The Clare Spark Blog

March 13, 2012

Dumbing down: when did it begin?

William James drawn by S. Woldhek

I. I have been mulling over the deterioration of public speech and what passes for social and political theory for some time, trying to pin down a date or social movement that I can identify as chief perpetrator of the Great Dumbing Down. (For the second installment of this blog see The Great Dumbing Down (2). Perhaps we (and everyone else) have always struggled with mass stupidity and the temptation of the dark passions, but if one studies the writings of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., one must be struck by the quality of their argumentation and the deep knowledge of European history that each brought to the debates that eventuated in the Constitution. Moreover, many of these men were all too aware of humanity’s dark side, so they looked to the law OR to the ordering forces of religion to produce what has come to be known as “American exceptionalism.” Although Biblical Christian fundamentalists (the “traditionalists”) have emphasized the divine origin of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, secular students of history have read enough late 18th century American history to recognize the materialism and scientific attitudes that many Founders deployed to construct a representative republic that fostered “liberty” and “meritocracy”—at least for propertied white males.

Still, we are left with the ambiguity that surrounds the questions of free will and determinism. What exactly do we mean by human “freedom”? Not to explore the strongly divergent meanings attached to “liberty” is fatal to education in a would-be representative republic. And Hamilton’s notion of popular sovereignty, what he called “the consent of the people” or the voice of the people as the source of political legitimacy (see Federalist #22), was obviously dependent on a quality education for everyone who voted. Hence the disaster of the Great Dumbing Down. Charles Sumner and Walter Lippmann were two important Americans, who, in either the 19th or 20th centuries, fully understood the danger of poor schools.

Note that I use Hamilton’s language in describing our political structures. He was afraid of mobbish democracies, and I cannot blame him. Liberty is a much abused conception that can be annexed by divergent ideologies, as we have seen in the controversies of the day, but it is necessary to strictly historicize each raging issue.

For instance, the U.S. Constitution, a timeless document for many,  was framed in the context of a mostly agrarian society, while European empires looked longingly at the Western Hemisphere for expansion/wealth. Much of our political and economic history cannot be understood without seeing the vulnerability of the new republic to invasion by rival European empires. Since that time, industrialism, urbanization, continental expansion, changing patterns of immigration, and ongoing rivalries between developing countries have drastically changed the meaning attached to our key words (e.g., “immigration,” just as these changes called forth social movements to defend entrenched interests, or in many cases, to challenge them with modifications that anyone would deem to be revolutionary in their implications. Such was the case with social democracy, communism, and fascism. In post-Civil War America, it was first Populism that challenged capitalism, then Progressivism (that co-opted populism) that dominated. With constant interaction between America and Europe and the other major states, the terms of social theory became weapons in the hands of ideologues, using words and comparisons to suit their particular propaganda requirements. This website has been devoted to sorting out such confusions. See for instance

II. What progressivism, socialism, communism and fascism have in common is their statism and collectivism. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish “right-wing social democrats” from the other authoritarian doctrines that have typified human history (for a definition of “right-wing social democrat” see my comment below or go to For instance, some persons on “the [far] Right” think that everything a progressive does is either socialist, communist, or fascistic. Social democrats do the same thing when they use the term “totalitarian” to conflate Soviet Communism and the various European fascisms that developed after the first world war. Indeed, London’s Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, an outpost of the British Labour Party (though there is no formal linkage), will host a conference later this year investigating psychoanalytic theory and practice in the “totalitarian” regimes (see

“Totalitarian” is a made-up word that no historian or political theorist should espouse. That is why I think that social democrats of this stripe are responsible for dumbing down public discourse, hence undermining the Enlightenment—the Enlightenment that produced the doctrine of natural rights—a conception that was much abused by the Jacobins of the French Revolution.

Keep in mind that Progressivism in the United States was bipartisan and reacting against populism and/or the labor movement in the late 19th century. That is why hip scholars approve of the philosophy of the hugely influential William James, 1842-1910 (see Once you go for Jamesian pseudo-pluralism, stability and social cohesion over 1.the search for truth and 2. the best ways to level up/create wealth, you are left with ambiguity and confusion, what I call the anti-ideology ideology or “pragmatism” of “the moderate men.” You have donned the steel helmet, the perfect object admired by Goebbels. (See, and

pragmatists Peirce and James

Moreover, these populist-progressives believe that “Wall Street,” is monolithic, and will undoubtedly play both the race card and will delve into antisemitism to beat “the big money” (“finance capital”) that they, along with some social conservatives, are already associating with Mitt Romney. And yet, a significant number of financiers remain strong Obama supporters, while others have broken away and support Romney. The latter believe that the Keynesian “demand-stimulus” solution to recession is ineffective and are upset over the mounting deficit, hence they worry about bankruptcy as has been threatened in European social democratic regimes.

What can parents and other concerned readers do? Silent acquiescence and going limp are not options. Study, fight back, use public libraries and the resources of the internet, and ask your children and students and friends what they mean by certain words. Draw them out and don’t be harshly critical, but stay with the subject until differences are clarified. We will even find agreement over some basic values, different though we may be at the outset. Start a book club. Study the curricula of your children and young adults and decode their agendas. (For part two of this series see

March 10, 2012

Dan Loeb Speech 3-7-12


Daniel S. Loeb

Daniel S. Loeb Speech: On Receiving the 2012 Columbia John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement

“When I was in College I liked this Elvis Costello song, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?”

I think today we need a new song, “What’s So Funny About Individual Freedom, Free Enterprise and Accountability?”

In fact, I might add what’s so funny about celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great? This entrepreneurial spirit is applicable not only to business but also to the arts and to humanitarian efforts, as is evident by my fellow awardees tonight like Filmmaker Dede Gardner, Venture Philanthropist Ellen Gustafson, Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz, and Tiananmen Square dissident turned fund manager the great venture capitalist Li Lu.

I think this is still an aspirational country, but there are some people who think it is fashionable to denigrate success, while others try to stir up class warfare. I was surprised last fall to see an Economics Professor ensconced in an Occupy Wall Street mob decrying the 1%, attributing all the country’s problems to an issue of poor distribution of wealth and accusing the so-called 1% of being lazy

(, watch at 6:30 mark). Certainly he [Jeffrey Sachs, C.S.] did not speak for the University where he is tenured but for but an economics Professor to carry on like this – really? We have a problem when young people are taught that our country is fundamentally unfair and encouraged to see themselves as victims. It is even more upsetting when our leaders tell us that it is their role to make amends for these wrongs via increased and capricious regulation, excessive entitlements, ill-conceived subsidies and punitive prosecutions.

