The Clare Spark Blog

November 17, 2013

Rehabilitating the Weathermen

The_Company_You_Keep_poster Redford film) (no Jews)

From what I read of the Wikipedia description of the movie based on Neil Gordon’s novel  THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, it seems that Jews as red-diaper babies have been purged from the screenplay. Hence Counterpunch can safely allege that the movie is about Love, and [uncontaminated Christian love] at that. This blog dissents: the original novel is really about the rehabilitation of William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, whose names are mentioned frequently in the novel, along with other outlaw celebrities who have allegedly gone straight, and who are associated with POTUS. (I don’t know if these names appear in the movie, which I have not seen, but which was received well overseas.)

Neil Gordon’s thesis (in the novel) is stated by one of his characters, an FBI agent and Viet Nam vet whose genitals have been destroyed in Nam. Obviously a mouthpiece for the author, “John Osborne” views the Weatherman faction that grew out of Students for a Democratic Society, as motivated less by ideology or any thought out political strategy than by loving attachments, by “the company you keep.” Hence the intense value placed on loyalty to one another as the various characters live as fugitives from the law after a bank robbery where a guard was murdered by one of their hotheaded associates .

In the novel, there are several “Jewish” characters, whose names are anglicized in the Redford movie (for instance, the nosy reporter Ben Schulberg becomes Ben Shepard). Moreover, in the novel they are the children of “Jewish” communists, one a suicide after being harassed by McCarthyism. And from the outset, Israel is mentioned as irretrievably lost to the ethics of Amor Vincit Omnia: love and community solidarity are the theme of the novel.

It is odd that Gordon’s characters are identified in any way with the Left or New Left, unless you take into account that the prewar British Right also contained within its many factions, equally anticapitalist, antistatist types, such as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and T. S. Eliot. [I learned this through reading G. C. Webber’s The Ideology of the British Right 1918-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1986), who deemed this type to be “aristocratic backwoodsmen.” All three (the Distributists Chesterton and Belloc, and Eliot) were elevated by Seward Collins’s American Review, a publication of the mid-1930s that was explicitly pro-fascist, agrarian, and even pro-Nazi. Readers might be surprised to see FDR’s New Deal State grouped by Webber with right-wing movements, along with Mosley’s fascists, the aristocratic backwoodsmen, and Tories.]
For much of the novel takes place in woodland settings: the Hudson Valley near Woodstock, and the woods of Michigan—Ernest Hemingway country.

Make no mistake: this novel rehabilitates the Weathermen as well as weed. We learn that the characters are essentially monogamous (despite much late adolescent free love alluded to), are knightly rescuers (they got Timothy Leary out of jail and safely to Algiers), and are willing to sacrifice themselves for their children. And of course their political opinions coincide with the politics of this administration and with the most anti-American propaganda as churned out by New Left anti-imperialists who view Amerikkka as dominated by murderers and warmongers.

In a prior blog ( I claimed that Nature was a character in DuBose Heyward’s popular novel. The same could be said of Gordon’s ingenious characters, whose knowledge of woodland lore, maps, and survivalism, enables their hairbreadth escape from the law and the FBI until the semi-happy ending.  Were we to compare Gordon’s heroes and heroines with prior individuals and movements, I would be inclined to include in that company, the “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the upper Midwest, with Frederick Jackson Turner, with Ernest  Hemingway’s early stories that were located in the same region and that were equally primitivist and tribal, and with the often anarchistic OWS movement. (My dissertation director advised me to watch out for those writers who wrote romantically about Nature, for it was a sign of upper-class identity that they not only appreciated “Nature” but sought to preserve it.)

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Gordon’s novel is the emphasis he places on the cooperation of ordinary Americans as the Weatherman fugitives attempt to evade capture by the authorities. Gordon imagines that these young people, born to privilege and educated in the best universities, had the support of the locals wherever they might flee.

And of course there is a happy ending, for Amor Vincit Omnia. Just ask the ferociously anti-Israel publication Counterpunch.


June 9, 2011

When did “modernism” begin?

Ze’ev Sternhell

[This is an updated comment I once made on the Melville discussion group “Ishmail” in 2003. It reflects my reading at the time.]

