The Clare Spark Blog

March 13, 2014

What is cultural relativism?

culturalrelativism2Briefly, cultural relativism does NOT mean that there are no impermissible human actions—sex and violence for instance, but that different cultures have ethical systems that make sense to them, given their state of material development and the belief systems that sustain them.  Cultural relativism exists in tension with human rights and ethical universalism. The Left uses that contradiction to trash the “bourgeois” notion of human rights advanced by ethical systems as diverse as the Catholic Church and freethinking. (Multiculturalism, a form of relativism, does not acknowledge this contradiction, but imagines different cultures united without conflict as in this illustration. This is the dream world of Wilsonian internationalism and today’s multiculturalism or rooted cosmopolitanism.)

I recall a period when leftists commonly attacked “imperialism” for destroying native “communities”—no matter how backward and horrifically sexist these pre-scientific/pre-capitalist cultures were. It was also the case that some Enlightenment freethinkers (Diderot for example), imagined that “primitive” cultures were free from the instinctual repression that they attributed to the West and its strict religions. (I have written about the fantastic nature of primitives earlier on this website: see

Or, some European leftists imagined that native Africans lived in untroubled harmony with Nature: the late Roger Garaudy for example. This was yet another common idealization of the primitive, following Rousseau or the multitudes who celebrated noble savages as a critique of surplus repression in their families of origin. The Melville Revival was partly motivated by his first two novels–the best sellers Typee and Omoo.

Turn now to Andrew Klavan’s booklet The Crisis in the Arts: Why the Left Owns the Culture and How Conservatives can Begin To Take it Back (David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2014). Klavan, a  crime fiction novelist, wants “conservatives” to open up a new front in the culture wars, by leaving off their censorious ways, and exploring the inner lives of humans, as if human nature has been the same no matter what stage of development a particular society may be in. The irony is that Klavan is addressing religious persons, either Catholics or evangelical Protestants, many of whom have been complaining about hypersexuality and violence in the media, and in popular or high culture in general. He wants their money to support Klavan-approved artists, and he wants them to create “conservative” art—art that would disseminate a new, conservatively constructed conscience, thence to rule the world, as Shelley advised in one of his most Romantic moments. Klavan also appeals to the late activist Andrew Breitbart, claiming that this was Breitbart’s hope before he died at the age of 43.

But Klavan is deeply unaware of art history, literary history, the history of popular culture, and of the marketplace of ideas that he presumably wants to extend to include his monolithic notion of conservatism (as if there were not deeply conservative trends in culture already). First, he imagines that there is something called the Left, monolithic and unified, that is currently in control of both high and popular culture. Take popular culture for instance: as a watchful consumer of both high and pop culture, I am struck by its populism, not its Leninism. The working class is not depicted as the vanguard of communist revolution, but as worthy of our compassion and respect, just as it is. Moreover, pop culture celebrates the tastes of the Common Man and Common Woman: for spectacle, for glitter, suspicion of hanky-panky in high places, and for shows of military force and physical virtuosity.

Such shows as Law and Order resemble other socially responsible capitalist productions, taking their marching orders from those institutions attacking irresponsible rich people (often Jews), whose instinctual excesses will, unchecked, instigate revolts from below. (For detailed blogs analyzing television programming see


To conclude, Klavan is still living in a magical world of mystery and simplicity, where there are no troublesome clashing world views, where families can be depicted as always happy and unified, where soldiers come home without PTSD or missing limbs, and where women would rather leave the workplace and go back home to the kitchen and multiple pregnancies. He means well; he wants an art that is so powerful it will defeat the big bad Left, to reinstitute a culture of conscience that never co-existed with the libertarian values that he simultaneously champions in this confusing booklet.


