YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 24, 2011

Turning points in the ascent/decline of the West

Victor Davis Hanson and George W. Bush

[Added 12-14-11: David P. Goldman ("Spengler") says that modernity started with Mt. Sinai and Moses. He emphasized the personal relationship with the Jewish God--a God with whom one could argue because [Yahweh] was not perfect. I had not thought of this before, but it explains why Melville was often read as  Jew by Christians, for his “quarrel with God” especially as Captain Ahab.]

[Added July 2, 2013: Read this first: http://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/.]

Victor Davis Hanson has written an essay for Pajamas Media, 10-24-11 “Rage On—and on and on.” His subject is the PC college education the Occupy Wall Street movement has received, contrasting theirs with his own classical education at Santa Cruz in the 1970s. Dr. Hanson writes, “Politicking was rare even in the 1970s. Well over thirty years ago, I took some 30 courses in Greek and Latin language and literature at UC Santa Cruz, and another 12 PhD seminars at Stanford — all from whom in retrospect I would imagine were mostly hard left. But who knew? Not once in eight years of undergraduate or graduate education did a liberal professor go off topic to rant or, indeed, to mix politics with history or literature or language. There were no points given for politically correct answers. No sermonizing poured forth from the rostrum.”

There is some support for his position. See the photo illustrating a demonstration at Stanford University, in the early 1980s, when I clipped it from the New York Times: http://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

What Dr. Hanson does not notice is that the 1960s-70s antiwar movement drove many of the protesters into graduate school (for some, avoiding the draft), and it took some time for them to get their doctorates. After that, a buddy system insured that new hires would be agreeable to the “negative critique” (as the Frankfurt School advised) of U.S. and even all of Western history, especially the Enlightenment. Though such critical theorists as Herbert Marcuse complained about “repressive tolerance” (see http://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/), while others in his clique blamed mass culture for the rise of Hitler, their German Idealist epistemology  (i.e., radical subjectivism) would be useful to the Harvard liberals and their allies who promoted a modified multicultural welfare state that would absorb dissent from below in the new “inclusiveness.” That plus an aggressive recruitment of minorities in the more elite universities to pacify 1960s urban riots led to an all-out assault upon “whiteness” and the popularity of “interdisciplinary” i.e., cultural anthropology courses, that came to encompass the humanities, wiping out universalist ethics in the name of cultural relativism. Radical subjectivism was in, American exceptionalism (with its deplorable protofascist “mass culture”) was out.

At the same time, there was an older generation of professors ready to grant the New Leftists tenure, for the anti-imperialist, antiwar, anti-American tradition had multiple adherents, some of them Stalinoid if not actively Leninist (see http://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/).

It takes a long time for cultures to change so drastically. Here are a few turning points, echoing my own research interests, that could lead either to a more thoughtful polity, or to a proto-fascist rejection of liberalism, eighteenth-century style, and especially the rejection of an excellent popular education, for without universal education, the notion of representative government must degenerate into oligarchy:

  1. The invention of the printing press helped the Reformation.
  2. The scientific revolution and the English Civil War emboldened freedom of conscience and the acceptability of  improvement of the material conditions of this world, rather than focusing all hopes for happiness on the afterlife.
  3. The Enlightenment terrified Kings, nobles, and aristocratic hierarchies, so their preferred writers counter-attacked with the Terror-Gothic style in art and life, scaring everyone with mad scientist stories and the Christ-refusing Wandering Jew who longed for death.
  4. The American Revolution, followed by the French Revolution, raised the increasingly frightening Hydra heads of “popular sovereignty”—that would have made education the basis for a rational politics. Ordinary people (the radical Whigs) were studying and discussing fine points of law, history, and philosophy among themselves. But the fight between Federalists and Antifederalists set the stage for future conflicts, unresolved today, between the few and the many, i.e., natural aristocrats versus the less “worthy.” Populism did not suddenly emerge in the 1890s, but is visible in conflicts between debtors and creditors (Shay’s Rebellion) or in resistance to excise taxes (the Whiskey Rebellion). The output of Charles Beard in the early 20th century reflected these earlier suspicions of bond holders (see his still quoted but fallacious Economic Origins of the Constitution, 1913).
  5. The failure of Reconstruction after the American Civil War enabled the perpetuation of slavery by other means, e.g. debt-peonage and Jim Crow. Such ferocious treatment of the freedmen then engendered the beginnings of the civil rights movement, with its demand for education for all, but most especially the black population. It is often said that the South won the peace.
  6. The first world war enabled the Bolshevik coup in Russia, enchanting a whole generation of  intellectuals who thought that finally the Enlightenment and progress had been vindicated. To contain the Populist movement and then the Socialist Party and the IWW in America, Progressives (self-styled “moderate” conservatives) shifted into high leftish gear, co-opting the  populist program and gradually increased the reach of the state for  purposes of “social justice”—and social justice and the ethical state had a long history in the U.S., starting with the debates over the Constitution from the mid-1770s onward.
  7. The Great Depression and the growth of leftish sympathies among the intelligentsia, along with fears for another Depression that would follow demobilization from the looming world war, inspired “socially responsible capitalism” and the adoption of Keynesian economics by key leaders in education, business, and social psychology by 1942. Collectivism and culturalism ruled. Frederick Merk at Harvard inveighed against American expansionism, while the Talcott Parsons cohort at Harvard called a halt to the Enlightenment, such as it was at that time. The liberal foundations went to work to put a labor-friendly face on business, and funded such “community”-centered institutions as Pacifica Radio, that proudly declared their independence from filthy lucre. Today, NPR hosts raising public funds curl their lips at the mention of “corporate media,” which of course they are not.
  8. After the second world war, no one called a conference to examine the intensity of antisemitism in America and in the West. Yet many isolationists had blamed the Jews for American involvement in the war. But Rooseveltian internationalism/the United Nations ruled the day, and that meant competing with both the Soviets and Chinese Communists for the hearts and minds of the Third World.  Attention turned increasingly to the sins of the national past, and Melville was revived as a harsh critic of U.S. imperialism and racism, as “America’s greatest writer.” But his character  Captain Ahab could not be engaged on a quest for truth, or as a critic of Leviathan (the ever-growing State power), or as a radical puritan (see Paradise Lost) but as an “anticipation” of Stalin and Hitler. That impression is almost universally adopted today amongst the literati. Stalinists bonded with militant black nationalists, eschewing “integrationist” strategies, while bohemians went native, liking black entertainers as a release from puritanical upbringing.
  9. During the 1960s student strikes at such places as Columbia U. and Harvard, “moderate” professors at least sympathized with the strikers. The notion of the horrid corporate state (big business in bed with government against “the folks”) was standard fare in the humanities, and it was here that the anti-science, anti-materialist forces gained ever larger audiences. Enter Foucault and postmodernism, sex,     drugs, and rock ‘n roll as a replay of 1920s disillusion and nihilism. But by now we have reached the 1970s and 1980s, when PC and multiculturalism became institutionalized, as I found out to my horror when program director at KPFK in Los Angeles, and then later in graduate school at UCLA during the 1980s-early 90s. See my Pacifica memoirs, posted on the website (http://clarespark.com/2010/10/21/links-to-pacifica-memoirs/).

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