YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 17, 2013

The Illusion of National Unity

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

In this brief blog I will address those still potent divisions that the “turn to culturalism” has masked. I will, as usual, reject the inheritance of the “organic nation,” or the misnamed cultural pluralism that goes by the name of “multiculturalism,” as well as such terms as “national identity,” “group identity” or “zeitgeist.” All these terms are the effluents of German Romanticism, or the “Aufklärung” as it is misleading named. The German” Enlightenment” is a misnomer for it asserted itself against the all-too “bourgeois” “mechanical materialism” of the French and English Enlightenments.

No one with even a passing knowledge of US history can imagine that we are a unified entity unless they are chauvinists who revel in the notion of American superpower status, as opposed to celebrating the good sense embodied in the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, separation of powers, and frankly materialistic approach to conflict (see the Federalist Papers that made almost no mention of “God.” Nor did the framers of that Constitution have any illusions about human nature. Federalist #10 made the conflict between creditors and debtors clear enough, and the Left loves to cite Madison’s contribution as proof that capitalism is elitist and opposed to the interests of the common man; that the Constitution is an elitist document).

What are the real divisions that complicate the controversies swirling around us and that are masked by “culturalism” and its rhetoric?

Besides the ongoing structural conflict between creditors and debtors that often takes the form of populism, already mentioned,

First, there is not a [jewified] communist party versus a capitalist party, as some on the Far Right would have it. Two capitalist parties confront one another, with differing strategies for wealth creation: one generally looks to state-imposed Keynesian demand-stimulus economic remedies for economic downturns, while its opponents look to free markets and supply-side economics. (For living economists exemplifying the latter, see Larry Lindsey’s latest book, or the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 9-17-13 by Martin Feldstein.) The fact that Keynesians may be found in both parties owing to the bipartisan origins of progressivism, complicates the picture.

Second, there is a strong argument for the South having won the peace through the popularity of the paternalistic organic society that Southerners asserted as superior to the “wage-slavery” of the urbanized, capitalist, puritan North.  Gemeinschaft beat out Gesellschaft. Hence the collectivist vocabulary that may be found in advertising and political speeches. Ayn Rand railed against this, to little avail. She was preceded in the 19th century by the antislavery Senator from Massachusetts, the descendant of Puritans: Charles Sumner. Thus we have an ongoing conflict between the country and the city, with many protest movements flavored by agrarianism and nostalgia for the allegedly neighborly and unified small town (compare to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, 1919).

Sumner took liberal nationalism to mean a government that protected the rights of individuals as opposed to collective entities. For this (along with his proposals for “Radical Reconstruction”) he has been read out of the canon of great Americans until very recently.

Third, anyone who thinks that the Reformation was settled long ago, and that there is no deeply rooted religious conflict today is uneducated about the history of immigration and of religiously defined conflict in general. Sectarian divisions within and between the major religions impinge on all the other conflicts.

I could go on, but won’t, for too long a blog would emerge. I will mention, however, the omnipresent sentimentality of our popular culture, whether this is reflected in the worship of “romantic love,” “the happy family,” “the community,” adorable babies, or pets.

Community-and-Society

It is difficult to navigate oneself politically through all these intertwined conflicts. But it would be true progress to admit that they exist. On Toennies see http://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/.

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6 Comments »

  1. […] is a related blog: http://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/, with a disquieting painting by Max Beckmann expressing alienation and lack of connection with […]

    Pingback by Understanding Obama’s ongoing appeal | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 14, 2014 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  2. […] public discourse. Such blogs as “The Illusion of National Unity” may make some of us squirm (http://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/), especially as we are taught to respond to identification with “the American people.” True, […]

    Pingback by The State of the Blog/Irreconcilable Conflicts | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 26, 2014 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  3. […] Imagine the fear of loss of status during an economic downturn. Imagine the fear of abandoning one’s neighbors and ancestors when forced to “uproot” one self in moving to a different town, city, or state where employment is more attractive. Imagine the fear of losing touch with a family where you were the first one to get an advanced education, and where those left behind call you “uppity.” This is why “multicultural” appeals to “community” or “race” or “ethnicity” work, though they are weapons in the hands of demagogues. Might there be less anxiety, even less panic, in the false utopias that union bosses, race hustlers, or corrupt politicians and their ilk promise to voters? Have we not here the inefficacy of competing appeals to “individuality” and “equal opportunity” from anticommunists on the Right, even as conservatives and moderates alike strive to protect the integrity of families and voluntarism over bureaucratic strategies for an ever elusive unity? (For a recent blog on this subject see http://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.) […]

    Pingback by Eros and the problem of solidarity | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 8, 2013 @ 12:32 am | Reply

  4. Apropos of nothing in your latest, my understanding is that you stay current on the latest trends in antisemitism, so… WBAI seems to be in actual danger of going out of existence, which has been known to bring on fits of amoral desperation. It seems (under the temporary stewardship of Andrew Phillips) to be promoting, along with very generous helpings of Gary Null, the works of a movie producer named Peter Joseph. Among his offerings is Zeitgeist. While I’m not too very informed about him or it, there seems to be a whiff of ill-defined conspiratorialism that often indicates the usual hatred.

    I wouldn’t want to go off half-cocked, but neither would silence be appropriate if a true example of unnamed Judenhass is rearing its head.

    Comment by Claude Horvath — October 17, 2013 @ 10:59 pm | Reply


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