YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 8, 2014

Index to blogs on “totalitarianism”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:10 pm
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girltotalitarianReflecting on why this word is so popular, while rejected by many serious scholars: Who historically has been deemed to be after total control of the world? Both “the Jews” a.k.a. “the money power” bent on world domination and 19th century mothers, “expanding their empire over the family.” Is Woman the Jew of the Home?

http://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/

http://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/  [Talmon on nationalism and pageantry]

http://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/  [Especially good for its quote from Jacob Talmon]

http://clarespark.com/2013/10/28/hobsbawm-israel-the-totalitarian-idea/

newworldorder

http://clarespark.com/2014/04/17/totalitarianism/

http://clarespark.com/2014/04/19/totalitarianism-2/

Illuminati_by_Cajmerek

October 7, 2014

Michael Burleigh’s History of the Third Reich

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 8:39 pm
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the-third-reich-978033048757306A famous conservative historian recommended Michael Burleigh’s 2001 popular best-seller of 812 pages, The History of The Third Reich (Macmillan, 2001). Burleigh is now a prominent figure on the British Right, associated with a conservative periodical Standpoint, which is commonly compared to Bill Buckley’s National Review. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Burleigh.)

This blog is about my reservations regarding his mammoth popular history, which in my reading leans toward social democracy (that took the “hard edges” off of capitalism). He has curried favor with The Guardian, for instance in an article that recognizes a closet liberal: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/mar/11/academicexperts.highereducationprofile)

For instance, though few doubt that the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School are writing from the Left, Burleigh is outraged by “massification” and the ruins wreaked by popular mass media, just as Adorno et al were. MB, however, explicitly misses the old aristocratic elites who were more focused on their “obligations” (as contrasted with the chorus of ordinary people demanding “rights”). Burleigh was formerly a medievalist and I suspect him of missing the Good Kings who have been glorified by some historians. Curiously, MB sees the Third Reich pretty much as the psychological warfare figures of the New Deal: “guttersnipe” Nazis appealed to common men and women, who “fell for him,” [Jung, 1946] causing the German catastrophe.

Second, Burleigh continuing along this elitist line, complains that Nazis fancied that they were heroic figures that would be vindicated by history: “For history’s most enduring B-movie villains were self-consciously assigning themselves parts within an A-movie which runs and runs, increasingly in the debased form of documentaries, made-for-TV soaps, and lurid magazines and books which have scraped the barrel of sensation until it is almost worn away. The Nazis cynically manipulated posterity as they had manipulated their contemporaries; by way of continuity, they are cynically manipulated in their turn by a ‘Hitler industry’ for which there seems to be an insatiable market. A regime which had lived by image perished by it, in a final triumph of style over substance, as the greatest stage villains of all departed what they called the stage of history, leaving a lingering trail of evil beyond the curtains.” (p.788)*

But Burleigh had written a luridly detailed lengthy section on Operation Barbarossa, replete with images of cannibalism and maimed bodies and corpses that rivals any Nazi propaganda production, and exceeds in vividness all academic writing, which generally eschews adjectives and outrage. Perhaps his unleashed imagination was unacceptable to those academic minds from whom he proudly walked away, preferring religion, not materialist history, as the framework of major events such as world wars and social movements. I suspect that for Burleigh, the devil is back, along with Manichaeism. Seeing all conflict as warfare between good and evil (detached from specific institutions) marks the self-righteous moralist, which MB unabashedly is.

Moralcombat

Second, though Burleigh is attentive to the horrors of the racial state as wreaked on homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, etc. he tends to minimize the importance of European anti-Semitism, though he also claims (as do critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, including Saul Friedländer) that “the Holocaust” tests the boundaries of historical representation and is hence unfathomable (?) and unrepresentable. “After Auschwitz, there can be no poetry.”  (See http://mindfulpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/03/poetry-after-auschwitz-what-adorno.html for “what Adorno really said.”

Finally, Burleigh, no less than the crypto-Leninist Hannah Arendt, uses the liberal term “totalitarianism” though he contradicts himself when he complains that common soldiers followed orders. Either there is total control or there is a degree of choice. In my own view, communism and Nazism were polar opposites in their orientation to the [materialist] Enlightenment, as I argued here: http://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.

But to end on a positive note, Burleigh emphasizes throughout Nazism’s obliviousness to the rule of law. Perhaps American exceptionalism should be defined as equality before the law for poor and rich alike. That would be a true Enlightenment innovation.

