The Clare Spark Blog

September 5, 2009

The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired)

    As I have been trying to demonstrate in prior blogs, free thought in the academy has been circumscribed, generally away from the public eye.  Led by cultural anthropologists and other social theorists of the Right (masquerading as the Left), science tout court has been vigorously opposed by the humanities, not for its excesses, but for its allegedly flawed methodology. These positions can be subtle and invisible to readers not acquainted with the contested history of the West.  For instance, intellectual historian David Hollinger, a professor teaching at UC Berkeley (the top-rated history department in the country) has begun his collected essays Science, Jews, and Secular Culture (Princeton U.P., 1996) by invoking Walter Lippmann, who thought that universities had a crucial part to play in public life. “A faith in the unique importance of secular inquiry to the making of a good society had been inherited from the people who built the American universities between the Civil War and World War I, and was then renewed and expanded during the prodigious growth of American higher education that followed World War II.” Hollinger goes on to argue that the Jews who “quietly entered” university faculties since the last war have further weakened the hold of Christian ideas. Did he mean to imply that Jewish professors manipulated science as their weapon, a weapon that produced the Bomb? Hollinger does not think there is anything antisemitic or anti-intellectual about his book; indeed, he is an avowed pluralist, an anti-essentialist, and faithful defender of the Enlightenment repudiating “blood and history”; it is just that he thinks ethnicity/religion is an overarching and explanatory category that applies whether or not “Jews” like Lippmann or J. Robert Oppenheimer had any ties to Judaism whatsoever.       


      Like other cultural historians, Hollinger believes that “Protestant hegemony” persisted until the 1960s (with a brief interlude of ethnopluralism in the thought of Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen before the Immigration Act of 1924).  There is no consideration of the ethnopluralist vision of Hitler and Goebbels or their primitivist predecessors, entailing the leadership of the Socialist racial State that would bring joy to the weeping world once the tyrannical Jews and their materialist analyses were removed. Nor does he examine the ways in which the Jews who were awarded professorships might have accommodated their thought to a WASP establishment, adopting cultural explanations for conflict that had never lost their supremacy over materialist ones in history or literature, namely that the flowering of national character from the grass roots would reanimate decadent societies, that “individuation” meant freedom from the repressive and depressing rule of law that had originated with the Mosaic code.


         Thanks to the sociologists following Durkheim and Weber, we can deal with conflict on the expansive terrain of the culture wars, inside cultural formations that “have a life of their own.” Gone is the concept of society as a collection of individuals, positioned with regard to economic interests and political choices and curious about the decisions and motives of powerful individuals and agencies who make policy in response to social forces that are not always visible or explicable on rational grounds.  The anti-racist liberals in the universities tell us we must have “affiliations,” multiple and overlapping, else there can be no national identity, no unum in the rooted pluribuses, just the easy-to-recognize uniforms of the racial community (that no sane conservative could bear). Also disappeared are the macro-economic changes that would explain the increased polarization of the 1980s and 90s.[1] 


 One would think that the academic Left would have cleared all this up with some hard facts and a review of racial theory as it has evolved, but no; it is the failure of those who profess to represent the interests of workers and the neglected and abandoned of our country that I find most distressing.  “The Left” has brought neither history nor analytic clarity to this momentous debate; it is indeed one of the players in obscuring the long and short-term causes of the so-called culture wars. This lapse is linked to other errors, instances of amnesia, namely, the intellectual lineage of the democratic tradition that leftists are supposed to be carrying forward against all challenges from the forces of reaction.



       Hollinger is at one with New Dealers and their allies on the Left in his periodization of repression directed against free thought.  “The Cold War” or “McCarthy-ite” assault on critical thought did not launch the repression associated with the establishment of the national security state in 1947 and the Republican backlash against the New Deal as they have argued. With this formulation the democratic pluralists, as these conservative reformers call themselves, mask ongoing upper-class resistance to democratic processes and mass education since notions of science and democracy took hold in antiquity. It was a defensive élite response intensified after the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, formulations and reformulations of cosmopolitanism, species-unity, natural law, natural rights and equality in the Enlightenment debates over slavery, and made particularly urgent in mid-1930s America as domestic radicalism/antifascism made significant gains, provoking “moderate” solutions to economic crisis and creeping fascism.



