YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 29, 2015

Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

lassiz_faireI recently read Friedman’s magnum opus for the first time, and was surprised to see how far some current Republican, conservative and libertarian politics have conceded to the progressivism that many of them abhor as excessively statist and even communistic. The Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman) plays up Friedman’s divergence from Keynesian economics, which is true enough, but fails to note the novelty of his adherence to free market principles, given the domination of New Deal policies in postwar administrations, and in progressivism in general.

I have written before of the regression to medieval economics and culture, but now I must revise my old blogs, for Friedman’s big book made me realize that we have only partly emerged from the Late Middle Ages into modernity; that is how vanguard Friedman’s free market capitalism is, given his emphasis on equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of condition/outcomes.

In its first summary of his accomplishments, the Wiki condenses his contributions:

[Wiki:] “Friedman was an advisor to Republican U.S. President Ronald Reagan[12] and Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His political philosophy extolled the virtues of a free market economic system with minimal intervention. He once stated that his role in eliminating U.S. conscription was his proudest accomplishment. In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman advocated policies such as a volunteer military, freely floating exchange rates, abolition of medical licenses, a negative income tax, and school vouchers. His support for school choice led him to found the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.” [End, Wikipedia excerpt]

[Clare:] A reader could have concluded that Friedman was an antagonist to Big Government, with its bloated bureaucracies, illegitimate claims to mandatory regulations, and obsession with “income inequality” and legislating minimum wages, but Wiki highlighted his most problematic view—that doctors were jacking up prices for medical care by monopolizing the field. (My sole objection to the abolition of licenses: before the market has done its work in expelling frauds, the patient may have suffered irreparable harm, even death. The same could be said with respect to harm to the environment: there is no room for trial and error when we entirely deregulate pollution, for instance. Indeed, Friedman declares that the case for deregulating medical care is the most difficult to allege.)

Wiki also downplays Friedman’s belief in both (limited) public and private sectors, instead (?) devoting much space to Friedman’s effects on the Chilean government after the Pinochet coup, perhaps a slap at classical liberalism tout court. But Wiki does acknowledge Friedman’s chief claim: that economic freedom is the necessary foundation of political freedom, and hence that Chile would eventually become more democratic.

To conclude, today’s Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, while embracing many of Friedman’s advocacy of free market principles, have a long way to go in meeting up with his thoroughgoing classical liberalism. For instance, in the “debates” (https://clarespark.com/2015/12/21/debates-as-pseudo-events-with-pseudo-moderators/), no moderators or candidates are taking up the necessity for school choice, or, for that matter, choice in general.

Apparently, religious orthodoxy, not Friedman-esque economic freedom, controls the Right in this election season, at least for the influential “social conservative” wing of the Party.



January 7, 2013

Some backstory for Hunting Captain Ahab

MDcomicFirst take a look at this:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reception_theory. Reader-response theory was a postmodern move that contributed to the death of the author, and to the notion that there was no right or wrong way to read a text. Indeed, as publishers circulated my ms. to readers, some accused me of being another Ahab, bossy and doctrinaire, sniffing out miscreants in the profession, though there was little evidence for such a slur.

It was no miracle, but dumb luck that I came to write my big book on the twentieth century reception of a semi-forgotten Herman Melville, who was strenuously and controversially “revived” during the interwar period, then the Cold War, then again in the 1960s-70s.  This blog recounts the fortuitous conjunction of personalities and events that led to the unlikely publication of my weird and predictably unpublishable study of the Melville industry.

I begin by declaring how utterly boring most works inspired by “reception theory” are. Although the Wikipedia article starts the critical method with a gallery of leftists, historians had long been writing about the reception of major figures, for instance Goethe as received in England and America. I have always consulted such works and found them unreadable, disorganized, and boring. I had the same reaction to Peter Gay’s two volumes on The Enlightenment, which I have just mowed through, most of it unread owing to its lack of any visible method or thesis, though at the very end of Vol.2 (p.567), he brings up the Enlightenment-inspired American “experiment” and advises that the horrors that followed the generally anti-clerical 18th century (unprecedented wars and irrationalism, including class and racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries) might have been averted had “the secular social conscience” (p.39) he believes join his subjects, been adopted in the supposedly progressive and exceptional USA.  Surprise, the famous Peter Gay is a liberal and advocate of the welfare state, as his discussion of Adam Smith makes clear.