*Burleigh deceptively footnotes this passage with Robert Harris’s journalistic account of “the selling of the Hitler diaries”, a book that “documented” (through interviews) how confidence men, publishers, and renowned academics tried to foist Hitler memorabilia on a gullible public addicted to revelations regarding Hitler’s private life. But Harris quotes David Irving, reflecting on another famous forgery, Howard Hughes’ autobiography, swallowed by McGraw Hill: “…Corporate profit justifies any form of lunacy. There’s been no other hoax like it in modern times.” (p.198). I.e., Burleigh’s target may be the profit motive and his footnote apparently has no relation to his text that indicts working class soldiers, collated as Hitler’s base. When I read the title “Selling Hitler” I had assumed that MB referred to Hitler’s appeal among the masses, not the Hitler diary hoax, a subtitle that was left out of MB’s footnote.

g26p30f1

October 2, 2014

Burleigh’s final assessment of the Nazi empire

The Racial StateFrom the end of the section on “Occupation and Collaboration in Europe, 1939-1943.” Michael Burleigh’s HISTORY OF THE THIRD REICH (Macmillan, 2001) is a good read. Here is just a sample of why I am plowing through this very long book, with candid opinions that I have rarely seen in other such histories (with the exception of an earlier book, co-authored with Wolfgang Wippermann, THE RACIAL STATE):

[Burleigh, p.481:] “How might this most transient of modern empires be viewed in the longer perspective which separates us from other empires, both ancient and modern? The Nazi empire was created by violence, lived by violence, and was destroyed than violence. In contrast to other empires created by armed might, which bequeathed art and literature that are still widely admired, or administrations, customs, languages and legal codes that Europeans and non-Europeans still adhere to,  from Ireland to India, the tawdry Nazi anti-civilization left nothing of any worth behind, except perhaps its contemporary synonym for human evil. Nazism’s material remains number a few third-rate buildings, for Albert Speer was hardly Bernini, Wren, or Lutyens, concrete coastal fortifications too dense to destroy, and the wooden huts, wind-swept parade grounds, watchtowers, and barbed wire of the concentration camps, which are paradoxically restored, rather than left to rot and rust. Nazism was literally ‘from nothing to nothing': with its powerful imaginative afterlife curiously disembodied from its pitiful achievements. Rarely can an empire have existed about which nothing positive could be said, notwithstanding the happy memories of wartime tourism with which we began. Even in the limited terms of its own aesthetic politics, the Nazi ‘New Order’ was merely the universalization of ugliness.”

Have we entirely escaped the universalization of ugliness?

"The New Order"

“The New Order”

October 1, 2014

Is Madam Secretary a glorification of Hillary?

Hillary Clinton Discusses Her New Book In Washington, DC

[Update 10-20-14: After last night’s episode, I do tend to agree more with conservative readings that the series is preparation for a Hillary Clinton run for president. For it contrasted leading from behind (diplomacy) with “force” as exemplified with the negotiator who was fired, and who was connected to the prior Secretary of State (?) who was mysteriously murdered. Nonetheless, the lead character is more intelligent than Hillary, has had more experience in government (she was in the CIA) and is more of a family person.]

I have now seen the first two episodes of Madam Secretary, which many conservatives see as a successor to The West Wing and a blatant promotion of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think that this is too simple an interpretation, though there is no doubt that conservatives are correct to be wary, for many liberals are immune to criticism of their would-be president.

I prefer to see this series as what Marcel Duchamp would have called a “rectified readymade.” There is the very visible real Mrs. Clinton, adored by some feminists and loathed by many conservatives. What both liberal series did or are doing is correcting the errors of prior liberals, cleaning them up and imagining role models who conform to the most idealized self-images possible for social democratic feminists, “balancing” career and family, protective of ordinary people, dripping with compassion for suffering humanity, sensitive to “diversity” and deeply internationalist, and resistant to temptation for cheap glamor.

There is a market now for “strong” female characters who can do male jobs better, with more integrity than their male predecessors. So the fictional Madam Secretary, unlike the real Hillary, defies her male bosses, and does Benghazi/Yemen the way many liberals would have preferred, with smarts, honor and effectiveness.

madamsecretary

In researching this subject, I noticed that The Good Wife was mentioned as a precursor in several trade publications. I think this is an incorrect analogy; it is true that “Alicia Florrick” is a brilliant lawyer, but she is amoral; the fact that her firm (past and present) has represented Chicago’s leading drug dealer is just now emerging as a conflict and primary focus for season five.   Indeed, the series has emphasized Alicia’s opportunism, sexiness, stylish clothing, and quick-wittedness to the detriment of her moral purity. Perhaps the writers wanted to have it both ways: exposing the phony neutrality of lawyers, while promoting “strong women” like “Alicia” and “Diane” who face down men.

tea-leoni-madam-secretary-zeljko-ivanek-CBS

Not so with the rectified Hillary, who is almost Victorian in her perfection as the Mother Of Us All. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_Us_All.)

September 26, 2014

What is critical thinking?

critical-thoughtEmbedded in the sharply polarized debates between political parties is a great slugfest on the teaching of US history. Many on the Right want a “patriotic” curriculum, while the Left insists that the Right is determined to abolish “critical thought” that the Leftists believe they uphold, without blemishes.

