YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 13, 2016

Apocalypse now

Apocalypse Kingofwallpapers.com

Apocalypse: Kingofwallpapers.com

This blog is about the requirement to understand the socially-induced misconceptions of the protesters, including the destructive anarchists among them.

I have changed my mind about the election blog I would write, partly because I have seen the conservative responses written by many of my Facebook friends, which roundly criticize the protesters.

Indeed, my first response was to post a message from Jenny, one of my daughters: “I know many are mourning, crying, and panicked over the election results, a reaction to which I honestly cannot relate, but let people feel their feelings, I say. I cannot understand and find totally irresponsible, however, parents who have demonized the president elect, making their children believe he is a bad man and will hurt them and our world. Children need to feel secure and confident in order to grow into happy and successful adults. Shame on parents who feed their children unfounded ideas which then make them feel unsafe. This country is home to citizens and their families with a vast spectrum of valid values and beliefs. We can’t get our way all of the time. Liberals had eight years to get it right and now it’s time to take a different approach. Let us not put our children in the crossfire while battling different opinions. Oh, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we all act like grownups—inform ourselves, work to make ourselves and the world better, and be an example to the children of how to move forward in a constructive, generous, and faithful way. Let us leave tantrums to the two-year- olds.”(end of Jenny’s post-election comment.)

I agree with this analysis, but I also see the results of a partisan education outside the family, that has thwarted the political education of the youthful protesters, even the violent ones among them. This partisan education is also a form of child abuse that should be more widely recognized. (And Jenny concurs, noting that her comment was only one thread among many.)

The protesters (including the anarchists) are a product of an education that has left them terrified. In no particular order, these are the deficiencies that have fueled their panic (this fear of annihilation was brought to my attention by my daughter Rachel). In no particular order:

  1. The notion that the Democrat Party is left-wing. It is common for many conservatives to view “the Left” as if they are all communists, ignoring the obvious fact that Democrats/progressives have co-opted and neutralized the demands of revolutionary socialists: i.e., the radical demands of the 19th and early 20th century labor movements for worker control of production.
  2. The notion that identity politics/multiculturalism is a radical innovation, and is similarly communist-inspired. Indeed, it is another example of co-optation and neutralization, substituting “race” and “ethnicity” for class interest. Here came the notion of “political correctness” that Trump appears to have violated, leaving the masses unprotected from “racist” and “sexist” conservatives.
  3. The notion that the Constitution protected “white supremacy.” Again, this is context-ignoring factor. It is true that the Constitution was a compromise between Northern and Southern slaveholding elites, but that was dramatically changed by the Civil War and the social movements it spawned. Again, the progressives were aristocratic and racist, though this is too obvious a distinction for the “tenured radicals” controlling education today. Although progressives claim the mantle of science, balance, and enlightenment for themselves, in their zeal for the social relationships of the medieval period (e.g., deference to the Good King), they may be said to have dumbed down our population by denying the sharp tools of history.

This website has been devoted the misconceptions of our socialization. The media have always been partisan, but the 1960s movements developed a cadre of activists claiming the mantle of social justice, while trashing opponents as fascists, while some conservatives, just as foolishly, equated communism and fascism. (Both forms of social organization are statist and repressive, but fascism was a counter-revolution to the Soviet coup of 1917, not its structural twin.)

Is it any wonder that our young folk are in the streets? In their own eyes, they are doing the right thing by averting apocalypse now!

3-14-16, demo outside GOP headquarters. CBS News/AP

3-14-16, demo outside GOP headquarters. CBS News/AP

October 7, 2014

Michael Burleigh’s History of the Third Reich

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the-third-reich-978033048757306A famous conservative historian recommended Michael Burleigh’s 2001 popular best-seller of 812 pages, The History of The Third Reich (Macmillan, 2001). Burleigh is now a prominent figure on the British Right, associated with a conservative periodical Standpoint, which is commonly compared to Bill Buckley’s National Review. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Burleigh.)