What follows is a brief account of my good luck in being allowed to write about a major figure (Herman Melville), and then the peculiarities of the most important Melville revivers that led them to hoard scraps of paper that most scholars would never save, thus giving me access to their inner thoughts at the time they were reading and writing about Herman Melville. I.e., reception theory is useless without probing the inner thoughts and emotions of the critics/readers studied.

First there was my good fortune in knowing historian Alexander Saxton (who had written about Jacksonian Blackface Minstrelsy), who would be my dissertation director upon my return to graduate school after the Pacifica Radio purge of myself as Program Director for KPFK-FM (Los Angeles).  I told Saxton that I was quarreling with Berkeley professor of Political Science  Michael Rogin over Melville’s intentions in “Billy Budd,” and (perhaps) since Saxton was getting criticized by Rogin in a left-wing journal, he agreed to let me write about Melville as a history dissertation. (I was told by a Berkeley professor of English that they would never have let a graduate student tackle a major figure! From that conversation, I concluded that I had made the right decision in sticking with history over an English Ph.D.)

Second, the major Melvilleans, many of them young men at the time, complained bitterly to each other in private regarding their distressing physical symptoms while reading and writing about Herman Melville: they blamed Melville for their symptoms and accidents and were often sick of him. Normally, no researcher would have access to such private feelings, but one of my revivers, (the Stalinist) Jay Leyda, was a squirrel and hoarder of literally every letter and note paper (some written on the back of envelopes and library receipts) during his research on a chronology for HM (the Leyda Log), which could have started in 1939, though most scholars would say 1944. Lucky for me, his papers were opened after his death, and most of his Melville work was at UCLA Special Collections, twenty minutes from my house. (Leyda literally dumped his Melville materials on UCLA English professor Leon Howard, who was advised to trash most of it. But Howard too was squirrelish. Most scholars do not have protracted access to an archive, but I did, so could go through every box, and it took months and months, but the pickings were astonishing. Then I found even more material at NYU’s Tamiment Library, where a helpful archivist dug out yet more material of the kind that most scholars would kill for.)

Third, my years on the radio covering censorship in the art world had alerted me to the ways in which institutions ignored the wishes of artists (if they were shown at all), contextualizing their production to fit either the reigning ideology of the moment, or the wishes of wealthy directors and patrons. So I was diligent in reading and rereading Melville and in getting a grip on the total literary/historical output of his revivers, not just the ones who kvetched about HM to Jay Leyda (who had his own feuds and confusions).  I started reading Melville in 1976 and my book was not published until 2001.

Almost no one puts that much time into a single book, but I was obsessed with the “Melville problem” for it illuminated what had been murky about why individual writers were either in or out of the canon. At the same time, I came to see that the double binds and mixed messages that Melville plainly laid out in his fiction were duplicated in supposedly liberal institutions.  That is, there was allegedly no conflict between Truth and Order (i.e., the individual and society), between Science and Religion, between Nationalism and Internationalism. Supposedly, academics in the humanities were free to write what the evidence suggested, without interference from colleagues or superiors. That turned out to be grossly false, but since academic freedom was widely advertised, one could not talk about the backstabbing, departmental politics, hazing of graduate students, and other conspiracies. Unless one chose fiction to tell the tales, and the more avid readers of confessional novels located in the academy will know what I mean.

Finally, it was not until I had been into many archives and secondary sources that a pattern emerged: Melville was an autodidact, and the animus directed against him was directed against all readers who looked askance at authority since the invention of the printing press and the gradual improvement in mass literacy and numeracy.  Once I saw that, everything fell into place, and I could write a book that was logical, organized, and I hoped, readable.

What do I wish to be the takeaway from this short blog? Do not trust historians or any other experts who lack an abundance of footnotes and/or fail to demonstrate humility. It is likely that most professionals have an axe to grind, and are scared. Skepticism in the reader is the appropriate state of mind. Toward the end of my book, I warn the reader that I may be biased in favor of Captain Ahab, and that I ask myself everyday if I am not projecting my own mishegas onto Herman Melville in my insistence that Captain Ahab is speaking in the voice of the Romantic HM (sometimes blending his views with the more cautious Ishmael). The book is hefty because I included long quotes from my primary sources so that the reader could check ME.


For a summary of my startling research, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/. The third blog explains why everyone should read my book, not just literary scholars. As to how I organized my thoughts on the Melville pseudo-revival, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.

