The Clare Spark Blog

July 4, 2017

Ambivalence on Independence Day

Monday evening July3, 2017, Charles Krauthammer held forth on American history and its transformation since the 1960s when New Leftists began their long march through the institutions, now dominating US history, emphasizing America’s “sins.” His remedy: conservatives should copy the New Left project by entering academe, but with a different emphasis (I doubt that he was serious in suggesting a higher conservative birth rate.)

Krauthammer didn’t specify how US history should be taught, and here is my recommendation for a more mature approach.

When I was in history graduate school at UCLA, we were taught that there was a mighty debate on “present-mindedness.” [“Present-mindedness” signifies reading our current values into the past, which the better historians resist. It is even scandalous that New Leftists were sent up the ladders by (guilty liberal?) senior faculty at the Ivy League schools.]

Ironically, it was the demonstrably racist Woodrow Wilson who might have most inspired the progressivism of Charles and Mary Ritter Beard to write a massive popular history in 2 volumes, The Rise of American Civilization, publ. 1927, coming off the First World War. The Beards were not ambivalent, condemning even the Constitution as an elite plot against the people.

Not so Herman Melville, who lauded the sublime, vanguard project of the new American nation. (See He even wrote in a letter that “The Declaration of Independence makes a difference.” And yet, Melville struggled with ambivalence most of his adult life, an internal fight that has escaped most of his revivers including Charles and Mary Beard.

I view ambivalence as a normal human emotion, and most appropriate to modernity on America’s birthday. The Founders celebrated liberty at the same time as many feared the too-excitable, too eager to govern, electorate. (See, most obvious in Madison’s Federalist #10.)

What Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist, might have stated on Tucker Carlson’s show is that ambivalence is a widespread and normal human emotion—That we need not succumb to excessive super-patriotism, nor should we bow down to America-hating and flight.

Here’s to mixed-emotions on July 4, 2017. Happy Birthday, America, always becoming and never entirely fixed.


  1. I recently read a brief description of Bayesian logic and how it can be used politically. There were some problems with the argument presented, but one thing rang true for me. In a Bayesian analysis, the 100% certainty and the 0% certainty were both mathematically untenable. The upshot is that there can be no dialogue under those conditions. So I’m hoping that your “ambivalence” could be loosely correlated with “uncertainty” in this context. Which makes ambivalence a good thing, the point of your essay above.

    But in the end we still need to decide which horse to mount. Do we protest the US because of the evils within its history, or do we laud and support the creation of an historic freedom? I’m all for justifiable protest for visible wrongs. But I’m very wary of cutting the limb upon which we all are precariously perched. It has long seemed to me that those radically protesting the US assume that the oak tree that supports our roof will always be there, and that chopping at the base of that tree does little harm to it. I’m not so sure that’s true.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — July 5, 2017 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

    • I thought that I was making the limb more secure, but thanks.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 5, 2017 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

      • My comment was an attempt to justify yours. The Bayesian logic to which I pointed implies that ambivalence makes dialogue possible, and rational dialogue is what makes our limb more secure. What I found a bit disturbing about the use of Bayesian logic is that the end result of any analysis seems to me to be a binary action . . . one either does or does not. So it seems to me that we have to split the difference. Ambivalence and uncertainty are part of our nature, but our actions are definite and binary, and they form our history. So how do we incorporate them both?

        Comment by Terbrugghen — July 5, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

      • It is really hard not to split in human relationships, so why should it not be hard to “incorporate… both”?

        Comment by clarelspark — July 5, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

  2. Declaration of Independence, Version 2.0

    Fourth of July 2016 Speech (Proposed) Lincoln-like, if you will… Lyceum, the pattern.

    Comment by Robert Burke — July 4, 2017 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

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