This blog is about my reservations regarding his mammoth popular history, which in my reading leans toward social democracy (that took the “hard edges” off of capitalism). He has curried favor with The Guardian, for instance in an article that recognizes a closet liberal: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/mar/11/academicexperts.highereducationprofile)

For instance, though few doubt that the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School are writing from the Left, Burleigh is outraged by “massification” and the ruins wreaked by popular mass media, just as Adorno et al were. MB, however, explicitly misses the old aristocratic elites who were more focused on their “obligations” (as contrasted with the chorus of ordinary people demanding “rights”). Burleigh was formerly a medievalist and I suspect him of missing the Good Kings who have been glorified by some historians. Curiously, MB sees the Third Reich pretty much as the psychological warfare figures of the New Deal: “guttersnipe” Nazis appealed to common men and women, who “fell for him,” [Jung, 1946] causing the German catastrophe.

Second, Burleigh continuing along this elitist line, complains that Nazis fancied that they were heroic figures that would be vindicated by history: “For history’s most enduring B-movie villains were self-consciously assigning themselves parts within an A-movie which runs and runs, increasingly in the debased form of documentaries, made-for-TV soaps, and lurid magazines and books which have scraped the barrel of sensation until it is almost worn away. The Nazis cynically manipulated posterity as they had manipulated their contemporaries; by way of continuity, they are cynically manipulated in their turn by a ‘Hitler industry’ for which there seems to be an insatiable market. A regime which had lived by image perished by it, in a final triumph of style over substance, as the greatest stage villains of all departed what they called the stage of history, leaving a lingering trail of evil beyond the curtains.” (p.788)*

But Burleigh had written a luridly detailed lengthy section on Operation Barbarossa, replete with images of cannibalism and maimed bodies and corpses that rivals any Nazi propaganda production, and exceeds in vividness all academic writing, which generally eschews adjectives and outrage. Perhaps his unleashed imagination was unacceptable to those academic minds from whom he proudly walked away, preferring religion, not materialist history, as the framework of major events such as world wars and social movements. I suspect that for Burleigh, the devil is back, along with Manichaeism. Seeing all conflict as warfare between good and evil (detached from specific institutions) marks the self-righteous moralist, which MB unabashedly is.


Second, though Burleigh is attentive to the horrors of the racial state as wreaked on homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, etc. he tends to minimize the importance of European anti-Semitism, though he also claims (as do critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, including Saul Friedländer) that “the Holocaust” tests the boundaries of historical representation and is hence unfathomable (?) and unrepresentable. “After Auschwitz, there can be no poetry.”  (See http://mindfulpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/03/poetry-after-auschwitz-what-adorno.html for “what Adorno really said.”

Finally, Burleigh, no less than the crypto-Leninist Hannah Arendt, uses the liberal term “totalitarianism” though he contradicts himself when he complains that common soldiers followed orders. Either there is total control or there is a degree of choice. In my own view, communism and Nazism were polar opposites in their orientation to the [materialist] Enlightenment, as I argued here: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.

But to end on a positive note, Burleigh emphasizes throughout Nazism’s obliviousness to the rule of law. Perhaps American exceptionalism should be defined as equality before the law for poor and rich alike. That would be a true Enlightenment innovation.

*Burleigh deceptively footnotes this passage with Robert Harris’s journalistic account of “the selling of the Hitler diaries”, a book that “documented” (through interviews) how confidence men, publishers, and renowned academics tried to foist Hitler memorabilia on a gullible public addicted to revelations regarding Hitler’s private life. But Harris quotes David Irving, reflecting on another famous forgery, Howard Hughes’ autobiography, swallowed by McGraw Hill: “…Corporate profit justifies any form of lunacy. There’s been no other hoax like it in modern times.” (p.198). I.e., Burleigh’s target may be the profit motive and his footnote apparently has no relation to his text that indicts working class soldiers, collated as Hitler’s base. When I read the title “Selling Hitler” I had assumed that MB referred to Hitler’s appeal among the masses, not the Hitler diary hoax, a subtitle that was left out of MB’s footnote.


July 4, 2014

How “independent” are we?

laba.ws_USA_Independence_DayIn defining myself both for and against the postmodernists or existentialists, I have stated that we are all prisoners of our context. Our choices are limited by the institutions we have made, and which either loosen our lips or force us to bite our tongues, lest we lose our jobs or break up “family” unity. Still, “Pierrot” tries to break out of jail.