August 16, 2012

Marx, anarchist rivals, and our enigmatic President

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/. Also, https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/]

Because the history of radical thought is rarely taught objectively, if at all, in the universities, much of the electorate is at the mercy of any anti-statist conservative who takes it upon himself to write a book about his political enemies, tarring them with the brush of either communism, fascism, or “totalitarianism” (the latter conflating communism and Nazism/ fascism, which have differing political genealogies, and differ sharply with respect to the Enlightenment).

We remain in an attenuated political culture, because leftists and liberals alike dominate the teaching of the humanities in the public schools, and elite universities (both private and public). Right wing protest attempts to overcome the leftist monopoly with largely religious claims that are often flawed, for instance, holding “atheism” or “materialism” or “science” or “technology” or “feminism” or “gays” responsible for the perceived decadence of our times.

At the same time, many vocal post-60s leftists refuse to acknowledge that this is a big country, with diverse belief systems. Hence their political tactics may be intolerant and lacking in empathy for those who find purpose and meaning in Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, etc. Enter the fiercely argued culture wars, where “secularism,” to take one example, has been transformed from the separation of Church and State to “godless Communism.” Do we enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels? She must be the devil, for she was a materialist who lauded creative achievement in this world. What we may not do is view her as the product of a particular moment in history, when collectivism (either Soviet Communism or the New Deal) was justified as the realization of altruism, a quality held to be lacking in dog-eat-dog hyper-individualistic industrial society, controlled by “economic royalists” as FDR named his opponents. At a moment when social bonds were mystical (as envisioned by either the corporatist liberals or the Soviets), Rand defended science, technology, and the materialist Enlightenment:  for Rand social bonds were rational and based on competence in manipulating the materials of this world.

What to do when there is no common basis for agreement regarding fundamental values, let alone the application of the Constitution to an industrialized or post-industrial society such as our own? My personal solution is to defend scientific method, political pluralism (on “cultural pluralism” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/26/cultural-pluralism-vs-multiculturalism/), and creative freedom against all authoritarian tendencies, whether these emanate from the Left, the “moderate men,” or the Right. That is the purpose of the website, and decades earlier, was the project of my radio programs on KPFK-FM, Los Angeles. Whereas “leftists”(including anarchists) claim to stand with “the oppressed,” I stand with artists, the unleashed imagination, and the creative spirit in general, which I believe each one of our species possesses.

Yesterday, I promised my Facebook friends that I would try to write a blog distinguishing between Karl Marx and his anarchist rivals. Looking over the various Wikipedia biographies of the major actors in this (anarchist) trend in European history (see below), I was daunted, even floored. But I did discover that Noam Chomsky admired such anarchist thinkers as Bakunin (add Perry Anderson to that list), while Martin Luther King, Jr. is better seen as a descendant of Tolstoy.

As for Marx versus Lenin versus Mao-Tse-tung, I will summarize all too briefly what their differences were here (and note that I am drastically oversimplifying, and everything I write will be seen as reductionist and dumb by those who are intellectuals in the many left-wing sects):

  1. Marx was  hardly the sole critic of industrial society, but it is his apocalyptic prophecies of socialist revolution that distinguish him from his rivals. He believed that the working class would become immiserated, and that portions of the bourgeoisie would desert their class to join with the workers to “expropriate the expropriators.” This could  only happen in advanced industrial societies where the working class comprised the majority. Marx had little use for petit-bourgeois radicalism  (such as utopian socialism advanced by many of his contemporaries, including Robert Owen and the Fourierites in America). And he famously despised “the idiocy of rural life” and societies he considered to be backward, which aroused the fury of such as the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist Edward Said, along with other primitivists and antisemites. Most controversially, Marx predicted the withering away of the state after a relatively brief period of working class dictatorship. In his fantasies, the creative spirit soon would be enjoyed by everyone, once the commodifying capitalist boot was lifted from the necks of hapless workers.
  2. Soviet Communism. It was not supposed to happen in a backward country, but Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades took advantage of the Great War and Russia’s defeat to mount a  coup and a separate peace. Lenin was deeply influenced by J. A. Hobson, and one emphasis was breaking the stranglehold of finance capital (“the Jews”). Rather than allowing worker’s councils (as had sprung up in numerous locales), he supported “war communism” and “bureaucratic  centralism” that easily was transmuted by Stalin to “socialism in one country.” Meanwhile, Trotskyists broke with Stalinism to foment international revolution, while I. N. Steinberg, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, fled for his life.
  3. Maoism. The Chinese Communists broke with Moscow from about 1958 onward. Mao’s theory that the peasants were the revolutionary class in China appealed to many radicals  with an agrarian bias. Such incendiary radicals as H. Bruce Franklin,  however, managed to defend Stalin while advocating Third World revolution  in the 1960s. Here is where the New Left and the anti-urban, libertarian, anarchistic “counter-culture” could join hands. “Old Guard” members of SDS finally lined up with the Democratic Party, while some of the “direct action” folk blew themselves up and their ideological offspring can be found in parts of the Occupy Wall Street, anti-globalization demonstrations. In pop culture they may “rage against the machine.”
  4. The irony of Marxism. For true Marxists, the bourgeoisie was a progressive class. This is basic, for without Adam Smith and Company, there would be no industrial society that could lead to a utopia that would eliminate toil and drudgery for the majority of humanity. For the others mentioned here and below in the biographies of the most important European anarchists, the bourgeoisie was evil, amoral, and thieving of the labor of workers and peasants. Nihilistic  gangs such as Baader-Meinhof or the Weathermen (as embodied in Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers) hold to the violence of George Sorel. To what extent their beliefs have penetrated youth culture I cannot say for certain, but it should worry us all.

