The Clare Spark Blog

April 22, 2010

Links to blogs on military psychiatry

Roy R. Grinker, Sr. (I added an excerpt from leading military psychiatrist Roy Grinker up front)

Note that military psychiatry evolved from the perspective of the officer class, not that of the enlisted men. Here is a telling excerpt from Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford UP, 1975):

[Fussell, pp 84-85:]   No soldier who has fought ever entirely overcomes his disrespect for the Staff. David Jones is one in whom forty-five years after the war that disrespect is still vital and fructive. In his essay “The Utile,” in Epoch and Artist (1959), his point is that to make art one must hurl oneself into it, get down into one’s material, roll in it, snuff it up: know it, in fact, the way troops know fighting, rather than the way the Staff conjectures about it: [quoting Jones:] Ars is adamant about one thing: she compels you to do an infantryman’s job. She insists on the tactile. The artist in man is the infantryman in man…all men are aboriginally of  this infantry, though not all serve with this infantry. To pursue the analogy, this continued employment “away from the unit” has made habitual and widespread a “staff mentality.”

[Fussell, cont.] Which is to say that the artist is overweighed by critics, reviewers, discussants, conjecturers, manipulators. “Today,” Jones concludes, “most of us are staff-wallahs of one sort or another.”

April 18, 2010

Links to Nazi sykewar, American style


This series reveals the astounding opinons derived from German and Nazi war propaganda that were adopted by leaders of the progressive movement on the threshold of America’s entrance into World War Two. It is deeply shocking to those who see an unbridgeable chasm between Roosevelt and Hitler. It also underlines the theme of this website: the growing literacy and numeracy of ordinary people since the invention of the printing press terrified aristocrats in Europe, and their opinions were easily transmitted to American progressives whose social democratic aspirations created a new aristocracy in America, similar to the idea of the Platonic Guardians. For a related blog with more evidence see On the power of Jeffersonian agrarianism among progressives, see (Don’t miss this one: it expresses the progressive fear of the rationality of ordinary people. who may see through propaganda.)

April 12, 2010

Multiculturalism/ethnopluralism in the mid-20th century

[This is a brief excerpt from Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter two, expanding on the mixed-message of progressive ideology and locating the increased deployment of  ethnopluralism to defeat all forms of materialist analysis in the 1940s: ] 

The concept of ethnopluralism could redirect and absorb the class resentments of the potentially explosive redundantly educated–the “disillusioned” worker or petit bourgeois, overtrained (in technology) and underemployed in the Depression, who had been spotted by other conservative intellectuals as shock troops for fascism between the wars. The famous historian Friedrich Meinecke’s postwar explanation for “the German catastrophe” resonates with the ruminations of earlier organic conservatives:[i]

“It often happens nowdays…that young technicians, engineers, and so forth, who have enjoyed an excellent university training as specialists, will completely devote themselves to their calling for ten or fifteen years and without looking either to the right or to the left will try only to be first-rate specialists. But then, in their middle or late thirties, something they have never felt before awakens in them, something that was never really brought to their attention in their education–something that we would call a suppressed metaphysical desire. Then they rashly seize upon any sort of ideas and activities, anything that is fashionable at the moment and seems to them important for the welfare of individuals–whether it be anti-alcoholism, agricultural reform, eugenics, or the occult sciences. The former first-rate specialist changes into a kind of prophet, into an enthusiast, perhaps even into a fanatic and monomaniac. Thus arises the type of man who wants to reform the world.

Here one sees how a one-sided training of the intellect in technical work may lead to a violent reaction of the neglected irrational impulses of the spirit, but not to a real harmony of critical self-discipline and inner creativeness–rather to a new one-sidedness that clutches about wildly and intemperately…A technical calling, however, does not necessarily precede the world reformer’s intemperance. Men with hot heads, ambition, and an autodidactic urge for advancement, when forced into the technically normalized working conditions of the present day, may easily lose their inner equilibrium in the conflict of the spirit with the world about them and flare up in a blaze. The petty painter and quarellist Hitler, who once had to earn his scanty bread in construction work and in the course of it whipped up his hatred of the Jews into a general philosophy of world-shaking consequences, is a case of this kind (36-37).”

In the transition from Homo Sapiens to Homo Faber, Meinecke explained, we had lost the integrative powers of religion: “This was no specific spiritual force, but a spiritual need springing from and existing for the totality of the soul, and called upon to preserve the inner community of the life of men and to knit the ties between the simple workingman and the cultured man of developed individuality (38).”

    Martin Dies and James Conant, along with other American progressives, had been similarly alarmed by the rupture in human history, a rupture that had prompted the desire for a complexly developed individuality in previously “simple” workingmen; hotheads and ambitious autodidacts were to be cooled out through incorporation into an organic community; special attention would be paid to suppressed metaphysical desires, unpredictably erupting in misguided attempts to reform the world. With class, the materialist analytic category par excellence, translated into the soulful völkisch discourse, the irrationalism of pseudo-Enlightenment watered the growing field of social psychology, a developing discipline ever alert to the monomaniacal propensities of the one-sidedly educated and upwardly mobile protofascist middle class.

    The Official House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities (chaired by the Texas populist Martin Dies) continued the spiritualizing progressive line in 1939, exalting the toleration of specified differences over equality:  “It is as un-American to hate one’s neighbor because he has more of this world’s material goods as it is to hate him because he was born into another race or worships God according to a different faith…The simplest and at the same time the most correct definition of communism, fascism, and nazi-ism is that they all represent forms of dictatorship which deny the divine origin of the fundamental rights of man…[T]hey assume and exercise the power to abridge or take away any or all of these rights as they see fit. In Germany, Italy, and Russia, the state is everything; the individual nothing. The people are puppets in the hands of the ruling dictators…[Rights] are subject to the whims and caprice of the ruling dictators…While the foundation of Americanism is class, racial, and religious tolerance, and the foundation of nazi-ism and fascism is racial and religious hatred, and the foundation of communism is class hatred. Americanism is a philosophy of government based upon the belief in God as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe; nazi-ism, fascism, and communism are pagan philosophies of government which either deny, as in the case of the communist, or ignore as in the case of the fascist and nazi, the existence and divine authority of God. Since nazi-ism, fascism, and communism are materialistic and pagan, hatred is encouraged. Since Americanism is religious, tolerance is the very essence of its being.[ii]

    Dies was claiming that only Our Founder, Paine’s and Jefferson’s deist God of science, materialism, natural rights, and robust intellectual and religious controversy, should oversee the adaptation of Americanism to the novel conditions of industrial society. Yet it was materialist analysis that was inciting class hatred. What was to be done? Dies’ remarks require further decoding. “The Supreme Ruler of the Universe” wanted the poor to tolerate those with “more of this world’s material goods,” but, as a Jeffersonian, probably not the socially irresponsible nouveaux riches hardening class lines. In his article of 1940, “Education for a Classless Society,” James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard University, looked back with apprehension upon the old Jeffersonian constituency of small farmers and artisans:

“We see throughout the country the development of a hereditary aristocracy of wealth. The coming of modern industrialism and the passing of the frontier with cheap lands mark the change. Ruthless and greedy exploitation of both natural and human resources by a small privileged class founded on recently acquired ownership of property has hardened the social strata and threatens to provide explosive material underneath (46).”

    The Jeffersonian ideal of a universal quality education would require a poetic metamorphosis: the Icarian hubris of the young republic with its “belligerent belief in individual freedom” must be corrected. Conant had reinterpreted the Jeffersonian heritage for the liberal readership of Atlantic Monthly with a palette of earth colors: “As a recent biographer has said, Jefferson believed that any boy or girl was capable of benefiting from the rudiments of education and would be made a better citizen by acquiring them. He believed in keeping open the door of further opportunity to the extent that a poor boy of ability should not be debarred from continuing his education. “To have gone farther and made a higher education compulsory on all,” suggests this biographer,” would have seemed as absurd to him as to have decreed that every crop on his farm, whether tobacco, potatoes, rye, corn, or what not, must be treated and cultivated precisely as every other…. In terms of the citizen, he believed in the maximum equality of opportunity. In terms of the state, he believed in the minimum of compulsion and interference compatible with the training of all its citizens to the maximum capacity of each (45).” [iii]

     Notwithstanding New Deal reformism, the minimalist Jeffersonian State was still here and would not absurdly impose higher education upon the poor boy with different and unequal mental capacities.