So, I am delighted to stand here tonight to celebrate not my own success but to cheer the idea of professional accomplishment and the role Columbia has had in so many people’s lives in achieving their dreams through the John Jay scholarships and the College generally.

Columbia’s ability to attract and cultivate some of the nation’s greatest leaders goes back a few years. My fellow classmate President Barack Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I congratulate him on his phenomenal political career. And I’ll go back a few years further…

The namesake of this evening, John Jay, attended the College in 1760, was our first Chief Justice, and will always be remembered for his commitment to justice and successful efforts to emancipate the slaves in New York State. After two failed efforts in 1777 and 1785, he finally succeeded in 1799. It took almost another 30 years for all the slaves in New York State to be freed. Imagine that! What an inspiration John Jay’s grit and tenacity is for those of us who have been fighting for civil rights of marriage equality and education reform today. A worthy hero of Columbia College indeed

Alexander Hamilton began his studies at Kings College in 1773. From a shady Caribbean slave-trading Island, a bastard child orphaned at age 11, Hamilton studied military strategy with his fellow Kings College students, became one of the greatest leaders our nation has ever known, and created many of the institutions which define who we are today. An underprivileged student from a broken family who managed to go to Columbia and make good thanks to the generous support of others…sounds familiar.

For me, Columbia was transformative. I don’t remember much about the specifics of the Economics courses that I majored in – I apparently internalized the key concepts – but I still remember vividly the thrill of reading Don Quixote, Epictetus, The Aeneid, King Lear and Candide, and how contemporary the stories and ideas in these old and ancient texts struck me. To this day, I still chuckle when I consider the bawdy tales of Rabelais, who seems now to have anticipated and channeled my own 6 year-old son’s talent for potty talk. I fantasize that our politicians have been moved by the dialogues of Plato, and thus contemplate the ancient conflict of the sophists versus the lovers of truth. (I guess they determined that the former was the more expeditious course)

But Columbia was not just professors and books, it was the friendships and the conversations, often at Tom’s or the College Inn, sometimes about girls or dreams

or aspirations but often about those very great books or art, which we all internalized and helped form the fabric of who we are today. Two of those dear friends, Maurice Rasgon, who convinced me to transfer to Columbia and my friend Robert Brown, who let me sleep on his dorm room floor when I was briefly homeless, have travelled here all the way from California. So has my mother Clare, a historian who recently read Chernow’s Hamilton Biography with me in anticipation of this occasion.

Perhaps I was always intensely curious, but my Columbia education gave me a framework and a perspective to investigate new things – things that could be put into a historical and philosophical lineage. As I have grown older, the statues on Columbia’s campus of Rodin’s Thinker, Founding Fathers like Hamilton and Jefferson, and the values they represent have come to life and resonate within me.

Lastly, whatever measure of success I have attained in my professional career would not have been possible without the love and support of my wife Margaret and pales in comparison to the happiness she and my children give me every day. Thank you very much for this award.”

March 3, 2012

Limbaugh v. Fluke

Hot tempers flashed yesterday on my Facebook page: the subject was whether or not Rush Limbaugh’s description of Sandra Fluke’s testimony to Congress on the subject of the government’s paying for her contraception was destructive and obnoxious. In short, Rush called her a “slut,” and walked right into a political trap (the distraction of culture war talk instead of focus on statist social policy) from which there was no escape. No consensus was reached on my FB page and we retired to our respective corners, each side perhaps feeling abused by the other.

In this short blog, I want to restate my position about how we fight, or, the rules of engagement in public space. (For a longer essay see, one of my first blogs, that will be of special interest to artists and writers.) During the rise of the second wave of feminism (during the 60s and 70s), many feminists angrily denounced men (the collective object of their wrath) as “male chauvinist pigs.” Outraged males returned the compliment with such terms as “feminazis” or, more recently, the proponents of the welfare state as avatars of the “nanny state,” the latter a bossy maternal entity that was also linked to fascism. Still other “true conservatives” are angry with such “RINO’s” as George W. Bush, Chris Christie, John Boehner, John McCain, and Olympia Snowe, all of whom are tied to the “Massachusetts moderate” Mitt Romney, hence are beyond the pale of decency.

One of Alexander Hamilton’s lesser known contributions to government in a representative republic is his connecting “truth” with the defense against libel and slander. I.e., it was neither libel nor slander if the speaker being sued for defamation was accurate in his or her characterization of the plaintiff. (For a valuable and accessible discussion of the free press question, see Ron Chernow’s biography of AH, pp. 668-71. It does much to answer those who associate Hamilton with the Alien and Sedition Act.) Such a rule clarifies the limits of free speech and fills out what he might have meant by “popular sovereignty” (see Federalist #22, specifically the voice of the people as the source of legitimate authority). It is impossible to deliberate over what is to be done in controverted questions of public policy if either side in the battle resorts to the shorthand of personal insults and malicious intent. It is repulsive and counter-productive when any participant in a conflict muddies the waters with ad hominem attacks, as opposed to clarifying the question at hand with facts and reasonable arguments. The appeal to reason is our best defense against the sadists who withhold the details of their own conduct from would be knowledgeable voters, all the while resorting to the mind-management I have constantly condemned on this website.

Hamilton’s summation of his six-hour speech in the Croswell case brings tears to my eyes: [Hamilton speaks, in Chernow, p. 670:… “I never did think the truth was a crime. I am glad the day is come in which it is to be decided, for my soul has ever abhorred the thought that a free man dared not speak the truth.” The issue of press freedom was all the more important because the spirit of faction, “that mortal poison to our land,”  had spread through America. He worried that a certain unnamed party might impose despotism: “To watch the progress of such endeavours is the office of a free press. To give us early alarm and put us on our guard against the encroachments of power. This then is a right of the utmost importance, one for which, instead of yielding it up, we ought rather to spill our blood.” [end, Chernow excerpt]

The internet and talk radio potentially offer much to the mob: anonymity; distance from the frowns, screams, and daggers of enemies; catharsis as a way of life: all in all, reinforcement to our most antisocial impulses. I abhor such conduct whether it comes from revolutionary socialists, or from “liberals,” or from “conservatives.” The persistence of such violence at a distance will destroy the sense of safety that serious citizens require to speak their minds, often in dissent from fashionable ideas in any particular partisan camp.

Conversation on the internet is priceless when we consider the positive effect it could have in building community, consensus where possible, and in educating each other about subjects that are often mystified or hidden by various elites—elites who are also gatekeepers who discourage fact-finding, and who cannot withstand close examination by “hoi polloi.”

For many, it is a pleasurable relief to discharge rage to a distant crowd. But the thrill wears off quickly, only to leave the enragé depressed, and finally without any friends at all.