Bernadine Dohrn







Finally, given the intricacy of these European social movements and their chief ideologues, I hesitate to apply them willy nilly to American political figures. We are too given to easy labels, without nuance and without knowledge of revolutionary theories that were developed on crowded continents with autocratic ruling classes. There is no substitute for studying the labor movement in America. Let the intellectuals fret over “Why there is no socialism in America.”  We might do better to study shifting coalitions in American political parties as they existed in the past and in the campaign year of 2012. Are the varied components of either the Democratic or the Republican parties compatible with each other, or are they at odds? And does or does not this internal incoherence complicate our picture of the often enigmatic Barack Obama and his challengers?

[Illustrated: Isaac N. Steinberg, briefly in a coalition government with Lenin, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, and author of Workshop of the Revolution, that denounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the suppression of the mutinous Kronstadt sailors. Steinberg and his family–including his son Leo who went on to be a great and revered art historian–fled the Soviets in 1923. Steinberg went on to search for a homeland for the Jews that would not make them vulnerable to a sea of Arab neighbors.]

I.N. Steinberg

October 10, 2009

Ralph Bunche and the Jewish Problem


Clare L. Spark, Ph.D.,

Prepared for the conference “Ralph Bunche: Scholar, Activist, Bureaucrat” UCLA, 2-21-04 at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. I was invited because of my article “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol.14, No.2 (March 2001): 465-511.

Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and politician who had been imported to solve “the Negro problem” by the Carnegie Corporation, shamelessly used and abused his chief collaborator, Ralph Bunche. Numerous scholars who have written about the making of AN AMERICAN DILEMMA: THE NEGRO PROBLEM AND AMERICAN DEMOCRACY (1944) report Bunche’s fear of lynching or imprisonment during his research trip to the South with the flamboyant Myrdal in 1939, but no recent scholar, to my knowledge, has seen how the figure of Bunche, as red specter or black crypto-Jew functioned in the text. Briefly, Myrdal hinted to Southern conservatives that if they did not “adjust” race relations by allowing political rights to their Negro populations, the young revolutionaries associated with Bunche, a.k.a. “the Howard boys,” would be tumultuously overturning the entire institutional “set-up” [AD, 519-20]; just as earlier, Southern Bourbons had warned of black domination if the abolitionists prevailed.

As if this deployment of the Bunche Threat were not enough, Myrdal and other Carnegie personnel urged Bunche, who certainly knew his way around the 1930s Left, to identify those Negro betterment organizations that were Communist fronts or otherwise disruptively militant. Oddly, Red Bunche was asked to function as Red Hunter for his patrons. (For details, see https://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) This paper will attempt to flesh out Myrdal’s chief gripe with Bunche: his imputed overemphasis on economic factors in the perpetuation of racism, exhibited in the accusation that the Bunche cadre (like all the Negro and most of the white writers on the Carnegie project) were economic determinists, for this term has only rarely been understood to be a cover for antisemitism/antimodernism/counter-Enlightenment.  My previous research had put me on guard to spot Myrdal’s strategies.