    The grand mixed-message of progressive ideology stands revealed again: on the one hand, class mobility should remain fluid; the lower orders must not be repressed and made desperate by exploitative, inflexible capitalists. On the other hand, Conant was aware that higher education in the twentieth century entailed instruction in science and technology, and materialist tools tended to vitiate the authority of conservative religion that progressives believed had hitherto kept the lid on upsurges from below, i.e., “extreme” demands for structural adjustments in institutions self-evidently pitting class against class. As Conant reasoned (turning Jefferson on his head), the State would hamper the development of the less able future citizen by asking that he acquire more than “the rudiments of education”; for Conant the contrast between the “poor boy of ability” and the less generously endowed of his class would be as rooted in biology as the truly self-evident difference between crops of “tobacco, potatoes, rye, corn or what not.” The stage was set for the postwar triumph of ethnopluralism and this ideology’s valorization of group identity and precapitalist traditional culture over common sense and the search for truth. Lest liberal nationalists worry about fragmentation, hostile “ethnic” competition, and the demise of popular sovereignty, the progressive could argue: as a rooted cosmopolitan each hyphenated American would be tolerant of the Others’ (biologically determined) differences.[iv] Dewily refreshed and spiritualized by sleeping minds, races and ethnicities would peacefully co-exist in a setting of inequality and continued upper-class management: the poor would tolerate the rich, while the progressive educator would honor the individuality of groups, having overcome belligerently individualistic mechanical materialists–troublesome gobbet-girls and other leftovers from the eighteenth century teaching the masses how to read the institutions that controlled their lives. American society would remain classless because race or ethnicity or IQ, not class power in the service of individuality, mastery, and the pursuit of happiness, would fertilize the poor boy’s sense of self and his possibilities for creative development.


              [i] 83. Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe, trans. Sidney Fay ( Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), 36-38. Though he is writing after World War II, Meinecke’s analysis is typical of other organic conservatives. Similar identifications of the class base of fascism were made by Harold Lasswell before the war, and CIA-affiliated social scientists during the 1940s and 50s. George Mosse built an entire academic career on the claim. Cf. the mid-nineteenth century views of Radical Republican Charles Sumner, who vigorously advocated an excellent popular education for all Americans.

                [ii]  84. Martin Dies, “Un-American Activities and Propaganda,” House Reports, misc. 1939, 10-11. By 1939, Stalinists had given Dies lots of ammunition to support the accusation of fomenting class hatred. However, even if Rosa Luxemburg had been at the helm, Dies would not have placed a dispassionate materialist analysis in the American tradition. Cf. Glenn Beck’s and Jonah Goldberg’s criticism of progressivism with the argument of Martin Dies.

                [iii]  85. James Bryant Conant, “Education for a Classless Society: The Jeffersonian Tradition,” in Gail Kennedy editor, Education for Democracy: The Debate Over the Report of the President’s Commission on Higher Education (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1952), 46, 45. Originally published in Atlantic Monthly, May 1940 and included in one of the Heath series Problems in American Civilization, Allan Nevins, General Editor. Cf. The Presidential Address of Dr. George S. Counts, American Federation of Teachers convention, August 19-22, 1940. Rejecting messianic ideas that would end exploitation, democratic education was “designed to discipline the young, through knowledge and understanding, in the ways of democracy, in the temperate and responsible use of political processes, in the subordination of individual to social welfare, in the sacrifice of the present to the long-time interests of individual and society. It is an education designed to prepare the young to live by, to labor for, and, if need be, to die for the democratic faith.” Jefferson and Lincoln were cited as exemplars.

       In 1945, Ann Westerfield, a student in the Harvard Graduate School of Education working under the direction of Howard E. Wilson, explained the need to revise the social studies curriculum: “I am desirous of finding out how the courses which include the study of the Negro contribute to the improvement of intergroup relations. A program of instruction which includes the study of intergroups relations should fulfill these criteria. 1. It should aim to develop mutual understanding among the children and youth of the various culture groups as a basis for their cooperation. 2. It should foster an appreciation of the part each has played and can continue to play in making America. 3. It should seek to awaken a sense of comman [sic] adventure among Americans of many antecedents to promote American unity through loyalty to American ideals…Prejudice, I feel, is distinctly a problem for education. In most cases it depends on historical misconceptions or social misunderstandings. People should be brought to analyze their prejudice under the light of historical fact and investigate scientifically the background of these irrationalities. In the future, the foundation of the social community must be cooperation. It is evident to men in this country and all over the world that any attempt at prolonged peace will depend on the renunciation of racial and social prejudice by all the people in the world. Since our country has led the way toward the realization of democratic ideals it is imperative that our conduct be a good example for all…” In Ralph Bunche Papers, UCLA Special Collections, Box 1, Folder 23. Bunche was appalled by such formulations, for he viewed “prejudice” as built into the economic system that pitted black and white workers against each other; bigotry could not be erased without structural transformation.

[iv] 86. By biological determinism, I do not mean that the followers of Herder had a materialist understanding of the natural sciences. As John Crowe Ransom or Eric Voegelin understood the völkisch idea of a national culture, there would be a spiritual uniformity in a people who had interacted for a lengthy period with their specific material environment, evolving into a balanced relationship with nature and each other.

April 10, 2010

Columbia U.’s double bind, October! 1917

James McKeen Cattell

[This is an excerpt from my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter 2 :] Young Raymond M. Weaver, founding father of the Melville Revival, thrashed about in two conflicted venues in the late nineteen-teens, first, the academic freedom controversy that excited Columbia University in 1917 after the summary dismissals of two antiwar professors; second, the Red Scare of 1919 as addressed by the Nation magazine. In the pages that follow, I will scrutinize nutty, yet in their view, logical institutional responses to anticipated mutiny, for similar tactics were followed in other conservative but “liberal” institutions and professions: universities, periodicals, the Dies Committee in the late 1930s (HUAC), the American Historical Association, a prewar organization of social psychologists, and postwar intelligence agencies. They could not describe their operations accurately without threatening institutional legitimacy, thus every human relation was deceptive; under such preposterous conditions the critical intellect would have to waste away, dissimulate or flee. The New Left opposition that entered university faculties after the 1960s has been forced to negotiate the same mixed-message as Weaver; if my analysis is accurate, then it would be difficult for younger scholars to describe their own predicaments without risking expulsion.

The incident at Columbia is infamous in the annals of academic un-freedom. Weaver’s student and friend Joseph Freeman recalled that it started the “reign of terror” that transformed the American Union Against Militarism of 1915 into the ACLU. Carol Gruber, a student of Richard Hofstadter, has, like other liberals, criticized the limp behavior of the Columbia faculty and all professors who fail to protect academic freedom from right-wing hysterics.[i] But the weakly challenged purges of 1917 revealed more than faculty cowardice. There were contradictions in liberal thought, in the rhetoric of the French Revolution, and in Melville’s family that Melville himself had identified as crazy-making in Pierre: how to reconcile manly independence and free thought with loyalty to conservative families? If we are liberals, how shall we simultaneously achieve liberty, equality, and fraternity? Why should socializing institutions in class societies subsidize processes that can get out of hand? Who decides that authority is legitimate anyway? Or, as conservatives from Robert Filmer, to David Hume, to Edmund Burke, to Thomas Carlyle, to the narrator of Pierre, to Henry A. Murray, to Orson Welles, to Hans Jurgen Syberberg would say, “Little man [Leveller, Jacobin, Pierre, Citizen Kane/Cain, Hitler], what now?”  

    During the mid-nineteenth century, Herman Melville failed to get the unambiguous patronage of another gentleman-sailor, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author, abolitionist, Free-Soiler and Boston Brahmin. Perhaps Dana’s distaste for Lemuel Shaw, his political enemy and Melville’s father-in-law, blighted a stimulating friendship for both men. Dana had written in his journal: “The truth is, Judge Shaw is a man of intense and doating biasses, in religious, political and social matters. Unitarianism, Harvard College, the social & political respectabilities of Boston are his idola specus & fori (1856, Log).” 

