YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 10, 2010

“Balance,” “equilibrium,” and psychological warfare

Herman Melville, balanced in old age

[Read this along with https://clarespark.com/2009/12/09/strategic-regression-in-the-greatest-generation/.]  I have been reading Roy R. Grinker Sr.’s memoir Fifty Years in Psychiatry: a Living History (1979), and was not surprised to discover his resignation as he contemplated his life path: Grinker, a leader in the field, sighed (?) that psychiatrists and other mental health workers should not expect to “cure” their patients, but to aim for “stability.”  “Psychiatry,” he wrote, “no longer entertains the notion of cure, reconstruction of personality, or ‘adjustment.’ On the contrary, we help people in trouble to regain a stability that has been lost temporarily for a number of reasons, or we help them to attain a degree of adjustment which they never had–in other words, to reestablish the continuity of development that has been interrupted at some time for a variety of reasons (145).”

But then Dr. Grinker, the harmony-seeking progressive echoing Edmund Burke, seemingly reverses himself, advocating a general systems theory approach: “…instead of referring to dichotomies and conflict, we may refer to two processes inextricably linked: Stability and change. …’Unity in diversity and continuity in change,’ or unified thinking characteristic of a systems approach. This is contrasted with dualistic thinking oriented only toward stability and permanence based on the illusion by objective science that some parts or variables and especially our terrestrial background can be viewed as steady.”

Grinker continues, hopefully: “Unitary  thinking, on the other hand, considers that both parts and whole, both focus and background, are constantly changing, but regulated by some form of organization that prevents de-differentiation, focal cancerous overgrowth, internal psychological confusion, social chaos, and anarchy. Our problem is to identify the ways by which the organizational principle operates (160).” Grinker’s obscure and abstract theorizing echoes the structural functionalism promoted by Harvard sociologists, and before that Malinowski, the cultural anthropologist. In other words, legitimate mental health professionals aim to keep their patients or clients from making trouble–for a multiplicity of families and for the State.

If you doubt this leap of mine, read these Grinker tocsins: “Currently, we are experiencing a shift from materialistic to moral values, which is creating a precarious balance at all ages, particularly adolescence. In the United States, a group has ‘dropped out’ of the mainstream of the life of technology into a drug society, which frequently results in irreparable damage. Another group fights against our current establishment, hoping to change it prior to their necessary and ultimate commitment. Another group completely avoids affectionate involvement with any other human being and ends with the stable instability of the borderline (159).”  In an earlier book, Grinker as usual, attacked objective science: “…science is not free of religon….It is constantly involved in faith that the ultimate truth will be uncovered….Attempts at complete objectivity are never successful….” (Psychiatry in Broad Perspective, 1975, p.12). This is precisely the view of “interdisciplinary” studies of the history of science, as derived from functionalists at war with the skeptical masses. (On “healthy skepticism” see https://clarespark.com/2014/02/22/healthy-skepticism/.)

I was already onto this panicky line while conducting my dissertation research, and I am excerpting from one chapter (“Pluralism in a Perfectly Happy Family”), an excursus that barely made it into the book. If you wondered what a “progressive”  organic conservative is or was, you will see yet more examples below.

[Excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival ] Composing his “Memories” at the end of the 1930s, the Harvard physical chemist Lawrence Henderson, founder of the Pareto seminar and mentor to Henry Murray, [i] reviewed the development of his social thought. As a young man he had studied in France, learning quickly to distrust the emotional Germans. Henderson preferred the French because “so many Frenchmen escape the cruder forms of sentimentality and…so many of them are individualists and also very French, that is the opposite of anomic in Durkheim’s sense.” He admitted that the French were excitable in little things, but “cool and restrained in serious situations. In all countries most men are stupid, but I find more Frenchmen interesting than mere chance can account for” (90-91). Toward the end of the memoir, Henderson described his theory of historical change (afterwards noting that the model resembled his first scientific paper on molecules and atoms):

“Promises and principles are among the forces that determine the actions of men. There are other forces such as passions, political, military, and economic expediency that are also operative. Any concrete action by any person is a resultant of all these factors. Moreover, these factors are mutually dependent. In operation, each modifies all the others (236).” [ii]