January 28, 2012

Popular sovereignty on the ropes

I restarted my study of the making of the Constitution last summer, by reading the Federalist papers. I was very excited by Hamilton’s insistence on popular sovereignty as the fountain of authority that must guide the entire national government. (See “…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Federalist #22. Hamilton’s emphasis, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]  Hamilton stressed the power of the House of Representatives as the most direct route to popular control of government.  I was somewhat shocked as the prevalent [Jeffersonian] line on Hamilton is that he was an aristocratic thinker, a quasi-monarchist, who declared at a banquet that the people were “a great beast.” This latter slap at popular sovereignty was disseminated by medievalist Henry Adams and no one has found any source to confirm Adams’s claim. And unlike Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860, Hamilton was an abolitionist, and would not have approved Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty as a route to the expansion of slavery.

So popular sovereignty is linked, not to Rousseau’s notion of the general/popular will (an idea taken up by the Jacobins and by many leftists today), but to the deliberations of a representative republic in which, presumably, the House of Representatives is recognized by the other branches of government as the “pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

We find ourselves in campaign season 2012, in a condition where “the consent of the people” is a dream. In this polarized polity, characterized by a mish-mash of religious, class, ethnic, and gender politics, plus a stunning ignorance of political science, economics, and American and European history and its bevy of authoritarian social movements, “the people” is a convenient fiction of demagoguery, trotted out as counterpoint to special interests/”the nanny state.”

What is a writer with a popular audience to do? What can educators, including parents do to instill the mental habits that would make a representative republic more than a recruiting slogan for conservatives wishing to restore the divine origin of such innovations as the separation of powers and checks and balances, all treated in The Federalist? “God” is barely summoned in The Federalist; rather these pamphlets were a scientific, materialist proposal and defense of an unprecedented national government that would halt the slide to chaos and failure under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the U.S. Constitution, and before that, the Declaration of Independence were products of the Enlightenment. “We” were “Nature’s nation” and for many, bearers of a providential mission to lead the world in political democracy. When Charles Sumner asked “Are We A Nation?” in 1867, he envisioned “the people” as the repository of those rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and these “human rights” were universal, and, quoting James Otis, “without distinction of color.” (Sumner also nodded to The Federalist and Alexander Hamilton). For more on Providence and American mission, see  Rooseveltian internationalists, leaders of the American Studies movement, were fond of trouncing the Founders and Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab as messianic and rabidly imperialistic. Thus “American exceptionalism” has come to signify the overweening desire to dominate the globe, rather than the invention of a nation grounded in natural, i.e., universal human rights: life, liberty, and property. However guided by “Providence,” Sumner, echoing Hamilton, insisted that “We the people,” not “We the States” were the source of legitimacy for the Constitution.

Although the President, along with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called for the beefing up of “education,” neither one suggested a debate about the curriculum, particularly who decides what is the proper training for would-be citizens. And by citizenship, I refer to a person with the critical tools to read the messages that affect all our choices. Here is where “protestant pluralism” founders on the rocks of neo-tribalism, “local control,” anti-intellectualism, populism, proto-fascism, and other man-traps. We are cathected to leaders who pander to our pre-existent prejudices or to reverence for ancestors, to the fear of an eternity in hell, to the presidential horse-race that the media promote, and to groupiness and partisanship in general. (See We are constantly agitated and may enjoy the inner turmoil and suspense that a political campaign offers. Or we may feel helpless and permanently unrepresented in both high and popular culture, so turn inward to self, or to family, friends, employment, sports, and sex/personal appearance as primary sources of identity and purpose. Patriotism is taken to be a tic of “the Right,” not exemplary loyalty to human rights without distinction of color.

What I complain about here regarding our distorted and irrational political culture may seem so cosmic, so impossible to rectify, that a sane person must give up on this country and its survival as a representative republic. Indeed, the powerful historian Edmund S. Morgan denies that we ever had anything resembling popular rule, nor does he appear to be sanguine as to its prospects. (See his 1988 publication: Inventing the People, in which he concludes that we have moved from the politics of deference to the politics of leadership, i.e., the manipulation of public opinion.) So to be concrete, I suggest that each person concerned with her or his child’s education, encourage that child to look up the phrase “popular sovereignty” and to urge her or his teachers to discuss it in the appropriate grades. But first, look inside, and what do you see?  A terrified conformist, a romantic renegade, or a competent voter–a faithful seeker after truth, the universal truth that is the foundation of human rights and the glory of American nationality?  Captain Ahab, arousing his crew to find and fight Leviathan, echoed Milton’s Satan in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, when Ahab/Satan declared “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Are We a Nation? For more on Alexander Hamilton and the search for truth see (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

October 30, 2011

Collectivism in the history establishment

Gordon S. Wood, prize-winning historian

I have spent the last week trying to read Gordon S. Wood’s first book, The Creation of the American Republic (U. North Carolina Press, 1969), perhaps an expanded Harvard U. dissertation written under Bernard Bailyn. It was the beginning of Wood’s stellar career in writing the history of the early Republic, and an example of what was called in graduate school “the republican synthesis” as put forward by the most left-liberal professors in the field. If Wood is correct, then my prior enthusiasm for Alexander Hamilton’s bow to popular sovereignty in the Federalist Papers, is sorely misplaced. Rather, I am to view the Federalists as confidence-men, who cunningly adopted the time-worn phrase “popular sovereignty” (a feature of monarchies too) to install a fundamentally aristocratic government that did too much for individuals and the meritocracy, while betraying the “out of doors” “mobs” that had not only fought for liberty in the Revolution, but legitimated a Constitutional Convention in 1787 (319, 363, 382).

Although to read the Federalist papers, one might think that the Constitution advocated a government that was grounded in the House of Representatives, complete with separation of powers and checks and balances, in Wood’s reading, natural aristocrats (562 and passim; i.e.,  Alexander Hamilton, crypto-Jew*) sneaked in a government that made the Presidency tantamount to a monarchy and the Senate an aristocracy, while the judiciary would ever thwart the will of the truly democratic, public-interest-minded People, who were only apparently in control of the House of Representatives. This is populist reasoning that would find its apotheosis in the New Left that identified “corporate liberalism” as the enemy (big business and the state in cahoots at the expense of the little guy), and in the popularity of Noam Chomsky and in the OWS movement that has roiled the media for the last month. (i.e., corporations are NOT people).