     Six decades later, Dana’s grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, a Harvard Ph.D. (1910), socialist and peace activist, was summarily dismissed from his position as instructor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University: the New England Red Prince had been blatantly insubordinate. Although America entered the Great War on April 2, 1917 “for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of the small nations…and to make the world itself at last free,” as Wilson told Congress, [ii] Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler announced to alumni on Commencement Day, June 6, that anti-war “wrongheadedness” and “folly” were now “sedition” and “treason”; academic freedom would be suspended in wartime.[iii] Butler referred to the conspicuous agitation of Dana, economics professor Henry R. Mussey, the distinguished experimental psychologist James McKeen Cattell, Cattell’s son Owen, and other friends or members of the Collegiate Anti-Militarism League. With motions magnified by the popular press, these were activators of primal passions, enemies to “balance.”[iv]

   Cattell, editor of School and Society, had been a loud and unrelenting advocate of faculty control and community-responsiveness in the universities; he was nearly “retired” in 1913, but, it was suspected, retained solely to cast an aura of liberal toleration.[v] In May 1917, the irrepressible Cattell read a paper “Academic Slavery,” before the Twentieth Century Club, adjuring professors to remove their snobbish and mobbish propensities to please the king:  “…in fact the professor has no right to hide in the crowd. It is not thieves alone who have a code of honor. Each group has its moral etiquette and its unpardonable sin. The soldier may get drunk and get syphilis, but he must not desert his post; the lawyer may try to deceive the jury and the court, but must not betray his client; the physician and the clergyman may flatter and conceal, but they must try to save lives and souls; the university professor may be “fonder of glory and vain,” a snob and a cad, but in his teaching and research, he must tell the truth as he sees it and seek the truth as it is (18 May 1917).”

    Cattell, a student of the British eugenicist Francis Galton, may have opposed the draft out of fear that the Conscription Act would provoke a revolution, for Woodrow Wilson had been elected on a peace platform.[vi] Along with anthropologist Franz Boas, English professor William Peterfield Trent, co-editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature, was one of the few faculty who supported the long beleaguered Cattell. Trent wrote to political scientist E. R. A. Seligman, June 20: “It ought not to be possible for a man of my training and temperament to feel that at bottom despite all his defects and missteps, my sympathies are steadfastly with Cattell rather with the ostensible attitude of a majority of my colleagues and with the officers of administration. I like peace and order and in many ways am conservative. I have filled, in a small way, administrative positions myself, I practically do not know what friction with my colleagues and the administration means, yet in my fifty-fifth year I find myself continually impressed by the subserviency and the sycophancy observable in academic life, by the parasitic nature of the typical professor, by the growth of the spirit of censoriousness and revolt in myself. This is not as it should be, but self-examination does not leave me convinced that the fault lies entirely with me.[vii]

    During the summer, Cattell had lobbied numerous congressmen, writing to them on Columbia University letterhead stationery; that seems to have been the last straw; on Oct.1, the trustees unanimously voted to “vacate” the positions of Dana and Cattell. Cattell alleged that the firing was a pretext to perpetuate the oligarchy of businessmen: the real targets were those professors who wanted administrative independence from the trustees; John Dewey agreed. As he told the press, “They smeared the whole case over with patriotism. If they had good cause to dismiss Cattell, they might have come out boldly with the reasons.”[viii]

   Raymond M. Weaver was hired on October 8 to take over the teaching of Dana’s classes, the very day that Charles Beard, hailed as the most popular professor at Columbia, resigned from the Department of Political Science to protest continued trustee interference with teaching. Oct. 9, The Columbia Spectator led with the story of Charles Beard’s emotional departure, noting approvingly that “sentiment is almost wholly in favor of Beard’s action”: “Charles Beard announced it in his class yesterday morning. His action was greeted with applause which lasted for five minutes, and many of the students crowded about his desk at the close of the class to express their regrets personally. He was in tears when he left the room…The resignation has created the greatest excitement among the faculties of the various schools and colleges of the university. Unofficially, several of the professors have signified their intention of resigning from the faculty in sympathy with the ideas of Beard…[It] may lead to a secession of the most prominent members of the university.”

    What were Beard’s ideas? According to the Spectator, his classes fostered a spirit of wide-open political debate. Beard’s position was not antiwar like Dana’s, or anti-forced conscription like Cattell’s; he felt that support for the war should be proffered by disinterested intellectuals. He wanted to be viewed as an objective voice for national interests, not as a mouthpiece for the special interests of the trustees.[ix] Whether Beard was a sane liberal or a moderate advocating repressive tolerance like Cattell, he had significant support among students and faculty; but the issues raised by the purge seemed to drag the rational intellect leftward onto the barricades. Worried liberal faculty and press predicted “incipient revolt,” “a riot” and “great upheavals.”[x] James Harvey Robinson said the Constitution had been violated; America’s credibility as a democracy was at risk. John Dewey and Charles Beard felt proletarianized: “To my mind, this college is nothing but a factory, and a badly run factory at that,” said Dewey.[xi] Beard’s Letter of Resignation was even more vehement: “[A] few trustees dominate the university and terrorize the young instructors…the status of the professor is lower than that of a manual laborer…Holding his position literally by the day, the professor is liable to dismissal without a hearing, without the judgment of his colleagues who are his real peers.[xii] 

Columbus Day, 1917. The Spectator of Oct. 12 rocked with three incompatible pieces on the controversy. A front-page statement by Professor Robert Livingston Schuyler defended Charles Beard’s book of 1913, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution from the attack of a New York Times editorial of October 10. (Beard’s revisionist work characterized the framing and ratification of the Constitution as a virtual coup d’état by government bondholders and other representatives of the rising industrial bourgeoisie at the expense of the agrarian interest, including indebted small farmers and poor mechanics; the Constitution was a conservative class document, cunningly contrived to give the appearance of republican “balance” while actually stacking the deck against the popular legislative branch. Beard’s “scientific history” had attempted to delegitimate federal authority; he unapologetically aligned himself with the Marxists against Bancroft and other early nationalist historians or the unnamed advocates of Teutonic supremacy; however, he imprecisely labeled the Federalists as “aristocrats” and their more numerous anti-Federalist opponents “agrarians”; cf. T. S. Eliot below). The Spectator editorial called for rationality and unity, so the Dana-Cattell firing should be excluded from the agenda of the formal student-faculty meeting to come, while a less visible article headlined “Pacifism Was Not The Issue” quoted Cattell’s suggestion that “A private corporation which now taxes the people to maintain the privileged classes must ultimately be taken over by the people and conducted for their welfare.”[xiii]

    To his opponents, Cattell’s rationalism hitched to Beard’s iconoclasm must have resembled an eruption of the apocalyptic sublime. While Cattell, Dewey and Beard used economic categories to describe class domination and proletarianized professors, corporatist seekers of truth, taking the roles of doctors and clergymen, proposed medical remedies to save the souls of febrile organisms. Political disputes, resolvable only through rational deliberation, organization, and social action, were transmuted into diagnoses and prescriptions for decorous purges and healings. Disparate and irreconcilable interests had been welded by love’s delicately equilibrated machine. An emotionally and intellectually mature person would manipulate the “body” to his (and everyone’s) advantage; failure staggered forth from lapses of self-control and social sensitivity. The Committee of Nine was an early HUAC-type body formed at Columbia in March 1917 “to help the trustees inquire into the state and ultimate tendency of teaching in the university”; or, to be less polite, to sniff out pink and red disloyal professors. Columbia was conceived as a single body, but not One Big Union; the Committee had been denounced by some as an insulting and unnecessary inquisition.[xiv] Amid the furor of petitions, rallies, resolutions and rumors of strikes, uprisings, plots and walk-outs following Beard’s resignation, The Committee Of Nine pronounced “the University mind” quite mad and frantically cried for “corporate interest and corporate responsibility;” then, in a spectacular Freudian slip, begged for closure: [xv] 

    “…the University mind is left a prey to distraction and unrest, which in these critical times may lead to unrestrained outbursts by the impulsive and to severity in discipline by those entrusted with the exercise of power. It would seem wise, therefore, to consider our state of health dispassionately before either by neglect or by improper remedies, our disease becomes chronic…What then should be done?…This occasion ought not to be used to indulge in recrimination, censure, protest, or strife. We are in no fit state for dispassionate criticism and review…If we can not or do not recognize the state of mind we are in, it is folly to suppose that in that state of mind we shall do full justice in any case which stirs profoundly our primal passions when we look upon those who are about to die and the whole tragedy of this present world. Our only hope, our only reason, our only sanity is to try to protect us from ourselves for the future. That we can do if we but set about to do it. We can not do it, however, by devising some happy plan overnight. We can do it only by patient study, for it is the soul of the plan which must be made over. Our house can not be cleaned by the Trustees of the University…there can only be one leader and that is the President of the University. Efforts have been made to reform this place without his leadership and these efforts have failed. These efforts should stop. A new effort should be made under his leadership as chairman of a committee chosen from the University faculties to look into our condition. The findings of such a committee would be final and conclusive, or [sic] they would create issues which can freely and openly be discussed by men who love the University and bear the name of scholars.” (my emph.)

