YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 18, 2009

Assimilation and citizenship in a democratic republic



from the S-M collection, UCLA

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-of-american-history/.

     In the case of Kaufmann’s book, he generally underreports or misreports his sources in the service of anti-imperialism, cultural relativism, internationalism, affirmative action, and the United Nations, while lauding the comfort of multiple group affiliations and the irreplaceable warmth of ethnic ties and local color. Taken together, American identity is a “mosaic” in the same sense that Horace Kallen meant (see below), though at times he distances himself from such organicist formulations. 

 At no point does the author define his terms, and though he is a sociologist, well-acquainted with such distinctions as the rooted versus the rootless cosmopolitan, or gemeinschaft versus gesellschaft *, he does not confront the problem of citizenship in a democratic republic: i.e., the necessity for the individual to vote from a standpoint of knowledge, rationality and deep immersion in the policy issues that will determine the course of her life. At no point, does Kaufmann, himself the product of mixed ‘races’, rank the West or the politically libertarian heritage of Britain as possibly superior to competing political arrangements. Hence assimilation for him is simply a rupture with the family of origin and submission to the hegemony of an alien ethnic group (I think he means the Hebraic Protestants of New England), rather than the absolutely imperative reconfiguration of what we think of as family loyalty in a situation where emancipation from the dead hand of the past is a possibility. As I have said before here, either we teach the critical processes necessary for popular sovereignty or we turn tail and return to an oligarchy masked as democracy. (See my blog on the Southern Agrarians and their role in reconstructing the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s. http://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/)

     The book’s most alarming rewriting of history is the account of the melting pot, seen as the forced imposition of WASP hegemony until some key figures in the early 20th century—John Dewey, William James, and Jane Addams—introduced what he calls “Liberal Progressivism” (or what I have termed elsewhere corporatist liberalism). Added to the Progressive juggernaut, Kaufmann (self-described as a “mutt”) makes much of the soiled “individualist-expressive” line of Greenwich Village, tarred by its love for the “exotic” “bricolage,” but still acting against the dreary old WASPs. But hold on, a choppy and embarrassing U.S. history will have a happy ending if we adjust to “liberty” (undefined) and “equality” (undefined) in the context of a feast of ethnic preferences, with no one ethnicity dominating.

    Here is an excerpt from  Hunting Captain Ahab that contradicts Kaufmann’s presentation of Horace Kallen’s theory of cultural pluralism as directed against “Anglo-conformity” and ethical universalism: [Kaufmann:] “… Kallen expressed his political vision of America as a ‘democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind’ (Kallen 1924: 123).” Contrast this claim (Kaufmann, p.155) with my use of the same Kallen publication of 1924 and the great ideas (Adam Smith’s homo economicus and the specter of proletarian internationalism/solidarity) that Kallen was refuting with his Lamarckian assertions.

[Hunting Captain Ahab excerpt:] The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal rights to every individual citizen. The new social psychology was ’sanely’ designed to wrest the concept of individuality from individual persons to groups: races, ethnicities and business corporations.[i]   There might be no commitment to civil liberties in the practice of corporatist intellectuals had not the bloody repression of oppositional political speech during the first two decades of the twentieth century apparently propelled workers and their allies toward socialism, forcing moderate conservatives to forestall revolution in the disillusioned lower orders after the Great War by incorporating libertarian ideals and subversive writers. But the inspiring enlightenment rationalism of John Locke, Condorcet, and the Founding Fathers [ii]   was vitiated by the racialist Progressive discourse derived from German idealism and the ideas of J. G. Von Herder, the hyphenated Americanism promoted after 1916 that advocated antiracist social and educational policies persisting today as “multiculturalism.” [iii]   Horace Kallen’s Culture and Democracy in the United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples (1924) [iv]   linked blood and soil determinism with anti-imperialism, boldly asserting an eighteenth-century völkisch social theory against materialist class analysis, proletarian internationalism, and war:

[Kallen:] The experiments on the salamander and the ascidian, on the rat and the rabbit, make a prima facie case, the importance of which cannot be seriously questioned, for the inheritance of acquired physical traits. The experiments upon the white mice make an even more significant case for the inheritance of acquired “mental” traits (29). …The American people…are no longer one in the same sense in which the people of Germany or the people of France are one, or in which the people of the American Revolution were one. They are a mosaic of peoples, of different bloods and of different origins, engaged in rather different economic fields, and varied in background and outlook as well as in blood…The very conception of the individual has changed. He is seen no longer as an absolutely distinct and autonomous entity, but as a link in an endless historical chain which is heredity, and as a point in a geographical extent involving political, economic, social organization, and all the other factors of group life, which are his environment (58-59).