Neither Right nor Left is monolithic in its ideology, so this blog will focus on “critical thought”—how it is defined by the contemporary “Left” and how some elements of “the Right” feed into the most damaging “leftist” fantasies about a presumably monolithic “cowboy” Right mostly located in the Midwest (Texas) and the still wild, wild West, by which they mean Utah and Arizona, not of course the famously “Left Coast.”

By “critical thought” the Left, inspired by German philosophy, means negative critique of what is common institutional practice in the bourgeois West (i.e., the capitalist countries: the US, Western Europe, and Russia). The US is singled out for especially harsh criticism: deploying the categories invented by progressivism and the New Left version of Marxist-Leninism, our country is essentially racist, sexist, patriarchal, and ecocidal. Hence post-60s textbooks, influenced by identity politics, focus on those aspects of Western expansion industrialization, and urbanization that exterminated and otherwise bullied non-white workers, women, and unspoiled Nature herself. Their remedies range from class struggle to the band-aids of progressivism: statist regulation, welfare statism, and conflict-resolution techniques to prevent the more drastic remedy of socialist revolution. Gone are the days when ‘liberals’ called themselves moderate conservatives or conservative reformers. ‘Liberals’ do not want to be confused with their “fascist” enemies: the Republican Party, even as many ‘liberals’ ape the most elitist and reactionary ideologies in the history of Western civilization.

By contrast and sometimes in reaction to this mandated negativity about the American past, many elements of the Right glorify the Founders and the original Constitution, resist the notion of a “living Constitution” that social democrats (‘liberals’) prefer, and campaign for school vouchers that will fund religious schools. Charter schools are dicey, for they may be covers for “secular progressivism” that some conservatives mistake for communist infiltration/atheism, all the while insisting that the Constitution was divinely inspired, and anyone who denies that is leading our children to perdition.

So much for our polarized competing ideologies as the election season looms upon us. What follows is my own definition of critical thought, gleaned from experience in graduate school, from interacting with a broad public on the radio, and on social media.

First of all, it is very hard to separate ourselves from family, friends, or peer groups in school or in the workplace. Most of us would prefer to preserve existing attachments, no matter how damaging to our understanding of ourselves and the increasingly dangerous and impenetrable world. Hence Obama’s appealing promise of “transparency” of government under his administration. That is a hot button to push, for it resonates with our deepest wishes to develop our individuality—without drowning.

Second, it takes a long time to figure anything out. Most of the problems facing the electorate and our children take years of close study to comprehend without a large dollop of prejudice or wish-fulfillment. Only an independent income and a willingness to stand alone yields the time and will to seek the truth. So we escape into sports, easy to comprehend conspiracy theories, or reliance on celebrities in academe or in the media to do our research for us, and we follow them, happy to have found a community of the  well-informed and like-minded, no matter how bogus.

But let us assume that we are so ‘monomaniacally’ driven as to solve problems for ourselves, to have our own perspective, that we actually make time and renounce some mindless activities that divert our attention.

My own approach to critical thought entails figuring out those “facts” that are in dispute. This is no easy task, when most people are captives of ideology where all controversies are settled, and where “facts” and “opinions” are mistaken for each other. When queried on this point by a Facebook friend who denied that facts were in dispute, I gave as examples, 1. the insistence by some “moderate men” that “extremists” (i.e., abolitionists and ‘fire-eaters’) caused the Civil War; and 2. That American Cold Warriors exaggerated the Soviet military threat (this was a claim of the Stalinoid Left). The reader will supply her own examples from everyday life, for whether or not there is a “war on women” is a hot subject today.

More often than not, differences in what facts are real, and what are factoids, are resolved through “virtuous expediency” to preserve social cohesion. This world is “soaked in lies” said Melville speaking through one of his narrators in his novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and condemning the moderate men and his own family secrets. (See http://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

Then there is the laborious task of sorting out competing narratives, noting which arguments are based on documentary evidence (which may also be misleading, not only forged but subjective, such as letters and diaries). I have been reading a compendium of Nazi institutional practices, defending the authors’ notion of the Third Reich as a “racial state” to which all was subordinated to protect the notion of a [purified Aryan] “people’s community.” What makes this book The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann (UK: Cambridge UP, 1991) so helpful to critical thought is its detailed account of changing social policies and its awareness of competing narratives on the same subject. The chapter on women in Nazi Germany was especially revelatory, with some painful comparisons between Nazis practices and conservative religious groups that were “anti-Nazi.”

German-Family

Armed with concrete facts and precedents in actually existing authoritarian societies, the reader may see through the demagogic politicians who will represent themselves, in true knightly fashion, as the rescuers of women, non-whites, nature, and the school curricula. [For Wikipedia’s classification of types of criticism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varieties_of_criticism. I find many of these examples ideological, but feel most comfortable with “scholarly criticism” though the example of Mike Davis as an exemplary scholarly critic is hilarious.]

