YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 22, 2012

Materialist history and the idea of Progress

Rerum Novarum by gercalher

[This is the second of two blogs on the ambivalence surrounding the First Amendment. The first is http://clarespark.com/2012/09/21/milton-mason-melville-on-free-speech/. For an interview with David Horowitz about the book reviewed here, see http://tinyurl.com/adtw9c2. ]

Another marker in the culture wars has been laid down by David Horowitz’s new book Radicals (Regnery, 2012). The chapters recount the careers of Christopher Hitchens, Bettina Aptheker, Cornel West, assorted Weathermen bombers (mostly female), and Saul Alinsky’s power-grabbing, crypto-Leninist nihilistic ideology.

But it is the last chapter wherein Horowitz lays his cards on the table. As a traditionalist (i.e., Burkean, Disraelian) conservative, he assails the “progressives” described throughout the book, lauds “compromise” as the alternative to “progressive” atheism, puritanism, perfectionism and futurism, and then declares, pessimistically in my view, that all civilizations are cyclical: they rise and fall. This view is of course associated with Counter-Enlightenment organic conservatives, who impose the life cycle of plants (Goethe famously did this), onto human organization.

In short, with his apparent view that all conflicts can be compromised, David Horowitz is aligned with the moderate men. Though he is dismayed by aggressive radical atheists, whose foibles include a Manichaean distinction between Good and Evil, DH’s essentially religious orientation to conflict resolution seats him at the same table as the radicals he vigorously criticizes throughout. I can only infer that anyone who discerns irreconcilable conflicts must be an Evil extremist who destroys [ neoclassical] social order. His vision is antagonistic to “puritans” (i.e., Hebraic Protestant voluntarism, worldliness, and free-market capitalism, which he links to the Satanic). Such a posture is in agreement with the Elizabethan compromise of Anglo-Catholicism or even the liberal Catholicism promoted by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rerum_Novarum), a landmark pronouncement on the necessity of class harmony.  In other words, class harmony is Good, while unfettered materialism/atheism destroys and demoralizes families and all ordering institutions, in effect abandoning children to body- and spirit-crushing factories, nihilism and the terrifying immensities of an empty universe. Only a Satanist (or Promethean Romantic?) would commit such Evil acts.

Rerum Novarum Cupidus

I did not recognize myself as a materialist historian in any of Horowitz’s radicals.  Nor does he engage the battle of the sexes, putting quotation marks around the word “sexist”* (p.194)as if women have nothing to complain about.  I am a feminist, a materialist, and a secular Jew, who puts aside my private beliefs as I read archival materials and attempt to get inside the head of historical actors. DH is attuned to family relationships, as am I, and indeed faults Hitchens for failing to address his relations with his suicidal mother, a crypto-Jew.  But his criticism is not Freudian in any sense, but looks like a rebuke to the Mother’s dire “romantic” influence on her son, who never severed his ties with the [Romantic, Satanic] Left.

I have throughout this website carefully marked the original Progressive movement’s aims in addressing the red specter (through selective co-option), and in creating institutions that would soften relations between labor and capital—in order to prevent red revolution spurred by laissez-faire capitalism. I have also recognized the Communist infiltration of the progressive movement, taking advantage of New Leftism and its anti-anticommunist agenda, that further enabled the takeover of the humanities by the social justice avatars. But I cannot give all weight to the New Left for the deranged politics that confuse our political culture. We remain resistant to science and imagine that we are free when we are submissive to impulses laid down in early childhood, and reinforced in much of popular culture and/or partisan propaganda.

It is curious that nowhere in his book, does DH look at economic history or the conflicting models for wealth-creation offered by Keynesians as opposed to the followers of Milton Friedman, Hayek, et al. Nor does he get down and dirty in exploring generational conflict of the [Freudian] kind so tellingly explored by Herman Melville and a host of other authors. For that would be dipping into materialist history, facing “things as they are,” and perhaps delineating too disruptive, ambiguous, and kaleidoscopic views of how we got into this mess.  (For a related blog see http://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.)

