YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2009

Switching the Enlightenment: corporatist liberalism and the revision of American history

Flyer for a 1993 talk with added notes by CS

[Added 12-17-09: see related blog http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/, also http://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.

By the free-standing individual, I do not mean a narcissist incapable of seeing beyond his long and crooked nose, but a rational person aware of his/her responsibilities as a citizen in a would-be democratic republic. The policy of “multiculturalism” as currently envisioned confers terminal irrationality on the lower orders, leaving them to the tender mercies of an oligarchy.]

The blogs on this website comprise a series of focused studies on the modern practice of the historian’s craft. Their unifying theme is the attempt by “interdisciplinary” scholars to discredit the tools upon which historians have depended since the mid-nineteenth century, specifically archival research and the critical evaluation of sources in the interest of a relatively objective reconstruction of the past. Leopold von Ranke is dead, having been supplanted by classroom activists opposing the “essentially imperialist, racist, and patriarchal historical project” of this country” [Spanos]; such (essentialist) labeling cannot be sustained with empirical evidence, hence scientific method is under assault by cultural historians of science. This campaign by scholar-activists was not a post-1960s novelty, as some critics aver [Kimball]. Social psychologists and sociologists allied with the 1930s Popular Front against fascism, before, during, and after WWII, transformed the democratic Enlightenments, analyzing their ideologies as protofascist, and presenting their own vision of the paternalistic organic society as “genuine liberalism” [Adorno]. I call this group the “corporatist liberals.” In their hands, “scientific” history morphed into “cultural history” [Ware]; the Jeffersonian “melting-pot” (as publicized in Israel Zangwill’s play of 1908) was reinterpreted as forced assimilation to the materialist culture of a bourgeois liberal WASP elite [Filler]; and the conception of the free-standing, self-managing American citizen dissolved into the individual-in-society, molded by “cultural” context, and possessing group (ethnic or racial) identity, hence bearing “group facts” that were incomprehensible to other races or ethnicities [Robinson]. The corporatist liberals (led by Talcott Parsons and his circle at Harvard) fostered postwar definitions of fascism and nazism that looked retrospectively at “the puritan” (including the moral mother expanding her empire) as not only a dangerous American type (the narcissistic, hot-headed and cold-hearted imperialist), but “romantic puritans” were precursors to Hitler (reconstructed as a hyper-capitalist) and his genocidal policies: it was a straight line from New England antinomians to today’s right-wing militias [Brodhead, Bercovitch].

I believe my synthesis is original. Scientists and mathematicians (e.g. Paul Gross and Norman J. Levitt) have protested the postmodernist misunderstanding of science, while other historians (e.g. Windschuttle) are dismayed by “the killing of history” by the post-60s generation, but have not identified the possibly controlling sub-text of cultural histories explaining the rise of fascism/nazism: Fascism, abetted by science and technology in the hands of the upstart middle-class, the culturalists argue, demonstrates the failure of “mass politics,” i.e. popular sovereignty. This synthesis has already been introduced in my book on the Melville Revival, but requires further elaboration.

Writing on behalf of the American Historical Association in 1939, Carolyn Ware (married to New Deal economist Gardiner Means) advised that the cultural historian should not “rest upon the prescription of the scientific historians to let the facts speak and to be guided wherever the material may lead.” A particularist definition of tolerance was central to corporatist liberalism in the early twentieth century. Progressive social psychologists disseminating national programs of “civilian morale” in 1940-41 posited group diversity and advised the inclusion of minorities in government planning processes: Working toward common goals, while utilizing the special qualities of _different_ ethnicities, would serve social harmony. Such tolerance removed the threat of “rupture” by excluding the intellectual engagement of diverse belief systems with each other, a “moderate” strategy advanced by the Tory historian David Hume in the mid-eighteenth century as he contemplated unbalanced extremists: repressive Catholics and fanatical puritans, the latter seduced by the Old Testament and its “eastern poetic” or “eastern prophetic style”: Crusading puritans were all-too-given to the dictates of individual conscience, primary source research [reading the Tindal Bible], and unbounded curiosity [Hume, Vol.3]; while Catholic censorship was similarly disruptive as it created martyrs. Hume’s middle way, the promotion of rooted cosmopolitanism, is usually associated with the voelkisch thinker J.G. von Herder, and persists today as multiculturalism/ethnopluralism.