 …The fact is that similarity of class rests upon no inevitable external condition: while similarity of nationality has usually a considerable intrinsic base. Hence the poor of two different peoples tend to be less like-minded than the poor and the rich of the same peoples. At his core, no human being, even in a “state of nature” is a mere mathematical unit of action like the “economic man.” Behind him in time and tremendously in him in quality, are his ancestors; around him in space are his relative and kin, carrying in common with him the inherited organic set from a remoter common ancestry. In all these he lives and moves and has his being. They constitute his, literally, natio, the inwardness of his nativity, and in Europe every inch of his non-human environment wears the effects of their action upon it and breathes their spirit (93-94)…Americans are a sort of collective Faust, whose memories of Gretchen and the cloister trouble but do not restrain the conquest of the new empire, and perhaps, the endeavor after Helen (265). (my emph.)[end Kallen quote]

[Hunting Captain Ahab:] Researchers would not examine unique individuals with highly variable life experience, capabilities and allegiances: more or less informed individuals making hard choices in shifting situations that were similarly available to empirical investigation, reporting their findings to anyone who cared to listen and respond. For many “symbolic interactionists” or “structuralists,” “society” or “the nation” was a collective subject composed of smaller collective subjects or “sub-cultures”: classes, races, ethnicities, and genders; these collectivities each possessed group “character” expressed in distinctive languages; we communicated solely through the mediations of symbols or “institutional discourses,” and badly. The dissenting, universal individual (the mad scientist) had been swallowed up, while at the same time the conservative reformers claimed to protect or restore individuality in their rescue of deracinated immigrants. Such confusing policies, I believe, are a futile attempt by planners from the right wing of the Progressive movement to impose a sunny, placid, crystalline exterior upon social actors–both individuals and groups–riven by unrecognizable but seething inter- and intra-class conflicts.[v]   Although Progressive “corporate liberalism” has been derided by recent populists and New Leftists, its critics have not brought out the organicist sub-text, which, curiously, many radical critics carry but do not seem to see. Melville as Ahab and other dark characters diagnosed the demented character of ‘moderate’ social nostrums;[vi]   his conservative characters blinkered themselves for the sake of family unity. Why this semi-visible racialist discourse on behalf of a more rooted cosmopolitanism was deemed indispensable to many Progressives is one theme in my book. The construction of the Jungian unconscious as site for Progressive purification and uplift is further developed below as I draw a straight line between some aristocratic radicals of the 1920s and their New Left admirers in the field of American literature. [end book excerpt]

*Gemeinschaft refers to a “community” bound together by mystical bonds such as those of “race,”  in the case of multiculturalism, a “mosaic” of mutually tolerant communities, to use Kaufmann’s formulation. Collectivities, not individual persons, have “individuality.” By contrast in a rational state (Gesellschaft), the state exists to protect all its citizens, and individual persons have enumerated rights and duties. (Charles Sumner was defending this kind of state when he argued against slavery.) See the article cited above for a brief discussion of Toennies and his followers, critics of the rational state in favor of the mystical one. (see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. ) 


[i]   A clipping preserved by Carey McWilliams is revealing in this regard: Woodruff Randolph’s editorial in the Typographical Journal 9/4/37, protested recent right-wing offensives; the headline read “Incorporate Unions? Step Toward Fascism, Says ‘Typo’ Secretary.” Randolph contrasted the business corporation “partly a person and partly a citizen, yet it has not the inalienable rights of a natural person” with “A labor organization [which] is organized to do in numbers what each may do individually under his inalienable rights.” Carey McWilliams Papers, UCLA Special Collections, Box 14.