While watching Fox News Channel as it boxes the compass of its on-air anchors and other sympathetic celebrities, I notice that most assert their vaunted freedom to say whatever they damn please along with their fulfillment of the American Dream despite humble beginnings. The overall tone was one of nationalist pride and complacency. I found this, at best, self-deceived, if not cynical.

Only Shepard Smith emphasized that this country remains in process, that the goals of human rights celebrated in the Declaration of Independence are incomplete and require attention. (Looking up the spelling of his name, I saw that he is rumored to have been demoted after he asked Roger Ailes to acknowledge that he was gay on the air.)

Shepard Smith seems to have a moral compass whereas not all his Fox colleagues celebrating Independence Day share his realism. I remember how passionately he covered Hurricane Katrina, literally shouting from a New Orleans bridge, when government at every level was not acting with appropriate dispatch in rescuing Katrina’s mostly black victims.

Back to the “independence” of Fox spokespeople yesterday and today as FNC observed the glorious Fourth. Though FNC claims to be “fair and balanced” its format and objectives are designed to get maximum eyeballs. It was brilliant in discerning that the many factions of “the Right” were shut out from MSM, including NPR, hence an underserved population would be easy pickings for advertisers. But having some social democrat voice talking points, while a conservative or libertarian contradicts him or her with other talking points, is not the same as the search for truth. (To be fair, not all Fox commentators are so predictable or conformist, but most are “moderates.”)

Whereas the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Bill of Rights, breathes the air of the Enlightenment. “American exceptionalism” (like “popular sovereignty”) is built on separating truth from error, hence the demand for checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the refusal of a monarch in favor of popular sovereignty. Yet today, we defer, often uncritically, to “leaders” whether these “good father figures” are politicians, clerics, celebrity academics, artists, or media personalities.

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Did anyone think that the Founders goals would be easily achieved? These men of the Enlightenment were educated in the classics, in economics, and in international relations. Were they lacking knowledge of history, or without self-interest or ambition? Were they in total agreement with each other? Only the naïve would make such a claim. Still, they took tremendous risks, as those of us who succeed in this wild and wooly experiment in self-government do every day, often with fear and trembling, for the more sentient among us acknowledge how much “American exceptionalism” rests on the bounty of Nature, a Nature that we, in our hubris, do not always study and protect with requisite attention and zeal.

Some of our children have noticed this flaw. But their voices are unheard on FNC. [For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.%5D


March 30, 2014

What makes America strong?

self-reliance2Fox News Channel has been playing a documentary all weekend (March 28-30, 2014) on the subject of America’s surrender to permanent [leading from behind]. It ended, however, in a strongly optimistic note from neocon Charles Krauthammer, who predicted that getting our act together would reverse what appears to be decline and even doom.

This blog reviews the sources of “American” strength, and makes the case that it is our intellectual and cultural diversity that constitutes “American exceptionalism.” In other words, the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the Constitution were not only unique in world history, but continue to protect us against authoritarian forces of every type—but only if we make the effort.

It is possibly the case that our species tends toward the tribal and the local over the utopian notion of international unification, as expressed in the rhetoric of “international community” that demonstrably does not exist, and probably will never exist. The Left wants us to believe that the WASP elite that emerged after the Civil War, forcibly “Americanized” immigrants to a form of buccaneering capitalism that deracinated them, throwing over all ancestral cultural ties in order to conform to a murderous and immoral “system” run by extreme white supremacists. Why is this argument repeated over and over in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities and in school textbooks? The red specter still lives in fervid imaginations.


Oddly, multiculturalism or “ethnopluralism” was advanced by progressives as an antidote to claims of proletarian internationalism asserted by leftists from the late 19th century onward, and even before the Soviet coup of 1917. That story has been repeated over and over on this website. I view it as a greater threat to national unity than any other single factor.

Liberal nationalism versus conservative nationalism. In past blogs, I have contrasted the German Idealist notion of national character with classical liberal notions of the relatively autonomous individual. The Germans followed Herder’s notion of the rooted cosmopolitan, a notion that led to Wilsonian internationalism and more recently, the United Nations.