I am not sure that I fully understand Wood’s argument. I certainly do not agree with one statement that seems to be crucial. After a long paragraph on the luxury debate (republican simplicity is threatened by pomp/consumerism, hence the source of decadence), Woods writes, “Like Puritanism, of which it was a more relaxed, secularized version, republicanism was essentially anti-capitalistic [what?** C.S.], a final attempt to come to terms with the emergent individualistic society that threatened to destroy once and for all the communion and benevolence that civilized men had always considered to be the ideal of human behavior. Right from the beginning of the Revolution there had been some Americans who had doubted the ability of any people, including the Americans, to surrender their individual interests for the good of the whole.” (418-419)

Here is another quote that suggests that the Federalists had cunningly co-opted the [indescribable, who were too diverse to put into one bag] Antifederalists: “Considering the Federalist desire for a high-toned government filled with better sorts of people, there is something decidedly disingenuous about the democratic radicalism of their arguments, their continual emphasis on the popular character of the Constitution,*** their manipulation of Whig maxims, their stressing of the representational nature of all parts of the government, including the greatly strengthened executive and Senate. In effect, they appropriated and exploited the language that rightfully belonged to their opponents. The result was the beginning of a hiatus in American politics that was never again closed. [He goes on to say that “the real social antagonisms of American politics” were masked. The Federalists should have said that they were really aristocrats.] (562)

So is republicanism a good thing or a bad thing? This seems to be the double-talking voice of agrarian radicals, such as  Jefferson and Jackson, then the Progressive movement and of the New Deal, appealing to present-day “out-of-doors” democrats, massed to complain of “inequality.” It necessarily looked backward to an imagined medieval polity, where the Good King unified the people in a healthy body politic, one that had happily delegated the power to speak and act for themselves. It is a strange construction of Liberty, but also an awkward attempt to see nothing but “communion and benevolence” in a reinterpreted, truly “living Constitution” that ostensibly protects capitalism, unlike its pseudo-democratic pseudo-capitalistic predecessors in the 18th century. Think of FDR and his foiled attempt to pack the Supreme Court.

*Stephen F. Knott quotes Wood: “…Hamilton led a faction in the 1790s that ‘was promoting the interests of financiers and monarchists at the expense of the general public'”(208). Knott’s chapters 5 and 6 take up the Hamilton as Jew theme, citing such as Father Coughlin, Ezra Pound, and (subliminally) William Carlos Williams. See Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (U.Kansas Press, 2002): 112, 128ff. A particularly offensive line from Pound, writing in 1954: “Hamilton was a kike, a red headed scotch chew.” Knott also emphasizes throughout that Henry Adams was the origin of the fourth-hand rumor (taken to be fact by all the subsequent Jeffersonians) that Hamilton stated that the People was a great Beast. Henry Adams’s opposition to modernity and to Jews is not in dispute.

**Perhaps Wood was thinking of John Winthrop, who is often quoted by left-leaning liberals as a model for the New Deal. I laid out the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38) here in a four-part essay: Winthrop wanted medieval-type wage and price controls, while Hutchinson foreshadowed market economies.

*** When I was in graduate school at UCLA, Gary Nash pointed to the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 as the model of direct democracy. I suspect that Gordon S. Wood also compares more complex governing models to this example of popular radicalism. For instance, Pennsylvania at that moment had a unicameral legislature elected every year; also the state militia enlisted men elected their officers. This type of democracy harkens back to the Levelers of the 17th century English Civil War, and Wood makes the comparison himself. But I should not single out Gary Nash. The “republican synthesis” referred to the anticapitalistic Country party in England, that opposed Walpole’s economic measures, and was espoused by Joyce Appleby and her graduate students. Nash and Appleby were the chief organizers of the much contested National History Standards, and are both left-liberals. For a contrast, see Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (UP Kansas, 1985): 67, and fn25. Republicanism, he argues, contradicting Wood, commonly signified representative democracy. Not that FM discounts the penetration in America of Country party Opposition in Britain. Republicans in b0th North and South feared selfishness and effeminacy, though FM distinguishes between Northern puritan republicans and Southern physiocrats; the corrupters were “Standing armies, priests, bishops, aristocrats, luxury, excises, speculators, jobbers, paper shufflers, monopolists, bloodsuckers, and monocrats….” (77). McDonald is a self-described “paleoconservative” and also an indefatigable researcher.

October 9, 2011

Vox populi, vox Big Brother: Terry Moe’s new book

In a prior blog ( I quoted from Federalist #22, written by Alexander Hamilton. The last paragraph is especially striking:  [Hamilton:] The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Hamilton’s emphasis. p. 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]

[My comment on the prior blog:] “…what inspires me is the “elitist” Hamilton’s final remark affirming popular sovereignty (see Gordon S. Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic, for commentary on what he calls a “hackneyed” expression. I look at Wood’s book here: Throughout The Federalist we find the same commitment to reason, specifically to concrete analysis of the material challenges that faced the new nation. Though they are often labeled as elitists by those who identify with the debtor class, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison did not appeal to “tradition” that had ever favored King and Church as the fountainhead of “legitimate authority.” Even though the men who argued for the Constitution were sharply at odds over some policies, they agreed that the American republican experiment was unprecedented, and the most enlightened in human history. Measures for educational reform, insofar as they construct a better curriculum, cannot ignore the fundamental rationalism and materialism of the Founders. “Live free or die,” is not merely the motto of New Hampshire; it is the very essence of American exceptionalism.” [end prior comment]

Now comes Terry M. Moe’s recent book, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2011). The author is a Stanford U. political scientist and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, who offers an institutional analysis of teachers unions, identifying them as the single most powerful special interest in the country affecting education, one that has successfully blocked efforts at education reform of the kind that would put the interests of students ahead of jobs for teachers. But the book ends on a hopeful note: not just globalization that has highlighted the deficiencies of American public education will turn the tide, but the internet will, over time, destroy the heretofore unbeatable teachers unions, through an unprecedented decentralization of power, accountability and choice for learners.

Here is where I find Moe’s utopia short-sighted, though of course I am on his side. Because he is an analyst of institutional structures and political power, and also, between the lines, a self-described progressive (he subtly aligns himself with the achievements of the New Deal, p.345), he is unable to identify the damage done to American children and their [progressive] educators over the last 120 years or so. For unlike the Founders, modern educators, fed by populism, statism, and ethnic or racial politics, have been anti-materialist and anti-rational; my website has been preoccupied with documenting this flight from science and from critical thought throughout the populist and progressive movements.

Terry Moe does not tackle either the curriculum that is everywhere contested, nor the fragmentation of vox populi, nor the nonstop partisan propaganda issuing from a multiplicity of groups, each vying to control what their children learn about past and present, almost invariably identifying the enemy as “narcissistic.” Big Brother is alive and well, and not just on the social democratic left that Orwell was worried about. Moe addresses a constituency that is dangerously polarized: the inevitable outcome of irrationalist political/social movements that do not always say directly what they really want.