     The subject of prior blogs was this very clique of social psychologists and “cultural historians; it is they who dominate the humanities in America and who put forth the diagnosis of scapegoating to explain “prejudice,” powerfully affecting the direction of postwar ameliorative social movements and demands for better race relations. Following their lead, cultural nationalist media reformers demand positive images to build esteem in stigmatized ethnic or racial groups, often holding the bad Jews of Hollywood and/or the secular academy responsible for maliciously disseminating negative images as the means to further their own nefarious schemes to dominate the world.  But for these Progressive social pathologists, bigotry is rarely viewed as plausible, adaptive, and inevitable because (however crudely) it feeds off and rationalizes rivalry and subordination in either autarchic or competitive free market economies. Economic relations tend to be absent from their analyses because cultural, i.e., religious, explanations explain all of social life: God made diversity and we celebrate the perfection of the world as it is. The vivid and earthy polyglot culture of cities, properly understood, could be the antidote to the etiolating genteel tradition.



     Social conflict, they argue, arises from hubris; the rationalistic scientists think their models have absolute authority, usurping God’s.  Mammon, like the moral mother of the nineteenth-century, has overstepped her bounds. Told as the story of Icarus such overreaching explains the horrors of human history.  Discreetly bounded “communities” are the longed-for alternative to “consumerism.” When thinkers like Hollinger criticize Protestant hegemony, it is the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament they may have in mind; their target is the Hebraic radical puritan whose egalitarian, universalist and messianic ideals could not be absorbed and deflected by the Christian-Platonic organic conservatives—the classicist Robert Hutchins for one. By conflating the most right-wing and nativist Protestant evangelicals with the radical protestants, Hollinger and other ethnopluralists make their elimination a victory for the forces of democracy, not a rout for radical liberals. 



    Of course “negative images” may function to confuse and further split groups who must unite to further their own class interests, and who should be wondering if abstract, impersonal social forces and property relations are the root sources of their suffering or malaise; e.g., physicians continue to locate the sources of “stress” primarily in (poorly managed) individuals, not structurally flawed class or caste institutions.  Lacking such curiosity, troubled individuals and persecuted groups may fatally misdirect their righteous indignation, resorting to conspiracy theories and terror to explain and ameliorate their condition, unable to decide whether structural transformation or incremental improvements are appropriate measures to effect their aims.  



     The romantic conservatives/cultural nationalists I have introduced reify distinctions between “Self” and “Other,” embracing ethnopluralism–a “rooted” localism that, while apparently condemning elitism, in practice may be exaggerating differences between groups needing, and already possessing, common ground.  Even the past becomes Other; each incomparable, finally inscrutable event is an example of historische Individualität. [2]  For intellectual descendants of J.G. von Herder [3] and other German idealists, history is a subset of a poetic natural history: unlike the mechanical Staatsnation (whose bogus liberties are the source of selfishness and anomie), the Kulturnation is rooted in blood and soil; each nationality is uniquely shaped by a combination of instinct and the physical environment.  No culture is inferior to any other as long as each one springs from the Volksgeist; toward that end the Volk must throw off alien cultural domination.  Following Kant and Herder, one modern pedagogue resisted what he called the arbitrary, repressive and formalistic devices of the Middle Ages in coping with the racial mingling that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.  Such harsh discipline in the process of assimilating the foreigner hampers true, because rooted, individuality and freedom: [4]  We don’t have to be, must not be, “Jewish.”  



       Recent research into the history of the humanistic sciences suggests that sociological investigations of human institutions are conducted with ideal organic models lurking in the background: progress has been understood as the throwing off of an invading force (e.g. the “jewified” bourgeoisie) to permit “natural growth” to return.  We need the tools of eighteenth-century materialism to determine exactly how established institutions have actually operated by studying their evolution and the political context in which institutions developed or became obsolete.  How else can we devise new experimental institutional forms to further human development in democratic, scientifically informed directions?  



     Liberals and leftists have not systematically examined the nuances of antidemocratic propaganda in the West though they confidently denounce the overpowering influence of “the media.”  This cultural failure is partly a product of conservative ascendancy since the radical 1890s-World War I period in which corporatist liberals (the “progressives” or “moderate” conservatives) appropriated the prestige of science and progress to discredit the radical liberals. In reaction the corporatist liberals promoted a new/old species of organic conservatism widely practiced in Europe; the Christian-Platonic Great Chain of Being was revitalized in the pseudo-democratic idea of an international federation of folkish states, sometimes known as aristo-democracy (see the writings of Randolph Bourne, Horace Kallen, or the eugenicists Stoddard, McDougall).  Romantic anticapitalism, expressed today as communitarianism and a resurgent arts and crafts movement, was transmitted by the German Romantics and common to Herder, Kant, Burke, Goethe, Hegel, Blake, Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin, the von Humboldts and William Morris, to name a few.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this irrationalist ideology was represented as “materialism” and “the new social history” derived from Frederick Jackson Turner; after the war as “genuine liberalism” represented by T.W. Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality (1950).     