Conservative nationalism entails control over specific territories, staking its claims with arguments of blood and soil. Geopolitics emphasizes fights over borders and possession of the land since time out of mind. Blood and soil nationalism is collectivist in its vocabulary, even though the territory claimed contains wildly different populations with respect to world-views and ideologies. Thus “post-colonialist” scholars and pundits use the vocabulary of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, etc. and deem “the West” as scheming totalitarians and exploiters of lands and resources that were conquered through militarism, and its handmaidens of science and technology.

Liberal nationalism is a child of the Enlightenment, and was not invented by the Progressive movement that emerged in America during the early 20th century. It was best articulated by the modernizing Senator Charles Sumner who saw the State as limited in scope. The American government was above all a collection of individuals seeking safety from foreign invaders, and possessed of equal rights under the law. The human rights of individuals come out of this Enlightenment tradition. The “human rights” of groups come out of Herder, the mis-named German Enlightenment, and lead into organic conservative and reactionary directions. Social democrats do not fret over this distinction, but promiscuously resort to collectivist statements such as “the people” whom they pretend to defend with their lives and reputations (see https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/). Similarly, they have co-opted the language of classical liberalism, deeming their opponents to be termites eating at the foundation of the “republic.”

I view social democrats (today’s “liberals”) as reactionaries, and the source of American division and decline. “America” taken as a collective entity, should always be viewed as a collection of diverse individuals, whether these be conformists, rootless cosmopolitans, or alienated artists.

It is the notion of the unique, irreplaceable, seeking individual, educated to self-reliance and free to choose among competing beliefs, that is the true and only source of American strength and viability in the future decades. To deny this, and to give in to fantasies of decline and apocalypse, is to abandon our children and our ancestors too.


February 10, 2014

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” NOT

Carmen Miranda

Carmen Miranda

One of the Humanities-Net discussion groups, the History of Diplomacy (H-Diplo) reviewed a recent book by Mary E. Stuckey.  The Good Neighbor: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Rhetoric of American Power.  Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series. East Lansing Michigan State University Press, 2013.  376 pp.  $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61186-099-3.

Here are some paragraphs from the review; they avoid the actual commercial trade components of Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor policy” –a goal declared as early as 1933 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Neighbor_policy), in favor of its “rhetoric,” which is applied, willy-nilly to today’s updated version of Wilsonian internationalism. This misplaced emphasis on language reflects the fashionable postmodernist and culturalist turn in the humanities, which sees words as constitutive of reality. Hence the word below, “performative”:  saying that words create the real world. It follows that “hate speech” must be banned, as opposed to other non-linguistic strategies for improving economic opportunity.

I am asking you read this material, because it suggests to me that “American exceptionalism” is obliterated in favor of the foreign policy embraced by the Obama administration, that often appears to abandon the notion that the 18th century Enlightenment was the vanguard of humanity. Is it true that blatantly authoritarian societies share alleged “universal values”?

[Excerpt from H-Diplo review by Monica A. Bank:] “Stuckey identifies the elements of the good neighbor in five distinct characteristics: first, believing in the notion that right thinking people embraced a set of universally shared values; second, shaping the nation as a political community united by rhetoric that emphasized shared hardship, sacrifice, and interdependence; third, employing various types of political rhetoric, such as educative, invective, and performative speech; fourth, defining friends and enemies according to a specific set of values that coincided with the concept of “good neighbor” and “bad neighbor”; and fifth, emphasizing equality and mass participation under a strong executive as vital components of a strong neighborhood. The five subsequent body chapters follow these characteristics and delve more deeply into how these qualities constituted the Roosevelt administration’s concept of the national and global neighborhood.