You can stop reading here, or go on with an endnote to my book on the Melville Revival, along with some statements by powerful figures in the history of Western civilization; they deal with monsters and monstrous ideas. Monsters are one target of Klavan’s wrath, when he is in his conscience-instructing mood (as opposed to the libertarian mood):

An endnote from Hunting Captain Ahab: See John Block Friedman, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981), 35, 47-49, 53. The Attic sensibility was viewed by medieval (Aristotelian) Catholics as moderate, disciplined and balanced, while its monstrous antitheses represented “emotion, redundance, and formal disorder”; monstrosity was correlated with “the enigmatic, the inflated and the grandiose.” The hot, deserted antipodes were linked to the vaguely situated Ethiopia, and found at the most extreme distances from the Greek center of the world; its perverse inhabitants had feet turned backwards and walked upside down; i.e., they were out of reach of the Christian gospel.

[From Chapter Five of HCA:]

For Thomas Hobbes (1651), curiosity was not an aid to reason, but an indomitable passion of the mind that could overpower and displace the less troublesome pleasures of food and sex:

Desire to know why, and how, <is> CURIOSITY; such as is in no living creature but Man; so that Man is distinguished, not onely by his reason; but also by this singular Passion from other Animals; in whom the appetite of food, and other pleasures of Sense, by praedominance, take away the care of knowing causes; which is a Lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continuall and indefatigable generation of Knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of any carnall Pleasure.”[i]

In 1659 “Committees of the Good Old Cause” were virtuous vampires: “This Dragon it was and a monstrous Beast,/ With fourty or fifty heads at least,/ And still as this Dragon drank down Blood/ Those heads would wag and cry “good-good-good!”[ii] Not surprisingly, the same tumescent Heads exasperated Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel:

The Jews, a Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race,

As ever tri’d the’extent and stretch of grace;

God’s pampered People, whom, debauch’d with ease,

No King could govern, nor no God could please;

(God they had tri’d of every shape and size,

That God-smiths would produce, or Priests devise:)

These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,

Began to dream they wanted liberty;

And when no rule, no president was found

Of men, by Laws less circumscrib’d and bound,

They led their wild desires to Woods and Caves,

And thought that all but Savages were Slaves.[i]

NOTES to book excerpts

[i] 6. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Part I, Chapter 6, 26. Do Melville’s rebel senses refer only to repressed sexuality, or are they the necessary stimulus to thought, reflection, and the perilous search for “why” and “how”?

[ii] 7. “Sir Eglamor and the Dragon, How General George Monck slew a most Cruell Dragon, Feb.11, 1659,” Rump: or an Exact Collection of the Choycest Poems and Songs Relating to the Late Times (London, 1662), 371-2.

[iii]  8. Quoted in Cicely V. Wedgwood, Politics and Poetry Under the Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1960), 165-166. Dryden’s fears have not been quieted in her commentary: “Leaving aside this sidelong shot at current political theories about noble savages, this is the statement of a man who remembers the excesses of the sects and disorders of the Civil War, who sees how fatally easy it is to kindle into flame a ‘Headstrong, Moody, Murm’ring race’–a one-sided but not untrue description of the seventeenth-century English–and who knows how difficult it will be to put out the flame once kindled?” Her obituary (NYT, 3/11/97) credits her with “vivid narratives [that] told the story of Britain with the common man in mind.” A fellow at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, 1953-68, Dame Veronica was born in 1910 to Sir Ralph Wedgwood, a baronet and former head of British Railways, and was great-great granddaughter to Josiah Wedgwood (identified here as a potter).


June 17, 2011

The famed “Jewish vote”

Peter Bergson, born Hillel Kook

Roger Simon, Pajamas Media CEO, interviewed members of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles, and posted a short video of his sampling (  Interviewees included such prominent Republicans as Andrew Breitbart and Frank Luntz. At one point, Roger Simon asked one person if voting Democratic was “in our DNA?” Luntz, in a different interview, opined that Jews in Florida, Nevada and Ohio could sway the next election, implying that a majority of Jews did not have to switch parties to change the outcome of the election of 2012.

