti-Semitism in Socialism,” Commentary, April 1950, 371-373, misleadingly titled since the author denies that antisemitism is intrinsically found in socialism or any other ideology; it is rather a flexible weapon to be opportunistically wielded against one’s political competitors.  Gringauz follows Hermann Rauschning in viewing Nazi antisemitism as “the product of cold calculation,” relying on Hitler’s alleged admission, “The Jews are a valuable hostage given to me by the democracies.  Anti-Semitic propaganda in all countries is an almost indispensable medium of the extension of our political campaign.”  My reading rests on the assumption that a coherent case for madness can be drawn from Hitler’s writings; however I cannot tell conclusively if Hitler was sincerely antisemitic or a complete cynic; perhaps he veered between these two positions.  The aristocratic Rauschning’s testimony should be viewed with a grain of salt.

            [8] See D. Volkogonov, The Psychological War (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986): 125.  Emphasis in original.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the late Volkogonov, suddenly a Yeltsin supporter, Bukharinite and Menshevik, exposed the horrendous careers of Stalin and Lenin.

            [9] Racism and American Education, A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Introduction by McGeorge Bundy, Foreward by Averell Harriman (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1970).  Excerpted also in my Pacifica memoir.

            [10] Racism and American Education, 159. Cf. Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees.  Mandevillle was an eighteenth-century freethinker who explained that the vices of human nature, eternally the same in all societies, could be switched to the cause of productivity, that the alternative to robust empire was an elusive Golden Age that would contain only material deprivation, that “eutopian” fantasies/self-denial/altruism were only covers for self-love.  The Mandeville was republished by London’s Wishart (publishers of Gorer’s De Sade, excerpted above) and annexed to the Left in 1934 by editor Douglas Garman.  As an influence upon Adam Smith and as a precursor to Freud, his contributions need to be reassessed.

     See Richard Bernstein, Dictatorship of Virtue (Knopf, 1992) for a typically anecdotal attack on multiculturalism.  Bernstein, a Harvard graduate and New York Times reporter, traces the intolerance of the revised curriculum to Jacobin terror, while not criticizing the fundamental assumptions of ethnic studies; i.e., he is writing in the pluralist tradition of the 1968 conference on racism and education: the strategy has gone sour and the revolution is eating its children.  The “Marxist” multicultural movement is said to emerge both from New England Puritanism and the degradation and disillusionment of the 1960s counter-culture.  Bernstein favorably cites Joseph Campbell and uses Jungian organicist categories throughout while appearing to defend liberalism and the Enlightenment; Washington, not the invisible Jefferson, is the exemplary Founding Father.  While arguing for accurate history, civil rights, individual freedom, individual responsibility and development Bernstein never differentiates between the libertarian political thought of Western Europe (England, France, and Holland) and the rest of the continent.  Others in this faction include Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Nathan Glazer.

            [11] The particular menace of the melting pot is made explicit by the Catholic, Irish Nationalist, pro-Nazi James Murphy, Adolf Hitler, The Drama of His Career (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934): 120-121.  Catholic Centre coalitions with godless Prussians and socialists promoting a secularising Jewish press were similarly disasters for the simple, insightful peasants Murphy defends throughout.  He cites and recommends Hans Ehrenberg, Deutschland im Schmelzhofen (“Germany in the Melting Pot”).

[12]See Charles Sumner: An Essay by Carl Schurz, ed. Arthur  Reed Hogue (U.of Illinois Press, 1951):97. Schurz was referring to the Englishman John Bright, linking his character to Sumner’s.

[13] See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, ed. Jose Harris, transl. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Originally published in 1887, Tönnies’s book is considered to be a classic work of sociology, but not until after the first world war (xxviii-xxviii) was it canonized. At first seen as a “communist tract,” it was taken up by German “ultra-nationalists,” and in America during the 1930s was read as “an essay in consensual structural functionalism.” The editor of this edition seems favorably disposed to this elusive and mysterious work. Tönnies was the son of a merchant banker, and given his hostility to modernity, one wonders how much of his disgust with the modern world was intertwined with his feelings about his father. In 1892 he “helped found Society for Ethical Culture, the vehicle for his life-long involvement in various co-operative, social reform, and self-improvement movements.” (xxxi-xxxii)

            [14] Lawrence Binyan was an English Blake scholar, and a key figure in the William Blake promotion that followed World War I; the poem is in the J.C. Squire Papers, UCLA Special Collections

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4 Comments »

  1. [...]     Don’t scratch your head about the deficiencies in our public school education.  There is no moral imperative for those who identify with aristocracies, new or old, to give students the analytic tools they need to judge their superiors or elected officials. If there was serious education in our country, all students would study the sciences, economics (including the basic elements of accounting), the history of every social movement in the U.S. and the conflicts that they addressed, the wily ways of those who have governed us, and how to decipher the propaganda that urges deference to corrupt authority—from pre-school on through graduate school! (And I am not exempting the scrutiny of both high and popular culture from this menu. See the Ibsen excerpt here: http://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/a-ride-through-the-culture-wars-in-academe/. [...]

    Pingback by Racism, Modernity, Modernism « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 11, 2010 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  2. [...] A Rough Ride Through The Culture Wars [...]

    Pingback by White Walls and Shadows: Irrationalist explanations for Nazism, pro and con « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 10, 2009 @ 9:42 pm | Reply


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