“Stuckey sets up the book by explicating the way that Roosevelt understood the nation’s shared values, and how he framed the national neighborhood as a foundation for the global neighborhood. For Roosevelt, the nation was held together by a set of Judeo-Christian values, such as privileging spiritualism over materialism and committing to social justice. Social justice, for Roosevelt, was defined broadly as access to a decent home, the ability to work, and a safeguard against misfortune. Stuckey points out that Roosevelt tied Judeo-Christian values to the benefits that liberal capitalism could provide but that he also aimed to protect the vulnerable from the dangers and inconsistencies inherent within the liberal capitalist system. Such a framework allowed him to make compelling arguments about the nature of the economic crisis brought about by the Great Depression and, significantly, allowed him to offer a specific prescription for recovery that blamed his political enemies while simultaneously maintaining the greatness of American traditions. Stuckey’s analysis of shared Judeo-Christian values is also vital for understanding how Roosevelt’s move to significantly strengthen the role of the executive fit within the metaphor of the good neighbor. She points out that many Americans viewed the president with an almost religious fervor and that Roosevelt subtly employed rhetoric that encouraged comparison of him with celestial beings that became increasingly common and accepted during his administration. To counter concerns over his expanding executive authority, Roosevelt employed a religious discourse that portrayed his presidential role as one of service rather than of ruler. He also portrayed the expansion of executive power as a helpful and effective way to enact the will of God for the good of the American people.

Furthermore, his rhetoric conflated notions of religion, nation, and democracy as vital and interrelated points of a strong civilization.

This association allowed him to privilege national identity over the local and to position himself as the natural and benevolent leader driven by service to the spiritual needs of the community.” [End, review excerpt]

What are these “universally shared values”? Diversity, ethnicity, multiculturalism, tolerance? How could America both be in the vanguard of nations and respectful of less democratic, even tribal, nations? One or the other must yield, and it should be obvious that in today’s postmodern academy, “America” is a conception to be despised, unless it conforms to the current notions of “progress.”

For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/.

The "muse" of Good Neighbor policy

The “muse” of Good Neighbor policy

February 27, 2013

“American exceptionalism” retold

american-progress-ideation2I have already compiled a list of turning points for the ascent/decline of “the West” here: https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/. But the purpose of this blog is to suggest a counter-narrative for American history, warts and all. The goal is to find an approach to US history that will not leave students or your home-schooled child adrift with lifeboats offering only tendentious accounts of US history, and offering either idealized or demonized versions of the American past. (For a patriotic account by “America’s greatest writer” see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or try this more recent one: https://clarespark.com/2014/02/07/herman-melville-on-the-materialist-solitary-backwoodsman/.)

In a short blog, I can outline only some major points.

First, to present a corrected version of US history, it cannot be rooted solely in America, with non-whites the hapless victims of murderous European-born whites. During the age of expansion, conflicts between France, England, Spain and the Netherlands were critical. Had Americans not expanded West, say by hugging the Atlantic coast, there might subsequently have been a jigsaw of European colonies like the map of Africa in the late 19th century and onward.

Second, westward expansion also exacerbated conflict between the industrializing North and slaveholding South. Without an economic history of these regions, US history and the politics of expansion remain incomprehensible.

Third, although ethnocentrism can be found in many cultures, racism in the U.S. directed against non-whites was a by-product* of American (and world) economic development (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism). But anti-imperialists deny that racism has been partly corrected, insisting that “institutional racism” persists despite the civil rights movement and its achievements. (I do not mean to minimize the effects of racism: see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.) Nor would the anti-Americans examine the obliteration of high Western and American culture, substituting a popular culture that is mostly primitivist. Going native is a major cause of mass psychological regression to a stage of life where “adults” are over-influenced by parental surrogates and other ideologically tainted authority. Such primitivist regression is rarely criticized by hipster democrats; by contrast, communists accept a notion of Progress that ineluctably leads to Leninist bureaucratic centralism and that demonizes ‘capitalism’/market society as an imposition by filthy lucre and their “commercial” mass media.

Fourth, infuriated by leftist critics of US imperialism (often concentrated in the blue states), some “red state” patriots argue that the warts are removed, that American self-criticism has lifted us out of the Slough of Despond, and that the concept of American exceptionalism should be rehabilitated. This is a shallow judgment, though I partly agree. Urban decay and a rotting public school system for inner city kids remains an unsolved problem, one of many, including massive waste and fraud at every level of government.

Fifth, not enough weight is given to the bounty of Nature that greeted the first European settlers, an abundance preserved by mostly hunter-gatherer Indian tribes that famously refused “development.” Much of American economic success battened off the virgin land, and we are evading real environmental problems if we imagine that the Green movement is nothing but a communist plot in all its manifestations. (See Bob Ennis’s comment below, with which I concur.)