Nevertheless, authoritarianism, whether it comes from the Left, Right, or “moderate middle”, is threatened by the proliferation of computers and the increasing possibility of self-education;* Moe is right about that. But before the much anticipated revolution in learning can be realized, students will have to learn to read and decode, i.e., comprehend,what they are seeing, whether words or images, or admired personalities, including their parents, teachers, and other idols.

*Larry Sand reminds me: “The change that Moe and most other online learning enthusiasts envision is one of ‘blended learning.’ In this model, students still attend school but  learn from online teachers and then have back-up from a live in person teacher.” He is correct, so the online research, properly conducted, does make it possible to become more self-directed and informed about competing historical narratives for all controversial events and partisan interpretations, including the words we use every day. See

August 1, 2011

Alexander Hamilton’s rational voice of the People

Hamilton, Madison, Jay, a.k.a. “Publius”

[Update, 4-18-17: despite the efforts of some academics such as Stephen F. Knott, AH is the villainous Founder, responsible for big government and the rule of money. So say the Progressives and their progeny. The Broadway show “Hamilton” is an outlier, perhaps its message of upward mobility inspired the cast and writer.]

This is an excerpt from Hamilton’s Federalist paper #22, a synoptic review of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and an argument for a strong national government. I am choosing a passage that seems to me to be directly relevant to the current debate over extending the debt ceiling.

I will quote only a portion of this lengthy document, and then offer a short comment of my own regarding my own strong response to words that seemed to leap from the page, reassuring me about the need for a thoroughgoing education in republican political theory in all our schools, in this case, the potential peril of a forced consensus.

[Hamilton, #22:] “…The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority. In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number, will over-rule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.  And yet, in such a system, it is even fortunate when such compromises can take place: for, upon some occasions, things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impractibility of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savour of weakness; sometimes border on anarchy.

…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Hamilton’s emphasis. End excerpt, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]

[My comment:] Hamilton’s remarks, though taken out of their immediate 18th C. context, seem applicable to the frustration all rational persons must feel as the prolonged debate over the debt ceiling may or may not culminate in some highly flawed, even “contemptible compromise,” so that government will not grind to a halt.  But what inspires me is the “elitist” Hamilton’s final remark affirming popular sovereignty. Throughout The Federalist Papers we find the same commitment to reason, specifically to concrete analysis of the material challenges that faced the new nation. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison did not appeal to “tradition” that had ever favored King and Church as the fountainhead of “legitimate authority.” Even though the men who argued for the Constitution were sharply at odds over some policies, they agreed that the American republican experiment was unprecedented, and the most enlightened in human history–a Novus ordo seclorum. Measures for educational reform, insofar as they construct a better curriculum, cannot ignore the fundamental rationalism and materialism of the Founders. “Live free or die,” is not merely the motto of New Hampshire; it is the very essence of American exceptionalism.

For more on Hamilton’s Federalist #22, see The essential word here is rational. Hamilton was horrified by the mayhem of the French Revolution, and thought that the Constitution should protect us against mobs and demagogues. There is a strong implication in his view of popular sovereignty that education is crucial, that is, education in politics, rhetoric and its decoding, economics, and all the skills that would make for citizens, but not citoyens in the sense that Robespierre would have meant.

June 10, 2010

Herman Melville: Dead White Male


[This short article summarizes my chief arguments in Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. It is slightly revised since publication on HNN:]

Since the Melville Revival of the 1920s, Moby Dick has become an undisputed classic of world literature and continues to grow in interest, especially this year and last with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Melville’s masterpiece in late 1851. Historians, however, are probably unaware that Herman Melville (1819-1891) and his pathbreaking modernist novels, always the targets of liberals (the “moderate men”)in both his time and ours, are now the objects of fierce disputes in “the canon wars” that have heated up since the mid-1980s. The literature created by “dead white males” has been challenged by some “multiculturalist” non-whites, feminists, and their allies. Moby Dick has been cited as chief offender, ostensibly crowding out worthy contenders for the attention of undergraduates. Melville himself has been described by such as Elizabeth Renker, Laurie Robertson-Lorant, Elizabeth Hardwick, Andrew Delbanco, and others as an abusive husband and father (i.e. as Ahab), though, as my research has shown, there is not a shred of documentary evidence that would justify such attacks on his character. How is this possible?

It is clear that Melville has become a symbol for an essentially imperialist, capitalist, patriarchal, ecocidal America, and his hero Captain Ahab a model of sorts for twentieth-century totalitarian dictators. Such readings by postmodernists have displaced earlier interpretations, some of which viewed Melville as a radical democrat and anti-racist, and Ahab as a nineteenth-century reformer. Other (more conservative) readings hitherto interpreted Ahab as tragic hero, symbol of indomitable humanity, yet doomed to failure in either the search for truth or for amelioration of the human condition. (In my book, I make a case for Ahab as both abolitionist, e.g., Charles Sumner, and modern artist, Melville himself, with the proviso that Ahab and Ishmael are sometimes at odds, sometimes confusingly blended.)

For seventeen years I pursued Melville’s pursuers by consulting the papers of leading Melville critics, some of whose archives were only recently opened. What I found was a tortured record of ambivalent Melville critics, who alternately hugged and repudiated their homme fatale. Institutional affiliations and class allegiance had a decisive effect on their analysis, with the result that Melville, in all his complexity, was not “revived” at all; rather he was diagnosed by jittery scholars as an extremist who wreaked havoc upon his family until he supposedly converted to moderation after the instructive blood-letting of the Civil War. Such diagnoses were the inevitable result of 1930s Popular Front culture and the objectives of the upper-class peace movement that followed World War II.

For instance, three of the key Melville critics, Dr. Henry A. Murray (leader in academic psychology and personnel assessment for the Office of Strategic Services, who came to be admired as a father of the New Left), Charles Olson (“father” of cultural pluralism and postmodernism), and Stalinist/Maoist Jay Leyda (photographer, film historian, and technical advisor to the film, Mission to Moscow), were skilled propagandists allied with the Roosevelt administration. All three men strongly influenced subsequent Melville scholarship and biography, and they and/or others suppressed primary source materials that conflicted with their political allegiances and recipes for moderately conservative reform. The result was (an ambivalent) witch-hunt directed against “crazy” Melville and his monomaniacal character, Captain Ahab; both of whom were seen as overly skeptical of authority. Real libertarian conservatives (like Merrill Root) applauded Melville.