I did not set out to become a Bunche scholar; rather my encounter with him was the outcome of research on the pseudo-democratic propaganda churned out by social democratic elites in the 1930s and 1940s; I wanted to see how changing attitudes toward the big state during the later New Deal affected the scholarly and popular reception of Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab, a character often taken to be the mouthpiece of the romantically wandering author himself. Since Melville had been considered to be an anti-racist, way ahead of his time, it was important to study the state of race relations during the period of his promotion in the twentieth century; i.e., how Melville’s rootless cosmopolitanism might have either fit in with or diverged from those of other progressives. For some social psychologists were advising, in the interests of civilian morale, that a few members of minorities should be taken into the Big Barn of the planning state, and valued for their entertainingly acrid and sulphuric contributions. [see chapter two of HUNTING CAPTAIN AHAB: PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE AND THE MELVILLE REVIVAL, partly excerpted in prior blogs; see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/.]

So I ploughed through AMERICAN DILEMMA, and was amazed to see Ralph Bunche stigmatized as an “economic determinist.” I was shocked, for while I was growing up in the 1950s, Bunche was a prominent and revered public figure. Since that derogatory term “economic determinism” had been associated with Hebraic puritanism, and was frequently derided by 1930s humanities scholars seeking to reform the overly “Marxist” and “Freudian” American literature curriculum, my curiosity was aroused, and I began my reading of Bunche’s voluminous memoranda for the Carnegie project, also his correspondence with other scholars before and during the years of his labors for Myrdal.

A few years later, during a UCLA conference on the history of the social sciences, I mentioned that Myrdal had treated Bunche rather badly to one of the participants, who then urged me to pursue this problem, for he had read some of the Carnegie materials at Columbia University, and thought there was a scandal that needed to be aired. Shortly after that, I was invited to contribute a journal article to a special issue on Gunnar Myrdal, little dreaming that this new research would so clearly dovetail with my work on the Melville Revival and the construction of the postwar humanities curriculum, influenced as it was by Southern Agrarians, some of whom were pro-fascist. [See Clare Spark, “Race, Caste, or Class? The Bunche-Myrdal Dispute Over An American Dilemma,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 14, No.3 (March 2001): 465:511]

Most significantly, I saw that there were sharp methodological differences between the two collaborators: Myrdal advocated his theory of cumulative causation to solve the Negro problem, while Bunche insisted upon class politics, rejecting those strategies of existing interracial organizations then advocating attitude change through better communication and understanding: these latter were moral reformers who would purge the bigoted heart of hate and fill it with Christian love.

This divergence of method and strategy between  Myrdal and Bunche reflected a long-standing antagonism in Western culture regarding the political and economic institutions that would best carry forward the democratizing promises of the radical Reformation, increasing mass literacy, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. Personalities associated with the radical enlightenment, namely the so-called mechanical materialists of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century progressive bourgeoisie, were challenged by romantic conservatives (the corporatists) who, as conservative enlighteners, co-opted “science” and “liberalism” to protect the property and prerogatives of threatened aristocrats, finally developing the welfare state and its concomitant theory of ethnopluralism, today called multiculturalism.

The corporatists aimed to mitigate group conflict and integrate malcontents into the body politic. In his important essay “Sombart and (German) National Socialism,” Bunche’s mentor and Howard U. colleague Abram L. Harris referred to such reactive persons as liberal interventionists deriving their social theory from German Romanticism and Bismarck. I call them corporatist liberals; they call themselves the moderate men, charting their socially responsible and spiritually inflected middle course between the “extremes” of laissez-faire capitalism on the Right and totalitarian statism on the Left.  Moreover, since the rigorously empirical Herman Melville had been read as Prometheus, or the Romantic Wandering Jew, by numerous corporatist critics, I came to understand that the scandal of “economic determinism” was at bottom, a comment upon the supposed havoc wreaked by “the Jewish spirit” that had, in its typically defiant and deicidal Jewish way, toppled the unquestionable authority of Christian religion, hence had infected the masses with an excessive desire for material improvement, political power, and self-direction: in other words, emancipation from illegitimate, arbitrary authority.

For elites threatened by dispossession, it was a brave new modern world, dominated as it seemed by usurpers fortified by science, secularism, and mobbish majorities. Empiricism or positivism, as wielded, say, by Ralph Bunche, that relentlessly thorough investigator of institutional power and all manner of economic, political, and social conflicts–this field research or “objectivist” disinterested fact-finding was the deadly enemy to social cohesion as previously managed by Kings and Churches.

