YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 15, 2018

Wilsonian “democracy” is alive and well, maybe

I don’t blame my FB friends (or others) for blurring the boundary between factions of “the Left.” Rereading the Beards’ popular volumes (no footnotes!) on THE RISE OF AMERICAN CIVILIZATION (1927), I can’t tell if the authors are “moderate”/“Wilsonian democrats” as they claim, or revolutionary socialists, for they did get their works published and may have been slipping their more heartfelt convictions through censorship in the book market. Nevertheless, in their enthusiasm for labor unions, anti-imperialism, and secularism, I see the Beards as close to today’s social justice democrats. (Although the Beards did not live to see the climate change debates, as sort of Jeffersonian agrarians, they were anti-machine (industrialism), like today’s counter-culture, opposed to the standardization of technology (mass media!) and the concomitant creation of a national market–not a local one) Indeed, I wonder if the Beards proclivity for collectivist discourses stems from the notion that standardization affects human beings to the point where we are all the same?

But what this blog is about is the resemblance of the Beards’ work and the current Democratic Party (and even the “progressive” faction in the Republican Party), especially since the emphases conferred by the New Left that picked up steam in the 1960s (emphasizing “race,” “gender,” and “ecology,” over class struggle as the outcome of the civil rights, feminist, and environmental movements).

For instance,1. identity politics (class, race, and gender determine political allegiance/leanings), 2. anti-capitalism/anti-imperialism, 3. animus toward “the idle rich”/the Gilded Age/ initially brought by crypto-Jew Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “the money power”), 4. class struggle between <em>soi-disant aristocrats (industrialists) vs. farmers and laborers, 5. white supremacy/racism (“Anglo-Saxons” are imperialists, 6. diversity/inclusion as a form of reparations for ongoing domination), 7. Poorly masked antisemitism and secularism, 8. Labor unions 9. Union achieved through a balance of power, compassion/love, and compromise. (For the latter see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/ and much else on my website). The “moderate men” on both “Left” and “Right,” are appalled by the current polarization, as if we had never been divided since Columbus set foot on the soil of the Western Hemisphere.

Are we not ever looking for UNITY? (See https://clarespark.com/2013/10/26/krauthammer-fox-news-channel-and-the-search-for-unity/.)

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February 27, 2013

“American exceptionalism” retold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2013

Discovery anxiety

Joyce Kozloff Map

Joyce Kozloff Map

This blog is about mental health and idealization of families (for a previous and related blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/); but this one emphasizes the fear of discovery, whether it takes the form of self-inspection (examining our deepest, most hidden feelings) or discovering knowledge of other peoples, other places. Some might call this process of locating oneself in a specific personal history/world history a form of mapping. It is possible that many “anti-imperialists” suffer from the fear of actually encountering what is now called “the dark side” of human nature, and which in less enlightened periods, was called savagery or “the primitive.” Even the most enlightened and creative persons in the history of the West (e.g., Diderot) have imagined the “primitive” as exempt from the vicissitudes of growing to maturity in the developed societies. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.)

Perhaps one of the hardest life tasks is this process of mapping, for the darkest continent is ourselves. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the mapping and I do not blame others for reluctance in undertaking a voyage into choppy waters, where strange creatures lurk.  For many, such monsters are transformations of our repressed rage at being unfairly bossed by parents, or competing with siblings for the love and protection of parents, or the “puritanical” tasks of self-control and the postponement of gratification or instinctual renunciation for the sake of treasured relationships (I refer to sex and aggression as instincts). Sadly, our schools and other socializing institutions may not address such “Freudian” considerations, because even the most advanced societies dare not tamper with the institution of family, lest its “citizens” start defending their political and economic interests with greater energy, focus, and sophistication.