This blog is about the conception of “the Jewish vote” and an historical suggestion as to the apparent loyalty of a majority of “Jews” to a political party that is now openly hostile to Israel.  In no particular order:

The very conception of “the Jewish vote” is ideological and often racist in its assigning of a collective identity to “the Jews”.  For instance, Truman’s famous de facto recognition of Israel, barely beating out the Soviet Union’s recognition in May 1948, is sometimes  attributed to the concentration of Jews in New York City, and the importance of that constituency to his campaign for president. Or sometimes, his old Jewish friend and business partner Eddie Jacobson gets the credit for swaying Truman into accepting a meeting with Chaim Weizmann—an encounter that is said to have revitalized Truman’s sympathy for the plight of the stranded displaced persons who wished to emigrate to Israel, and who had incurred his wrath as overly pushy in their American representatives (Peter Bergson or Abba Hillel Silver).   What is left out of such narratives is the Cold War and the strategic position of Israel, a new state that was being ostentatiously wooed by the Soviet Union, and which could not have beaten its enemies without arms shipped secretly from Czechoslovakia.  (On the ever-expansionist Soviet Union: it expected Israelis to lead the Arab lower classes into revolution against the U.K. and its cooperating Arab elites.)

The bad part about predicting that Jews may switch parties because of Israel and its growing unpopularity among academic elites is this: it buttresses the antisemitic notion that Jews have dual loyalties, that they are indeed “ a people apart,” the Wandering Jews (rootless cosmopolitans) who never put down roots but adhere to tribal loyalties and the directives of their domineering, militaristic, and angry Jewish God as represented in the (Christian) Old Testament.  The irony is that few if any American presidents (relying on the Arabist State Department) have put the interests of Israel above the national interests of the U.S., notwithstanding the allegedly omnipotent “Jewish lobby.” (See

The second point is the long memory of Americans who are allegedly “Jewish” and who are liberal or Marxists through cultural (not biological) inheritance.  It is true that Tikkun Olam is a critical component of the Jewish faith and “Jewish” cultural identity (though its meaning is disputed, with many arguing that personal repentance and reparations, not a broad social activist mandate was intended), but possibly more important as a factor influencing “the Jewish vote” is this:  the vast majority of Americans of Jewish descent look back to grandparents and great-grandparents who were of Eastern European origin, and who made their way in America as workers and small businessmen.  They were often greeted by the nativism of WASP elites, or the antagonism of rival ethnic groups (Irish, Italian, Polish) in the tough neighborhoods where the penniless immigrants landed. Since many WASPs and progressive Catholics occupied powerful positions in the professions and in government, playing ball with the progressives was a route to assimilation and escape from the ghettoes. As for the famous Jews of Hollywood, whatever their personal feelings may have been, they catered to the populism of the American majority, which was profitable if masochistic, since populists have always hated “the money power,” a force that is unmistakably “Jewish,” as repulsive and aggressive as the “Jewish” God. And populism is more palatable in the Democratic Party, where successful persons of Jewish descent can continue to fight for the underdog and the outsider.

July 18, 2010

White elite enabling of Black Power


Christopher Edley debates affirmative action with Charles Fried, Harvard Law Bulletin (Spring 2004)

These materials are taken from my unpublished ms. “Eros and the Middle Manager.” Some of the quotes have already been posted in my memoir of Pacifica Radio and also in Rough Ride Through The Culture Wars, but the material from Yale is new to the website. For an index to all my black power blogs, see But also see a recent blog that shows how the moderate men demonized pioneers and frontiersmen as the worst racists, whose legacy haunts us today:

[From Black Studies in the University: A Symposium, edited by Armstead Robinson et al (Yale U.P., 1969), a transcript of papers presented at a conference organized by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, late spring 1968, and featuring among its speakers Harold Cruse and Ron Karenga, two prominent spokesmen for cultural nationalism (an irrationalist ideology); they and other speakers hold up urban and campus violence as a warning, noting that time is running out for the advancement of social peace.