Sixth, though some “traditionalists” on the Right prefer a view of the Constitution as divinely inspired,  we do better by our children and ourselves to celebrate cultural and political pluralism. The secular state does not signify atheism, communism, and the end of pluralism, but rather secularism is the guarantee of personal freedom and the unmatched luxury of individuality. It is in our Bill of  Rights, along with the relatively free markets that are responsible for unprecedented upward mobility and wealth creation, that “American exceptionalism” really exists.

*There used to be a debate among historians whether racism caused slavery, or whether slavery caused racism, but it is now the case that major scholars treat “racism” as an independent variable, and indeed they claim that racism is the engine of U.S. history, a flaw so terrible and omnipresent that reparations are demanded. Do not underestimate the determination and penetration of non-white cultural nationalists. See https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/, also the illustration above, which takes its cue from Diego Rivera’s Stalinist murals, with a strong dose of the Fantastic and Surrealism.

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/.

November 25, 2012

The Tea Party and the Greens

American Progress, 1872

This blog responds to a blog on Pajamas Media, that has been revived today: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/10/16/6-green-lies-threatening-to-starve-you/

Tea Party activist, Walter Hudson, has written a blog for Pajamas Media that asserts this provocative claim: “Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.”  Moreover, Hudson makes it explicit that the protection of the wilderness by the national government, is the rule that makes all his other scenarios abhorrent, even threatening as the road to mass starvation.

(Hudson was first motivated to write his blog by an LA Times article that transmitted the agenda of the National Resources Defense Council, as follows:  Curbing global warming, creating the clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water, and fostering sustainable communities, but Hudson foregrounds the wilderness as [non-sacred] space to be sold to private interests.)

While it is true that the Green movement of the 1960s and 1970s was taken up by hard leftists as a rational entry into apparently unrelated social movements, the wholesale rejection of basic science that Hudson’s blog and many of the ensuing comments demonstrates, is not only alarming to me, but if representative of the new direction of the Republican Party, would likely result in a permanent statist regime in the United States, for we defy the immutable laws of science at our peril.  Sadly, most of us do not even know what they are, and yet we vote for, or oppose, environmental legislation that will determine the future of our species and all of life on Earth, and the journalists and bloggers we read are rarely trained in the relevant sciences, but they do abhor the “nanny state” as an unmerited intrusion on individual rights.

I have long criticized the term “nanny state” as absurd and sexist, proposing instead the term “watchbird state” (see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/). No one has been more critical of illegitimate state power than I have been.  However, it is also true that American power was initially built on 1. Relatively unspoiled Nature that would be ruthlessly exploited and abused by many settlers as they industrialized and moved on West; and, later 2. The European wars of the 20th century that left America as the only great power still standing.

Thus “American exceptionalism,”so defended by segments of the Right, has the possibility of arrogance attached, unless it refers solely to a rational Constitution that encouraged a meritocracy (along with protection of the general welfare), but keep in mind that the “self-made” millionaires in finance and industry of the 19th century benefited from the virgin land, a rapidly expanding population of immigrants,  and during and after the Great War, from the errors of American rivals in Europe and elsewhere.

There are branches of “ecology” that appeal to mystics and to the counter-culture, for the promise of interdependence and harmony that some ecologists, especially deep ecologists (Kirkpatrick Sale was one such popular publicist), is attractive to those who imagine Nature as an inexhaustible source of nourishment, with adherence to “deep ecology” as a permanent return to the Breast or Womb. These constituents will not agree with Herman Melville, who famously described beauteous Nature as concealing “the charnel house within.” Similarly, there have been upper-class primitivists who idealized the social relations of indigenous peoples everywhere, imagining, with Diderot, that their preferred natives enjoyed freedom from puritanical (i.e. mother-imposed) strictures that excessively restricted sex and aggression. The point is to avoid “splitting” the conception of Nature as either entirely benign or entirely threatening, for Melville was possibly influenced by his resentment of a domineering mother.