I first realized that “discovery” was terrifying in my dissertation research as I read the very private letters and notes of major Melville scholars, most of whom developed frightening physical symptoms while conducting their researches into Melville’s texts—symptoms that they blamed on a dead author (and his demonic character Captain Ahab) who should not have been a real-life threat. Melville’s indefatigable close readings of every kind of “family” that he wrote about, whether that be his family of origin, or “families” aboard ships, or the wider Christian family, was disturbing to very intelligent men, who then diverted their attention from Melville’s texts to his “influences” in the literary history of the West, or perhaps the leftists among them, tore delightedly (and sadistically) into the task of destroying his reputation as a man and a husband and/or father. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. )

One of my most productive friends in academe, dead at 55 of a massive heart attack, once told me that he was afraid to look inside himself, or even to go to a physician, because he feared the chaos within. The braver artists and scholars have fascinated us because they gave these “imagos” forms and faces. I don’t care if you call them Moby Dick or Leviathan or the State. Just don’t mix them up with Mom and Dad or sisters and brothers.

Joyce Kozloff

January 21, 2013

Citizen Obama, political pluralism and the elusive search for Unity

Raft of the Medusa

Raft of the Medusa

Although POTUS nodded in the direction of “the enduring strength of our Constitution” and quoted lines from the God-given Declaration of Independence, and with a cynical reference to “American exceptionalism,” the statism of Citizen Obama’s second inaugural brought us closer to the French Revolution, with its Jacobin emphasis on equality of condition, than to the American Revolution that promised a meritocracy grounded in equality of opportunity. (Recall that France, unlike England, always had a strong central state; recently France voted in a Socialist government that has levied a 75% income tax on the rich.)

What struck me about today’s awesome inauguration speech was its frank partisanship, indeed, its appeal to class warfare, but not only did Citizen Obama appeal solely to his Democratic constituency, he defined “the Nation” in terms that can only be described as anti-pluralist and either socialist or proto-fascist (see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/, also https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/).  If Citizen Obama has his way, political pluralism will give way to one party dictatorship, perhaps to rule by executive decree. (See the juridical thought of Carl Schmitt, who made the transition from social democracy theorist to Nazi without difficulty.)

Many “rightist” pundits have noticed the offensive against the Republican Party, that reiterated accusations made by the hard Left during the waning New Deal years that Republicans were, by temperament and policy, Nazis. The line continues that all Republicans are Southern racists, while the Democratic Party, as led by Obama and his multiculturalist followers, are the true inheritors of the civil rights movement, making corrections and reparations to overcome the white male supremacy that was supposedly the basis for American nationality pre-Obama. In this, he has the support of the New Left and the American Studies academics—and all of the cultural studies crowd, who take pride in their freedom from “economic determinism.” In other words, they cannot explain the difference between the economic policies of Lord Maynard Keynes versus Friedrich Hayek versus Milton and Rose Friedman.

guilt and anxiety

But we must not push the analogy to the French Revolution too far. For the French Revolution came to signify war and Napoleon’s bourgeoisification of Europe.  Echoing (?) the infamous appeaser Neville Chamberlain, Obama stands for “peace in our time.” In other words, he is boiler plate anti-imperialist and antiwar, except for the class war necessarily waged on behalf of “the rising middle class,” his new name for what used to be called “the working class”.  Even progressives used to know a petit-bourgeois radical (Obama) when they saw one, but today’s progressives have abandoned accurate nomenclature for populist, triumphalist politics. “Off with their [Federalist] heads.”

Many of the pundits on Fox News recognized the speech for what it was (a socialist screed), while a few seemed to expect a call for a middle ground, that no man’s land where erstwhile progressives feel comfortable in making compromises for the sake of ‘social cohesion’ and ‘political stability’. These are the buzz words of ‘moderate’ conservatism, the “Democratic” inheritors of the New Deal  and Wilsonian “internationalism.”

With the country divided and anxious, this day of bogus unity and bogus reverence for the American Constitution can only be a caesura in an ongoing civil war that was present from the beginning of the United States. (For a recent installment see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.)

barack-obama-family-supreme-court-john-roberts-michelle-sasha-malia-inauguration

December 22, 2012

My “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and Eric Hobsbawm

Oppositional_Defiant_Child_ODDToward the end of his autobiography (Interesting Times), the recently deceased ‘most important historian in the world’, Eric Hobsbawm, showed his contempt for the American Constitution, writing “Forced into the straitjacket of an eighteenth-century constitution reinforced by two centuries of talmudic exegesis by the lawyers, the theologians of the republic, the institutions of the USA are far more frozen into immobility than those of almost other states in 2002.” (p.409)