    Some Marxists and New Leftists (the critical theorists) have similarly rejected radical liberalism for this reactionary but “cosmopolitan” and “progressive” ideology: such Leftists are more accurately joined to the defensive progressive reaction to the mass politics furthered by the American and French Revolutions; they too have stigmatized the critical processes associated with empiricism (an epistemology grounded in observable facts, experience, and inductive logic) as excessively cerebral, detached, cancerous and corrosive to “cohesion” or “the Heart.” In their demonology, radical liberals sometime appear as the rootless cosmopolitan or the defiant Romantic Wandering Jew, but also as the domineering market or the jacobin or crazy scientist or as a (switching) two-faced femme fatale/moral mother.


Bottoms-Up. The German Romantics and their descendants have co-opted radical Enlightenment concepts (tolerance, the rejection of innate ideas and fallen flesh as determinants of “human nature,” the cultural biases of the participant-observer) and practices (introspection, scientific materialism, the comparative history and analysis of political and economic institutions).  These “enlightened” concepts and practices were then turned against “the lower orders.”  For instance, the social psychology of “progressivism” transforms the common-sense perception of objective social conflicts and clashing interests into personal, anti-social symptoms of “xenophobia,” “prejudice” or “scapegoating,” i.e., distorted vision of “the Other.”  Insofar as they are conservative Freudians and Jungians, the progressive psychologists attribute negative “stereotypes” to individual weakness and social irresponsibility: Entirely inner conflicts (Oedipal or pre-Oedipal in origin) are projected onto the outer world; this social world could be made harmonious through “integration”; i.e., discreet purges aka correct adjustments or through the emotionally mature recourse to administrative remedies.  In their moralistic, muckraking diagnostics it is possible to construct an entire Weltanschauung in which an entitity called “the Jews” possesses the god-like omnipotence attributed by Christians to the Devil; all modern social movements that question religious authority in favor of empirical investigation of both the natural world and the structures and practices of human institutions will be characterized as false friends to the people, for this world is controlled by our Great Adversary, the archetypal confidence-man represented by the power of filthy lucre aka “finance capital.”  



     It is my argument that “the new social history,”  like “cultural history” has an antisemitic sub-text that few cared to identify after World War II.  But before the murder of European Jewry, writers were less tactful.  J. Mace Andress was head of the Boston Normal School; his lucid book tracing the lineage from Herder to Franz Boas introduced this unknown forefather to fellow teacher-trainers.  His tolerance broke down, however, when giving advice about Bible appreciation: “The Bible Herder regarded as the deepest source of wisdom, and the biblical stories he considered as important means toward education.  In the handling of the Bible stories he recommended the greatest care.  All that was essentially Jewish, not Christian, should be avoided” (168).        Like moderates before him, Andress was looking to moral reform as the basis for socially responsible capitalism; for a progressivism that restored the hierarchical organic social relations of the Middle Ages into micro-units, relieving local élites of competing loyalty to either the universal Catholic Church or to the universal brotherhood and egalitarianism preached by the “Hebraic” Radical Reformation.  Andress’ rhetoric suggests that the essentially Jewish character (God as Devil) is construed as rationalism: “[The rationalist type] of philosophy had made a conquest of the intellectual world, and with self-complacency, looked upon its work and called it good.  The millennium of life was a paradise guided solely by reason; that was sufficient unto itself for everybody at any time and under every condition.  Reason was regarded as the only measure of the values of life.  With contempt it turned to the past to see mirrored there the gloom, fanaticism, and ignorance due to irrationalism!  This brand of philosophy was quite important, thoroughly dogmatic, and quite unsympathetic with historical thought.  The world was to be created anew by man’s power of reason” (52).  

     Herder, like his teacher Hamann, grasped the superior power of faith and spirit; these would unify humanity against the divisiveness imposed by [modern Jews, scientists, radical puritans] (53). Titans need not be Prometheans; ordinary folk, resisting the syren call of democratic citizenship could become gods. Excerpts from the Andress protocols for the new race pedagogy follow.