The suppressed materials include the following items:

1. Melville’s annotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, which strongly suggest that Melville identified with Milton’s Satan in his seduction of Eve (Book IX). Like the radical puritan, Milton himself in Melville’s reading, poked his nose into the affairs of his betters. When the annotations surfaced in the early 1980s, these materials were confined to a very few Melvilleans, and when finally published, leading scholars construed their message as evidence for the construction of a sobered-up moderate Melville (see

2. Letters from Melville’s descendants in Henry Murray’s papers at Harvard, which were never published. I was the first Melville scholar to see these letters (in 1995), and am persuaded that they would have scotched the rumors, circulated by Murray, Olson and others, that Melville was a wife-beater and a drunk.

3. A family letter (discovered by Olson in 1934, handed over to Murray, and finally published by Amy Puett Emmers in 1978), that suggested Melville had a real-life natural half-sister corresponding to the character Isabel in his quasi-autobiographical novel Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852). The significance of the letter remains extremely controversial but is important because the New Deal social psychologists, in both their social democratic propaganda, and in their attempt to boost public morale as world war loomed, were rehabilitating and idealizing good fathers (conflating Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt)while reinterpreting the libertarianism of Jefferson and Paine and generally circumscribing dissent. Melville’s “Hebraic” ethical universalism and constant interrogation of illegitimate authority (for instance the apparent exposure of his own father’s abandonment of an illegitimate daughter) were threats to their objective: the good father, as “focus of veneration” was the source of group cohesion in a pluralist society (Murray).

Melville criticism shifted dramatically after the first phase of the Melville Revival in the 1920s. Raymond Weaver, Melville’s first biographer (1921) had identified the Miltonic author with Ahab, and both were viewed as romantic rebels protesting Victorian philistinism and imperialist activity as represented by hypocritical missionaries in such early works as Typee. But between the wars, Melville, though born a Protestant and generally a freethinker, was frequently characterized as a Jew, the archetypal confidence-man, the “Hebraic” character only pretending to be a principled moralist (Murray, Olson, and others). During the postwar phase of the Melville Revival, it was necessary to reconstruct Melville as a “moderate man,” preacher of “virtuous expediency”–precisely the figure who was the target of his most trenchant satire. This shift responded to the perceived need for a centrist ruling coalition that could unite elements of both the prewar Left and Right. Accordingly, leading Melvilleans decisively separated the author from Ahab’s feisty empiricism/romantic individualism and identified him with aristocratic Captain Vere (in Billy Budd), a tendency that had already begun in the late 1930s.

The late 1930s turning point in Ahab readings is traced in my book and seems intertwined with several concurrent developments: an increasing acceptance of the big state (Leviathan: the White Whale) by “socially responsible” capitalists in the latter phase of the New Deal; the growing antagonism to Hitler as he turned against the West; and a shift from “scientific history” to “cultural history.” The story of the Melville Revival is less obviously intertwined with the history of ongoing antimodern influence on the humanities curriculum. Many of the scholars and critics who were supporting Mussolini and even Hitler during the mid-1930s (e.g. Southern Agrarians), entered the literary establishment as New Critics during and after the war. Definitions of fascism were adjusted accordingly. For some moderates, Hitler was switched from antibourgeois, neoclassical defender of community, to home-wrecking romantic, the autodidact as assassin, as Ahab, as Melville himself. Ex-fascist sympathizers were covering their tracks. This was news to me, and will be so to many historians.

Critics are eager to classify him, to annex a domesticated and pacified artist to their own political projects, not to understand his unresolved ambivalence about the possibilities of a freethinking democratic polity that could lead to “mob rule.” Hence nervous critics have frequently insisted on making him either an ultraconservative, a centrist, or a left-wing radical, and have managed his biography accordingly. But these categories are too static to describe an unresolved ambivalence or ambiguity that, in my view, continues to characterize politics in this and other industrial democracies. If Melville was worried about the destructive potential of an undereducated and misinformed mob society, so should we all be: in the first edition of Moby-Dick (publ. in England), the novel ends with the Extracts and the Whale Song, confronting the reader with the unresolved question “does Might make Right”? Quite the Brechtian/modernist move.


Cain, William E. and Gerald Graff. “Peace Plan for the Canon Wars.” Nation, March 6, 1989, 310-13.

Foerster, Norman, et al. Literary Scholarship: Its Aims and Methods. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

Lauter, Paul. “Melville Climbs The Canon.” American Literature (March 1994): 1-24.

Lorant, Laurie Robertson. Melville: A Biography. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1996.

Renker, Elizabeth. “Melville, Wife-Beating, and the Written Page.” American Literature (March 1994): 123-50.

Spanos, Jr., William V. The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995.

Spark, Clare. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2001. Paperback revised edition 2006.

Stone, Geoffrey. “Left Wings Over Europe.” American Review 7 (Oct. 1936): 564-85.

Ware, Carolyn F. Introduction. The Cultural Approach to History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.

Weiss, Philip. “Herman-Neutics.” New York Times Magazine, Dec. 15, 1996, 60-65, 70-72.

March 10, 2010

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism

Fuseli’s precursor to Captain Ahab

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for the conservative-libertarian National Review Online, wrote a popular intellectual history intended to remedy the common practice on the Left of characterizing Italian Fascism and Nazism as movements primarily of the Right. He tells me that he started formulating a book proposal in 2002, partly in response to his father’s ongoing concerns, partly in response to a talk by Michael Ledeen in the 1990s. It was published with endnotes in 2008 and became a runaway best-seller, a remarkable performance in itself. Perhaps reacting to the growth of the so-called “Tea-Party” movement in 2009, in late January of this year, some professional historians and journalists strongly objected to Goldberg’s thesis that Nazism and Fascism were entirely movements of the Left.