Under that benign and selfless corporatist management, peace and harmony had ruled, thanks to the unselfish, disciplined, and self-sacrificing monarchs and clergy who were now, owing to the intrusion of free markets, hunted, incinerated, and decapitated by the dastardly dark mustachioed and beetle-browed homo economicus, Adam Smith’s “narcissistic” monopoly-busting economic man who could care less, it was alleged, for the public interest. Whereas the good king integrated his subjects into the organic society, the bomb-makers of modernity decimated the natural bonds between master and servant, introducing, for the first time in history, class warfare. And for some Christian conservatives homo economicus was, what else, a typically money-grubbing and domineering Jew, the archetypal confidence-man promising false utopias to credulous masses; moreover, the new industrial working class and its allies were clamoring for rights when they should have been mindful of their duties. Alas, the modern world was jewified, and hence, afflicted with the disease of decadence. But social engineering, radical subjectivism, and the related concept of the rooted cosmopolitan would repair all that.

Though Myrdal is often represented as basing his optimism on the spellbinding American Creed, the enlightened ideology of democracy, rationalism, and equality he sees undermined (but not fully vanquished) by the persistence of “caste conflict” and the general backwardness of the South, his progressivism, in contrast to that of Harris and Bunche, was located in a powerfully paternalistic state.  America’s weak state fomented only corruption and chaos; a neutral bureaucratic layer would enforce the laws and suggest new ones where indicated.  Although answerable to the people (in America, the passive masses who should learn the skills of participatory democracy), the process of bureaucratic accountability was not spelled out; perhaps Myrdal longed for a modern version of the even-handed contractual monarch of the High Middle Ages who ostensibly protected the commonweal from factions of selfish interest groups.  In a complex industrial “set-up,” the [king’s] regulatory functions would necessarily be distributed among specialist bureaucrats, the social engineers led by social scientists.

While aligning himself with the social goals of radical liberals (materialists), Myrdal’s organic conservative discourse and objectives locate him in the opposing idealist camp. Myrdal’s organic society would reduce the distance between classes, not eliminate them [the communist ideal], nor would it focus on wealth creation [the free-market capitalist ideal]. [This needs revision and additions to allow for Bunche’s emphasis on the reduction of toil and a rising standard of living, plus Harris’s probably changing views on labor unions as monopolistic and ultimately bad for workers. C.S. 2/27]

“A vitalized democracy,” Myrdal wrote, “would result, not only in a decrease in the immense class differences in America, but more fundamentally, it would effect a higher degree of integration in society of the many millions of anonymous and atomized individuals: a strengthening of the ties of loyalty running through the entire social fabric; a more efficient and uncorrupted performance of all public functions; and a more intense and secure feeling on the part of the common citizen of his belongingness to, responsibility for, and participation in the commonwealth as a great cooperative human endeavor–a realization of a fuller life” (AD, 716).

Like the prominent sociologist Robert S. Lynd, attacking do-nothing and defeatist social scientists in the present “revolutionary situation,” Myrdal states, “We are entering an era where fact-finding and scientific theories of causal relations will be seen as instrumental in planning controlled social change. The peace will bring nothing but problems, one mounting upon another, and consequently, new urgent tasks for social engineering. The American social scientist, because of the New Deal and the War, is already acquiring familiarity with planning and practical action. He will never again be given the opportunity to build up so ‘disinterested’ a social science”(1022-23).

Turn now to the problem of race as imagined by Bunche versus Myrdal. For the rationalist Bunche, writing in the 1930s, race was a debilitating myth that masked the primacy of class power and economic competition; “race” was false consciousness that defeated a potentially unified labor/tenant farmer movement, whether in the cities or in the rural South; the concept of “race” difference, reinforced by the twisted conditions of ghetto life, was the chief obstacle to group betterment and individual emancipation, not only for “[his] own people,” but for all of suffering humanity.

