The Clare Spark Blog

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 https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.  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 https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness/.) 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 https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

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December 2, 2011

The Whiteness of the Whale

Frederick Douglass not black enough

I have just listened to an 8 minute rant against the OWS protesters by podcaster Adam Corolla: (http://biggovernment.com/mrctv/2011/11/30/adam-carolla-explains-the-ows-generation/).  These polarized times are friendly to those personalities who can harness and provide a catharsis for conservatives and independents outraged by the ostensibly spoiled brats of hippie parents and others who like Big Government  (a.k.a. the Nanny State) as a solution to social inequality, or who were part of the self-esteem movement in multicultural education.

There may be something to what he says regarding giving undeserving kids trophies so that they won’t feel bad about losing to the stronger or more competent in school athletics and progressive education.  What Corolla did not include in this particular rant is the sea change in American education since the civil rights movement took hold in the 1960s. An entire generation of senior scholars in American history absorbed the troublemakers who instigated scary and destructive urban riots after the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy (the latter friendly to those who would relieve the horrors of urban ghetto life). By 1968, the white northeastern liberal establishment consciously co-opted what by then was militant black nationalism, while the “cool” leaders in the media industry went primitive, feeding into long term trends in popular culture—for instance the minstrel shows, later 1920s embrace of such as Josephine Baker and flamboyant sexuality in general.  Both strategies would have been labeled as escapist by such lucid political thinkers as the late Ralph Bunche (d.1971). See https://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.

By the time I hit graduate school in US history in the early 1980s, the determining structures were in place: American history was taught as if instructed by Soviet anti-American propaganda. Rather than being an exceptional nation, unprecedented in its governmental reliance on popular sovereignty as a source of instruction and legitimacy, “Zionist” America* was a rotten apple with a polished red skin, but rotten to the core. The entire field of American Studies (and its affiliated cultural studies) were devoted to proving this proposition. And even post-Civil War immigrants were held responsible for the misery of “Afro-Americans” as some called the black population, even Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and held to be communistic infiltrators.

Not surprisingly, conservative intellectuals are recuperating the Founding Fathers and writing about the making of the U.S. Constitution, in order to combat the Democratic Party’s emphasis on the antebellum period, the Civil War, and the failure of Reconstruction, events said to have entirely disabled living blacks today! How do we know this to be true? The history profession gives its major awards to those cultural historians who assert that the Civil War and white racism are the central sources of American character and cultural identity. The vanguard of Chosen People (asserted by Herman Melville! https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/) has been banished to the back of the line in Ivy League universities and in the humanities in general.  If you are not writing about “race” you are simply not in the academic game, and heaven help the feminists who do not focus their research on women of color. Similarly, if you write about the labor movement, you had better note their earlier hostility to black, Chinese, and Latino competitors. Throw in the Draft Riots of 1863, or the inherently narcissistic character of “American individualism,” or the peculiar institution (Southern slavery) as indistinguishable from capitalism (or its financial haul from slave labor funding capitalist development), and you are on your way to a job in the history profession in actually existing major universities.

To return to Adam Corolla’s rant against OWS. Beside the strong Third World or Maoist contingent of the current organized Left in OWS, add those who were educated to believe that capitalism is not merely a failed experiment, but is positively evil and an expression of our species’ “dark side”; that whiteness itself  is proof of demonic possession and the will to plunder and disrespect the whole, wide world.  Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

* See this excerpt from Dmitri Volkogonov, The Psychological War (1986):  “The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support. The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good. This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them.”

NOTE. This blog reflects my reading of the week: Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1962) and David Blight, Frederick Douglass’s Civil War (1989). 

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 https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/. 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.

May 28, 2011

Diane Ravitch and the higher “moderation”

Diane Ravitch with Jon Stewart, March 2011

[Added 5-29-2011: As I write this, the UFT and the NAACP are attacking charter schools and supporting multiculturalism.] Diane Ravitch (often considered the most astute historian and critic of educational reform) is now an opponent of charter schools.   This is how she ends her history of conflict in education policy in New York City:

[Ravitch, The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805-1973: A History of the Public Schools as Battlefield of Social Change (Basic Books, 1974):] “While the language of school wars relates to educational issues, the underlying contest will continue to reflect fundamental value clashes among discordant ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious groups. And this very fact underlines the importance of comity in the politics of education—comity, that basic recognition of differences in values and interests and of the desirability of reconciling these differences peacefully which the school itself aims to teach. The effort to advance comity, in educational affairs and in the affairs of the larger society, has always been at the heart of public education. Whatever their failings, whatever their accomplishments, the public schools have been and will be inescapably involved in the American search for a viable definition of community” (p.404).

Ravitch is writing from the higher moderation and hence inflicting the double bind that has been the theme of this website.  Yes, we have “fundamental value clashes”, but properly managed by a professionally disinterested elite, comity and community are attainable goals despite “discordant ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious groups.” Left out of this volatile yet potentially cooperative crucible is “class” difference. Yet it is upper class delinquency that she frequently mentions earlier in the book as the source of substandard ghetto schools in the big cities. Nowhere does she mention the unbounded search for truth as the aim of public education, nor does she criticize the notion of race, for that would offend parties to the Grand Reconciliation of E Pluribus Unum that Ravitch is advocating to the reader of her “history.” Ravitch does not want to be another Captain Ahab or any other opponent of state-imposed harmony.** Ravitch is no daughter of Eve, eating the forbidden apple of the Tree of Knowledge. Moral relativism does not disturb her sleep. Or perhaps it does, for it is my impression that she understands the contradictions in her work, but has chosen to paper them over for reasons I cannot fathom. This is a very insightful writer, and what I say here should not diminish her positive contributions.