[ii]   James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America, Chapter 2. Ceaser differentiates among the Founders, arguing that Jefferson’s political rationalism existed in tension with received ideas on race; the overall effect was to replace political science with natural history as the guide to sound government. Condorcet, the most comprehensively democratic philosophe, the champion of internationalism, popular sovereignty, public education, feminism, and progress, and enemy to separation of powers and checks and balances (as ploys of elites to subvert democratic will), was annexed to the conservative enlightenment to give liberal credibility to the New Deal elevation of the executive branch of government over the legislative branch. See J. Salwyn Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (N.Y.: Octagon Reprint, 1978, orig. pub. 1934, repub. 1963), 276-277: “Security for both capital and labor is essential if freedom of enterprise is to survive…Responsibility in government can be more efficiently maintained by giving more authority to the executive, who would wield power, not as an irresponsible dictator, but as a democratically chosen official responsible to a legislature whose essential function would be to act as the nation’s monitor. Progress has been the peculiar heritage of liberalism to which it must be ever faithful in order to survive.” Condorcet joins Paine and Jefferson as fodder for the moderate men of the vital center.  [Added 3-20-10: I may modify this footnote after I read Frank Manuel's book Prophets of Paris. I am especially concerned about whether or not Condorcet embraced Rousseau's notion of general will, a notion that I oppose.]


 [iii]    I am using 1916 as a milestone in the promotion of ethnopluralism because of the publication of the Randolph Bourne article, “Trans-National America,” and a now forgotten book by the head psychologist of the Boston Normal School, J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916). The latter introduced Herder as the precursor to Franz Boas and advocated the new “race pedagogy.” There was no ambiguity about the welcome counter-Enlightenment drift of German Romanticism in this work. For Andress, the German Romantic hero was a rooted cosmopolitan, fighting to throw off [Jewish] materialist domination to liberate the Volksgeist. In 1942, Herder was presented as a Kantian, pantheist, cosmopolitan and quasi-democrat, even a supporter of the French Revolution in James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing, Vol. 2, 33-138, especially 137.

Some more recent intellectual historians are rehabilitating Herder along with other figures of the Hochklarung, similarly held to be avatars of the freethinking emancipated individual. In his talk at the Clark Library symposium “Materialist Philosophy, Religious Heresy, and Political Radicalism, 1650-1800,” (May 1, 1999) John H. Zammito declared that Herder’s philosophy (the demolition of mechanical materialism?) cleared the way for the further development of natural science in Germany. The key figure for these scholars is Spinoza, his pantheism the apex of “vitalist materialism.” Margaret C. Jacob, author of The Radical Enlightenment, 1981, was organizer of the conference, but we are using the term with differing assumptions about scientific method and what, exactly, constitutes the radical Enlightenment.

     [iv] Horace M. Kallen, Culture and Democracy in The United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples, (N.Y: Boni and Liveright: 1924), recognized in Alfred E. Zimmern’s review in The Nation and the Atheneum, 5/17/24, 207, as a shift away from Lockean environmentalism toward hereditarian racism, however (benignly) characterized as “a cooperation of cultural diversities”; Zimmern linked Kallen’s pluralism to that of William James. He did not mention Randolph Bourne’s Atlantic Monthly essay of 1916, “Trans-National America.” See also Robert Reinhold Ergang, Herder and the Foundations of German Nationalism, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1931), Chapter III. On the explicit and implicit antisemitism/Counter-Enlightenment in Herder’s position, see p. 92: “The Hebrews ‘were a people spoiled in their education, because they never arrived at a maturity of political culture on their own soil, and consequently not to any true sentiment of liberty and honor.’ ” There it is, the Big Lie of rootless cosmopolitanism. See p.95 for the basis of Herder’s anti-French revolt: Rousseau’s Contrat social is not the force that binds a nation, but nature’s laws of blood and soil; Nature, not Culture creates interdependence; for Herder there is only Nature and all history is natural history; environmentally acquired characteristics are inherited by the corporate entity.

[v]    See for instance, Louis Filler, Randolph Bourne (Washington, D.C.: American Council On Public Affairs, 1943). The Council was a Progressive organization producing pamphlets during the war and promoting cooperation between capital and labor. Louis Filler (also a Nation writer) explained why Randolph Bourne, espousing an orderly “international identity” for America and explaining war as an outgrowth of nationalism, had been wrongly deemed as irrelevant to the youth of the 1930s; we need Bourne today.