Harold Cruse defines cultural nationalism, Q&A (26-27):  …in a society such as America, in which you have the ideas and achievements of black people constantly de-emphasized, “overlooked,” unrecorded, or excluded in the general realm of ideas, any attempt to re-emphasize these ideas must take the form of cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalism is nothing but the attempt of a group or nation or minority to express what is indigenous to its own historical background in order to enhance its public image–social image–in the eyes of the world. Unless there is a spirit of cultural nationalism, you would not have any national or ethnic group resurgence on any level, in any sphere. In America, where it is difficult for the white outlook, and often the black outlook, to accept the fact that the black group exists in many ways in a world separate from the whites, it is difficult to accept the validity of cultural nationalism on the part of the Negro as a group in American society because this is not the way we have been conditioned, educated, or trained to see this particular aspect of social reality. Cultural nationalism is nothing but an attempt to prevent the cultural particularism of the dominant white group from continuing to overshadow and submerge the essence of the black experience in America. If you examine this society as a whole, you will notice that all American groupings and sub-groupings have resorted in the past to the cultivation of their cultural nationalism in their attempt to adjust and gain recognition in American society. Without this impetus, there cannot be a concerted drive or thrust toward the creation and perpetuation of a course of black studies in the university.  You have to have this as a motivation, or else the whole idea of the institution of a black studies program becomes very meaningless.

[Ron Karenga explains his separatist educational philosophy  (Q&A, 44-45)]: I feel that black people should communicate black things. Why? We teach that methodology is very important in instruction, but unless one understands that education is more than just the communication of ideas for political effect, we’ll never see that education is basically two things: the provision of inspiration and the provision of information.  Now, we put inspiration first, because black people are an emotional people and our first commitment is an emotional one. Quite a few times myself I have been extremely rational, and blacks have no counter to it, but they disagree–either out of a false sense of Socratic tradition, which says that it is intelligent to disagree even if someone is right, or because he has been emotionally estranged from me.  We teach that the first commitment is an emotional one.  I cannot become emotionally committed to a white person, no matter what he says: I can laugh at what he does if it’s ridiculous enough, but I cannot become emotionally committed to him. I must have an image to identify with and that image must be personified in the man who’s communicating that thing to me or the image he projects. I’m saying that education is basically an inspirational thing and that methodology should take into consideration inspiration before information….

[Gerald A. McWorter introduces a theme that others amplify: there is very little scholarship available on “the black experience” or “the black community” so Yale and the other preserves of white financial power will have to develop curricula and scholars almost de novo. (Karenga offers his services as a consultant during the question period.)  This is how McWorter, a sociologist teaching at Spelman College, characterizes the worthless work of Gunnar Myrdal and his nameless black collaborators (after criticizing the work of the Chicago sociologists around Robert Park as overly focused on race relations):]

[McWorter:]  One must also mention in this concern with “race relations” the book by Gunnar Myrdal, AN AMERICAN DILEMMA, which to black people contains the white Myrdalian dilemma, not the dilemma of black people. Here I want specifically to note the whole question of “race relations,” because in the beginning period of empirical inquiry, it was race relations that was a concern–that is, people were concerned about the relationship of black people and white people and not, not, the life within the black community.  I suppose that’s natural, since these people were concerned about the survival of the society which was white. Now, the Myrdalian dilemma essentially is that, even though he had tremendous contact with a significant number of black scholars, he saw black people basically the same way as William Faulkner, the white racist novelist of the South. That is, he said that white people presented all of the alternatives available to black people, and if one ever wanted to understand black people, you merely had to look at white people who were around them, calculate the obverse of what you saw and you’d come up with what black people are about. There was no inkling in his mind that over a period of time black people could create a community, a culture, that would be functionally autonomous from the white oppressors who raped them from Africa.  Again, it seems to me that this should be clear to anyone with knowledge of recent research who is listening to voices coming from the black community.

[From a small conference “to explore the role of education in combating racial discrimination,” Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, published as Racism and American Education: A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Foreward by Averell Harriman, Harper and Row, 1970:]  

[Kenneth Clark (President of the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, Inc. Member of the New York State Board of Regents, and Professor of Psychology at City College of New York):]…I don’t see how we can avoid coming to the conclusion that teachers, who are supposed to be professionals with confidence in the potential of human  beings, are deficient in areas in which higher education is supposed to provide knowledge.  In some research among teachers selected by their principals to discuss teaching with us, the common denominator, interestingly enough true of Negro teachers as well as white teachers, was a profound illiteracy on what you would consider critical areas of knowledge.  I mean the attitudes, well not just the attitudes, but the knowledge of cultural anthropology or modern and contemporary knowledge about race and racial differences and racial potentialities or social psychology...They were really illiterate…in areas of social science that were relevant to their jobs (52).