These words were written on July 14 (Bastille Day), 1939, but there is no resemblance to the political science theories proposed by radically enlightened intellectuals. Henderson’s model is scientistic and falsely compares historical causation (“the actions of men”) with the attractions and repulsions of atomic particles; his scientism is also characteristic of the conservative Enlightenment, deployed to stave off the rival materialism of the nineteenth century– those ideological formulations supported by the “imperialist” “heroic science” that prevailed throughout the academy before some cultural/social historians of the 1960s-90s unmasked its fatal pretensions.[iii] Diverting his gaze from the facts that could model the structures, functions, and operations of real human institutions, Henderson undergirds fascist ideology in the twentieth century. It would be wrong to say that such thinkers erase class as an analytic category because of their commitments to nation or race as the source of identity. On the contrary, these philosopher-kings are acutely class-conscious, believing they can manipulate systems made cockeyed and thrown off-balance by selfish and stupid mass/class passions. The moderate men were classicists sensitive to “proportion” in all things. As several 1930s corporatists put it, unlike the Puritans who liquidated their peasantries, peasant-rooted countries such as Italy, France, Belgium and Ireland, creatively mastered their bourgeoisies. Their remedy for the chaos of modern decadence was to remand the usurping, snobbish, class-conscious and divisive nineteenth-century middle-class back to the middle where such anti-social, anti-intellectual persons naturally belonged. With the materialists safely sandwiched, sick societies would be returned to the steady state. Social equilibrium, classlessness, and a coherent national character were achieved, then, when society was rooted in the peasantry and governed by the aristocrats they, the peasants, had always thrown up in a crisis. In turn, the peasant-chosen self-sacrificing aristocrats would be obedient to the self-sacrificing good king who spoke for the common people.[iv] Here was the “ideal force” that bound communities, bringing order out of chaos; that force was a fact, a higher truth that materialist historians were too blind to see.[v]

Of course (self-indulgent) romantic artists, like other demagogues, should be silenced. In late 1943, Norman Foerster looked ahead to “the humanities after the war” and saw the necessity for lost intellectuals to “refind themselves” in the new-old criticism: “With few exceptions the departments of the humanities in higher education are ill prepared for the high task before them. An age of science and of naturalistic philosophy has left its mark upon them. They have misapplied the method of science, and they have adopted views of life that make most of the great writers and thinkers of the world appear of little meaning to the modern age. Lost in a relativism approaching nihilism, they have all but ceased to look for the abiding truths which make the distinction between past and present unimportant. If for a century they have declined in prestige, the reason is partly that they themselves have robbed their great field of its greatness. Today their first task is to refind themselves, not to encourage an intellectual and artistic creativity of any and every sort but rather to lay the critical foundations which will give imaginative presentation a sound direction.”[vi]

It would not do for the lower orders to suppose that the anger one person feels for another could be alleviated through comprehending the larger social situation in which individual struggles are enmeshed, or that economic and political institutions are ill-described with the analytic tools bequeathed by corporatist Greeks, medievalists, and Renaissance humanists.

The social views of Princeton professor Willard Thorp, like the corporatists quoted above, bear comparison with Henderson’s. Thorp’s model societies are paragons of deep-breathing and balance, repelling the modernity that forces the anomic (atomized) individual to clash with other individuals. Here is the conservatively enlightened Thorp’s 1938 account of Melville’s radicalism; perforce “one” arrayed dogmatic and marauding transcendental Ahabs against deep-diving Herman Melville, the proto-Durkheimian proto-New Dealer Ishmael who said NO!:

[Thorp:] “When one contemplates the number of matters on which the age had come to a final opinion, to which Melville offered a challenging negative, and the number of subjects which the age, for its safety, refused to discuss at all, but which Melville insisted on dragging up to the light, one is astonished that he was tolerated as long as he was. He seems, indeed, to be unique among his contemporaries in his freedom from zeal or prejudice. Even the most sacred tabus he insisted on examining with a cool dispassionateness. Not only did he question the inalienable right to property, the dogmas of democracy, the righteousness of imperialist wars and Christian missions, but he dared to discuss in a voice louder than a whisper such horrific subjects as cannibalism, venereal disease, and polygamy. At the moment when young men in America, imbued with transcendentalism, were giving eloquent support to the doctrine of the manifest destiny of the nation and defied the world to show any civilization which could equal ours, Melville was studying with habitually clear eyes a savage society in the South Seas which had achieved an admirable social equilibrium. While American orators scolded the Old World as corrupt and decayed, the home of tyranny and oppression, he measured against their glorious American standards the attainment of the naked Polynesians. Equipped as no man in his day was by his contact with all sorts and conditions of men, having crossed many social frontiers without the baggage of the “yes-gentry,” he returned to the America of 1845 to record what he had observed. He could report that he had seen happy savages who could live together in charity, and this had made him form a higher “estimate of human nature than [he] had ever before entertained”; he could also report that he had lived on an American man-of-war where unbelievable human vileness that made the heart sick nearly overturned any previous theories of the perfectibility of man he may have had.