I have been reading right-wing publications for many years now, and sense that many of its constituents do not possess a rational assessment of any authority whatsoever. It seems that some don’t want to be pushed around, even if the pushing is for their own good and that of their children.  This is infantile conduct.

Reasonable persons can differ on the role of the federal government versus more local entities versus individual choices, or even on whether or not global warming is man-made and reparable,  but what cannot be neglected is a rigorous education in the sciences, starting from the first grades onward.  As long as education is held hostage to persons with an anti-science agenda, we are digging our own graves.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.

June 26, 2012

Aaron Sorkin’s [Scottish blood]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Newsroom_(U.S._TV_series), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Sorkin.

Aaron Sorkin

I watched Sorkin’s latest, The Newsroom during its debut on HBO, June 24, 2012. It was among his most improbable scripts, and a triumph in progressive chutzpah. For its mission statement is no less than the setting of America on a course that would have pleased the most significant ultra-liberal theologians of the last three centuries.

Among its implausibilities is the phenomenal memory of its lead character, “Will McAvoy” played by Jeff Daniels, who slightly resembles the author himself. “Will” is on a panel at Northwestern University, flanked by a Republican on one side, and a Democrat on the other. He is allegedly the moderate Republican who wants to please everybody. But when queried by a blonde co-ed, who hopes he will ratify her notion that America is the “greatest country in the world”, Will, at first mumbling something about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as revolutionary, switches his rap and goes off on a tirade quoting the low ranking of the US in achievements, a ratatat of rankings displaying a memory like a computer. He was coached by an unidentified woman in the audience who holds up signs indicating that we could be the greatest country in history, if we [repent ] and recognize our deficiencies. Obviously, Sorkin has designs on the HBO audience, who, sadly, probably will eat this stuff up.

Jeff Daniels

Turns out that Will McAvoy is the anchor of a nightly news show on a fictional cable network named for Atlantis (ACN). He returns to the newsroom only to discover that his staff has decamped with his co-anchor, leaving a saving remnant. Sam Waterston plays the head of the News division, and lingers on the greatness of Murrow and Cronkite, hoping to resuscitate their integrity as fearless purveyors of the truth. The rest of the episode is devoted to the astonishing feat, aided by his new, at first unwanted, “E.P.” (executive producer, “MacKenzie McHale” played by Emily Mortimer), in delivering the kind of exemplary investigative reporting that will make us proud to be liberal Americans.

We suddenly find ourselves back in summer, 2010 at the moment of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A very young producer, of Ivy League background, turns out to have contacts with both BP and Halliburton, the latter are manufacturers of the ostensibly defective concrete that allowed the catastrophe. Through the swiftly achieved cooperation of the mostly young people in the newsroom, ACN scoops the rest of the media with not only authoritative interviews with honchos, but, thanks to Will’s almost magical ability to do arithmetic in his head, gets an inspector of the oil platforms to admit that the inspection team assembled by the [evil] oil company could not possibly do its job. Competing networks, devoid of these fast-thinking, high-minded, adrenalin-hyped news gatherers, must do with limp reportage of “search and rescue” operations.

Aaron Sorkin has created two new superheroes, both with Scottish clan names. Thus Will and MacKenzie are doubles, and ex-lovers. Braveheart anyone? Not to worry about the 2012 election: America is back on the path to Freedom from Big Oil, at least on HBO at 10pm, Sunday nights. For the agenda being served by Sorkin and his affinity group, see http://tinyurl.com/7ryo95l . [Added, 7-24-12: in episode 5, Sorkin glorified the uprising  in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, as well as the uprising of the teachers union in Wisconsin. In HBO “Buzz”, Sorkin reaffirmed his belief in a pre-Bush America [that now has lost its way, with the rise of Fox News and the Tea Party]. Read this blog along with https://clarespark.com/2012/08/26/democratic-party-talking-points-2012/.

Emily Mortimer

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 https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/: 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 and 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 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 and 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, 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 https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

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 https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/). 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 http://historypsychiatry.com/2012/03/13/psychoanalysis-in-the-age-of-totalitarianism/).

“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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James). 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 https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/22/links-to-blogs-on-military-psychiatry/.

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 https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/.)

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