Do I exaggerate about her moderation? Here is one section of her Wikipedia entry: “ Vincent N. Parrillo, author of Diversity in America, wrote, “She, too, emphasized a common culture but one that incorporated the contributions of all racial and ethnic groups so that they can believe in their full membership in America’s past, present, and future. She envisioned elimination of allegiance to any specific racial and/or ethnic group, with emphasis instead on our common humanity, our shared national identity, and our individual accomplishments.”

But racial theory is the sworn enemy to common humanity, let alone individuality: ask any “diversity” advocate. In the olden days when Hitler’s racial state was on the march, there was a significant debate in the West regarding the very notion of “race.” Yes, there were obvious physical variations among “races”, but to attribute common mental and character traits that were passed down through the genes was considered either proto-Nazi or misguided Lamarckianism. Even “ethnicity” was seen as a misunderstanding of the ancients (especially Herodotus), who, according to Julian Huxley in We Europeans, used ethnos to refer solely to a particular population, with no implication of national character or any other type of “national identity.”

Such beliefs in a shared bond between members of a “race” or “ethnicity” can only be mystical, not grounded in empirical fact. Yet that does not stop the “historians” of racial or ethnic conflict from writing books and playing leading roles in the formulation of national, state, and local policy, as is the case with Dr. Ravitch, or her humanist predecessor Robert M. Hutchins, whom she cites favorably in the last chapter of her big book, and in passing in other synoptic works. (See Hutchins and his colleague Paul Hoffman illustrating https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/. Also https://clarespark.com/2011/07/17/literary-criticism-ravitch-variant/.)

If such historians of education are going to do the work usually done by empiricist historians, then they should do history, not theology.** As a subsidiary issue, freedom in the classroom is at stake, namely the willingness of the teacher to encourage the full range of debate where controversial matters are concerned, even if the students do not reach an agreeable consensus or “compromise” (see “comity” one of Ravitch’s favorite words).

Ravitch wanted to bring “different” communities together, though her means remain utopian. Today, because of the alliance between radical intellectuals of the Left with militant cultural nationalists (an alliance burnished in the late 1960s, but echoing Leninism), the project of the Left and masochistic Left-liberals is no longer community control in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, but the political imperative to demonstrate that foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government are outgrowths of some essential American project of imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism, ecocide, racism and so on as the New Americanists claim (e.g. William Spanos Jr.) against the prior notion of American exceptionalism (which had to do with advancement through merit, not hereditary status). Such are the wages of the moderate men, or, as I prefer to name them, the corporatist liberals. Instead of incorporating dissenters and other troublemakers to defuse their militancy through “inclusion,” they have yielded the field to America’s most determined enemies. And it is the latter who have rehabilitated the once discredited notion of “race.”

For a related short blog, see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.

*[Ahab speaking in “The Quarter-Deck”:] “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”

**After many chapters relating the internal contradictions of the evolving civil rights movement (e.g., color-blindness vs. color consciousness), Ravitch ends one of her essays with this appeal to “spirit”: “As a people, we are still far from that sense of common humanity to which the civil rights movement appealed. We may yet find that just such a spirit is required to advance a generous and broad sense of the needs and purposes of American society as a whole.” (See The Schools We Deserve, p.259.) This is a thoroughly idealistic conception that there is a “spirit” or any such entity as “American society as a whole.” Ravitch reminds me of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who fretted about the fragmentation of America, wishing for unity even as material interests drive us apart. In another book, The Troubled Crusade, she writes that ” literacy” should be the aim of education, but does not spell out whether that skill should decode propaganda and false ideas. I gather that for Ravitch, literacy signifies that knowledge that advances “the public interest.” As a fan of Hutchins, she must ally herself with the Platonic Guardians–an antidemocratic and ultimately anti-intellectual position.

March 28, 2011

Index to multiculturalism blogs

As I have shown throughout this website, the turn to “cultural history” or “multiculturalism” marked a sea change in the writing of American history. But few have traced the intellectual history of multiculturalism. I attribute this to an upper-class “moderate” response to movements from below. Here are a few of the blogs I have written that trace this widespread social pedagogy to its origins in the reaction of German Romantics to the “mechanical materialists” of the earlier 18th century French Enlightenment, though tribalism (ethnic ties) has a long history in human history.

https://clarespark.com/2019/01/23/are-we-already-fascist/?

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/

https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/ (quotes Herman Melville’s White-Jacket)

https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/

https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/05/13/the-new-gay-flappers/

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/23/woodrow-wilsons-internationalism-vs-obamas/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/09/08/getting-down-with-tom-wolfe/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/.

https://clarespark.com/2011/02/11/undoing-multiculturalism/

https://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/ (on Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft as defined by Toennies)

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/31/nell-painters-history-of-white-people/.

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/ (Read this first!)

https://clarespark.com/2013/09/26/cultural-pluralism-vs-multiculturalism/

https://clarespark.com/2013/11/05/kerry-washington-scandal-and-miscegenation/

https://clarespark.com/2015/04/24/multiculturalism-vs-yid-red-spies-which-agitates-the-right/

https://clarespark.com/2015/05/05/what-is-context-and-how-is-it-relevant-to-the-pamela-geller-flap/

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