    Filler explained, “Alien cultures, Bourne declared, brought new forces and ideas to American life. [Those bossy, snobbish Anglo-Saxon assimilationists who controlled everything, so] discouraged retention by immigrants of their Old World heritage did not thereby create Americans. Filler quotes Bourne: They created “hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” Moreover: “those who come to find liberty achieve only license. They become the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see in our slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the vacuous faces of the crowds on the city street. This is the cultural wreckage of our time, and it is from the fringes of the Anglo-Saxon as well as the other stocks that it falls. America has as yet no compelling integrating force. It makes too easily for this detritus of cultures. In our loose, free country, no constraining national purpose, no tenacious folk-tradition and folk-style hold the people to a line.”

   What would be done about such a state of affairs? [Filler:] “America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men. To seek no other good but the weary old nationalism–belligerent, exclusive, inbreeding, the poison of which we are witnessing now in Europe–is to make patriotism a hollow sham, and to declare, that, in spite of our boastings, America must ever be a follower and not a leader of nations.” Do not, therefore, denigrate any culture that has driven stakes into the American soil: do not, certainly, term it un-American: “There is no distinctive American culture.” Do not, above all, set up American material achievement as a token of American fulfillment: “If the American note is bigness, action, the objective as contrasted with the reflective life, where is the epic expression of this spirit?” We were patently inhibited from presenting in impressive artistic form the energy with which we were filled. The reason was that we had not yet accepted the cosmopolitanism with which we had been endowed. Americans of culture could be made of the Germans in Wisconsin, the Scandinavians in Minnesota, and the Irish and Italians of New York. “In a world which has dreamed of internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been building up the first international identity (76-78)…[Bourne’s] ideas, his experiences, the warp and woof of his personality were not necessary to a generation that believed it had discovered impersonal economic laws that (properly applied) would at last bring about a settlement of human affairs (133).” Filler is obviously writing against the Red Decade.

[vi] Cf. David Leverenz on the “Ugly Narcissus,” Ahab: “He certainly is not afflicted with contradictory or discontinuous role-expectations. But he does start to experience a desire for [sadomasochistic] fusion, previously blocked by his obsession.” In Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 294.

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  1. […] Rogin pulled together all the 1960s major themes:  the monomaniac Jackson (another Captain Ahab) committed genocide against the native Americans, providing a model for future adventures in white domination, militarism, and violence. About this time, we renewed our friendship, and Rogin supported my work at Pacifica and at the Yankee Doodle Society. I know how shocked he was at the reception of his book, and also that he was in a friendly correspondence with David Brion Davis of Yale, who had taught American intellectual history at Cornell while I was still there, decades earlier. What I did not see at the time was that the turn toward ethnicity (as opposed to class) was a calculated response to the red specter, made worse by the Soviet upheavals in 1905 and 1917. (For an example, see quotes from Horace Kallen here: http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/.) […]

    Pingback by The Frontiersman/Settler as all-purpose scapegoat | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 8, 2014 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

  2. [...] Sadly, it has been the fashion of the post-1960s academy to support Gemeinschaft (an irrationalist racialist discourse denying individuality) against the more rational Gesellschaft (a rational state based upon the rule of laws susceptible to adjustment and revision, and viewing society as a collection of individuals, not races). Hence, the reign of identity politics since the New Left takeover of the humanities, with its emphasis on the constructed category of “race” as against objective class and gender interests. (See my blog http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/.) [...]

    Pingback by Gingrich and the socially-constructed “nation state” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 15, 2011 @ 1:15 am | Reply

  3. [...] blog should be read along with http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/. It is true that politics are messy, by contrast, sociology as the product of German Idealism, is [...]

    Pingback by Jottings on the culture wars: both sides are wrong « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 4, 2010 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

  4. [...] 12-17-09: see related blog http://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/. By the free-standing individual, I do not mean a narcissist incapable of seeing beyond his long [...]

    Pingback by Switching the Enlightenment: corporatist liberalism and the revision of American history « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 18, 2009 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

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