September 24, 2014

Are “liberals” control freaks?

Control_FreaksA few days one of my FB friends, an intelligent and educated scriptwriter and novelist, posted a photo claiming that all liberals were not only evil, but were interested in controlling every aspect of our lives. I see the same sort of collective condemnation frequently on Facebook, emanating usually from conservatives, even neocons who should know better, having once been either [moralistic] leftists or social democrats.

This blog seeks to counter that all-inclusive claim that demonizes the opposition.

Do Americans believe in the devil? An alarming number of Christians do (80%), compared to Jews (17%). The Devil is nowhere to be found in Judaism, so I am assuming that uneducated Jews, perhaps engorged with pop culture, comprise the shocking figure of 17%. See http://washingtonexaminer.com/57-believe-in-the-devil-72-for-blacks-61-for-women/article/2536055. (On the conception of Satan as evil inclination in Judaism, see http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm.) This is a worrisome number, for belief in the Devil signifies disbelief in science and what used to be called “empiricism” but it is now stigmatized as “materialism.” And “materialism” is associated with [demonic] communists, a corrupt working class, and even “secular progressives” who are anything but red, but rather “moderates” or “moderate conservatives.”

Belief in the devil is a catastrophe for democratic republics that demand of their citizens that they rationally focus on those issues that confront them in this world, rather than abjuring “worldliness” in favor of fixation on “another world.”

Control freaks. The notion that liberals and leftists want to control everyone and everything is a projection of authoritarian and conformist rightists. It is not as if there are no rational conservative intellectuals, but the latest tactic in the political wars advanced by a few pundits demands that they play dirty just like the enemy, grabbing mass culture away from the devious, demonic enemy.

Some conservatives, on the other hand, advise their fellow rightists not to smear liberalism as “evil” or “demonic” but to patiently explain liberal mistakes, especially with respect to economic theories. As for the fantasy of taking mass culture away from “Hollywood”, fat chance of that. As I have argued here before, movies and other mass media have always been populist, appealing not to an aristocracy but to mass resentments of any and all elites who are believed to be repressive—and demonic, like Jews and femmes fatales.

Populism comes in many flavors, spanning the political spectrum from left to right. It is always self-righteous and enraged, encouraging demagoguery and reverence for the Leader who stirs us up, vaguely enough to encompass a variety of targets for our hate.

Anyone who has ever studied the progressive movement knows that the statists were paternalistic and in their own minds, deeply moral, hearts bleeding for the oppressed masses. “The People” of course were oppressed by Jew-ridden capitalism and puritanical Mothers seeking to expand their empires over feckless sons. Progressives, taking their lesson from the Good Kings of fictional yore, would vanquish “laissez-faire” economics, bad Jews and battle-axe females, to reinstate social cohesion and political stability through the re-imposition of mystical bonds between competitors in the marketplace and in the workforce. In other words, they were upper-class moralists and true gentlemen. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, or http://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

The overall aim of the progressive movement, then and now, was uplift of the proletarian immigrants. Believing themselves to be the only ones trained to rule, they had no qualms about imposing self-control on themselves and others in order to restrain “greed” in their opposition on “Wall Street”. Nothing as vulgar and/or distruping as the nouveaux riches, so the Old Money (especially in New England) lived modestly and eschewed “conspicuous consumption.” I.e., they controlled themselves as examples to the consumerist masses, a tic that the Left copied in their zeal to stigmatize the anti-revolutionary working class that wanted material goods over red revolution.

"Madame Mirage"

“Madame Mirage”

This was my Rosh Hashanah blog. As long as the majority of Americans persist in believing in the devil or other forms of irrationality, I remain howling in the wilderness, a Jew till the end of time.

September 21, 2014

Spanking, sex, and the NFL fracas

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:00 pm
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Spanking Club, 1935

Spanking Club, 1935

On his Friday “live audience” program, September 19, 2014, Sean Hannity went over the NFL controversy, his attention frequently wandering to child abuse, which he read as part of “Southern culture”; hence the stigmatizing of “child abuse” is  discriminatory toward a region where corporal punishment is the norm. (Hooray for “Southern culture”—that always had a reputation in the North for pseudo-aristocratic conduct, violent manliness, and dueling. I am not fond of theories of regional character any more than I am of theories of national character. See http://clarespark.com/2014/07/20/national-character-does-it-exist/.)

I then commenced to plotz. For Hannity repeated over and over that his own father had taken the belt to him when he was bad, but he, Sean Hannity, had never laid a hand on his own children. Moreover he had lived in several Southern states where other kids got “whooped” and look how well he turned out, in spite of his childhood travails, which are apparently part of a regional culture, and resistant to change. (For the left-leaning BBC’s view of the controversy, foregrounding black modes of punishment, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29261462. For an entirely different view see this infographic disseminated by an online psychology degree outfit: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/, which I recommend highly.)