Though the business of navigating a ship never interested Melville, he felt a deep concern for the destination of the inhabitants of the world which the ship enclosed. He pondered the social relationships, the code of life and manners, the clash of individual on individual, which determined the nature of this compact, artificial society, and endeavored to relate what he saw there to the larger society which dispatched the ship on its errands of commerce or war. Every serious book or article which Melville wrote is a variation on the social theme (Thorp, 1938, xcvii-xcviii, my emph.).”

One wishes that Thorp had not mixed-up the reader with his bouncing balls of personified and incommensurable social and political categories; but he cannot help himself because the social science or anthropological skills he attributes to the intrepid “Melville” are part of one’s own religious, anti-scientific world-view, one in which the psychological acumen/self-control/decorum of individuals leads either to “admirable social equilibrium” or commerce/war.[vii]

[D.H. Lawrence, 1923, Ch. 9:] ” There are lots of circuits. Male and female, for example, and master and servant. The idea, the IDEA, that fixed gorgon monster, and the IDEAL, that great stationary engine, these two gods-of-the-machine have been busy destroying all natural reciprocity and natural circuits, for centuries. IDEAS have played the very old Harry with sex relationship, that is, with the great circuit of man and woman. Turned the thing into a wheel on which the human being in both is broken. And the IDEAL has mangled the blood-reciprocity of master and servant into an abstract horror.

 Master and servant – or master and man relationship is, essentially, a polarized flow, like love. It is a circuit of vitalism which flows between master and man and forms a very precious nourishment to each, and keeps both in a state of subtle, quivering, vital equilibrium. Deny it as you like, it is so. But once you abstract both master and man, and make them both serve an idea: production, wage, efficiency, and so on: so that each looks on himself as an instrument performing a certain repeated evolution, then you have changed the vital quivering circuit of master and man into a mechanical machine unison. Just another way of life: or anti-life.”

An organicist discourse conflates political organization with physical organisms. Is your society devolving into warring classes or sects? Then loosen the whalebone stays of your Victorian corset, follow with a dose of paternalistic Christian charity, moderate expectations for improvement, and the Hobbesian, over-urbanized nineteenth century will approach the happiness and natural harmony of Melville’s (clean, generous) savages. The West had not brought progress, but there was a Golden Age before greed, individualism and artifice [consumerism] blighted the landscape. Although his notebooks of the early 1930s had condemned romantic escapism, by the late 1930s a more conservative, even reactionary Olson, like Thorp, would find his Golden Age in archaic, pre-literate societies: there was no pattern to history, neither repetitious cycles of rise and fall nor the unfoldings of Whiggish progress. “I feel too strongly about chance,” Olson wrote, identifying with archaic societies mayhap because their warrior myths provided hero-fathers who, in some sense, won the battle with cosmic mothers.

Our analysis of the divisions that matter, of the source of social evil, will determine strategies for self-defense and amelioration. Whereas the scientistic Thorp had identified “the age” (Victorian materialism) as the great Adversary, the radically enlightened social theorist studies the structural constraints on piecemeal reform; reformers should not raise unrealistic expectations that only structural transformations in the political economy can accomplish. The corporatists studied in this book, demagogically appealing to primitive emotions with images of spontaneity, unity and relaxed tensions, cannot formulate a transformative politics because they do not arm themselves with facts by studying how “the system” actually functions before they launch their salvos. Revolutionaries will betray their populist politics by the optimism with which they describe the projected outcome: for the corporatist Left, all social evil will be swept away with the bloated capitalists who manipulate Wall Street and the market, while the corporatist Right would puncture bloated bureaucracies (that pamper non-whites and Nature) to liberate self-adjusting market mechanisms.[viii] The operative word is “bloated” and signifies very old upper-class associations of usurpers from the lower orders with puffed-up toads. The toads are the new men, the scientists and engineers who displaced the old elites to create the revolting twentieth-century “mass society” articulated by Ortega y Gasset in 1930. Being toads, they are naturally oblivious (blinded) to the lessons of the Fall; or worse, they are the fallen angels who caused the Fall.[ix] These demonic interlopers are possessed by an insatiable will to power a.k.a. the yen for absolute knowledge to be handed over, in their toadying way, to absolutist monarchs. The toads recognize none of the boundaries that have hitherto preserved order and continuity in the realms of good, tolerant kings, who, of course, frown upon excessive deference in their subjects, while the toads’ expansionism destroys the balance of power that the good king would like to protect. Such fairy tales suggest social hygiene, the purge, as rational means to a rational end.