   This is an astounding document to have emanated from a great university: men trained through life to control their emotions in favor of objective judgment, had utterly lost it. Farewell to the Rights of Man they say, while hovering over an Abyss: the whole World is awash in primal Passions–”we” are our own worst Enemies; “we” want a strong Leader to unite our flailing Family; and “we” want an unambiguous Diagnosis of our Insanity, ASAP. Where will the correct Answer come from? Why, from amongst our maddened, divided Selves in a Committee stamped by the Head, where else? Otherwise, we might succumb to the Ambiguity of ordinary Persons, becoming Scholars who love their Students and their Work.

Five weeks later, Butler received a letter from the faculties of Political Science, Philosophy and Pure Sciences upbraiding him, but urging rational reform all around:[xvi]

“[The university is under suspicion]; there is a conviction that the Trustees and Faculties…are becoming increasingly estranged and are approaching an open conflict. [We want to] free the University from the imputation that the Trustees and Faculties have something to conceal and do not trust one another. It is now a great and international institution–we must cooperate with Trustees in this critical time…[the last two years have been embarrassing]. We have been too tolerant of abuses we might have remedied. [But your behavior has been cause of our suffering reputation.] That such things as we have enumerated give occasion to the radical minded and the emotional to hold the university up to scorn is regrettable. [And more, we don’t approve of them] (22 Nov. 1917). “

    The faculties who signed this letter presumably had been trained to analyze institutions, social movements, and competing epistemologies; trained to teach their students how to separate facts from factoids by exploring the material world, clarifying controversies by consulting primary sources to compare competing truth-claims. They should have been relieved that the widening rift between professors and trustees had disclosed their true condition as unfree investigators, but no. They were aghast that their peers, radical critics all over the world, might be laughing as Columbia’s perfectly happy corporatist identity came unglued. In the interest of mental and physical health at Columbia University, an institution devoted to the training of rational gentlemen and rational scholars by rationally cooperating faculty and trustees, disruptive passions were out and factoids were in. The “irresponsible,” “poisonous” and “emotional” Dana and Cattell along with hot-heads like Will Durant and the expelled Jewish student protester Leon Samson (one of the “wild-eyed” ranters and “kickers” pushing “cheap pacifism”) could take their vagrant principles elsewhere, which of course made the leftovers look really liberal, at least to themselves.[xvii]

Two years later, Levering Tyson, Executive Secretary of the Alumni Federation and Managing Editor of the Columbia Alumni News, wrote to attorney John Saxe on the occasion of Cattell’s lawsuit brought against Columbia for denying him his pension. Tyson reviewed the possibly fatal blow inflicted by Dana and Cattell: “It will be years and I doubt if it ever happens [sic] that Columbia will recover from the reputation which activities of these two men gave her. The men were cancers. All [the radicals] needed was a few men like Cattell and Dana to give them standing and Columbia University was always conspicuous in the accounts of their activities. After getting rid of them the University was really able to make some headway in demonstrating to the public and to her alumni the war work which she was actually accomplishing, ready to perform and that she had already entered a regular program in assisting the Government in preparation for and in pursuit of war (29 Nov. 1919).”

    Such was the social environment in which the impressionable and sensitive Raymond Weaver found his thorny nest. Not surprisingly, the young Melville presented in his biography resembled the Columbia troublemakers of 1917; whereas the sadly wised-up older authors (both Weaver and his subject), reeling from the barbs of readers hostile to Moby-Dick and Pierre, became brothers to the sedate and resigned professors who (with a few exceptions) had made their peace with Butler and the trustees.

    Sanely moderate Columbians did not agonize over conflicts between Reason, Conscience and the State. George W. Dithredge of the International Steel Car Company frankly advocated the primacy of order and cost-effectiveness over truth in his letter urging President Butler to fire the seditious bad father Cattell.  Dithredge did not send mixed-messages. Due process, academic freedom–even competence–were expendable. Loyalty to the goals of big business, identified with the national interest, was not: “With the example of Scott Nearing and his progressive descent to the dogs, Columbia cannot afford to cast the mantle of protective charity over a man so clearly unfit to exercise any influence over our young men, who above learning and technique, must be saturated by precept and example with the principles and spirit of good citizenship (14 Sept. 1917).”

   In contrast, some “Members of the Committee on Instruction of the Schools of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry” (perhaps with a more obvious professional interest in the protection of innovation than Dithredge) writing to Butler on September 19, urged him to have it both ways. He should safeguard Columbia’s good name by removing Cattell and Dana, avoiding future Ahabs, but without chilling the critical spirit: “We are also anxious that our students shall be surrounded by those influences which while encouraging vigorous independent thought, at the same time develop unquestioned loyalty to our country.” Similarly, Professor Giddings declared on October 29, “Every loyal alumnus of the university and every loyal student, whatever position he may take upon the question of academic freedom, should make perfectly clear to the public that he does not stand by men who disobey law and obstruct government.”[xviii] These practical men were saying that students could think vigorously about science that stabilized the status quo.[xix] Here is the double bind specific to incompletely realized, subverted modernity, the contradiction that cannot be identified by “moderately conservative” psychiatry: academic slavery was masked by academic freedom. It was an intolerably blinkered situation for sensitive intellectuals, enough to call forth “radical” and “unbalanced” sympathies with an ever more numerous working class. By 1919, the proles were dangerously possessed of (or by) printing presses and movie cameras, some asking trained scientists and engineers to join them. A Wobbly intellectual wrote an open letter to professors, proposing a different image of coalescence than the one offered by Columbia faculty and alumni. One Big Union was designed to protect all humanity, a sublime project in social engineering:

“We are intensely desirous of spreading our ideas of Industrial Democracy before the engineers, chemists, and technical men of the country, for we feel that their interests are identical with the interests of the artisans and laborers and they should recognize the splendid part they can play in the construction of a new society–a society which the workers regard as, in all essentials, a great engineering enterprise.[xx]

   Advocating a different form of uplift, and perhaps justifying his own controversial actions two years earlier, Nicholas Murray Butler testified to the New York State Overman Committee in its hunt for revolutionary radicals, October 9, 1919. The Columbia University President suggested that the teaching profession be upgraded and co-opted: [xxi]  “What the loyal and patriotic citizens really have to confront is a widespread state of mind that is both disloyal and patriotic, and which glories in the fact because it regards patriotism and loyalty as outworn and ‘capitalist’ virtues. This state of mind is especially frequent among those who often read but who rarely think. It has infected many school teachers, editors, clergymen and these have, consciously or unconsciously, become aids in a movement to break down the American civilization and the American government.

To combat a state of mind like this the only effective weapon is a better and more reasonable state of mind. Force does little more than create martyrs, except, of course, in months of acute national danger, when force must be resorted to by the nation for its self-protection. In ordinary times, however, the effective weapon to use with unwisdom and folly is reasonableness. This habit of reasonableness coupled with adequate understanding of social, economic, and political facts, should be constantly urged upon teachers, editors and clergymen, as well as upon any others who undertake to influence and guide public opinion. Columbia University, in its various parts is doing what it can do to instill the habit of reasonableness in those who go out from its doors.

It is a fact that the material compensations for the teaching profession are not sufficient to attract permanently to it men and women of the highest competence. On the other hand, competence alone will not change a state of mind, although it may have some effect upon the conditions which, in any case, have given rise to such a state of mind.”

    For Butler, as for other Progressive mind-managers advocating the vigorous and systematic investigation of the social, economic, and political environment, the co-existence of “disloyalty” (to upper-class interests, narrowly understood) and patriotism was intolerable. Definitions of “reasonableness” and “folly” would be adjusted accordingly.

                [i]     34. Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of Higher Learning in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1975), 187-206.  See also David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), and Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986).

                [ii]      35. Wilson quoted in Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston: Little Brown, 1980), 112. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated March 15. The overthrow of his reactionary regime removed one important obstacle to the entrance of America on the side of the Triple Entente. Germany had further antagonized American opinion by sinking three U.S. unarmed merchantment late in March. The interception of “the Zimmerman telegram” followed. Germany promised Mexico much of the Southwestern U.S. if it would join them. A selective service bill cleared Congress in May, drafting men from 18 to 45 (116).

                [iii]      36. Walter Metzger, Academic Freedom in the Age of the University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 255.