Following the tenets of romantic nationalism, all members of the same “ethnic” or “racial” group share inherited group character and economic interests– a corporatist formulation that compels dissenting individuals to submit to “the community” as defined by its natural leader(s) [Robinson]. But there is also a Left critique of cultural nationalism, asserting the socially constructed character of ethnicity, seen as a post-Enlightenment phenomenon [Sollors, 1989]. Other antiracist critics, following Elias and Foucault, attribute nationalism and genocide to the Enlightenment or “modernity” [Bauman]: “bourgeois liberals” fortified by science and panopticons, they say, emerged to assume the command posts of culture, and in the “civilizing process” [Elias] ruptured the bonds of traditional communities, erasing folk knowledges and proclaiming all non-adherents to their middle-class notions of technological rationality as “deviant.” Moreover, while complaining that nationalism mystifies class antagonisms, postcolonialists have collapsed the analytic category of “class” into “race”;  “whiteness studies” confer a corporatist unity upon all white people or “the [imperialist] West.” While apparently rejecting “imagined communities,” these scholars deploy a communitarian discourse, embracing cultural pluralism, now corrected and updated as “dynamically emerging group identit[ies]” [Sollors, 1986, 279]. In practice, progressive cultural historians and literary scholars support identity politics.

The liberal component of the corporatist liberal ideology, then, consists in the tolerance of “diverse” groups with their unassailable “points of view.” The hyphenated Americans co-exist under the rubric of American nationality, as long as each group eschews the triumphalism Hume and his admirers ascribed to moralizing puritans or Catholics. Functionalist comparisons of Hebraic puritans with nazis served the objective of social “equilibrium” by removing the rationalist presence from the ethnopluralist “mosaic” or “symphony.” The multiculturalists were necessarily antisemitic, insofar as Jews, like radical puritans, interpreted “We the People” as an entity that resisted irrationalist methods of social control in their search for “a more perfect union.” This is a key point, for the social scientists and philosophers I am criticizing were irrationalists, rewriting American history to serve the higher goal of social cohesion in a pluralist society [Lynd, Allport, Murray, Murphy], reinterpreting the legacies of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson as precursors to the activist New Deal state [Becker, Clark], and similarly “integrating” potential bomb-throwers while relegating scientific method to a bounded sphere of influence distant from, and lower than, the humanities [Broughton], or, in cultural studies of science, going so far as to relativize scientific facts themselves as produced solely by institutional context in order to maintain a power elite [Biagioli].

The efforts of the corporatist liberals resulted in the erasure or marginalizing of some key figures in American history, who, notwithstanding diverse political goals, all shared the same, now often proscribed, Hebraic i.e. libertarian opinions and empiricist methods of analysis: that society was a collection of _individuals_; that the liberal state protected the human rights of every _individual_ by guaranteeing equal treatment and opportunity; that public education of high quality was indispensable for the attainment of popular sovereignty and the informed conscience; that the marketplace of ideas must not be bounded; and that American nationality consisted in the ongoing emancipation from illegitimate authority through appeals to reason. Such emancipation was unthinkable without scientific method (empiricism), institutional transparency and accountability, and ethical universalism. The Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark website, then, has been devoted to libertarian figures whose motives and achievements have been denigrated either as causes of avoidable and catastrophic civil conflict (Hutchinson, Sumner), or as conniving elitists, arrayed against “the People” (Lippmann, Bunche) in postwar corporatist liberal accounts of their careers.

I. Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38). While noting irreconcilable conflicts of interest between factions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the corporatist liberal critics of Hutchinson and her followers blame her for intransigence and lack of moderation. She may also be viewed as a representation of the newly emerging free market, personified as an intruder by adherents to the moral economy of pre-capitalist societies [Toennies].

II. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was one possible model for Melville’s indomitable moral crusaders, Captain Ahab and Pierre. The main precepts of Sumner’s political principles were all publicized before Melville completed the writing of _Moby-Dick_ (mid-1851): equality before the law, integrated schools, and rejection of slavery on both moral and legal grounds (with the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution as precedents), along with the political struggle against the Slave Power as continuation of the American and French Revolutions. Sumner was defamed by contemporaries as Hebraic, monomaniacal, and a moral terrorist [Donald]; Sumner joins Melville’s Captain Ahab as advocate of the republican messianism that has in turn been linked to Hitler and the Master Race.

III. The Romantic Wandering Jew as emblem of antisocial science and empirical history, e.g. in Melville’s “geologic Jew” Margoth. Rival interpretations of the antebellum decades and the postwar basis for national unity are traced in the formulations of mechanical materialists (inheritors of the Enlightenment) versus those of organic conservatives, both in Melville’s texts and in accounts of civil conflict and its avoidance, by Melville’s contemporaries and the generation that followed.

IV. Walter Lippmann’s interwar writings on propaganda and the media have been misconstrued by Noam Chomsky and his followers as advocating “the manufacture of consent.” Their accounts of “spinmeister” Lippmann as master manipulator are contradicted by Lippmann’s constant reiteration of the pressing need for fact-finding in advanced industrial societies where competing truth-claims required evaluation by non-policy making experts, given the specialized knowledge produced in advanced industrial societies. The elitism of peer review would be mitigated by citizens allowed a rigorous scientific education.

V. Ralph Bunche’s political thought in the 1930s as related by recent cultural historians, who have either rebuked him as “too white” or claimed that he converted to Black Power late in life. Bunche headed the field research team for Gunnar Myrdal and the Carnegie Corporation in the preparation of _An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy_ (1944). It was Bunche who instructed the Swedish economist in the precepts of “the American Creed”: America’s core values (democracy, rationalism, progress) were those of the Enlightenment, however resistant some Americans undoubtedly were to the full realization of equality for its black population. Myrdal, allied to corporatist liberals, rejected Bunche’s empiricism, deploying Bunche and his Howard University colleagues (“economic determinists”) as the red specter that would be unleashed were Southern segregationists to resist political and economic reform. Bunche, initially inspired by his evangelical Protestant grandmother, was writing in the radical puritan tradition, unlike Myrdal, praising the abolitionists, and confronting antisemitism in black nationalist (Garveyite) leadership and elsewhere; whereas Myrdal suggested (in the endnotes to his book) that Jews were the most egregious exploiters of ghetto Negroes.

VI. Parsonian functionalists have linked laissez-faire capitalism/unregulated markets to Hitler and the policies of the Third Reich [Kershaw, 2000, 67], ignoring the degree to which numerous societies, including nazi Germany, resorted to bureaucratic collectivism to manage interwar economic crises. Such attempts to distance New Deal policies from statist management in the dictatorships led to distorted accounts of Hitler’s appeal and the rise of nazism, for populists and progressives in America and in the NSDAP similarly attacked the rule of “finance capital” as the source of division and decadence in “the people’s community” or in various peoples’ communities. This study traces the intellectual history of multiculturalism (including its implementation as policy) from Herder to the present (e.g. Andress, 1916), to demonstrate that Parsonians have attempted to eject market-expanding puritans from the American landscape by linking the Enlightenment with Hitler’s terror state and supportive “fascist Republicans.” Hence Hitler was assigned stereotypical Jewish attributes in the wartime and postwar analyses of the functionalists (e.g. Henry A. Murray, 1943), as was America: the materialist Hitler, like the Chosen People, was a cynical swindler of the masses he purported to rescue from their oppressors [Bramsted, Kershaw, 1987, 3]. Moreover, nazism and Zionism are often linked: Zionism is alleged to be “essentially… voelkisch” [Noll, 75]. Presumably the proto-nazi American psyche would heal through proofs that puritan mad scientists [Hawthorne] had led the cynical, gullible mob to ruin [Arendt].