This and subsequent blogs will try to tease out the underlying narrative in JG’s book, one that was not spotted in the symposium mounted by History News Network on January 25, 2010 (with JG’s response January 28): briefly, Liberal Fascism is not only a crusade, a critique of “progressivism” as the eugenics-inspired spur to European“ fascism” and mass death in the twentieth century, but more deeply, LF is an attack on the science and “secularism” that have invaded the cultural space previously furnished with “traditionalism” by which JG means religion and undisputed paternal authority in the family: the consequence in JG’s text is an intrusive nanny-statism TODAY that is fascistically totalitarian and seeks to impose draconian rules on all aspects of everyday life, but most awesomely, will destroy “liberty” with the same resolve as the Jacobin mob and their spawn: Blackshirts, Brownshirts, and Bolshies. (See, for one possible source for the linkage between the French Revolution and the Soviet Union, particularly the first volume of Hobsbawm’s tetralogy, in which EH draws a straight line between the French Revolution and Leninism. In this he agrees with liberal Jacob Talmon or the conservative Catholic Francois Furet: see

    After reading the book twice, I maintain that the actual social structures and practices of the Third Reich and Italy under Mussolini (partly taken up by Robert Paxton in the HNN symposium) are of less concern to the author than “the smothering love” and feminized “niceness” of any American political faction that considers the national government to be a prospective locus for ameliorative reform and regulation. Like the most reactive Christians in history, but especially those who emerged after the Reign of Terror, JG seems to see “liberty” as the freedom for Everyman to suffer in this world, owing to (sinful) “human nature,” though I doubt that he has consciously taken his argument for “liberty” or the frictionless “pursuit of happiness” to its logical conclusion; he may simply be refuting the social engineering conception that man is infinitely malleable and that proper social organization will eliminate aggression and the will to power. That he blames Rousseau and the Jacobins for “totalitarianism” is everywhere apparent in his book. The Committee Of Public Safety has morphed into the Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA—and that specter and reality is where he has put his authorial energy. He would have stood on firmer ground had he blamed the social theorists of the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries, described so well in Frank E. Manuel’s The Prophets of Paris: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon and others who had no connection to the likes of Robespierre.* (For a related blog see

[Added 4-4-10 and 4-6-10: Though I agree with much of what is in Liberal Fascism, it is not a work of history, for he does not reconstruct the historical context in which the various “fascisms” appeared. Ideas (e.g. “Jacobinism”) do not give birth to other ideas. JG could have, but did not, specify the class coalition with conservative nationalists that brought Hitler to power. By sticking with a left-wing genealogy for Hitler, he erases traditional right-wing support (support that was present during the Weimar Republic). Moreover, I have written extensively about “the progressives” and their role in formulating what we take to be mental health. What I found over a period of forty years is as alarming as anything in JG’s book. For instance “progressives” (who were really organic conservatives –“corporatist liberals”–adjusting to the growth of mass literacy and an industrial working class), because of their simultaneous support of “liberty” (e.g. dissent) and “community,”  could immobilize persons who sought to make an original contribution to society. Some of that research is elsewhere on this website,  but much of it can be found in my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, where I show how Melville identified the double bind in his own family, and how he was labeled insane by some in his family and in the writing of his academic revivers.  (By double bind, I do not concur with Gregory Bateson’s definition that rests on the presence of a rejecting Janus-faced mother: rather the incompatible demands to be original in one’s discoveries, but not to disturb traditional institutional arrangements; to be both loyal to one’s country of origin and a member of an international “community”, and more.) 

   JG is on sounder ground when he critiques multiculturalism as derived from Herder. In my own work I trace Herder’s impact on German Romanticism and then nazism. JG should have said something about the dubious Herder-derived notions of national character and zeitgeist. He should have contrasted Herder’s rooted cosmopolitan and the rootless cosmopolitan of science and urbanity. But the possibly worst part of Liberal Fascism is the notion that some readers may absorb: that the entire Democratic Party is already entirely totalitarian, instead of incoherent, given the clashing elements inside the Democratic coalition. The Dems may be heading in that direction, but as a tactic to mobilize libertarian opposition, JG’s bleakness may create more apathy than informed resistance to illegitimate authority. And by constantly combining the word “liberal” with “fascism,” all statist activity is stigmatized, which would have amazed Hamilton, Hayek, and the Friedmans. ]

[Added 4-18-2010:] I am reading George E. Mowry’s excellent political and intellectual history of the period 1900-1912: The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of Modern America (originally published in 1958). The variability in what was considered to be “progressive” is laid out clearly. By contrast, the polemical and narrow focus of JG’s book becomes apparent. Given that Mowry and the other historians in the series of readers that Harper and Row published are writing within the progressive tradition, he (and probably they) are remarkably objective. Mowry brings the look of the period to life, and you will never read Edith Wharton again without seeing what a fatalist and traditional conservative she was.

[Added 4-23-10:] Mowry’s highly regarded account of the Republican Party contribution to progressivism certainly sees Theodore Roosevelt as a radical statist, but Mowry remains grounded in the period under study, and never calls T.R. style progressivism protofascist. I wish that journalists who write about politics today would be as attentive to detail and primary sources (and as broad in their interests) as did Mowry. This is a great book.

*Earlier critics than JG must have been comparing the welfare state to the various fascisms because Frank Manuel complained about the comparison in his The Prophets of Paris (1962): ” The specter of emotional and moral as well as scientific and industrial control hovers over the Saint-Simonian system, and Rousseau’s censor rears his ugly head. Nevertheless it seems farfetched to relate the Saint-Simonians on these grounds to the monster states of Hitler and Stalin. True, the Saint-Simonian political formulae emphasized emotion rather than reason, plus the hierarchy, an elite, the organic, and in this respect their theories bear superficial resemblance to the lucubrations of twentieth-century fascism. The ecclesiastical nonsense of the cult, however, should not obscure the fact that their image of society was founded first and foremost upon the expectation that there would be an upsurge of Eros in the world, that men would become more loving–a rather dubious assumption, though one that is not to be laughed out of court by the true skeptic. The Saint-Simonian society was founded upon relations of love among members of a hierarchy. This may be ridiculous, unfeasible, nonrational humbug, but it is totalitarian only in the sense that love may be. The Saint-Simonians were committed to the winning of converts solely through preaching and persuasion. To relate all the images of “authoritarianism” and “totalitarianism” to these tender failures of the 1830s entails driving their ideas to conclusions they never entertained. Saint-Simonians talked and quarreled far more about love, all sorts of love, than they did about authority. They never spilled a drop of blood in their lives and in middle age became respectable bourgeois. There was something unique about the German experience under the Third Reich. Remembrance of it should not be diluted by the discovery of antecedents that are of a qualitatively different character. The Saint-Simonians may be cast into liberal hell, but there they will probably encounter as many lovers and passionately fixated men as Dante did in the Christian hell.” (p.184)

[Added 4-30-2010: JG has an article on Obama’s “neosocialism” in the May issue of Commentary. The phrase “liberal fascism” does not appear there. But he still does not know about the contribution of the organic thinkers of nineteenth-century France (some of whom were reconstructing a more secular Catholicism) to Marxism and twentieth-century political thought, including the creators of the welfare state. These are Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte. Manuel distinguishes their organicism from that of their predecessors Turgot and Condorcet, though the latter were strong advocates of a science-driven progressive future.]

[Added 12-10-11: If JG had written about populism, I would have agreed with him about its protofascist potential. See]

August 9, 2009

What is a corporatist liberal? And why should they frighten us?