“Kant gave to the world…a new sense of spiritual freedom.  He taught that the individual is able to build his own world.  No matter what your condition in life, your world may become glorious if only you will make it so.  ‘Its spirituality is your own creation, or else is nothing.  Awake, arise, be willing, endure, struggle, defy evil, cleave to good, strive, be strenuous, be devoted, throw into the face of evil and depression your brave cry of resistance, and then this dark universe of destiny will glow with a divine light.  For you have no relations with the eternal world save such as you make for yourself.’  This sort of philosophy was a call to the individual to arise to self-mastery and self-realization.  Kant believed that the world is not beyond us but is the deepest truth within us.  As we master this truth we conquer the discordant tendencies of our own lives…With Kant [German idealism] said the world is indeed the world as built by self-consciousness; but the real world is the world of the genius, the poet, the artist.  It refused to interpret the world according to reason or the moral law, but in terms of sentiment, emotion, and heart longings.  Romanticism found its chief interest in man’s wealth of divine emotions (Andress, 29-30).” 
“We have noted again and again [Herder’s] opposition to the rationalist philosopher.  Men like Rousseau and Hamann had already led the way, but it was Herder who first put the reactionary movement on a firm basis and gave it solidity.  This was not a result merely of his revulsion of feeling, but because he penetrated beyond to a conception of human life as an organic whole.  He was the first to adopt the historical method in the effort to find meaning in the world as a whole.  Bossert said of Herder that he ‘created the historical method which revived the study of language, literature and religion, and he applied it with such authority and such competence that he rendered for a long time any other method impossible’…In his search for origins both in science and history he foreshadowed the progress of culture for a century after his time…It is no exaggeration to say that Herder foreshadowed the modern trend in psychology…His method, as might be expected, is the genetic….(Andress, 278, 279).” 
     “Herder’s service to religion was monumental. Here again we find him a foe of the Aufklärung, which would make everything amenable to common understanding, which attempted to force truth into the narrow moulds of intellectualism.  As a follower of Rousseau and Hamann, Herder entertained a profound contempt for such rationalistic procedure.  He was not impressed by the merely traditional, the dogmas, the artificiality of churches.  He tried to find the genuine religious feelings of the people which had become largely suppressed by rules and dogma.  As a student of civilization, he went back to the study of the ancient and primitive religions with enthusiasm, intelligence and insight.  Although often reflecting the spirit of traditionalism and the spirit of the past, he was remarkably open minded.  The bigot finds nothing to praise in religions outside his own; but Herder was superior to the littleness of mind often characteristic of the theologian (Andress, 283-84).” 
     “When we stop to think that the science of sociology was unknown in the eighteenth century, we begin to realize how penetrating was Herder’s insight.  He was mindful of the progress of the individual, his enthusiasm for individuality and his rebellion against formalism did not prevent his understanding the real significance of the past, the relation of the individual to the group, and the contribution of society as a whole to culture.  In a broad way Herder in his philosophy of culture lays the foundation for a race pedagogy, which stated tersely would read: in the teaching of a people we should build upon their culture not try to destroy it.  The world-wide efforts to convert primitive peoples to Christianity, the forcing of a foreign culture upon an alien conquered people, are examples of the violation of this pedagogy.  The social philosophy of Herder suggests the beginnings of sociology and social psychology and the recognition of the social aspects of education and culture.  Again we find Herder the Bahnbrecher, one standing on the tiptoe of expectancy for the gates of the nineteenth century to swing wide open, a blazer of new trails for humanity (Andress, 298).” 
A Change of Spectacles.  While class hierarchies and national character are natural, (Jewish) bigotry is not.  The (Jewishly-inspired) scientific revolution plainly ruptures traditional social bonds; like the national chauvinism which would impose “reason and the moral law” on “alien” cultures, such artifice could only be catastrophic.  German Romanticism corrects the death-ray vision of the new science: in the process of self-cultivation or Bildung, sub-divided humanity, like Leibnitz’s monads, are properly seen as units in a grand, gradually evolving whole, judenrein, hence moving onward and upward toward God-like perfection, harmony and equilibrium, each living out its unique potential in the universal Becoming (Werden).     


     Explicating the elusive concept of Bildung, the distinguished and revered cultural historian George L. Mosse approvingly cited Herder: “Man must grow like a plant, as Johann Gottfried von Herder put it, striving to unfold his personality until he becomes a harmonious, autonomous individual engaged in a continual quest for knowledge.” [5]  Although the German Romantics founded the disciplines of comparative literature, comparative religion, cultural anthropology, social psychology and “modern race pedagogy,” to insist on universal ethical rules or standards or analytic tools would violate the tenets of their “anti-élitist” progressive movement. [6]  For the “cultural materialists” among them “class” is a “socially constructed” category, with no more objectivity in the real world than ugly images of race; for these irrationalists, the inductive scientific method and the monolithic, hegemonic Enlightenment (“the West” as personified in comic-book characters like Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse) remain the sources of iconoclasm and genocidal fascist bureaucracies—the inevitable products of levelling, totalitarian “mass politics” and a discredited Whiggish, covertly imperialist “master narrative.”