In sum, corporatist liberals rejected an eighteenth-century conception of the liberal nation based, not on hyphenated Americanism–a congeries of rehabilitated “Others” and their repentant ex-persecutors– but upon a shared project: the cooperative search for truth and amelioration. Such an enlightened quest did not repudiate the past, thus alienating ex-slaves and immigrants from their cherished ancestors, but rather furthered understanding of the choices that shaped prior institutions and beliefs, without idealization of leaders or the led. By substituting cultural (i.e. irrationalist) interpretations of history for empirical studies of the political and economic conditions (including their contending ideologies) that facilitated the rise and maintenance of fascist dictatorships, ethnopluralist progressives switched the Enlightenment and undermined an appropriately critical and functioning democratic polity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED

Adorno, T. W. et al. _The Authoritarian Personality_. Harper, 1950.
Allport, Gordon W., and Henry A. Murray. “Worksheets on Morale: A series of explorations undertaken by a seminar in Psychological Problems in Morale in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University…” 1941. Harvard University Archives.
Andress, J. Mace. _Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator_.  G. E. Stechert, 1916.
Arendt, Hannah. “The Concentration Camps.” _Partisan Review_. July 1948.
Bauman, Zygmunt. _Modernity and the Holocaust_. Cornell UP, 1989.
Becker, Carl. “What Is Still Living in the Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson?” Address to The American Philosophic Society, April 22, 1943.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. _The Rites of Assent_. Routledge, 1993.
Biagioli, Mario. “Civility, Society, and Scientific Discourse.” _Clark & Center Newsletter_ 21 (Fall, 1991): 2-3.
Bramsted, Ernest K. _Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945_. Michigan State UP, 1965.
Brodhead, Richard. “The Book That Ruined Melville.” _New York Times Book Review_, Jan.7, 1996, p.35.
Broughton, John M. “Babes in Arms: Object Relations and Fantasies of Annihilation.” In _The Psychology of War and Peace: The Image of the Enemy_, ed. Robert W. Rieber. Plenum Press, 1991.
Clark, Harry Hayden. Introduction. _Thomas Paine: Representative Selections_. American Book Co., 1944.
Cohen, I. B. Introduction. _Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science_. Rutgers UP, 1990.
Donald, David Herbert. _Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War_. Knopf, 1960.
Elias, Norbert. _Power and Civility_.Vol. 2. Pantheon, 1982.
Filler, Louis. “Randolph Bourne.” Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1943.
Gross, P. and N.J. Levitt. _Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Science_. Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.
Hume, David. _The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688_. Vol. 3. Boston, 1856. Vol. 6. London: Dove, 1822.
Kallen, Horace. _Culture and Democracy in the United States: Essays in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples_. Boni and Liveright, 1924.
Kershaw, Ian. _The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich_. Clarendon Press, 1987.
____. _The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation_. Fourth ed. Oxford UP, 2000.
Kimball, Roger. _Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Education_. Harper & Row, 1990.
Lynd, Robert S. _Knowledge For What?_ Princeton UP, 1939.
______. “Who Calls The Tune?” _Education for Democracy: The Debate over the Report of the President’s Commission of Higher Education_, Gail Kennedy, ed. D.C. Heath, 1952.
Murphy, Gardner. “Essentials for a Civilian Morale Program in American Democracy.” In _Civilian Morale: Second Yearbook of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues_. Reynal and Hitchcock, 1942.
Murray, Henry A. “Analysis of the personality of Adolph [sic] Hitler….” Confidential report, Oct. 1943. FDR Library, Hyde Park, New York.
Myrdal, Gunnar. _Objectivity in Social Research_. Pantheon, 1968.
Noll, Richard. _The Jung Cult_. Princeton UP, 1994.
Parsons, Talcott. _Essays in Sociological Theory_. The Free Press, 1954.
Robinson, Armstead L. _Black Studies in the University: A Symposium_. Yale UP, 1969.
Sollors, Werner. “A Critique of Pure Pluralism.” In _Reconstructing American Literary History_, ed.   Sacvan Bercovitch. Harvard UP, 1986.
Sollors, Werner. Introduction. _The Invention of Ethnicity_. Oxford UP, 1989.
Spanos, Jr., William V. _The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War and the Struggle for American Studies_. Duke UP, 1995.
Toennies, Ferdinand. _Community and Civil Society_. Cambridge UP, 2001.
Ware, Carolyn F. Introduction. _The Cultural Approach to History_. Edited for the American Historical Association. Columbia UP, 1940.
Windschuttle, Keith. _The Killing of History_. Free Press, 1997.