For the so-called functionalists, the national/ethnic natural “community” (always a good thing) is a chemically regulated “system” optimally in equilibrium, like any other biological body seeking homeostasis. Unless overwhelmed, it adjusts to invasion by foreign agents through either expulsion (vomiting, defecating or excreting) or through internal destruction. Antibodies mask themselves in clothes closely resembling the enemy’s apparel; they may blacken up, enticing hostile microorganisms or aberrant cells to the crushing hug. The primitivist vaccinations of conservatively enlightened Melvilleans cannot be fathomed without seeing through this rhetorical strategy, since the agents of counter-subversion appear to be imitating Melville, adopting the persona of the Enlightenment historian/geologist/sleuth who detects hidden faults and fissures in harmonious corporatist ‘families’ and ‘honest’ individuals. But the black mask functions solely to establish a safe distance from their femme fatale; first they must kill it. The organicist model continues to be embraced by antidemocratic social theorists because, unable rationally to legitimate class rule, they are forced to keep worker-soldiers anxiously focused on defenses–on threats to national security. The forbidden materialist gaze, like the demand for intimacy in love and friendship, is experienced as pressure that leads to disintegration: a breach in the fortress, a hole in the wall, a ripping of the social fabric, a nuclear weapon.

Here is one Fascist writer from the 1930s who used some of these very images to lure the uncommitted to the camp of revolutionary reaction; note especially his segué from chastity to the “real” boundary between subject and object, his escape from merging: “Fascism arises…as an answer to the rise of Communism which accompanies capitalist decay. Communism is the toxin that calls up the Fascist anti-toxin. And Fascism does not appeal to the discredited capitalist values, but to pre-capitalist ones: it emphasizes those virtues and that way of life which capitalism has steadily undermined and which Communism would destroy completely…[T]he full romantic tide of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has risen with increasing force against all the foundations on which Western civilization was built: it seeks to sweep away things as various as Christian sexual morals and the epistemology which maintains that subject and object are real distinctions. Whatever it attacks it attacks out of hatred of discipline and authority; it is a philosophy which deifies hybris.” [x]

The inflated rhetoric of the populist propaganda I have described may be intended to advance particular careers by mobilizing resentment and hope in the lower orders, but must lead to disillusion and apathy when repressed facts of the real world return. Here is an unfinished early poem by Charles Olson, perhaps written to his lace-curtain Irish-Catholic mother, who is not at all like Milton’s Muse:

[14 Oct. 1932:] “You gave me curtains and I hung them/ fingering the coarseness of the gauze/ as though it were as soft as your white skin/ –Gauze/ That stood between us like the veil/ That separates this frantic life (Death)/ From that other death (Living) beyond./ Gauze/ That hid–oh. God, I want to press/ you close/ to me – on my knees before you -k  (This is enough–better to write it in the closest chambers of my brain–and body!)”

Perhaps Olson wanted to press mother’s/ God’s goodness into his evil flesh, but Mother’s blocked, blocking vision would lead the white rat into endless mazes and “mostly madness.”

As Melville showed us, the process of emancipation from parental imagos is long, tortuous, and perilous. Only a few individuals in a few modern societies have attempted this Promethean task in their own lives, yet civil liberties are meaningless without the self-knowledge and social knowledge that makes self-determination and self-expression more than a recruiting slogan. Social organization may always be conflicted, no matter how rational and equitable the planning and feedback mechanisms in the hands of socialists, or, no matter how free of government regulation the market may become in the hands of libertarian conservatives. The critical thinker, like Melville, is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but alert to ambiguities, flaws, hypocrisies and blind spots in the processes that legitimate authority. Visions of a more perfect union are deceptive when they imagine the uninterrupted bliss of suckling infants (the fantasy of kneeling Charles) as the end point of human evolution. These regressive longings for the idealized social relations of pre-modern societies are more powerful and dangerous than rationalists think. Charles Olson, like other irrationalists, would turn my analysis upside down. For Root Man, historians and political scientists are the primum mobile of social decay, “the Protestant thing” that is really Jewish. [End of unwinding excursus.]


[i]           60. See Barbara Heyl, “The Harvard ‘Pareto’ Circle,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 4 (1968): 316-334. The Paretans were viewed as fascists by their liberal Harvard colleagues in the 1930s. The seminar included Crane Brinton, Henry Murray, Clyde Kluckhohn, Talcott Parsons, Joseph Schumpeter, Bernard De Voto, and Robert Merton. Merton was a major figure in the developing discipline of the history of science; its agenda is avowedly anti-Marxist and anti-liberal. See Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: The Merton Thesis, ed. with Introduction by I.B. Cohen (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1990). George Sarton proposed the discipline in 1916 (see letter, Harvard University Archives).