                [iv]      37. A letter from Alumni Secretary Levering Tyson to John Saxe, 29 Nov. 1929, states that the warning was directed against Dana. My description of Butler’s targets is a synthesis of my research and Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 1975. Gruber is hostile to Cattell. Unpublished materials cited here are from “Miscellaneous correspondence relating to the dismissal of Cattell and Dana” in the Cattell Papers, Manuscripts Division, Butler Library, Columbia University. As the preliminary report from the Committee of Nine reminded E.R.A. Seligman, Dana and Cattell had argued against the Conscription Act before it was passed into law; however Dana and Cattell were highly visible. Harry Dana paid the bond to release Owen Cattell and two other Columbia students from jail after their arrest June 1, 1917. The New York newspapers featured the controversy on their front pages.

                [v] 38. A clipping from the Evening Telegram, 19 May 1913, in the Cattell file reported that Cattell could be in trouble because he had attacked the Century Association for its refusal to admit the Jewish Jacques Loeb, biologist at the Rockefeller Institute. Cattell, leading a movement for faculty control, may have been saved from dismissal at that time (1913) because his “early retirement” would have given credibility to his claim that professors were muzzled. See letter from the zoologist Edmund B. Wilson to Butler, 20 May 1913. Cattell was a consistent radical throughout the interwar period, but no American Rosa Luxemburg or Wobbly; still he did not view “socialism” as a “nightmare.” See his “Academic Slavery,” School and Society, 13 Oct. 1917, 421-426: “I myself accept the social ideal: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs; and I think that, thanks to the applications of science, the resources of society are sufficient to provide adequately for all.” His animus against college administrators was connected to a rejection of the “autocratic and bureaucratic” rationalizing businessmen who ran American universities (unlike Oxford and Cambridge where dons are administrators). See Cattell, University Control (New York: Science Press, 1913), 9, 13-15, 44, 49. As a young man writing to his parents in 1888, he declared his intellectual preferences and affinities for many of the English romantic anticapitalists (Tory-Radicals): “I can suggest no other wedding-present than books and pictures. We should like to have editions of Carlyle, Ruskin, Scott, Rossetti, Morris, and Darwin.” In An Education in Psychology: James McKeen Cattell’s Journals and Letters From Germany and England, 1880-1888), ed. Michael M. Sokal (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), 303.  

                [vi]  39. See Columbia Spectator, 4 Oct. 1917, 2. Amazingly, Cattell was serving on a committee of the American Psychological Association organized to assist the U.S. military in the current conflict; see R.M. Yerkes,”Psychology and National Service,” Science, 3 Aug. 1917, 101-103.

                [vii] 40. Quoted Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 195.

                [viii] 41. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917. Dewey’s protests had been quoted also Oct. 4 and in the New York Tribune, Oct.4 and Oct. 9, New York Times, Oct. 9.

                [ix] 42.  World, 9 Oct. 1917. The newspaper clippings quoted here were mostly found in the Cattell file.

                [x] 43. Herald, 10 Oct.; American, 10 Oct. quoted Robinson.

                [xi]  44. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xii]  45. New York Times, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xiii]  46. Spectator, 12 Oct. 1917, 4. Also see letter Cattell to John Coulter of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom in Wartime, 30 Mar. 1918, still insisting that the underlying motive for his dismissal was his cause of “university reform.”

                [xiv]  47. See Metzger, Academic Freedom, 224-225.

                [xv]  48. Unsigned 12 page ms. in file, probably the report of the Committee of Nine, summarized in Spectator, 13 Oct. 1917. Even if the last sentence contained a typo, it must have been proofread.

                [xvi]  49. One of the signers was John Erskine, Butler’s friend and with Carl Van Doren, W.P. Trent and Stuart Pratt Sherman, an editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature (1917).

                [xvii]   50. Spectator, quoted 12 Oct. 1917, 1. “Sane, dignified and gentlemanly” views versus “cheap pacifism” was the contrast offered by C.P. Ivins, Vice President of the Senior Class, Columbia, ‘17. It was reported on 10/11 that Matthew Josephson, Kenneth Burke and Percival Winner were supporting academic freedom as long as it was exercised in a legal manner. A statement in support of Cattell and Dana was circulated denouncing the public meeting, signed by L.M. Hacker and Josephson (10/16).  On Oct. 16, 17, and 18, the Spectator ran anti-Semitic stories on Leon Samson’s activities: he was linked to outside agitators Henry Factor (NYU), Isidore Schneider (CCNY), and Israel Common (Columbia ‘17), and mocked by “The Delilah Club.” Meanwhile, also according to the Spectator, Samson had been expelled, and could not get into another university nor obtain a certificate to study law. On 10/25, the Alumni Association was quoted: they supported the action of the Trustees; “unbridled license” was not part of free speech; the university was neither forum nor market place but a site for the training of scholars, not soap-box orators. Spectator coverage ended Oct. 27, with a mention that Morris Hillquit denounced Dana’s firing. Letters in the Cattell papers from Henry Mussey (who resigned and later became editor of The Nation) and Thomas Reed Powell are moving examples of the moral conflicts generated by the dispute.

                [xviii] 51. Quoted in Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 206. Cf. David Hume, sardonically commenting on the transparent ruse of the house of peers and Charles I in amending the petition of right sent up by the house of commons, 1628. The peers had proposed this clause: “We humbly present this petition to your majesty, not only with a care of preserving our own liberties, but with due regard to leave entire that sovereign power, with which your majesty is intrusted for the protection, safety, and happiness of your people.” Hume sneered, “Less penetration than was possessed by the leaders of the house of commons, could easily discover how captious this clause was, and how much it was calculated to elude the whole force of the petition.” See History of England, Vol.6, 188-189. 

[xix] 52. This point has been missing from published  commentaries on the Columbia incident of 1917. See for instance Russell J. Reising, The Unusable Past: Theory and the Study of American Literature (London: Methuen, 1986), 43. Commenting on Gruber’s standard account, Reising states “Gruber is careful to avoid crude assertions of conscious complicity or hypocrisy, and one of the major strengths of her book is its cautious, though bold, delineation of an academy won to interests antithetical to its declared and sincerely held values.” Throughout, Reising sees American Studies as a propagandistic discipline devoted to American exceptionalism and imperialism (39-40), a view with which I sharply disagree; I am arguing that the field is an outpost of humanism, tory and antibourgeois to the core.

                [xx] 53. Abner Woodruff, “A Letter to the Professor,”One Big Union Monthly, 19 Aug. 1919. Also, Steven J. Ross, “Struggles For the Screen: Workers, Radicals, and the Political Uses of Silent Film,” American History Review 96 (Apr. 1991): 333-367, also Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Ross argues that early working-class film challenged the dominant images of the labor movement that had characterized the rank and file as mobbish, its leaders demagogic, and its efforts doomed to failure.

Cf. Senate Document No. 217, 74th Congress, p.33, citing the 1933 Baccalaureate speech of Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, in its investigation of “Alleged Communistic Activities at Howard University, May 12, 1936.” Johnson (a Baptist) wrote: “…We must not allow the words “communism” and “socialism” to blind our eyes to the realization that on Russian soil today–it makes no difference what mistakes are being made or crimes are being committed–there is a movement for the first time in the history of the world to make available the natural resources for the life of the common man. I am in hearty sympathy with those want to preserve our American system, but the preservation of our system is not the primary urgency. The primary urgency of life is to work out some way to use the scientific and technical resources of life for the emancipation of the people (33).” Johnson did not separate the Head and Heart; see “Communism A New Religion Says H.U. Prexy,” The Afro-American, June 10, 1933. It was reported that intellectuals should use their powers of observation and ability to think systematically, spotting blind alleys and enthusiasms that mislead the people; their plans and visions sprang from the pure, inspired, knowledgeable Christian heart.

[xxi] 54. N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 3306-3307.