[C. Van Woodward (Sterling Professor of History at Yale University):]…Americans in the early phases of nationalism did really foolish things.  In order to establish what they would now call their identity, Americans denigrated everything European in culture, and at the same time exalted everything American.  If it was American, it was beautiful, and if it was European, it was not.  Of course, that resulted in a lot of third-rate art and letters and sculpture and so forth.  I think we have recovered from our earlier excesses of nationalism in this respect, but by no means are we free from nationalism as a country.  The black nationalism, I think, will manifest many of these same excesses.  I think this is inevitable, and I think we are going to have to live with it in the colleges, in the public schools, all down the line.  We’re going to have to adjust to it.  I think we must think about it with as much dispassionate wisdom as we can muster, because it’s likely to get out of hand (64-65; see Kenneth Clark rejecting tolerance of black nationalism, 68).

[Christopher Edley (Program Officer in charge of the Government and Law Program at the Ford Foundation):]…I’m convinced that the way you eliminate prejudice and racism in America is not by talking and education and explanation.  I think you have to start with a simple cliché‚ like God, motherhood, or country.  You have to have something that has a noble ring.  And it seems to me that what this country needs is a movement, and I don’t know that this is the appropriate group to sponsor it.  This country needs a movement.  The way to eliminate prejudice is to smother it.  If we could bring about a climate in this country where no one could express a prejuducial viewpoint without being challenged, we would begin to drive prejudice underground.  And I submit to you that prejudice unexpressed and unacted upon dies–it doesn’t fester and grow–it dies.  Now this is high sounding, and I don’t expect people to agree with such a simplistic solution.  But I really believe that you can stamp it out.  And if you look at our national figures today, there are certain people who cannot make a prejudicial remark.  Many of our Governors, the President, many responsible Senators are precluded in their public lives from ever making a prejudiced public statement, and if they make a statement that sounds like it’s prejudicial, they’re called on it and the next day, as General de Gaulle found, it was necessary to recant.  So we don’t allow them to get away with anything.  But at the lower levels, over the dinner table…[ellipsis in original, Edley is an African-American now teaching at Harvard Law School.]

[Franklin Roosevelt (Former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Congressman from the Twentieth Congressional District in New York during the eighty-first to the eight-third Congresses):]  The citizen level…[ellipsis in orig.]

[Christopher Edley:]  At the citizen level, we say it’s perfectly all right for a bigot to express his bigoted thoughts.  If you’re anti-Negro you can speak out against the Negro at supper.  The simplicity of the idea I submit to you is the thing that gives it some national potential for changing the climate (145).  [Identifications as published, xiii-xv].

[Ed Goodman, Manager of New York City Pacifica Station WBAI, report 1972:]  The tension between access and quality appears to me to be inevitable.  The tension is now more pronounced due to the heightened consciousness of various disenfranchised groups such as gay people, blacks, women, etc.  The problem is particularly acute within the context of the electronic media where the opportunities are limited by the numbers of hours in the day, and the licensing prerequisites.  These limitations are absent in the theater, print journalism, and other areas of expression.  Though the assertion that we should hire talented people and the hell with other considerations is, on the face, appealing, it is much too simplistic and ultimately self-limiting and suicidal.  It denies the contention that there are unique points of view and perspectives that are reflective of one’s ethnic background, sex, sexual proclivity, life style, and economic status.  The station is therefore enriched if its staff can reflect the diversity of the listening audience.  Of course, if diversity of this kind is sought for political expediency to the exclusion of talent and intelligence, this course too is limiting and destructive. [end, Goodman excerpt]