Back to the Hannity show. My mind immediately wandered to the sadomasochism collection at UCLA, where I spent two anxiety-ridden weeks looking at the misogynistic and often pornographic collages, photographs, and drawings of Steadman Thompson, a now deceased middle-manager employed by a Pennsylvania corporation. There are 52 boxes of his stuff.

Here is what I learned about spanking from two weeks in another’s sick brain. Children who are spanked cannot have orgasms in adulthood without being spanked by their partners. It was as simple as that—at least in the materials collected by S.T.

Similarly, on the last episode of Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters gets over his two-year bout of impotence after his alcoholic brother slugs him hard on the jaw. Bleeding, with perhaps a broken nose, “Bill” refuses nursing attentions from his mistress Virginia Johnson, and returns to his former manliness and the performance principle. Meanwhile, his icy wife, Libby Masters is volunteering at the local office of CORE in St. Louis. Let’s see if she warms up after consummating what looks like a budding relationship with a black man.

Image (115)

For more on what I found in the Steadman Thompson collection, see http://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

September 20, 2014

“Taking responsibility” for ourselves and society

free_will-net_This blog is about personal responsibility and how that demand affects the writing of both personal histories and world historical events, especially catastrophic ones that cause mass death.

Personal responsibility/free will: I have written before about the ambiguities of assigning praise and blame for our life choices. When Melville did it, his mother thought he was crazy and called in Oliver Wendell Holmes (author of the weird book Elsie Venner) to evaluate his mental health, perhaps to institutionalize him. Yet on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are told to take an inventory of those whom we have harmed, to change our conduct, and to make restitution to the damaged victim of our presumed malice or carelessness. (On Melville and free will see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

If only it were that easy to determine cause and effect. My baby may be screaming and driving me to distraction, but is her wailing an inherited feature of her temperament, or is she responding to negligent or stupid parenting choices, possibly picked up from my own parents?

Social responsibility. I have been reading books by historian Michael Burleigh, who seems quite Catholic to me in his leaning toward a late 19th century version of social democracy (see Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum 1891), and Burleigh’s rejection of the liberal theory of “totalitarianism” that equates Nazism and communism, i.e., Nazism is bad because of its divisive racial theories, while the Soviet Union attacked the materialist, modernizing bourgeoisie; at least the Reds were not wigged out with nationalism and differing sets of rules for hedgehogs and foxes. Or perhaps Burleigh dislikes the notion of totalitarianism because it implies total control and hence threatens his notion of free will and personal responsibility, without considering the details of Soviets versus Nazis. (The latter seems more likely, as he uses and abandons the term “totalitarian” depending on his outrage.)

Burleigh’s co-authored book on the Nazi “racial state” makes the point that Hitler’s welfare measures were directed solely at biologically fit, sports loving Aryans and depended on a racial hierarchy that demeaned Jews, feminists, Slavs, gypsies, “asocials”, and homosexuals; i.e., he is protecting the welfare statism of social democrats and their much vaunted “tolerance” of “difference.”

socialresponsibility

As an historian of the Third Reich, Burleigh has emphasized individual acts of resistance to Hitler’s policies, thus linking him to those believers in free will and social responsibility. BUT this traps us in the double bind so plainly delineated in “crazy” Melville’s novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) that mocked “virtuous expediency.” (On the latter see http://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

I would gladly atone for my lapses and flaws; would that I knew what they are, without the inevitable muddle. “These free men are  not as free as they think” wrote Melville in his novel Mardi (1847).

doublebind

September 13, 2014

Melville, Edmund Burke, and literary cubism

Picasso, 1910

Picasso, 1910

[My comment on Burke as reactionary raised a ruckus on Facebook (see http://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/), so here is some material from my book on Burke’s neoclassical rage for order and rejection of both the Sublime and the Beautiful. It is also relevant to the practice of conservative psychiatry and mental health services.]

[Excerpt: Hunting Captain Ahab:] Since the nineteenth century, images of Melville have moved from lunatic to Fallen Superman to rootless cosmopolitan to rooted cosmopolitan, with the figure of the rooted cosmopolitan unmasking would-be tyrants posing as democrats.  Underneath the mixed, ever-ambiguous reception to Melville’s art is a larger impulse: the subliminal blue-penciling of natural rights.  The eighteenth-century organic conservative Edmund Burke, like Samuel Johnson, reacted to Bacon, Milton and Locke by nervously constructing a politicized aesthetics. Whether rendered as Sublime or Beautiful the seductive material world the neo-classicists called Nature was always subversive to rational inquiry.[1]  The Sublime was the terrifying but alluring romantic style associated with rupture or iconoclasm, unchecked fancy and speculation, unmonitored boundary-blurring science, and Hebraic “puritanism.” It was contrasted with its Beautiful rival, the soothing, bounded pastoral style associated with conservative reform.