Bunche was obviously not a vulgar Marxist, ignoring the autonomous power of ideology, but it does not follow that attitude change of the sort advocated by the Carnegie Corporation, interracial organizations, and Myrdal, “by the actual spread of an ideology of class solidarity,” can force positive structural institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. And, for Bunche, integration signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

By contrast, for the irrationalist Myrdal and other social democrats, “race” was an obstacle to fellow-feeling, not only in the mob that must be pacified and made to feel compassion for each other and for their overburdened superiors, but in the hidebound conservatives whose stubborn and callous adherence to white supremacy would lead to catastrophe: Mutual empathy and a willingness to compromise and share the wealth would restore the lost paradise of community, peace and harmony envisaged by advocates of the social democratic planning state, and after the war, by the upper-class peace movement that put its hopes for earthly “salvation” in a Christianized United Nations populated by rooted cosmopolitans in “the international community,” again, redistributing the goods of this world.

For Bunche, writing before the war, antisemitism was a problem that had to be confronted by black activists, for it not only divested blacks of dedicated allies to the labor movement (he referred to pro-union Jews already present in some Negro betterment organizations), but antisemitism unfairly attributed to Jewish shopkeepers– exploitative characteristics that were actually a problem of all small businesses; whereas the populist/progressive Myrdal, in defiance of Bunche’s memoranda, suggested in his endnotes to AD that Jews were the most sinister exploiters of blacks and controlled the black press through their power as advertisers, hence masking rational anti-Jewish protest from ripped-off ghetto consumers. What is at stake are contrasting views on what constitutes fascism and nazism, and how these ideologies are taught today throughout our educational system and the mass media, as I shall attempt to restate now in my final remarks.

The ideological commitments of the moderate men were longstanding, and did not originate in wartime state planning or propaganda to counter accusations of American hypocrisy from Germany and the Soviet Union; rather the failure of weak statist reforms in response to the Depression, fears of renewed economic collapse likely to follow postwar demobilization, and the ongoing resolve by prescient moderates to co-opt minorities and labor were the proximate causes that shaped the writing of Myrdal’s book. An American Dilemma incorporated some of Bunche’s ideas, while attacking or ignoring others. It is well-known that Myrdal refuted Bunche’s central thesis, namely that however noble the civil libertarian goals of the established interracial and Negro betterment organizations might be, only pressure from the politically conscious rank and file-controlled labor movement, unified across racial lines and organized in industrial unions, could solve “the Negro problem.”

Scholars have entirely ignored (to my knowledge), however, Myrdal’s response to Bunche’s fervent plea that Negro intellectuals combat the antisemitism rife in the Negro press and cultural nationalist movements. For Bunche, antisemitism was a distorted perception fostered by fascists and protofascists that stunted the development of class consciousness among the working class, Southern sharecroppers and tenants, and the unemployed; Negro organizations should be demanding job creation, not the displacement of white workers or the elimination of rival Jewish small businessmen. The Urban League emphasis on jobs for Negroes, Bunche wrote, had “lent encouragement to the development of a racial caste within the American working class and it certainly lacks the independence and the courage to give honest and intelligent direction to the Negro working population.”[NBO, book 2, p. 272]

Bunche’s emphasis on the development of an effective and independent internationalist labor movement as the best defense against either white supremacy or fascism in America clashed with Myrdal’s definition of fascism as an extreme form of racial persecution and oppression imposed by a “centrally controlled, ruthless, and scientifically contrived apparatus of propaganda and violence.” [AD, 6]. Such an emphasis implied that counter-propaganda (attitude change) would be efficacious in combating racism. Myrdal did not specify the destruction of independent working class organizations in Italy and Germany by business interests in many countries; such an evasive diagnosis of fascism by Myrdal (in AD) tended to obscure the similarities between bureaucratic collectivist strategies in “the West,” similarly coping with economic crisis and fearful of the spread of “[Jewish]Bolshevism.” [Peter Alexis Gourevitch, Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1986)].

As I have shown elsewhere, by the end of the war, the socially responsible moderates had triumphed. The classical liberals of the eighteenth century were now misdescribed as forerunners of the welfare state, while the disintegrating and dissembling “Jewish spirit” had been pinned on Hitler, the wily outsider who had misguided the German masses and whose support of free markets was echoed in America among “fascist Republicans.” Sadly, the alliance between Harris and Bunche was ended, as Harris, convinced that socialism could never protect individual autonomy, fled to the Chicago school of free market economics, while Bunche, in his ascension to middle-management, adopted the “genuinely liberal” formulations of deceptive organic conservatives: Bunche had switched to Myrdal, the author of “a great book.” [see illustration: Bunche holding Myrdal’s AMERICAN DILEMMA] For a related more recent blog on the transformation of the civil rights movement, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

Blog at WordPress.com.