YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

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9 Comments »

  1. […] all controversial events and partisan interpretations, including the words we use every day. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/15/making-mobs-with-bad-words-and-concepts/. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

    Pingback by Vox populi, vox Big Brother « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 9, 2011 @ 11:32 pm | Reply

  2. […] Making mobs with bad words and concepts […]

    Pingback by Liberal opinion leaders and my discontent « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — September 24, 2009 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  3. Hi Clare,

    Just wanted to comment briefly. You write in one of your responses: “For me, the freedom to learn about my own misperceptions and errors is primary.” Would that we all took this on as a “freedom”! I am in the midst of this process now, working on a study of “frontier performance” in North America, and a lot of the assumptions inculcated into my psyche from both ends of the political spectrum are being revealed at a whole new level. I will contribute more to your blog in the future — I have been reading for a couple of weeks and you definitely are providing me with useful food for thought.

    Comment by Doug Harvey — September 19, 2009 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  4. Clare,

    This is a very good post, as here is certainly a war on now for definitions of words, using emotionally-charged phrases as ammunition to disingenuously use at opponents. So, as you mention, tea baggers call liberals “fascists” while they celebrate “freedom.”

    What I would be interested in seeing are your definitions of these terms. That is, how do you define “freedom”? Social freedom,t hat is; not just freedom within your discipline of history/ How do you define fascism, regardless of how others intentionally try to muddy the term for their own agenda?

    Comment by Oliver Sheppard — September 17, 2009 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

    • I was criticizing both sides of mob-making opponents for using words loosely and as bombs to discredit the bad guys, without engaging their arguments with facts. It is a kind of laziness that allows either side to discharge hate instead of solving problems.
      There is no such thing as unambiguous “freedom” as I tried to explain in my latest two blogs on dirt and the Jews. For me, the freedom to learn about my own misperceptions and errors is primary. For you, at an earlier stage of life, freedom may entail something quite different, for instance, separating from parental authority that you may have found unhelpful to your growth, and the ability to love and work along lines that you have chosen for yourself.

      Comment by clarespark — September 17, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Reply

  5. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose. The privileged always call the opressed, when they take steps to end their oppression, the “mob”. Who creates the wealth the priveliged so haughtily spend? Those who are denigrated as the “mob”. The ruling class creates nothing. They are well satisfied with sucking the blood, sweat, toil, and tears of those whose work creates all wealth. If you are disturbed by the polarisation and uncivility that is much in evidence in the current political scene, then point the finger at the its cause: ruling class hachet men (and women)such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and the rest of the ditto-zombies who are the only voice that gets air time on radio and TV. By the way, why did Milton Friedman advise Augusto Pinochet and the military junta in Chile? Why did Fredrich Hayek visit them an express his support for them? If the Pinochet dictatorship was not facist, then neither was Hitler and the Nazis. All those people you call left facisits, such as Allport, R. Hutchins and etc. were not leftists in any sense of the
    word. They were part of the conservatie elite tbrying to protect the ruling class against the rest of us.

    Comment by Frank Boeheim — September 16, 2009 @ 11:55 pm | Reply

    • I have no answer to such an accusatory comment. I didn’t call Allport et al fascists, but organic conservatives masquerading as “progressives” or “moderate conservatives.” Such persons may be protofascist, but they thought of themselves as friends to labor, with a lot of paternalism thrown in.
      If you are an orthodox anticapitalist, boiling over with rage, then I can understand that you would be unsympathetic to my views. This is a scholarly website, and I am not under the discipline of any existent political party or group. There are some conflicts that are susceptible to compromise and others that are not. It is not always clear which is which, and reasonable persons can disagree.

      Comment by clarespark — September 17, 2009 @ 10:25 pm | Reply

    • Hutchins, Murray and the rest were self-styled “moderate conservatives” who have remained admired by persons who write about them in the Democratic Party of today. As for the rest of your comment, it is too simplistic, although I was once rather sympathetic with that analysis.

      Comment by clarespark — October 9, 2011 @ 11:39 pm | Reply


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