Melville’s gigantic sin was, perhaps, also the source of his greatness to corporatist readers.  In cleaving to purple/black/brown sublimity, he jammed his poetic prose with too many images.  The disorienting view from mountain tops, foretops, and rooftops (the brain) bored within the psyche and without, and defied Ovid by mating “unlike things,” thus muddling distinctions between art and life, dreams and reality.[2]  While the literary cubist Melville melted walls between some categories and made them interpenetrate or turn into their opposites, he had a fitful but keen eye for structures that could not be washed away by his conservative narrators. The cubist Melville interrupted their moralistic admonitions with materialist expletives.  The Nation magazine had explained in 1919 (the year they helped initiate the Melville Revival) that “the inherent common sense” of the flexible “Anglo-Saxon race” would overcome Jewish Bolshevism in America.  Following their logic, Melville would have betrayed his Anglo-Saxon racial inheritance by describing group antagonisms and double binds that, in turn, suggested the necessity of structural reform. Structural reform would not only ameliorate the condition of labor and create “the first firm founding of the state,” but, in a related perception, it would prevent mental illness in the laps of “families” that wanted to erase the contradiction between (adolescent) truth and (parental) order, families that madly promoted the critical spirit while fencing the rebel senses.

Sublimemartin08

But even as a Burkean, Melville was subversive.  As Burke recognized, the relaxing Beautiful was not the antidote to the agitating Sublime, but a different style of Romantic seduction.  Melville’s “primitivist” or “reactionary” protests, no less than his “Marxian” moments, were utopian delegitimations of deceptive or heartless authority in the name of universal standards of truth and justice.  Such unsettling criticism as the desire for something better, as desire itself (as opposed to the impassibility [3] of “aestheticism”) may initiate processes that can get out of hand, that may lead to unpredicted developments more far-reaching than Machiavellian “moderate” conservatives, the managers of “ritual rebellions,” would like.  The impeccably WASP American writer, on closer scrutiny, turned out to be a bad Jew even when he tried to be good by working within the system.

BeautifulKantian

“The Melville problem” (what is he, where is he, why did he fail?), “the Jewish problem,” and the problem of the form and content of American democratic institutions trampled over the same dark and bloody ground.  The Melville scholars studied here were transmitters of his “Hebraic” utopian provocations, while dependent on “neutral” (but really conservative) institutions. They have, with frequent resentment, tightened their corsets, assaulting the body in repose, the body freed from intimidation, the relaxed body better able to exercise curiosity and formulate those worldly assessments of social relationships and domination that build confidence in rising groups.  The revivers anxiously merged with and simultaneously rejected their Hebraic monster/monument, fencing their own “rebel senses” as well as Melville’s.  Given the structural pressures in American universities after 1919, the ongoing appeal of crypto-Tory nostrums, and a series of fatal decisions by the Left, the Melville malaise was inevitable.

This study revealed the etiology of the Melville problem in the attempts of organic conservatives to contain the explosive forces unleashed by science, liberal nationalism, universal literacy and mass suffrage. Their reactive concept of national, ethnic, or racial character is the heart-string that constricts and arrests the questing or utopian imagination in either its sublime or beautiful expansiveness. Ahab’s quest was viewed by conservatives as leading to the creation of a rational-secular international order with universal standards of excellence and human rights.  Red pencils were flaunted in 1917-1919 with the stunning advent of Bolshevism and Wilson’s appealing concept of a New World Order.  The corporatists  forged a middle way between the “extremes” of right-wing reaction and revolutionary socialism in 1919, and similarly, between laissez-faire liberalism and Nazism/Communism in the mid-1930s.  The strategy of these “moderates” was to co-opt the scientific language of the Enlightenment. They purged or discredited class-conscious “Bolshevists,” left-liberal materialists, and laissez-faire liberals alike. As corporatist thinkers, they incorporated newly discovered “facts” into “totalities”or “organic wholes.” In doing so, they presented their blood and soil historicism as the democratic vanguard of progress; their interacting biological, geographical, psychological or cultural “types”were offered as novel interventions that protected the uninitiated reader from mad scientists and the Bomb.  I have neither typed nor stamped Melville; rather, I have followed his lead, noting the tight harness of nineteenth-century family loyalty (corporatism and hereditarian racism) that restrained the isolato’s equally stubborn efforts to depict, overturn, or escape illegitimate authority, to merge his interests with those of suffering humanity. Whether hiding or writhing under the boot, Melville was an insoluble problem for the moderate men in all factions of Melville studies after 1919.