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15 Comments »

  1. […] so be it. After all, materialist procedures buttressed the arguments of the Enlightenment (see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision… are some of Parsons’s other achievements: 1. The declaration that free speech should be tolerated […]

    Pingback by Role models, Talcott Parsons, and Structural Functionalism | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 20, 2014 @ 6:20 pm | Reply

  2. […] prior blogs, especially this one (http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision&#8230 ;) I stated that Leopold von Ranke, a major historian of Germany in the nineteenth century, was dead, […]

    Pingback by The Devil in history? A. J. P. Taylor vs. R. Palme Dutt | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 31, 2013 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  3. […] Switching the Enlightenment: corporatist liberalism and the revision of American history […]

    Pingback by Power, relationships, identity | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 1, 2013 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

  4. […] http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision… (This is about the “culturalist” turn in history ca. 1939, before the “cultural Marxists” established themselves in academe. It was carried out by social psychologists close to the New Deal.) […]

    Pingback by The origins of political correctness | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 27, 2013 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  5. […] individual”; rather, progressives are careful to define the “individual-in-society.”  See http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision…. […]

    Pingback by Neurotic vs. objective anxiety: DSM-IV and beyond « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 9, 2012 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

  6. […] 7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision…. […]

    Pingback by Making mobs with bad words and concepts « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 13, 2012 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

  7. […] I have just finished reading a recent book by Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America  (Harvard UP, 2004). If Kaufmann’s reading of U.S. history is correct, then almost everything on this website is either mistaken or misguided. But I don’t think so. What his book  does is replicate the same Harvard line that I experienced there in the Graduate School of Education: that “sub-cultures” were the unit for sorting out people. Moreover, it promotes the “multiculturalism” that I have reported repeatedly as deceptive and confusing: it purports to be anti-racist, but maintains a racialist discourse. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision…. […]

    Pingback by Assimilation and citizenship in a democratic republic « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 5, 2012 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

  8. […] Civil War and Reconstruction. Another of my essays on the origins of multiculturalism is found at http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision…. Readers here who are curious about the “rootless cosmopolitan” should look at the […]

    Pingback by Multiculturalists and Wilsonians can’t diagnose “the new antisemitism” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 8, 2011 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  9. […] Spark unpacks the journey from the Enlightenment in the 18th century to the mid-20th century.  Here, we find out more about ‘tolerance’ — what it is and is not: […]

    Pingback by Multiculturalism explained — questions answered « Churchmouse Campanologist — November 9, 2011 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

  10. […] Anyone who has followed recent developments in history and politics should be amazed by the ubiquity of the term “identity”. What is not noted is the drastic transformation in the meaning of that word, and the implications are alarming for those who believe that civil rights (most especially the right of every individual citizen to challenge authority and to question the lines of interpretation handed down by all existing establishments as to “truth” or the causes of conflict) are intrinsic to an advanced democracy, such as the one we celebrate today, July 4, 2009. For as I have argued in all my published work and in various blogs and comments on the internet, the very concept of the free-standing, relatively autonomous individual is being systematically erased by antidemocrats or pseudo-democrats, who imagine themselves to be “anti-imperialists” and “anti-racists.” (I have written about the origins of multiculturalism and its racialist discourse in numerous venues, but here is one that tries to sum it all up: http://hnn.us/articles/4533, or see the version I posted here: http://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision….) […]

    Pingback by Unfinished Revolutions and contested notions of “identity” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 30, 2011 @ 5:09 pm | Reply


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