Erasing “class” as an analytic category.  The maturing academics who entered the professoriate after their baptism in tumultuous 1960s social movements, movements without linkage to the disorganized and quiescent working class whose members were often understandably resentful of privileged “draft dodgers” and “anti-Americans,” responded indignantly to the claims of “equal opportunity,” the pride of upwardly mobile urban ethnics embracing the tradition of Jackson and Lincoln.  Since women and non-whites were so obviously underrepresented in university faculties and curricula, and since many 1960s veterans were sympathetic to black power and other national liberation movements (viewed as responding to internal colonialism and imperialism), some insurgents accounted for the absence of women and non-whites in leadership positions as symptoms of “white male” or “patriarchal” intolerance/hegemony.  The “multiculturalists” did not argue that the position of women/non-whites in the family and labor force precluded the lengthy period of leisure, privacy, travel and acculturation anyone (including working-class white males) needed to become a scholar; rather their “difference” made their cultures of “the Other” unfathomable to transparently obtuse white males.  The new pluralists settled into ghettoized ethnic studies and women’s studies programs which, by virtue of their particular institutionalization in response to the 1960s black power and radical feminist movements suggested ethnic and gender difference as the most relevant variables, the engines of history for non-whites and women (however often “class” might be dropped into the mix of “class, race, and gender”).  As was feared by the conservative liberals at Martha’s Vineyard promoting the coöptation of black nationalism, race (and gender) had virtually erased class as an objective category.  Not surprisingly the dissenting individual also went the way of all flesh, collapsed into a notion of “individuality” as a feature of groups (race or ethnicity).

Fitting neatly into the idealist counter-Enlightenment which had promoted the concepts of racial, ethnic and national character, many theorizing young scholars, adopting a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Freudian rhetoric and, following the subjectivism, irrationalism, and group-think of Herder, Kant and Max Weber, defined themselves as revolutionary postmodernists, declaring that the categories of race, class, and gender, like literary taste, were all “socially constructed,” historically rooted, and thus “radically Other,” i.e., resistant to empathic readings or universal standards of truth and craft. [I understand that my characterizations of Kant and Weber are controversial.]  These anti-pluralist pluralists, champions of diversity and tolerance, have not been promulgating “hegemonic” Enlightenment or Victorian notions of species-unity (other than Herder’s international yet localist crazy quilt); they have mostly attempted to demolish the rationalism and universalist ethics spawned by the radical Reformation and scientific revolution then born by the philosophes, “Old Jewry”–radicals like Price and Priestley as they were characterized by a hostile Edmund Burke–liberal feminists, abolitionists, English Chartists, the independent labor movement, and the civil rights movement.

The underlying unity between apparently warring generations (authoritarian liberals and Stalinists versus the New Left generation) is illustrated by their common periodization of Cold War-style repression of civil liberties in “McCarthyism.” Little attention is paid to centuries-old élite resistance to mass literacy and numeracy and the torrent of democratic ideas that followed.  After the brief hiatus of the Nazi-Stalin Pact (1939-1941), American Stalinists dropped that short-lived campaign against American warmongers, once more supporting corporatist New Deal policies against the assaults of “fascist Republicans” or “monopoly capital.”  The prolific Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation and foe to racism and censorship, was impressed by the methodology of Talcott Parsons and other “moderate” top-down planners who, after the war, opposed the arms race as an excessive drain on the welfare state.  Like many of the other corporatist thinkers described here, McWilliams was a regionalist and a populist; whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party as charged, he was certainly never a materialist Marxist.  His papers from the 1930s (at UCLA) suggest that he was following the Communist line, switching from a view of the New Deal as “social fascism” to best friend of the working class during the Popular Front (1935-1939).  Like other New Deal social democrats, he wanted to strengthen capitalism by bringing good labor unions and racial minorities into the system to stabilize the base.  After the war, “McCarthyism” was bad because it confused conservative reformers like himself with real communists.