During the last month or so, I have read all of Hobsbawm’s famed tetralogy, his grand synthesis of world history from the French Revolution to the 1990s. As one exegete (Gregory Elliott) of Hobsbawm’s intellectual development claims, EH’s Marxism no longer lauds Marx as prophet of revolution, but rather as analyst of the disastrous globalization perpetrated by the bourgeoisie. To put it plainly, Hobsbawm adapted to the Leninist anti-imperialist moment approved by the younger Leninists. These avatars of “social justice” dominate the humanities today, including history, sociology, comparative literature, art history, etc. (For one blog on Hobsbawm related to this one, see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/.)

As I have written previously, few would admit to being a Stalinist any longer, but Lenin’s anti-imperialism remains untarnished among not only the “hard left” but among Democratic Party activists. In other words, the Popular Front lives on, with the cooperation of George Soros (Interesting Times, p.310), Oliver Stone and his facilitators at Showtime or HBO, most movie and television celebrities, the professoriate at the better universities, and all progressive media. None of them, to my knowledge, has come out against anti-Zionism. Nor, I would guess, would any of them find anything objectionable about Hobsbawm’s depiction of the frigid American Constitution, deemed insane by the greatest historian ever, as numerous obituaries aver.

It is most curious that Hobsbawm the internationalist par excellence, not only remained a Communist all his life, but that he presents himself constantly as a “Jew”, but “anti-Zionist,” as anti-sectarian, as the avatar of Popular Front politics, as one for whom national loyalty and identification are out of date; rather, he divided the world up between fascists and anti-fascists. It is obvious from his writings that America, like Israel, like those Republicans (or a few centrist Democrats) who think that the Constitution was a good idea and still relevant and worth enforcing, are on the Wrong Side of History.

Some definitions are in order: Popular Front tactics were devised by the Comintern to trick New Dealers and other social democrats into supporting the Reds. The latter came out as “anti-fascists” in a broad oppositional front to Hitler and Franco around 1935. This tactic supplanted the “sectarianism” of the Third International, that defined New Dealers as “social fascists.” Hobsbawm wrote his books against “sectarianism” by which he meant not only the disastrous comrades from 1928-1934 (who allowed Hitler to prevail), but anything that smacked of Trotskyism or New Leftist go-it-alone operations. (Perhaps Pop Front politics are not relevant, for EH mentions Kondratiev waves to explain the weakness of capitalism, and such an economic theory would lead him to what he and others deem to be “democratic socialism.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schumpeter.)

Hobsbawm’s position is puzzling, for during the halcyon Pop Front days, the Stalinist New Masses wrote favorably about the progressive bourgeoisie that had developed the progressive forces, empowering and presumably radicalizing the new working class. But the Leninist anti-imperialism line changed all that: no matter how regressive, any anti-Western movement in what used to be called the Third World was seen as a Good Thing, no matter how brutal and backward the society in question. Edward Said pushed this line and thousands of academics cheered. Even feminists who should have known better.

Perhaps I am suffering from “oppositional defiant disorder” for taking issue with the British Leftists who have, in my experience, invaded America, for they dominated UCLA and other top schools while I was in graduate school during the 1980s and early 1990s. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oppositional_defiant_disorder.) Surely, my shrink at UCLA (once a forensic psychiatrist in Massachusetts) thought that I was irrationally defiant in not knuckling under to authority, for he told me that after I had received the doctorate, much to his relief (or surprise?). As I have confessed before, it was confided to me by one in the know that my numerous critics referred to me as that “hysterical feminist.” Which was odd, for I viewed myself during those years as an old-fashioned Marxist, annoyed by the right-wing social democrats on the faculty who were sponsoring separatist ethnic and gender studies, and who were patently oblivious to the conflicts engendered by class position. But they did focus on “inequality.” I was chastised and mocked in private and public for deviance, for thinking that white male professors should catch up on their reading and integrate the latest scholarship on women and minorities. (For a partial index to my research on mental health theories see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/18/blogs-on-mental-health/.)

oppositional-defiance-disorder-1

Since then, I have rejected any particular political alignment, favoring the stance of the independent scholar, faithful to archival research and criticizing other historians for departing from the objectivity once lauded by scholars writing in the humanist tradition.