April 8, 2010

Racism, Modernity, Modernism

Columbus taking possession of the New World

[Added: Columbus Day, 2010. Because Herman Melville’s great-grandson Paul Metcalf had associated Columbus with Captain Ahab, it occurred to me that what the “anti-imperialist” anti-expansionists feared most was discovery as such. Finding out new things–for instance that admired authorities have been lying to you, or painfully over time finding out new truths in science and medicine–can get you fired, not hired, thrown out of graduate school or your profession or worse, much worse. So let us celebrate today the risky process of discovery, and honor those of our ancestors and contemporaries who are making the Ahab-ish leap from light into darkness that few of us would imitate. This is such a big subject that I wrote a recent blog about it:]

I have linked the problem of “race” and “racism” to “modernity” because numerous scholars and other writers on the Left blame modernity for racism. For them, the modern world begins with, and is defined by, the gold and resource-driven Western expansion into Asia, the New World, and Africa. Hence the primary feature of expansionism (i.e., imperialism) is the subjugation and exploitation of non-Europeans. Racism was said to originate in the need to explain the contradiction between Christian ethics and the cruelty and degradation visited upon native peoples, for example in the notion of “the White Man’s burden”—the moral imperative to uplift and rescue pagans through the superior religion of Christianity. But other voices would have preserved the pagans, either as primitivists or perhaps holding to the theory of polygenesis: the idea of separate creation. In that theory, humanity evolved separately in the different regions of the world—hence “races.” For these racists, there was no original set of homo sapiens in Africa that wandered the earth, mutating and adapting to drastically different environments. There are some white supremacists today who probably adhere to this polygenesis view of human evolution, and I have come across some on Facebook who call themselves by evocative names including the word “renaissance” but their aim is not humanism or the unity of our species, but the secession of white people from a multiracial polity (they are also interested in the subordination of women). These latter men are impressed by such as Carleton Coon, and the specter of miscegenation must give them hives.

Although it is true that the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries A.D. witnessed European expansion, there is another way to define modernity, and when I use that term, I refer to the transition from feudalism or other pre-capitalist economics to market economies.  That transition remains far from complete, as I have written here numerous times. The postmodernists/post-colonialists  believe they have not only dredged up the “submerged” cultures of native peoples, but have transcended the modernity that spun nativism (WASP supremacy), bureaucratic rationality and hence the Holocaust, but have they?  Was Nazism “the revolt of the masses” and the excrescence of modern Jacobins? Moreover, the Great Chain of Being or similar hierarchies of “interdependence” remain intact because the scientific revolution and the rise of industrialism and a burgeoning middle-class challenged  former ruling aristocracies with a newly literate class that was educating not only itself, but the lower orders. Enter team playing, the lovable fatherly Leader, and hierarchies would be preserved against the threat posed by the too-curious literate masses, including women. (For a perfect example of a model hierarchy see

Don’t scratch your head about the deficiencies in our public school education.  There is no moral imperative for those who identify with aristocracies, new or old, to give students the analytic tools they need to judge their superiors or elected officials. If there was serious education in our country, all students would study the sciences, economics (including the basic elements of accounting), the history of every social movement in the U.S. and the conflicts that they addressed, the wily ways of those who have governed us, and how to decipher the propaganda that urges deference to corrupt authority—from pre-school on through graduate school! (And I am not exempting the scrutiny of both high and popular culture from this menu. See the Ibsen excerpt here:

Modernity, then, is founded upon the invention of the printing press and the spread of mass literacy and numeracy. It is about the growth of competitive markets, and the hatred of the bourgeoisie expressed by aristocrats threatened by displacement. Many a New Left “cultural radical” was a would-be aristocrat, spurning the middle-class, and getting down with the lower orders (who were viewed as less uptight—indeed as the source of instinctual liberation). In came George Orwell, folklore and rock ‘n roll, out went classical music and the bourgeois entertainments that were related.

    Primitivism—a habit of mind in both the pre-war and post-Great War modernist movement in the arts—is a form of racism, though it is not the nasty kind that we associate with lynch mobs, institutional exclusion, segregation, and worse. Primitivism and irrationalism are overlapping categories: we let in what Freud called the Id forces to relax that persecuting, insomniac, maternal Hebraic puritan superego, just enough to keep us “balanced” and ecologically hip.

(See Freud’s 1933 topography of Superego, Ego and Id: the Superego reaches down and connects to the Id.* Or see the sequence of Picasso drawings elsewhere on this website: But since primitivism is a release, not a way of life that takes up the challenge of modernity in order to improve everyone’s material condition, it cannot help non-whites achieve the American Dream: rather primitivism idealizes the lives of “carefree” non-whites and helps recruit middle-class kids from authoritarian families (or subtly authoritarian) to support for “wars of national liberation.”  At least that was the 1960s-70s protocol. So when the elite universities and the national government instituted multiculturalism, accommodating and supposedly defusing militant cultural nationalist movements among minorities, the hipper white kids got on the bus, not bothering to look back upon the history of racial theory.

Had they done so, they would have quickly discovered the origin of “multiculturalism” and its associated moral relativism in the theories of J. G. von Herder and the German Romantics who followed. They would have discovered that there were two Enlightenments: one promoting the careful and exhaustive empirical study of this world; its competition—the pseudo-Enlightenment–reacting to the proto-jacobin “mechanical materialism” of the Enlightenment with corporatism and the notion of national or racial character, a “different” Enlightenment or Aufklärung that preserved hierarchies, favoring the Greek way also known as “socially responsible capitalism.” There was nothing democratic or egalitarian in the rooted cosmopolitan thought of Herder, Goethe, Fichte, and the hordes of social theorists who followed. The omnipresent word “diversity” today refers to the mystical organicism of Herder, Goethe, and their neoclassical, “tolerant” successors (e.g., Saint-Simon as elucidated by Frank E. Manuel, in his The Prophets of Paris). As I have said before, multiculturalism is an elite strategy to micromanage group conflict with their version of reparations; MC has nothing to do with unifying our species or spreading the skills that will help all of us to survive the numerous looming emergencies that beset us. It is collectivist and pseudo-functionalist at its core, does not lift up non-whites (but demeans them with administrative pseudo-remedies like affirmative action that recognize “race” as something real in the world, not as a category that has been socially constructed and reconstructed), and will marginalize or destroy discovery, other innovations, and all dissent.

*The (tentative) diagram may be seen in Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Hogarth Press, 1967): Lecture 31, p.105. “You will observe how the super-ego goes down into the id; as the heir to the Oedipus complex it has, after all, intimate connections with the id” (p.104).

April 5, 2010

Is POTUS Crazy?

Edgar Allan Poe

[I am adding this query to what was a popular blog: If Obama is actually suffering from a narcissistic disorder, what might be the effect of close advisors stepping down? What would be the effect of substantial Republican gains on November 2?  For a follow-up blog that quotes this one see]

Roger Simon, CEO of Pajamas Media, posted his article “President Weirdo” on April 3, 2010, postulating the Obama’s conduct suggested a serious personality disorder. It generated 263 or more comments, some of them exhibiting great fear of what may lie in store for us. I posted Roger’s article on my Facebook page, and was reminded that Charles Krauthammer, trained in psychiatry, had also mentioned that Obama was narcissistic,* while Michael Callis, another of my Facebook friends, a professional psychologist, thinks that Obama may be a “malignant narcissist.” By contrast, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece, published in Pajamas Media today, on Obama as a postmodernist (i.e., as a Third World ideologue), without additional commentary as to his possibly pathological mental states.  Still other highly visible opponents of Obama (Glenn Beck for instance) continue to see him as a Leninist/progressive with an agenda derived from community organizer Saul Alinsky. (The latter two diagnoses are close to democratic leftist law professor and blogger Stephen Diamond, who comments on the “social justice” mafia pushing identity politics as Obama’s chief allies. Cf., posted today, April 8).

This blog will try to place these diagnoses in an historical context, and comment too on the uncertainties that historians face when describing the personalities of great men and women.

It was not long ago when psychohistory was all the rage in political science and history circles. Figures such as Michael Rogin (authors of studies of Nixon, Reagan, and Andrew Jackson) and Peter Loewenberg became celebrities in their respective fields. But by the time I hit graduate school at UCLA in 1983, such studies were thought to be ridiculously reductive. I remember (Trotskyist) Professor Robert Brenner, with (social democratic) Professor Loewenberg in attendance, telling his seminar that in his view, putting all your analytic eggs on relationships in the family of origin was absurd. And before this instance, Philip Rieff took  Freud to task for ignoring history as the engine for human conduct. Similarly, professional psychiatrists, epistemological materialists that they are,  tend now to dispense medication for problems ranging from anxiety attacks to schizophrenia.

Psychoanalysis is often mocked as the ineffectual and expensive “talking cure,” while clinical psychologists are as divided among themselves as to clinical method as are psychoanalysts, with their famous internal debates between Kleinians, Jungians, orthodox Freudians, neo-Freudians, eclectics, etc.     So it takes a lot of self-confidence for someone without a Dr. after his name to propose that the President of the United States might be possessed of mental states that are dangerous to our national and personal security.  I am siding with Roger Simon here, perhaps because I am defending my own work as an intellectual historian along with his and that of every honorable artist. Although existentialists and their postmodern descendants will scoff at his/my (bourgeois) hubris, if you can’t think yourself into another person’s head, if you cannot piece together a history of thoughts and actions in your subject, then you have nothing to say, and nothing to give to the world but received opinions and other official platitudes. You might as well put down your pen and find a job that earns you an honest living.