By suggesting ongoing conflict between materialist and pseudo-materialist (organicist) thinkers in the West as the sub-text of the ‘Melville’ Revival, I implicitly criticize the notion of Cold War culture as the unique creation of “fascist” Republicans.  The identification of classical liberalism with “romantic fascism” has been the dubious construct of the corporatists and their Popular Front Left allies, supporters of the New Deal.  The same thinkers have identified Red Scares as hysterical over-reactions to a relatively insignificant Communist presence in the labor movement or to an exaggerated Soviet military threat after 1945: this is their explanation for assaults on civil liberties.  The picture changes when we take elite perceptions of lower-class autodidacts in a period of mass literacy and mass media as the subject of inquiry.  In my view, ongoing hostility to “materialism” and “insatiable curiosity” (self-assertion in the independent labor movement and its associated internationalism) explains the continuities in the Melville Revival and modifies the Cold War explanation for repression of civil liberties.  Rather than diagnosing Far Right hysteria or overreaction, I relocated “hysteria” in the moderate center, in its “cool” neo-classical (but not Beautiful) response to hot-headed romanticism or “paranoia” on the fringe.  There was an epochal emancipatory moment in the seventeenth century; all subsequent intellectual history in “the West” may be seen as counter-attack to the Titanic threat of universal democracy and scientific advance, grounded in economic arrangements that would facilitate that goal. I cannot think of a single political movement that has embraced the scientist’s open-ended and experimental program, though it should be implicit in the struggle for cultural freedom.

Enlightenment materialists argued for the universal natural rights of individuals; as republicans they demanded one set of rules for rich and poor, institutionalizing natural rights in the state as civil liberties.  In this context, the so-called eternal conflict between individual and society denotes rather a fight specific to bourgeois democracies: the defense of civil liberties against privileged minorities or intolerant or uninformed majorities.  Moreover, as Locke and Diderot insisted, the citizen protester demanded that authorities heed exactly their own rules and standards–the precepts that legitimated their power and signified superior competence.[4]  Transferring their own libertinage onto social rebels (in this case, the revolutionary bourgeoisie) the threatened aristocracy resorted to stereotypes that slandered democracy and The People.  In a scenario still played out in offices of conservative psychiatry, the conflict between the individual and “civilization” originates in self-indulgent acting-out of anti-social emotions and instincts, not legitimate grievances. Unlike Don Juan/Faust socially responsible elites possess an “inner check,” the measured response to provocation that staves off both violent, rigid responses in themselves and revolution by the desperate.[5] A rainbow (not reaction or rubble or rivers of blood) is dispensed by the good father and other mental health professionals. [6]

NOTES.

                [1] See two eighteenth-century works, both in Melville’s library: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, Introduction by Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1990, originally publ.1757); in Phillips’ opinion, the Sublime and the Beautiful were not antinomies for Burke: both were arousing and opposed to indifference and immobility; however, Phillips makes the comparison with rupture and continuity, Thanatos and Eros.  Also see Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759), especially Chapter XVII, the remarks on “fancy” (the meteor: transitory, irregular, delusive; i.e., the Melville career as read by conservatives) and Chapter XLIV “The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination.”  Both the pastoral (fantastic delight) and the visionary utopia (which Johnson connects) are dangerous and lead to fixed ideas, melancholy, insanity, parricide and fratricide. Rasselas (in subject matter and philosophy likened to Voltaire’s Candide) was Johnson’s most popular work, enjoying 450 editions by 1959. See Samuel Johnson, LL.D., An Exhibition of First Editions, Manuscripts, Letters and Portraits to Commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his Birth, and the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of his Rasselas (N.Y.: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1959). Cf. the attempt by Harry Hayden Clark, 1944, op.cit., to fasten Thomas Paine to this neo-classical literary tradition, cviii-cxviii.

[2] My reference to the mating of unlike things is from Ovid’s definition of Chaos that begins Metamorphoses as well as Melville’s poem “Art.” Burke describes the obscurity that results from Milton’s description of Satan (and poetry in general) as the consequence of compressing unlike things (a problem not shared by imitative painting), Philosophical Enquiry, Part II, Section IV (cont.), 57.  “Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture consist? in images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through the mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms.  The mind is hurried out of itself by a croud of great and confused images; which affect because they are crouded and confused.  For separate them, and you lose much of the greatness, and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness.”

                [3] See Piero Camporesi, The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily mutilation and mortification in religion and folklore, transl. Tania Croft-Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988): Chapter Two, “The Impassible Saint.”

                [4] See Denis Diderot, Memoirs of a Nun, transl. Frances Birrell (London: Elek Books, 1959).