       The search for origins, the “genetic” method of their “new historicism,” exists solely to delegitimate the claims of science for universal validity; new historicists have mocked the “plodding bourgeois virtues” that “downplay” “character, individuality and point-of-view.” [7]  The searching spotlights of irrationalists, however, cannot be turned upon themselves lest their own schematic diagnostics be relativized as tendentious pronouncements from upper-class controlled institutions; hence the widespread antagonism to Freudian introspection or any declaration of personal interest in the outcomes of their own assertions (aka ‘investigations’).  Such tactful silences would be intolerable if practiced by the scientists who, it is claimed by the new historicists, are inevitably bought and sold by the Big Money.  Hitler, a self-styled critical, independent analyst, said the same about “Jewish Bolshevism” as a front for finance capital. 



An orgy of obscurantism. My review of the Fallen Flesh Brigade, then, retrieves the history of the antifascist “liberals” who have shaped social psychology in the twentieth century, and who have not been able to explain mass death in the past, nor to prevent its recurrence in the present.  I continue to study institutional sources of dead-end politics and other social pathologies, including primitivism, apathy, sadomasochism, and necrophilia.  I have summoned the ghost of Herman Melville to show the difficulties in achieving autonomy (the precondition for democratic participation) in societies that refuse appropriate structural transformation while simultaneously promoting “freedom,” “democracy,” and “critical thought.”  Racism, sexism, homophobia, artistic censorship, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, family violence, and elitism as they have been defined in today’s social movements will be re-assessed in this political and institutional context.  Artists’ depictions of modernity and its alleged social pathologies should be compared to those of leading journalists and academics treating the same issues.  



     We may observe that petit-bourgeois intellectuals–the sometimes defiant, sometimes conforming middle-managers who occupy the teaching and healing professions and who create media–have, owing to class origin, education, allegiance and interest, been structurally driven to identify with a declining “aristocracy.”  The middle-managers tend to reject Eros (the life-affirming rainbow sighted by attractive popular democratic movements), for Thanatos (the bleak response of the still-controlling old order looking into a future in which it, the owning-class, could be dispossessed)–hence the flight of middle-management to sadomasochistic social relations as self-discipline or “adjustment” to élite-controlled, pseudo-democratic, unevenly emancipated institutions.  For some progressives, pain melts away as they rosily merge into the All. To a rationalist like myself, amazed but not intimidated by the power of irrational psychological processes, the progressives are a disaster: in their “radical” and “pacifist” but finally völkisch and reactionary ideology there can be no unified social action, no self-management or informed consent to management by experts, no concept of the independent artist, scientist, or any (relatively) autonomous, dissenting individual, no constructively critical intellectual: open-minded and, along with a collective of other critical thinkers, meandering purposefully toward either provisional or solid conclusions.

           [1] See David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (N.Y., Basic Books, 1995); James L. Nolan, Jr. ed., The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996).

            [2] See Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God That Failed: Hans Freyer and the deradicalization of European conservatism (Princeton U.P., 1987).

            [3] My description of German Romanticism and its core beliefs is taken from J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916).

            [4] Andress, p.251.

            [5] George L. Mosse, Confronting The Nation: Jewish and Western Nationalism (Brandeis U. Press, 1993): 133; he was citing Hans Weil, 1930.  But Mosse qualified his approbation, perhaps in defense of his stigmatized homosexuality.  The concept of Sittlichkeit anchored the individual in the “restrictive moral order” of middle-class respectability.

            [6] Andress, p.303.

            [7] George Levine, “The Ambiguous Ethics of Self-Annihilation,” paper given 4/26/97, UCLA symposium, “The Values of Science.” Levine argued that Victorian scientists (e.g., Darwin) had merely substituted submission to Nature for the old submission to religious authority; the fantasy of liberty gave power to their bogus heroic efforts; enabling servants were absent from their narratives; (referring to the followers of Gross and Levitt, authors of The Higher Superstition) their moralistic rhetoric is full of vehemence and rage.  Similar arguments were offered by the other participants: “all knowledge is local,” there is no such thing as “value-free inquiry” or “absolute objectivity” in the academy or anywhere else, etc.

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Claire,

    Interesting reading — I’m slogging through much of the cultural history, including anthropology, “performance studies,” and other theoretical works that one must engage these days for my book project. I’m dealing with a cross-spectrum view of performance in the public sphere in the early American republic, so there’s a strong element of indigenous culture in this. Much of what you write about is pertinent, though, and especially thought provoking for the classroom. Thanks for an interesting morning of reading —

    Best wishes,
    Doug Harvey

    Comment by Doug Harvey — September 6, 2009 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

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