[Added, 9-23-12: Compare DH’s view of “human nature” to this passage from John Dos Passos’s post-radical period:

Responding to German students as to what is admirable about US, “I told them they should admire the United States not for what we were but for what we might become. Selfgoverning democracy was not an established creed, but a program for growth. I reminded them that industrial society was a new thing in the world and that although we Americans had gone further than any people in spreading out its material benefits we were just beginning, amid crimes, illusions, mistakes and false starts, to get to work on how to spread out what people needed much more: the sense of belonging, the faith in human dignity, the confidence of each man in the greatness of his own soul without which life is a meaningless servitude….Faith in self-government, when all is said and done, is faith in the eventual goodness of man.” (p.508, Virginia Spencer Carr’s bio of John DP)

*The complete paragraph begins on p.193: “It is not because radicals begin by being unethical people that they approach politics this way. On the contrary, their passion for a future that is ethically perfect is what drives their political agendas and causes others to mistake them for idealists. But the very nature of this future–a world without poverty, without war, without racism, and without “sexism”–is so desirable, so noble, so perfect in contrast to everything that has preceded it as to justify any and every means to make it a reality.” I thank David Horowitz for welcoming discussion and catching my error. In a second communication, DH explains that the quotes around “sexism” expressed his dislike of viewing sexism and racism as comparable discriminations. Many readers will agree with him, but in a recent publication (Created in the Image of God)  David Brion Davis, a liberal, devotes an entire chapter to the subjugation of women, which Davis does compare to slavery.

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12 Comments »

  1. […] Who then are the moderns? We are left with the classical liberals or libertarians. These thinkers, following Adam Smith, von Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and the Friedmans, see competitive markets as the route to wealth creation and a better life on earth. They are worldly, but not immoralists, for some see the need for state action (see especially the legal theorist Richard Epstein). Their European predecessors were the “mechanical materialists” denounced by all the ultra-conservatives, faux liberals, and dialectical materialists who followed. It is this school (not necessarily united within their ranks) , who put the future in the laps of our assessing, choosing, individual selves, who reject the fatalism of Vico, Volney, or their Greek and Christian-Platonic predecessors. (For more on this subject see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.) […]

    Pingback by Progressives, the luxury debate, and decadence | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 3, 2013 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  2. […] me. In retrospect, I personally found it nihilistic, depraved, barbaric and reactionary. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/ .) But I went back to it, because of its popularity and obvious cultural significance. What follows […]

    Pingback by James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 20, 2013 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  3. […] the desired social cohesion. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/03/26/henry-a-murray-and-the-tat/, or http://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.) Is it any wonder that so many artists and writers must write under a mask, simply to express […]

    Pingback by Nostalgia for the “Middle Ages” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 31, 2013 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  4. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog and commented:

    With the public move toward medievalism and away from the Enlightenment, this blog has renewed vitality. Rerum Novarum (1891) was a monumental intervention in the political culture of the West

    Comment by clarespark — May 30, 2013 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  5. A great principle you conveyed with “DH’s essentially religious orientation to conflict resolution seats him at the same table as the radicals he vigorously criticizes throughout.” I find a majority of Christians adopt such a perspective, and unwittingly deeply enable sides of conflict in the process. Myself a Christian, I have found no place where Christ promises any way to end conflict within the world.

    Comment by Mark Leavenworth — November 3, 2012 @ 2:52 am | Reply

  6. There is such complexity here such that one blog post and a couple of comments cannot do it justice. Influences include Greek and Roman philosophy, Christian heresies, Enlightenment philosophy, Marxism, Hegelian and Keynesian economics, Fascism and Gramsci’s politics, which were designed to break down ‘church and family’ by ‘a long walk through the institutions’.

    It is right to lament the aberrant notions and politics which emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries from these influences. Globalism also helped to foment fundamentalism. As I heard it discussed on French radio (RMC — Radio Monte Carlo [from Paris]), as globalism advances, people retreat into what they know and understand: church/temple/mosque and nationalism. This was on a left-wing radio show, by the way. Going back into the 19th century, mysticism, spiritualism, seances and so forth were a means of rebellion and reaction against the high-tech Industrial Revolution (see past issues of Fortean Times).

    People’s psyches are complex things, perhaps so ordained by God. They will not be easily be undone. I realise this might be controversial, but it reveals some truths about human nature.

    Comment by churchmouse — September 29, 2012 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  7. The New Left was responsible for over the top hatred of Nixon. which eventually caused his paranoia and led to Watergate. The furious backlash to this hatred is what I believe was the beginning of our present political craziness. Clinton was certainly impeached because of Watergate. Both Nixon and Clinton were “moderates” by your definition but were also severely flawed human beings as well. Unfortunately, this gave cover to the extremists on both sides that succeded in poisoning our political system.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — September 22, 2012 @ 9:26 pm | Reply


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