The suggestion that POTUS might be a “malignant narcissist” is particularly intriguing to me. And here is where one might be able to collapse all the competing narratives as to Obama’s mental states into one historical explanation.  Read the Wikipedia article on that diagnosis, and note that “malignant narcissism” is not in DSM-IV, though narcissistic personality disorder is, and narcissism is a feature of other personality disorders as the authors of DSM-IV defined them. It is conceivable to me that Obama’s family history (especially the abandonment by his father and who-knows-what-relationships with his doting mother and doting grandparents), set him up to be the perfect candidate for ambitious politicians in Chicago, who could count on the incoherent constituencies of the Democratic Party (big labor, public sector employees, cultural nationalist minorities, dependents of the welfare state, feminists, gays, veterans of the civil rights movement, wealthy liberal Jews, post60s academics and journalists, liberal internationalists, environmentalists) to be taken in by his charisma and passionate promises for a national healing that would reconcile the irreconcilable demands and interests of  his base, an equally apocalyptic change inside the Washington  Beltway, and an avowedly anti-imperialist foreign policy. It makes sense too, in explaining his obvious rage at being criticized and blocked, to suspect that his “narcissistic supplies” are threatened. As for the grandiosity that characterizes the narcissist and other would-be healers or “moderates”, such a high opinion of himself attracts others who aspire to greatness and a cohesive human community, and who therefore tend to idealize him and overlook his contradictory statements and broken promises–for he could not and can not please the diverse elements of the base that elected him and continues to support him.

I recall that one analyst of pathological narcissism (Kohut? Kernberg? Klein?) mentions the coexistence of grandiosity and emptiness that exists simultaneously in the same breast.  If you read the Wikipedia article, note that the more power the malignant narcissist gets, the more dangerous he becomes, and the more paranoid. Even if you do not find this suggestion of a pathological personality disorder to be persuasive, and prefer an ideological explanation instead (“transnational progressivism,” postmodern anti-imperialism, crypto-Leninism), there is no way to please everyone in a “mixed economy” that depends on redistribution alone to stave off “disruption” or worse. One must step outside the premises of progressivism with its incoherence and double binds (see in which I criticize JG for not seeing the double bind inflicted by the authoritarian liberals who are at bottom organic conservatives averse to rupture, though they do not call themselves that).

In closing, I must add that when I read Obama’s first book in early 2008, I became alarmed and suspicious, for it was obvious to me as a reader that there was not one coherent voice in the narrative (could there be, given the diverse interests of his audience?), and moreover, that he could not possibly have remembered all the incidents from his childhood in such detail. In the acknowledgments, he thanks his mother for refreshing his memory and helping him with the writing (tell me, reader, if I am wrong). I should also say that all the opinions expressed in this blog are provisional and speculative, but then so is medicine and its related fields in mental health. But without the power of such free thought, tireless in its search for clues, we are mindless followers, not citizens. Hail to thee, Roger L. Simon, C. Auguste Dupin, Captain Ahab, John Milton (!), Sigmund Freud, and all those other Prometheans who have leaped from light into darkness.

*Obama was described as “narcissistic” by David Remnick in his Jon Stewart interview,  4-8-10. Remnick’s bio is entitled The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. Has anyone commented on the odd title? Is Obama the Savior who has rescued America from right-wing materialism and racism? There is narcissism and narcissism. One definition of healthy narcissism refers to the ability to soothe oneself without “supplies” from the outer world. But for centuries the myth of Narcissus was deployed by organic thinkers to stigmatize the dissenting individual/mad scientist, who was deemed indifferent to Echo (the call of community and social responsibility). Think Dollhouse; think Flash Forward.

[Added, Dec.15, 2010: Narcissistic personality disorder is being dropped from DSM-V. We don’t know why. Has Obama become more dangerous since November 2 as his narcissistic supplies fade away? Dinesh D’Souza diagnoses him as a post-colonialist; Dick Morris sees him as a conventional social democrat (not a communist). His most left-leaning base is predicting a one-term presidency. And I continue to be baffled, but most impressed by the incoherence of both political parties, and his erratic behavior, moving from committed radical to “centrist” compromiser as opportunistic and a sign of his determination to stay in power. Meanwhile, Robert Reich calls for a vast new statist initiative to reinstate the WPA, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, financed with a perfectly reasonable 70 % federal income tax on the idle, non-consuming enough rich. Thorstein Veblen, where are you when we need you?

I had a thought that was cut off on Facebook. All this speculation about Obama’s mental states sells books and rivets audience to the great mystery of his personality. I say, go back to the coalitions that comprise both major parties and ask yourself how you could please everyone in your party if you were president. The No Label, neo-moderate solution is yet another evasion of the conflicting interests that have always characterized our democracy, and that no amount of compromise can resolve. We are not yet fully modern. Remnants of tribalism, antiquity, and feudalism remain undefeated and there is little agreement on what is truly “modern.”

Is the essence of modernity irrationalism? I hope not.

April 4, 2010

“What is truth?”

Giotto’s Pontius Pilate

Wander about public space these days and wear dark glasses, for it is very bad out there, and friends can turn out to be bosom enemies. I cannot recall a period during my lifetime (with the exception of the 1960s) when our country was this polarized about the very meaning of words.

In the pivotal chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab addresses the crew in an attempt to gain their allegiance as he pursues the White Whale, leaving commercial considerations aside. At the climax of his peroration, he declares, “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” This is not a statement that has inspired much commentary from the academic establishment that tries to control acceptable [i.e., anti-Ahab] readings of Melville’s masterpiece, but it has inspired me for decades, and made me a renegade. In my reading, Ahab’s ruling idea is ultra-democratic and aligned with the antislavery men and women for whom the immorality of slavery was paramount. It also recapitulates the significance of popular sovereignty as partially established in the American and French Revolutions, and prefigured in the English Civil War of the 1640s. Over a period of centuries, mobs have been turned into citizens*, a process that is nowhere near complete, either in the West or elsewhere.

To continue Captain Ahab’s impudent assertion:  ruling classes, whether they were comprised of English aristocrats or Southern slaveholders who dominated the American government in the antebellum period (while Melville was writing his major fiction), could not keep their secrets from the public with impunity. (See Godwin’s Caleb Williams, a book Melville read before he commenced on his great whale hunt.) These new “levelers” (my sympathetic readers and I) expect the powerful, like all others,  to cough up the truth so that citizens may choose their representatives, not out of coercion or blind charisma, but because concrete policy, enunciated without double-talk,  protects them and helps improve their condition.

I looked for images of Pontius Pilate on the internet, and was not surprised to see a website entitled “What is truth” that asserted the subjectivity and relativity of all knowledge. That is the winning line in our age of multiculturalism, an ideology and a practice that asserts that cultural (read “racial”) differences mean just that: we cannot reach each other over the “racial” or national divide to arrive at an agreement over what is or what is not a fact, as opposed, say, to an opinion based on limited knowledge. That we are all entirely irrational is now the ruling ideology, and if you want a job in academe or wish to ingratiate yourself with the mass media establishment, you had better adhere to that line. Sadly, some persons of my acquaintance who have a background in science, seem to doff their hats to power when they leave their laboratories or classrooms. When challenged, they wash their hands and defer to force. (For a related blog see

*Think about the title of the “greatest”  movie ever, Citizen Kane. I had focused previously on the link to Cain and the Wandering Jew myth, but the word “citizen” is ironic and suggests that the writers had a dim view of the French Revolution, emphasizing the Terror as its essential gesture, rather than the movement away from absolute authority toward popular sovereignty.

April 3, 2010

Liberals and “Jewish” racism

Rockwell Kent

An astonishing number of liberal journalists are accusing the entire opposition to the President as either covertly or overtly racist. These accusations may take many forms, depending on the context. For instance, one liberal friend of mine referred to John Silber’s opinion that Jews were “phenomenal” in their racism because they did not welcome non-Jewish spouses or converts into the fold. What he did not state was that Silber (a Protestant then in divinity school, later the controversial President of Boston University and a candidate for Governor) held that opinion circa 1947, as he described it in a 1990 interview in the Boston Globe. At that time, he was considering converting to Judaism, not knowing that his own father, a German-Jewish emigrant and an architect, was a Jew. *

From what I have read, many refugees and/or survivors wished to spare their children the agonies of European Jewry, and hid their “identities”. At the same time, other Jews, including the Orthodox, were traumatized by the Shoah and felt that their culture, i.e., their sense of belonging to a larger family, was being systematically demolished, and that it was hence the duty of living Jews to resist intermarriage and assimilation, and thus to reconstitute the lost, ever-threatened world of Judaism. Not to do so was to betray their cultural heritage and their own ancestors who had stubbornly struggled to hold onto an ancient religion as the route to Diaspora survival. Perhaps a Freudian would surmise that most or many Jews were in a panic state as their world with its libidinous communal connections (no matter how imaginary), was disintegrating, before, during, and after the second world war. (See Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1922, esp. Chapter V: “Two Artificial Groups: The Church and the Army”).