Tony Grist Janus 2011[Janus painting by Anthony Grist,2011]To those practiced in political theory, the term is an obvious oxymoron. That is, a corporatist thinks in collectivist terms, while a liberal (at least in the eighteenth century version) focuses on individual rights, competitive markets, and advance through merit. During the 1960s-70s New Left radicalism, “corporate liberalism” usually referred to the despised Democratic Party that was seen, as all capitalist parties were, as part of the business-oriented state that was therefore irrevocably set against the working class. It was my teacher at UCLA, Robert Brenner, who suggested that I use the term “corporatist liberal” instead; he may have wanted to emphasize the protofascist character of the “progressive” capitalist state whose psychological warfare I was studying (and in this case referring to Italian Fascism, with its organization by occupation, the so-called sindicati, with the [corporatist or corporative] state imposing harmony on capitalists and workers from above, in similar fashion as the New Deal intended.

But I liked the term because it suggested the institutional double-binds that Herman Melville had revealed in some of his more autobiographical texts, so the oxymoron formulation brought that out. For instance, he was to search for truth as an original artist, but not upset the conservative* formulations or belief systems of his patrons and family–clearly an impossible task (see Similarly, in graduate school, I discovered that original historical research was demanded, but not so original that it undermined the published work of the faculty that awarded the Ph.D.  [8/11/09: I have been criticized by one academic  for sounding like a disgruntled failed graduate student here, so let me give an example: in a course on women reformers of the nineteenth century, I was punished for using class analysis, indeed one well-known feminist historian stated outright that I should have been thrown out of the program (apparently for noting that not all women had the same economic  interests). In general, class was collapsed into ‘race’ and gender at UCLA, in keeping with the “anti-imperialist” and anti-Western orientation of UCLA at that time. Similarly, I was accused of racism for opposing cultural nationalism as an inevitable outgrowth of separate “ethnic studies” programs. Still, I stuck to my guns and after only eleven years got my Ph.D. in U.S. history.]

In other double binds, I found contradictions between loyalty to one’s country of origin while simultaneously becoming a citizen of the world, sensitive to suffering humanity wherever it might be found. Hence the compromise of “the rooted cosmopolitan” as opposed to the unreliable “rootless cosmopolitan” that I have written about in other blogs and in my book on the Melville revival. This notion of the compatibility of [moderate] “nationalism” and “internationalism” is everywhere today, and must immobilize those who think that all conflicts with other nations can be negotiated peacefully. As I saw while researching Ralph Bunche’s actions as mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the notion propagated by progressives such as Elmore Jackson that an artful and rational mediator could manipulate irrational warring parties to come to their senses and compromise, came straight out of strategies emanating from capitalist managers that disagreements between capital and labor* could be arbitrated by skilled mediation. So much for peace studies or conflict-resolution in general. They are part of the utopian thought of populist-progressives and dominate the mainstream media.

positive state

Briefly, what corporatist liberals do is switch from one P.O.V. to its opposite, as if no contradictions were involved. I trace the aversion to this tactic and to its association with Women to early childhood impressions. What follows is a brief but meaty extract from my conference paper given at the Modern Language Association in 2002. Do not despair if it is too much for you. Just read it, or skip it, and move on below.

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This will be hard going for many readers. To see the original MLA paper, please write to It is both psychodynamic and anchored in Melville’s texts, but I think, clear enough.]

What I wrote is an hypothesis only, and to be persuasive, would have to be verified through examination of the early childhood brain under similar stress, that is, so far as I know, currently beyond the capacity of physiologists (neurologist Robert Scaer has observed this as traumatic to the child). But it intrigues me and seems plausible  for it links the intertwining of misogyny and antisemitism that I observed in the biographies of Melville readers: Woman is the [switching] Jew of the Home.

In all the academic literature I have read recently, no explanation is offered that adequately explains why antisemites are so often fearful of women, especially mothers, clinging or otherwise: the important feature to me is their inexplicable switching. I am not satisfied with explanations that refer to “the Other” as produced by the projection of forbidden aggression onto Others who must then be controlled (the Kleinian object- relations explanation pervasive in “cultural studies” with its generally post-colonial slant).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, that formulation of “scapegoating” was produced by the very social psychologists who, during the late 1930s and 1940s, created programs of “civilian morale” and “preventive politics” through psychological testing in order to provide consensus and order. Their goal was not discovery of new and useful truth and/or an informed and appropriately educated clear-eyed and critical citizenry. (I am referring to such corporatist liberals as Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and Harold Lasswell, with allies among the much lauded “critical theorists” whose influence in the humanities remains powerful. See especially chapters two and nine in my book Hunting Captain Ahab for documentation that shocked my doctoral reading committee, but, not surprisingly, remained invisible in published reviews of my book.

Compare this emphasis on the double-bind with Jonah Goldberg’s scathing critique of the Progressives, who are nailed for statism and authoritarianism but not for immobilizing us through the double bind. For instance, if you compromise your art or writing to please authoritarians of the Left or Right, then you are not an original artist/writer, but a courtier. If you sacrifice “order” to be true to your vision, you may not be able to support yourself through your craft–you are what Melville called a castaway. The consequence: those with independent incomes make art or saleable books, and their life experience may estrange them from the various less fortunate whose  vision could enrich their own. )

    Which brings us to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war on terror. As long as we pretend that all conflicts can be compromised through skillful (i.e. manipulative) mediation, we are helpless to defend ourselves or our allies against determined enemies for whom “peace treaties” (i.e., the rule of law) are irrelevant and tactical only. What I have been arguing here, as elsewhere on this site, is that corporatist liberalism, the ideology of “civilized” progress, indeed, of the United Nations itself, does not only make us crazy in attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable (such as Truth versus Order), its continued hegemony may threaten all life on our planet as we ignobly submit to determined aggressors in thrall to premodern and antisecular ideologies, and who will stop at nothing to maintain traditional hierarchies and privilege. (By secular, I mean the older definition that specified the separation of Church and State; I did not mean the newer meaning where “secular” equals “atheistic” or suggests Jacobin hubris/popular sovereignty.)


*Marxists postulate that there is a structural antagonism between capital and labor. In later years, I have rejected that formulation, and prefer to look at concrete situations, for instance, where there is either a labor shortage or a labor surplus. Moreover, as Michael Mann and other sociologist have argued, the state is not simply dependent upon capital, but has its own particular interests. This should be obvious from the recent brouhaha in Wisconsin with respect to teachers unions. And when I used the term “conservative” with respect to Melville’s relatives, I did not mean to equate the religious conservative Democrats who supported his projects, with the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, especially Hamilton. (See, for links to blogs on Hamilton.)

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