The Clare Spark Blog

June 13, 2011

Weinergate, Papa Freud, and the Imperfect Father

Henry A. Murray’s story as told by a political ally

While I was doing my dissertation research on literary history in America between the wars, I noticed that Freud and Marx were usually paired together, and that both were anathema to the “moderates” who reconstructed the humanities curriculum, mostly at the end of the 1930s. Marx and Freud were regarded as intruders into the canon, for both were taking an inventory of personal history and the big picture (such as the material and ideological conditions under which works of art were created)  in ways that threatened the “natural harmony” that the moderate men wished to restore.

But of the two “Jewish” intellectuals (both were atheists and hence deficient in unifying “spirituality”), Freud was probably the more threatening, for after all, populism was an important thread in American political history, and Marx’s dim view of big business and finance capital was attractive to small businessmen and many professionals, including poorly paid teachers and other academics. But to think that the pursuit of happiness might be sullied by “everyday unhappiness” (as Freud argued throughout, but especially in his thoughts about the Great War, in which he asserted how lightly civilization sat upon the overpowering demands of sexuality and aggression), was a real downer.

But more, Freud’s jaundiced eye at perfect fathers (and of course religion) threatened already weakened paternal authority in the family, and restoring such paternal authority was a major aim of the social psychologists who were allied to the Roosevelt administration.

Perhaps that is why one of the chief left-liberal propagandists, Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Clinic, Jungian, and long-distance psychoanalyst of Hitler, came down so very hard on Melville’s great novel that followed hard on the heels of Moby-Dick. I refer to Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and partly discussed in my last blog. Murray was one of those who advocated conflating the images of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, so as to improve “morale”—in his view, the morale that kept Americans loyal to the “moderate conservative” agenda (i.e., the New Deal). Perfect father figures were necessary as the  “focus of veneration” and he deemed Melville to be “pathologically puritanical” in judging his own father so harshly for his amorous peccadilloes. (Actually, Melville was not complaining about sex as such, but rather about the abandonment of an illegitimate half-sister by his supposedly Christian family. But Murray was himself a womanizer, and focused on sex alone, as indeed, did his authorized biographer, Forrest G. Robinson.)

Throughout this website, I have come down very hard on both idealization and demonization. Psychoanalysts call this separation of other people into all good or all bad, “splitting”. Splitting is very bad for mental health, as the inevitable disillusion that follows idealizing our parents or other love objects as real human frailties are revealed, can lead to rage and depression.  We don’t expect children to see their parents as imperfect human beings, struggling with sometimes overpowering emotions, such as sexuality that can be wayward in male and female alike. Demagogues count on transferring childish idealization of parental figures to themselves.  And what demagogues do is demonize their opponents, while promising the restoration of pre-adolescent family harmony to their audiences.  In other words, demagoguery leads to mass regression; to a dependent childhood state where the critical faculties are not yet developed.

There is a remedy to the siren call of the demagogue. It is an education in economics, and in the skills that enable adults to analyze the costs and benefits of proposed public policies as they emanate from either political party. But before we can do that we have to summon the courage to look inside ourselves and to try to get to the sources of our deepest motives that determine loves and hates. In the case of Weinergate and the huge emotions evoked in many, we might visit our images of ourselves as holier-than-thou (and most certainly holier than the damned Weiner). I admire every writer with the nerve to do this, as Melville surely did in his great, much-abused, and under-rated novel Pierre.  Some call this looking inside without covering our eyes as demonic (in the cover to the paperback edition that I have, Pierre’s face is darkened as he merges with Isabel –the latter an emblem of suffering humanity). I call this intense self-scrutiny sanity and moderation.

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June 11, 2011

Coulter, Weiner, Goldberg and the Liberal Mob

Two events in the last several weeks are worthy of comment by a historian.  First, the still brewing scandal of Congressman Anthony Weiner’s tweets, and second, the release of Ann Coulter’s latest book, this one entitled Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America.

Yesterday on my Facebook page, I wondered why the thrust of “Weinergate” was a mob-like assault on Weiner, tantamount to a witch hunt. Pundits did have the option to talk about male sexuality [and its drive toward multiple partners], instead of piling on Weiner. As this was a bit abstract and possibly dangerous territory,  I tried to direct the discussion into the hyper-sexualization of adolescence in the popular television show Glee, going so far as to suggest that adolescent boys and girls might be better off separated in single-gender schools so that they might be free of the biologically based preoccupation with snaring love-objects.  As a feminist, I was especially concerned with the emotional manipulation learned by girls that caters to male fetishes. This latter suggestion prompted some responses and lots of wandering off topic. Sex is apparently too hot to handle especially in a public forum. One very religious right-wing commentator on my list was furious that Weiner had lied. I replied (roughly) that the lying that goes on in both private and public life was so pervasive as to be the norm, and that powerful persons will do and say anything to retain power, that the problem is with a culture that rewards status-preservation above the truth.

Earlier in the week, one Christian Toto, a writer for Pajamas Media, puffed Coulter’s latest outpouring against the Democratic Party, adding to his praise a mention of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.  Both works see the Jacobin mob and its Reign of Terror as precursor to everything that conservatives Coulter and Goldberg reject in progressive America.  I objected to this ahistoric and irresponsible  line of reasoning in a comment, and the comment was censored. I also remarked that venting on the internet was not constructive. I had crossed a line, at least for whoever moderated the comments.

It is very strange to me that Anthony Weiner’s lying should be universally condemned, while Coulter’s and  Goldberg’s lying and hysterical demonization of the opposition, is not. It is one thing for conservative journalists to condemn statism through criticism of specific social policies, but to take the moral high ground while highly vulnerable themselves is hypocrisy. Ann Coulter agrees with Jonah Goldberg that we are in the grip of a “nanny state.” (Coulter notoriously suggested –jokingly–that women not be allowed to vote, for their compassionate nature overcomes sound economic policy.)

I have worked over Jonah Goldberg’s awful book here: https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/. I have not written previously about Ann Coulter, but I recommend another blog  https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.  If Ann Coulter does not fit the dominatrix archetype, then no one does. Her popularity (on the Right) as a polemicist is a symptom of a pathological and hyper-polarized political culture. It is also a reminder that conservatives and classical liberals have little to say to each other.

[Added later 6-11-2011:] I have been asked to specify how Goldberg and Coulter were lying.  In my blog on Liberal Fascism, I pointed out that Goldberg had mischaracterized Walter Lippmann. [I just reread my blog: I criticized Goldberg on Lippmann elsewhere on the website, here: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.] In both cases (Goldberg and Coulter), there is no genealogy that links the [godless]  Jacobin terror with modern social democracy and its alleged mob psychology. It is a violation of historical method to do that. The precursors to social democracy were religious conservatives fending off materialist ideologies (e.g. materialists doing history without taking into account divine intervention in human affairs). They include Christian Socialism, Bismarck, the Social Gospel, the distributionism of Rerum Novarum, and of the Progressive movement in general. Social democrats have been strong anticommunists, offering their own piecemeal reform as the antidote to godless materialism.

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