Writing in the late 1960s, political scientist Michael Rogin denied that populists were antisemites, as neoconservative Richard Hoftstadter had charged in his Age of Reform (1957).  McCarthy was not a populist, Rogin argued, but a spokesman for traditional conservative élites, the selfish laissez-faire crowd of materialists participating in the (bad) American Lockean consensus.  Denouncing white supremacy (hitherto an emblem for Wall Street and the power of Jewish money), New Left radicals like McWilliams and Rogin internalized the Soviet-Tory terror-gothic scenario for the history of the last five centuries: Frankenstein monsters, the unique progeny of crazy scientists, Victorian prudery, and “the culture of narcissism” i.e., the ever unitary [Jewish] West, have produced genocide, exploitation of the Third World and the colonization of domestic minorities, mind-control by the mass media and CIA, urban snobbery, reification, commodification, luxury, and consumerism.  The radical scholars apparently hate money (commercialism) more than they love the creative, questing individual.  Do these populists resist the market as a coercive, brutal mechanism or, like displaced feudal clerics and aristocrats, would they ban the site of judgment by upstart “consumers” they cannot control?  Or, as anticapitalists and anti-imperialists, have they carved out their own super-moral niche on the market while apparently rejecting it?

More from the Martha’s Vineyard conference.

 [Kenneth Boulding:] Suppose we do something like this: We go to a voucher plan.  You give every child $500 to $1000 a year, and he can spend it any way he wants.  And give every Negro child $1500.

[Jerome Wiesner:] But that’s racism.

[Kenneth Boulding:] But I mean I am in favor of racism.  I think racism is important.  Well, they call it discrimination–not the same thing as racism at all.  These are two quite different subjects.  If you want to introduce some kind of counterweight to discrimination, this is where the federal government comes in.  We may see the federal government, the whole taxing-and-subsidizing business, as a total picture weighted toward correcting some of these ills of society.  This seems to me to be its major function (32).

[Christopher Edley, explaining that his support of black power in the 1950s and 60s did not entail a belief in racism:]  Now some excesses have come to the fore.  There is a danger of black nationalism, there is a danger of black separatism that goes beyond the temporary withdrawal to recoup our strength, to regroup and to seek out the powers that we want–the economic and social powers that seem to be attainable for us as a group only through the use of black identity.  Now I think there are roles that Negroes have to play.  It seems to me that the power structure has only responded to the excessive demands that have been made in the Negro community, and that there are certain Negroes who because they are bold and courageous, because they have little to lose, must demand things of the power structure which are excessive.  And I think that if we–the Ken Clarks and the Chris Edleys and perhaps the Lisle Carters–have a role to play, it is to capitalize on the softening up process that results from the excessive demands… [Black identity and race pride] will enable [students] to band together to overcome the obstacles.  I think that subconsciously they are seeking to get into the melting pot and the mainstream of American life.  I don’t believe that black nationalism will be the major thread…I don’t think that we need condemn [black-power studies], and I think many of us get caught in the situation where we have to think as Americans, as Negroes, and perhaps as something in between.  And I think it is possible to identify rationally the roles that people are playing and to realize that really in the long run they complement each other rather than being antagonistic to each other (71-72).*

So much for checks and balances.  In all cases, the Romantic Wandering Jew (the Byronic hero, Ahab, Peer Gynt as historian, myself) and our critical apparatus curse the strange diagnostics of democratic pluralists and anti-pluralist multiculturalists alike; s/he totes “the melting pot”[1] that jams Durkheimian solidarities too close to bad Jews, the latter identified in the nineteenth century by one republican theorist with “the moral nature of Anglo-Saxondom, with its virile instincts of right, freedom, and humanity, defending our cause against all comers, with indomitable courage and constancy of faith.”[2] Such troubling figures were revising and reconfiguring the past and present to produce what the “pluralists” regard as protofascist anomie, the alarming switch from homey, heimlich Gemeinschaft to intrusive and alienating, unheimlich Gesellschaft. [3]

[Untitled poem submitted to London Mercury by an Englishman, Lawrence Binyon (a William Blake reviver of the 1920s):]

From the howl of the wind/ As I opened the door/ And entered, the firelight/ Was soft on the floor;/ And mute in their places/ Were table and chair/ The white wall, the shadows,/ Awaiting me there./ All was strange on a sudden!/ From the stillness a spell,/ A fear or a fancy,/ Across my heart fell./ Were they awaiting another/ To sit by the hearth?/ Was it I saw them newly/ A stranger on earth?    [4]