   Indeed, Freud’s passing remarks stopped me short, as I thought about Michelle Obama’s honors thesis at Princeton, a paper that riled me up when I read it in 2008. Having grown up in a working class family, she was obviously anxious about upward mobility, and whether white people would ever accept her, a feeling that was tied with the (perhaps idealized) memory of a tightly knit black community in Chicago. Her bibliography featured black nationalists and she recommended more funding for the Black Studies Center at Princeton. I was very critical of her thesis because of the alliance with militant cultural nationalists and my aversion to separatism generally, but I failed to recognize her emotional defenses. It is true that many successful people, in whatever group, reject or stigmatize those in their group who are left behind, or who cling to what they think is a retardataire way of thinking and living. And those left behind may return the favor by shutting down all empathy for the successful among them. It is true that assimilation into the dominant culture extracts a high price for majority acceptance—a degree of conformity to a new set of rules compelling “moderation” in all things, a pose of serenity in their new social environment, and the denial that prejudice against them still exists. It is also true that those who are left behind feel abandoned and betrayed. On both sides of the class divide, conduct may not be pretty, but don’t look to me to throw stones at either party.

* [From the Boston Globe, 2-11-90, this excerpt from an interview with Silber during his campaign for governor of Massachusetts:]

As a 21-year-old divinity student, he took over a Baptist congregation in Connecticut when the minister he had been assisting quit. “I helped him leave because at the end he had asked me what I thought of his sermons and I would tell him,” he said. “They were awful. They were really bad.” The church was not Southern Baptist; he said it was “much more latitudinarian” than his own Presbyterian church.

To help pay for divinity school, he sang in the choir of a Jewish reform synagogue, where he found “the music was wonderful and the sermons were excellent.” He considered converting to Judaism. “I thought about it, and then found out that the racism of Jews is quite phenomenal,” he said. “If you are goyim considering becoming a Jew, you are going to be second-class in that synagogue, and I didn’t have any interest at all in moving into that congregation as a second-class citizen. I also thought that Judaism made a great mistake in not recognizing Jesus as one in the line of the great Hebrew prophets.”

In 1959, after Yale, while he was studying at the University of Bonn on a Fulbright scholarship, Silber said he discovered that his father was Jewish. He knows nothing of the Jewish background. In fact, his father had become so assimilated in the United States that a stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio is dedicated to his father’s mother. “If she had been a practicing Jew, I don’t believe my father would have done that,” Silber said. [end Boston Globe excerpt]

March 30, 2010

Who are you, this week, Jake Tapper?

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 9:19 pm
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Michelangelo's Horned Moses

[Added 3-31-10: I am now blocked from Tapper’s Facebook page, an odd move for a liberal. My only question is what in this blog prompted the silencing? (I should explain that I and a few others had not found his Twitter to be funny, and Mr. Tapper had multiple opportunities to acknowledge our feelings on his thread, but did not. Hence I had time to think about why I didn’t find his Tweet amusing and wrote this blog. It did not come at him out of the blue.)]

Jake Tapper, Senior White House correspondent for ABC News, and noted for his confrontations with authority, twittered this today and posted it on his Facebook page. “At the same time Jews worldwide commemorate being led out of bondage, RNC struggles with opposite dilemma.”   Tapper was referring to the recent report that some RNC members (not including Michael Steele) had improperly spent RNC funds for an evening at a S-M Club in Los Angeles; i.e. they were enjoying themselves with bondage fantasies. Some of his FB friends found this joke amusing; I and a few others did not—rather I was offended and said so. I consider this little dustup significant enough to blog about it, for it raises the question of what it means in Obama’s America to be an assimilated Jew, also the aggression that may be hidden in what we take to be humorous, for Tapper pounced on the RNC debacle with an attempt at wit in a field that prizes wit over precision, no matter how lame the “joke.”

   But first, some family history. Tapper is the son of a pediatrician and a psychiatric nurse, whom he characterized as “hippies” in a profile written by Howard Kurtz for the Washington Post. He attended Dartmouth College, majoring in history and visual studies, graduating magna cum laude, then briefly attended film school at USC. He is known as a liberal reporter, “pushy,” and within that group, something of a maverick as he attempts to maintain the aura of objectivity.

   Starting in high school, Jake Tapper attended Akiba Hebrew Academy, a “pluralistic” Jewish private school near Philadelphia that emphasizes training for future leadership. Surely, Mr. Tapper learned either there or elsewhere that the Moses-led Exodus that preceded the giving of the Ten Commandments is the central event in Jewish history, and indeed a landmark in the history of civilization. Certainly that was the impression I received from reading the Tanakh. To be sure, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement is said to be the holiest day in the year for Jews, but I am writing now of the core of Jewish identity, and whether one is a religious Jew or a secular one, the idea of emancipation gets at the core of who I think we are as a people, if indeed we are still a people.  Antisemites may wish to characterize us (along with America) as slave-driving capitalists or genocidal communists and Zionists with world domination (i.e., the bondage of non-Jews) as our goal, but I have never heard such ambitions voiced by any Jew, let alone in words written by Jewish authors, whatever their politics of the moment.

   I am not an observant Jew (my children are though), but the thought of juxtaposing the bondage of the Israelites under the Pharaohs with the theatrical “bondage” enjoyed by voyeurs in the RNC is not the funniest of linkages, and suggests to me that Jake Tapper, somewhere in his journey to the top of his profession (he is rated the third most influential journalist), lost his sense of history, of propriety, and whatever Jewish identification he may have carried from his teen-age years at Akiba Hebrew Academy (now renamed Barrack Hebrew Academy).  Call me a puritan bluestocking if you like, gentle reader, but at least my lips are not sealed.

March 19, 2010

Dr. James Pagano on Obamacare

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 11:01 pm
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Hygeia: Roman copy of Greek statue, in Hermitage Museum

[This is a guest blog by my friend, emergency room physician, Dr. James Pagano:]

“The longer this drags on the more obvious it becomes that the bill is a complete disaster and the process of getting it passed is bordering on criminal.  The cost estimates are completely trumped up, the deficit reduction Obama is touting is a fantasy.  The end result if this is passed and allowed to actually go into effect will be a severe erosion of health care in this country for everyone for the alleged benefit of the few–alleged because they will be given the equivalent of Medicaid, which is almost worthless, at the cost of degrading Medicare to a level of near-worthlessness, increased taxes on just about everyone who actually pays taxes, decreased access to physicians, limited choices of therapies, extreme rationing of services to the elderly and ‘non-productive’, and the eventual creation of a single-payor system run entirely by the government, with annual escalations in the cost that will cripple our ability to maintain any sort of leadership role in the world.

 But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Obama doesn’t care about our health.  He cares about creating the socialist utopia–the utopia that has never been realized in the past though it has been tried on numerous sad occasions.  He doesn’t want the U.S to play a leadership role, he wants us to succumb to a new world order.  He is so ridiculously naive and ideological it depresses me that so many seemingly intelligent people were fooled by his smooth rhetoric, and that many are still unable to see through his systematic, ‘do whatever it takes’, lies and deception.

 Many physicians understand that this will be the final, fatal blow to their careers.  The trial lawyers, (think John Edwards here), have succeeded in taking the joy out of the profession, and now the socialists will take away our ability to earn the sort of decent living we deserve doing the essential, stressful, time- and education-intensive work we do.

 Our hope lies in the up-coming elections.  To save health care, and our entire way of life, we must get the democrats out of office.  If we can do this, much of what Obama is trying to do can be undone.  There will be a spate of legal challenges to this bill the minute it passes–these, too, offer a measure of hope.  Finally, we have to make certain that this president does not last more than one term.”

[Clare: my father was a physician who always treated poor and lower-middle class patients. He was opposed to socialized medicine in any form. Non-physicians may have little idea of the stress and danger experienced by idealistic doctors.]

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