First, was “modernism” as an art movement, modern, or was modernism a revolt against “feminized” Victorian culture/liberalism and rationalism, an entity that is for me the very model of modernity? Roger Sandall, a conservative anthropologist, sees the lot of modernists as romantic primitivists and a bad thing that influenced recent trends in the humanities (postmodernism). I have no doubt that the irrationalists Sandall excoriated were terrified of modern women. [Update: I should have mentioned the invention of the printing press as the beginning of modernism, but was not aware of this dating until I started noticing how “liberals” attacked autodidacts as assassins in the late 1990s. This became a major theme of my book on the Melville Revival (2001).]

Second, were 1930s cultural figures who expressed vicious statements about “the Jews” and their baleful influence in bringing about the transformations generally called modernity (but not always), also opponents of artistic modernism? I think that (leftist) Ze’ev Sternhell’s book Neither Left Nor Right: Fascist Ideology in France treats the problem in France and Italy, but I can recommend a run of a particular journal that shows how slippery these labels can be (Robert Paxton dislikes Sternhell’s “middle way” interpretation, rejecting the notion that France was ever fascist, though fascist writers and intellectuals surely existed there).

 American Review was published by Seward Collins, a supporter of the Southern Agrarians, and from whose ranks many of the New Critics emerged. Frankly profascist, it appeared from 1934-37, and attempted to synthesize the thought of New Humanists (incl. Irving Babbitt and More), the English Distributists (incl. G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc), the Neo-Thomists (incl. Robert Maynard Hutchins), and the Southern Agrarians (incl. Alan Tate, Donald Davidson). I read most of every issue, and I recall the animus toward James Joyce and Alfred Stieglitz, contrasting with the admiration for Eliot and Pound. In 1934, they published T. S. Eliot’s famous Barbour lecture at the University of Virginia in which he made his remark about limiting the number of freethinking Jews lest community cohesiveness be jeopardized.

I have described a lot of the materials in this fascinating journal (and it was a revelation to me) in my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, as a number of their writers were great fans of Herman Melville.  (See, for names of famous critics who published in AR.) There was also some crossover with the writers of American Literature, founded in 1929 I think. I have yet to go through Southern Review or other literary periodicals of the 1930s with similar politics.

The Trotskyists of Partisan Review were a confusing lot also. Picasso published a piece decrying the Stock Exchange in an early issue. They published T. S. Eliot (in 1943 I believe) and their writers were in the front lines defending Ezra Pound in the Bollingen Prize controversy of 1949, insisting on the separation between art and life.

It is only lately that I have discovered that “modernism” is seen as prefascist by more than Ze’ev Sternhell. I am reading (Catholic) Richard Noll’s history of The Jung Cult and was amazed to see Freud, Nietzsche, Wagner, Jung, and other “bourgeois” and crypto-Protestant cult leaders all grouped together as promoting the romantic individual, hence part of the supposedly volkisch ideology that fed Hitler and the Nazis. Theodor Herzl is similarly classified with these very bad, very modern fellows in a biography by Amos Elon.

I raised this issue on my KPFK program once (probably in the 1990s), and got a phone call from a frightened academic who said that it was professional suicide to make distinctions between the left-wing and right-wing modernists. If you are interested in the ideology of the New Critics who were so influential in the reconstruction of the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s, please read You will see why my radio caller was afraid to be identified, even by his first name.

March 5, 2010

Organic conservatives and Hitler

Neoclassical Hitler vs. Romantic Ahab

For some organic conservatives, Hitler’s relationship  to the classical ideal changed after the war. As I show in an endnote to Hunting Captain Ahab, opportunistic critics such as Geoffrey Stone could turn a neoclassical Hitler into a figure closer to the American romantic puritan stigmatized by Talcott Parsons during the war. Two related endnotes  follow:

Younger critics may be surprised at the number of New Critics (and related members of the prewar literary establishment mentioned in this book) who published frequently in The American Review (formerly Bookman), edited by Seward Collins and blatantly pro-fascist during its period of publication in the mid-1930s (Apr. 1933-Oct. 1937): these include Cleanth Brooks (vols. 3, 6, 8), Harry Hayden Clark (vols. 2, 4, 5), John Gould Fletcher (vols. 3-6), Norman Foerster (vols.1-5, 9), John Crowe Ransom (vols.1-7), Robert Shafer (vols. 2, 4), Geoffrey Stone (vol. 1, 2, 5-9), Allen Tate (vols. 1-3, 6-8), Mark Van Doren (vol. 8), Austin Warren (vols.3-9), Robert Penn Warren (vols.2, 5, 6, 8), Yvor Winters (vols. 7-9). It was the stated mission of the periodical to bring together the English Distributists (Belloc and Chesterton), New Humanists (Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More), Neo-Thomists, and Southern Agrarians in a neo-classical synthesis to halt the slide toward romantic decadence and socialism (constantly and viciously associated with the inordinate power of international Jewry as either capitalists or communists). A few of the AR writers also published in American Literature: Austin Warren, Yvor Winters, Donald Davidson, and Norman Foerster (who joined the editorial board in the later 1930s). Melville was not mentioned in this journal until May 1936. Yvor Winters wrote in “Jones Very: A New England Mystic,” AR 7: “In the past two decades two major American writers have been rediscovered and established securely in their rightful places in literary history. I refer to Emily Dickinson and to Herman Melville. I am proposing the establishment of a third” (159).

Of the AR critics I have just mentioned, only the future Melvillean Geoffrey Stone vociferously supported the fascist dictatorships. Most confined their essays to literary subjects. See Stone’s “Left Wings Over Europe,” an admiring review of the Wyndham Lewis book of that name defending the re-armament of Germany, AR 7 (Oct. 1936), 564-585. The following passages by Geoffrey Stone sum up humanism as understood in AR:

“[Wyndham Lewis] gives expression, in his amazingly flexible and informal style, to a point of view which is too rarely advanced in England and America. In fact, a leading exponent of the Nazi as a sort of groping Distributist has been Mr. Lewis himself, who, in 1930, gave a thoughtful account of German National Socialism in his book Hitler. At that time Hitler had not yet been chosen by the German people as their ruler and the Nazi movement was still to enjoy the outbursts of vituperative denunciation, variously Marxian, Liberal, and Jewish, which have been hurled at it since its assumption of power. Though Mr. Lewis came forward as the exponent rather than the advocate of the Nazi party, he saw in the movement a resurgence of national vigor and an affirmation of our traditional Western way of life against the corruptions of capitalism and Marxism. He saw in it (and no one who has read his other books can deny Mr. Lewis an eye acute to discern levelling influences) a great popular movement to re-establish individual dignity and to escape the slave-status which collectivism everywhere imposes–whether by machine-guns in Russia or uplift unctuousness in America. He further pointed out that what, to the Anglo-Saxon reader, might seem the nonsense of “Aryan” pride was at least an expedient way of meeting the disintegration brought about by class strife. Pride in race, as he indicated in a still earlier book, Paleface, was far from reprehensible, since it offered one method of lifting the inferiority complex that was being saddled upon the Western white with the purpose of degrading him to the coolie’s level, to the accompaniment of much talk about the equality of races and even the superiority of the darker ones. Fascism–as it exists in Germany, Italy, and Portugal, and as it may exist tomorrow in Belgium under Degrelle’s Rexists and in France under the leadership of Doriot of La Rocque–is not the last embattled stand of capitalism, but, however objectionable some of its features, a truly popular attempt to preserve the ideals of Christian society and to assert, through the classic conception of him, the worth of the individual; and upon recognition of this depends the solution of the problems of our democracies, threatened as they are, by the imminence of the Servile State, whether Marxian or neo-Benthamite. Throughout Left Wings Over Europe Mr. Lewis stresses the need of recognizing the true character of fascism and insists that the attempt being made to prevent such recognition can result only in war and slavery” (570-571, my emph.).