                [5] See Heinrich Heine, Doktor Faust, A Dance Poem, transl. and ed. Basil Ashmore (London: Peter Nevill, 1952): 16,17 for the intertwining of the Don Juan/Faust legends and the threat of the autodidact; the conflation of printing with necromancy and compare to some criticism of mass media today: Heine wrote in 1851 (the same year Moby Dick was published), “The Church deliberately confused [the historic Faust, a magician, with the inventor of printing] because in its opinion, necromancy has found its most wicked tool in the diffusion of thought by means of printing.  To such minds Thought is a terrible menace to that blind credo demanded in the Middle Ages, which requires acceptance of the Church’s total authority in matters spiritual and temporal, and keeps the humble charcoal burner [the Carboneri!] on his knees.  Faust began to think.  His impious intellect rebelled against the meek acceptance of his forefathers.  He was not content to read in dark places and to trifle with simple arts.  He longed for scientific knowledge and lusted for worldly power.  He demanded to be allowed to think, to act and to enjoy life to its full extent, and so…to use the language of the ancients…he became an apostate, renounced all hope of heavenly bliss, and turned to Satan and his earthly ways and promises.  This single man’s revolt was most certainly spread abroad by means of the printer’s art, so that his doctrine was very soon assimilated, not merely by a handful of intellectual rebels, but by whole populaces.  Small wonder then, that men of God denounced the art of printing as an attribute of Satan.”

                [6] See Robert Filmer’s classic formulation of stealthily advancing, bloodthirsty, irrational democracies in Patriarcha, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford U.P. 1949: 89,90.

September 12, 2014

Ray Rice and domestic abuse of women

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Misogyny-Dog-ILL-SHOW-YOU-CHILD-SUPThe news has been dominated this week by conflicting opinions on NFL star Ray Rice’s knockout punch to his then fiancée Janay Palmer. This blog is about the shallow coverage of a widespread and subtle problem: the generalized abuse of women, married or single. [For a related illustrated blog see http://clarespark.com/2009/10/25/the-ultimate-s-m-humiliation/.%5D

On Fox News Channel, only Dagen McDowell has appropriately addressed the issue of why abused women don’t leave their marriages or violent lovers. Look for the financial considerations, she cried, almost in an unplanned and exasperated outburst on Hannity. There is more to this story than even the Fox Business personality imagined.

Before I launch into the blog, let me clarify my own position: I take the battle of the sexes for granted. Men are stronger than women, and their much vaunted “protection” is offered only as long as the “girls” don’t cross the line into some version of egalitarianism grounded in rationalism. That line is constantly moving (especially with the revitalization of one version of feminism (see http://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/), but some features of misogyny and sexism remain invisible to mass media, which generally cater to men (in sports coverage), but must pull in women viewers as well.

Take the terror of aging for one example. We stigmatize pedophiles, while promoting the beauty ideal in  very young girls (or boys!), with perfect skin and little body fat, for breasts and bellies remind men of their mothers, from whom separation has never been achieved, or is at best, ambivalent. The mother-son dyad is probably the key to misogyny and few will talk about “attachment theory” for John Bowlby and his followers in psychiatry don’t sit well with feminists on the lam from the boredom of early child-rearing (see http://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/).

Take the mandatory wearing of high heels for another. The Foxy ladies on Fox News Channel are not only heavily made up and “lookers” but invariably wear high heels, which orthopedists agree lead to ankle, feet, knee and back problems later in life. But what does the young hip woman care? She is competing with other women for the favors of powerful men with jobs and/or prospects, and will humiliate her body to cater to male fetishism that finds high heels sexy, signifying the inability to run away from [male] predators. And yet many Western women look down on Chinese foot binding from another era as hopelessly stupid and retrograde. Nothing so undesirable as the little old ladies from Pasadena wearing white sneakers.

When I first came to Los Angeles in 1959, I discovered that the wives of my husband’s local friends were able to talk ONLY about children, nursery schools, home decor, and vacations. I am not exaggerating. Those subjects encompassed their worlds, and the fact that I joined the men in discussing public affairs was awesome, but also a big freaky (did I even know what I was talking about? No, but I had a strong mother).

Has feminism changed all that? Do conservative advocates for two parent households emphasize the need for educated, outspoken, book-reading wives, or are they silent on matters of enormous import? (A reminder here that religion has long been the province of females in the home, as Ann Douglas complained long ago in The Feminization of American Culture. She was contradicted by “domestic feminists” who claimed that the rise of the “moral mother” since industrialism removed the paterfamilias from the home, thus empowered women to make the whole world home-like, i.e. to support the welfare state.) No one in academe will argue against the claim that paternal authority has been weakened over the last few centuries. Perhaps conservative initiatives to reinstate the two parent family aims to correct this imbalance. But will pater help with the labor of housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing? Not so fast: the vagueness of this call to papa-led families is silent on this crucial subject.

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Finally, many couples make a trade-off: men will meekly acquiesce to many female demands in the home, but she had better not depart from stereotyped female roles, including the supplying of sex on demand.

Is it any wonder that most women, even those in the Western world, are obsessed with plastic surgery, hair, make-up, and the exact amount of muscle “toning” to please the ever-dominant male? The silence on this subject of female powerlessness is deafening. (See http://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

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