*Christopher Edley, Jr. rose quickly to powerful positions in academe. For twenty-three years he was a professor at Harvard Law School, later becoming Dean of the UC Berkeley Law School, Boalt Hall.  He was an informal adviser to Barack Obama. In the illustration, he was debating the Solicitor General in the Reagan Administration, Charles Fried. The latter argued that affirmative action had done its job and should be phased out. Edley strongly disagreed according to the “Brief” in the Harvard Law Bulletin.

Postscript. This week (July 19-23) was largely devoted to shoddy reporting of the Shirley Sherrod tape of her NAACP talk, a snippet of which was revealed by Andrew Breitbart, who has since been held up to ridicule by the MSM, howling in unison. One of the few accurate reports I have seen was Andy McCarthy’s Corner piece in NRO. I watched the entire tape, took notes, and discerned a clever propaganda ploy, in which Sherrod laid claim to the heritage of the integrationist civil rights movement while actually reiterating the main tropes and story lines of black nationalism. It is interesting to note that Fox News Channel has been unable to describe the actual content of the Sherrod talk; either its pundits do not recognize the narrative, or are afraid to appear guilty of accusing black people as “racists” (it is the claim of black nationalists that the oppressed are incapable of racism; as victims of white supremacy they are simply freedom fighters on behalf of suffering humanity).

Ms. Sherrod’s line can be summarized as follows: Just as her father was murdered by whites (who were never punished) and just as the Klan burnt a cross on her lawn as she involved herself in civil rights (they too, though recognized, went unprosecuted), “mean-spirited” Republicans are resisting health care reform: i.e., powerful whites have been killing blacks  and getting away with it, but this may change with this administration or the election of a second black president. But most astonishingly, she invents an even longer heritage for white racism. There was once a golden age of race relations in colonial America, when black and white indentured servants intermarried. Wealthy whites, appalled by miscegenation (analogous to the black-white unity in the service of social justice she was calling for in her talk), invented slavery and racism. Thus she established the narrative: (wealthy, hate-ridden) whites will continue destroying black people until reparations are instituted and whites experience a change of heart, demonstrated by a statism and redistributive policies implemented by savvy blacks like herself. In other words, she represents the chief tenets of black liberation theology. For my numerous blogs on black power see And don’t miss the ones on Arne Duncan.


[1] The particular menace of the melting pot is made explicit by the Catholic, Irish Nationalist, pro-Nazi James Murphy, Adolf Hitler, The Drama of His Career (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934): 120-121.  Catholic Centre coalitions with godless Prussians and socialists promoting a secularising Jewish press were similarly disasters for the simple, insightful peasants Murphy defends throughout.  He cites and recommends Hans Ehrenberg, Deutschland im Schmelzhofen (“Germany in the Melting Pot”).

[2]See Charles Sumner: An Essay by Carl Schurz, ed. Arthur  Reed Hogue (U.of Illinois Press, 1951):97. Schurz was referring to the Englishman John Bright, linking his character to Sumner’s.

[3] See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, ed. Jose Harris, transl. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Originally published in 1887, Tönnies’s book is considered to be a classic work of sociology, but not until after the first world war (xxviii-xxviii) was it canonized. At first seen as a “communist tract,” it was taken up by German “ultra-nationalists,” and in America during the 1930s was read as “an essay in consensual structural functionalism.” The editor of this edition seems favorably disposed to this elusive and mysterious work. Tönnies was the son of a merchant banker, and given his hostility to modernity, one wonders how much of his disgust with the modern world was intertwined with his feelings about his father. In 1892 he “helped found Society for Ethical Culture, the vehicle for his life-long involvement in various co-operative, social reform, and self-improvement movements.” (xxxi-xxxii)

[4] Lawrence Binyan was an English Blake scholar, and a key figure in the William Blake promotion that followed World War I; the poem is in the J.C. Squire Papers, UCLA Special Collections.

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