In the very opening pages of his Melville, directed to general readers and published by Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward in 1949, Stone changed his line, now distancing himself from the European tyrannies (brought about by the Calvinist/Puritan/Romantic sensualist spirit, the cause of Melville’s very American problems), and of course, racism. Whereas [neoclassical] Nazis were essentially preserving the classic conception of the individual in Stone’s prewar essay, now they were all Romantics: “American fiction from the first has been touched by the Romantic vision and given to the Romantic attitude. The essence of Romanticism is revolt; it asserts the superiority of the individual’s impulses over all that is established, organized, and rationally articulated. Every false theory eventually works out to its own negation, because falsehood is of its nature contradictory; and the absolute freedom sought by the first Romantics has resulted in our time in tyrannies, whether or practice or theory, as thoroughgoing as any the world has ever seen. The same course of development is plain in the lives of the chief figures of Romanticism” (1). Stone’s study of Melville’s tormented narcissism and abused family can be seen as a cautionary tale to Catholic readers tempted by modernity to “question the Christian ethic” (26) and lured to political adventurism by Eros (44). Stone identifies with Ungar’s reactionary antimodernism, Plotinus Plinlimmon’s virtuous expediency, and Captain Vere’s justice. Arguing against his contemporaries, Stone claims that Melville was never a democrat and did not fundamentally challenge Christianity (26), though he did overcome his earlier rage by the time he wrote Billy Budd. Cf. the notes of Charles Olson and Henry A. Murray, excerpted below.

This conservative Catholic theme is taken up in another endnote:

Ronald Mason was the author of The Spirit Above The Dust (London: John Lehmann, 1951). It is as pure and shocking an example of fascist literary criticism to be found in the Melville Revival, though the reader must be familiar with interwar cultural politics to see it. Mason constantly counterposed Ishmael and Plinlimmon (the detached, flexible, pragmatic Christian stoics) with Ahab and Melville (the rigid puritans/dogmatic sectarian Jews). For Mason, Melville’s high points were found in the Supplement to Battle-Pieces (in which the Lincolnesque Melville nobly calls for reconciliation of the conflicts of (simply different) convictions (217-218); those parts of Clarel where he leans upon Catholicism; and most prominently in Billy Budd, at which point the rootless Jew becomes a moderate man. What makes Mason’s book fascist as opposed to conservative, is his conflation of the unified work of art, the “order of nature,” “ natural justice,” and the lawfulness of the military state as realized in Vere’s pitiless judgment of Billy. Vere/ the authoritarian state does not simply speak for God: it becomes God. (See especially 256-58.) It is Melville’s conversion at the end of his life that makes him, though technically imperfect until that moment, the most important American writer.

While writing Clarel, Melville’s tragic heroes had moved forward: “Melville is perhaps not so much proclaiming his approval of Catholicism as underlining a new realisation that was only now forcing itself upon his meditations—that no faith can be effective and no philosophy have sanction without a firm discipline to enforce it. Protestantism he regarded as flabby with the lack of it; Judaism as perhaps tyrannical with an overdose of it; but Rome he saw for the time as providing just that necessary blend of regulation and rapture that could illuminate an individual without rendering him either unsuitable for contemporary society or too readily corruptible by its compromises. Rome, I must emphasize, symbolized this discipline only, did not necessarily represent it. Melville did not turn Roman Catholic; merely had the perception to invoke on behalf of his rarest visionaries a discipline that their own hearts could not provide alone, but for which they would be forced to turn to a tradition outside their own contexts. This I believe to be one of the most important stages in his spiritual progress” (241).

For Mason, all human conflicts are rooted in human nature, in the struggle to overcome base instincts. Historic struggles are subsumed in this eternal warfare between God and the Devil. The concrete facts of the material world feed the symbolic, mythic, spiritualizing imagination of the artist. Most significant, however, is Mason’s typically medieval belief that the study of the material world and of human institutions intended to lead to amelioration of suffering is Satanic in motivation and result. Protestant or Jewish reformism is seen as the expression of deception, hatred and revenge, with Ahab read accordingly. Echoing the Catholic and fascist writers of American Review, Mason viewed human suffering, like force, as a designated part of the natural order of things.

See also the Melville study by Geoffrey Stone (1949), ideologically identical with Mason’s and described above. The French Melvillean Jean Simon, commenting on the voluminous new Melville scholarship, noted that Mason’s book was to his taste, an example of the “via media” he had always attempted to follow. See his review in Études Anglaises (Feb. 1953), 46. A reprint is located in Jay Leyda’s NYU papers.

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