[ii]           61. “Memories,” Lawrence Henderson Papers, Harvard University Archives. Cf. Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob, and Lynn Hunt, Telling The Truth In History (New York: Norton, 1994), 253. “Historians cannot comprehend all the variables bombarding a single event. Human beings participate in a dense circuitry of interacting systems, from those that regulate their bodily functions to the ones that undergird their intellectual curiosity and emotional responses. A full explanation of an event would have to take into consideration the full range of systematic reactions. Not ever doing that, history-writing implicitly begins by concentrating on those aspects of an event deemed most relevant to the inquiry.”

[iii]          62. See Joyce Appleby, et al, Telling the Truth In History, 51 and passim.

[iv]          63. See Carl Schmitt, “A Note on Europe,” American Review 9 (Sept.1937): 407-410. I am using Schmitt’s metaphors. The same argument can be found in Geoffrey Stone, “The End of Democracy: Ralph Adams Cram’s Plea for a New Order” AR 9, 365-379. For these fascist critics, “moderation” does not signify the willingness to compromise, but to subdue the bourgeoisie without sacrificing progress.

[v]          64. Folke Leander, “The Materialistic and the Humanistic Interpretations of History,” American Review 9 (Sept.1937): 380-406.

[vi]          65. Norman Foerster, “Introduction,” The Humanities After the War (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1944), vii. Wendell L. Willkie was a contributor to the volume.

[vii]         66. Thorp later edited A Southern Reader (New York: Knopf, 1955), stating in the Introduction that he had always found the South to be the most exotic and exciting part of America, its problems with Negroes and poverty notwithstanding. See E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Macmillan, 1943), for a concise summary of the organic conservative cosmos shared by corporatist thinkers from Plato through the late Middle Ages and the Elizabethans on into Central Europe of the fascist period. See also Stephen Copley, ed. Literature and the Social Order in Eighteenth-Century England (Sydney: Croom Helm, 1984), Introduction, for the contrast between the discourses of the humanists and Adam Smith (along with other analysts of economic institutions).

[viii]         67. See F.A. Hayek, Individualism: True and False (Oxford: Blackwell, 1946) for a concise enunciation of the main principles of libertarian conservatism in which science is annexed to hierarchical organic conservatism and the rule of expertise. His recommended lineage for “true individualism” is Locke, Mandeville, Hume, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton. Hayek has undermined the search for legitimate authority based on common understanding and checks from below.  Man is innately incapable of grasping totalities; only deluded and false individualists would claim such an achievement. These include rationalist philosophes and utilitarians, along with the “original” German Romantics;  similarly looking to coercive, bureaucratic state power to impose order, destroying checks and balances attainable through spontaneous voluntary organization at the local level. The only role for the state is negative: to prevent any one group from arrogating to itself the excessive power that destroys equilibrium. Describing the conditions that enable true individualism, Hayek explained: “[It is absurd to think that] individualism postulates (or bases its arguments on the assumption of) the existence of isolated or self-contained individuals, instead of starting from men whose whole nature and character is determined by their existence in society (7)…The willingness to submit to [flexible but normally observed rules that make the behavior of other people predictable in a high degree], not merely so long as one has no definite reason to the contrary, is an essential condition for the gradual evolution and improvement of rules of social intercourse, and the readiness ordinarily to submit to the products of a social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand is also an indispensable condition if it is to be possible to dispense with compulsion…coercion can probably only be kept to a minimum in a society when conventions and tradition have made the behavior of man to a large extent predictable (23-24).”

[ix]          68. Thorp’s fixation on stable savage societies can be explained by their focused contemplation upon natural creation that is abandoned in the introspective individual of modernity. Tillyard in Elizabethan World Picture quotes Hooker on this phenomenon: “The bad angels fell away voluntarily, and they did so because they turned their minds away from God and from God’s creation, itself, the evidence of God’s goodness, to themselves. There was indeed ‘no other way for angels to sin but by reflex of their understandings upon themselves; when, being held with admiration of their own sublimity and honour, the memory of their subordination unto God and their dependency on him was drowned in this conceit. Whereupon their adoration love and imitation of God could not choose but be also interrupted. The fall of the angels was therefore pride’ ” (50). The multicultural emphasis on diversity and inclusion refers back to the idea of God’s (Nature’s) plenitude and perfection described at length in Frank Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being.

[x]           69. Geoffrey Stone, “Excelsior,” American Review 9 (Summer 1937): 299, 303. Stone, a future Melville critic, was reviewing Stephen Spender’s Forward From Liberalism.



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  8. […]  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the leadership role of Dr. Roy R. Grinker, Sr. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ for some of psychiatrist Grinker’s chief […]

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