Meanwhile, watch out for the British Leftists. They can impress an American reader, for they are highly acculturated, display their cultural capital promiscuously, and can mislead the unwary reader into thinking that they are other than a cult, a guild characterized by Eros und Bund, and speaking mostly to each other, their impressionable students, and apparently POTUS and his appointees. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/. (I learned about Eros und Bund from the late George L. Mosse, the prolific historian of popular culture in the Third Reich and in pre-Nazi Germany. Almost all  his books are fascinating, though I deplore his debt to German Idealism.)

April 6, 2012

Diagnosing POTUS

President as Antifederalist?

[Update 6-18-16:]

It is my view that Barack Obama meant by “hope and change” that he intended to create a permanent Democrat Party, moved so far left that minorities would overturn what is imagined to be “white heterosexual male supremacy” by 1960s activists, the “social justice warriors.”
Depending on the speaker, the President is either
  1. incompetent (“in over his head”);
  2. suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (“arrogant” or “out of touch”);
  3. a stealth Leninist (nihilist, opportunist, anti-imperialist, crypto-Islamist carrying out his African father’s failed mission), using black liberation theology to rev up his base, while tearing up the [racist] Constitution during the past week; or
  4. a noble centrist, a “moderate” who makes Democrats and even some neocons or conservatives proud to have voted for the first black (“African American”) president, and who has vindicated their belief in his sane and virtuous  progressive commitments to human rights and community welfare, appropriately reining in selfish individualists.
  5. [Added 3-15-14: I am told that he is not only gay, but that Michelle is a man in drag]

As far as I know, I am one of the few who has defined  his political base as incoherent , thus bringing together most of the items listed above: (See https://clarespark.com/2012/08/16/marx-rivals-and-our-enigmatic-president/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/05/is-potus-crazy/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/. especially the sentence in bold face type: “It is conceivable to me that Obama’s family history (especially the abandonment by his father and who-knows-what-relationships with his doting mother and doting grandparents), set him up to be the perfect candidate for ambitious politicians in Chicago, who could count on the incoherent constituencies of the Democratic Party (big labor, public sector employees, cultural nationalist minorities–including those who profit from undocumented workers, dependents of the welfare state, feminists, gays, veterans of the civil rights movement, wealthy liberal Jews, post60s academics and journalists, Rooseveltian internationalists, environmentalists) to be taken in by his charisma and passionate promises for a national healing that would a. reconcile the irreconcilable demands and interests of his base; b. bring to pass an equally apocalyptic change inside the Washington Beltway; and c. through the power of diplomacy, effectuate an avowedly anti-imperialist “pro-peace” foreign policy. It makes sense too, in explaining his obvious rage at being criticized and blocked, to suspect that his “narcissistic supplies” are threatened. As for the grandiosity that characterizes the narcissist and other would-be healers or “moderates”, such a high opinion of himself attracts others who aspire to greatness and a cohesive human community, and who therefore tend to idealize him and overlook his contradictory statements and broken promises–for he could not and cannot please the diverse elements of the base that elected him and that continues to support him”).

If indeed, the Supreme Court does declare the ACA unconstitutional, and if there are other blows to the President’s self-esteem and conviction that he is ever the Chosen Leader of the 99%, the successful “uniter,” then it would not be unreasonable to predict some kind of crack-up. Should he “lose it” in some fashion or other (including the election), elements of his base will of course blame his opponents. These “reactionaries” will be viewed as variants of the American Assassin, as proto-Nazis or other power-grabbers, as having worn him down through the drip, drip, drip of their day in and day out attempts to undermine the resolve of the last best hope of suffering humanity. The last thing the diehard Obama supporters will examine is their own motives for having elected him in the first place.

In this blog, I have focused on the internal incoherence of the Democratic Party. For a look at differences inside their opponents, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. Note especially how populism can appear anywhere and is always destructive to sane political thought and assessments. For an example how the populist movement was co-opted by “progressives” see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.

October 31, 2009

Was Martin Luther King Jr. ever a black nationalist?

Image (80)

Stanford U. demonstration, 1980s

During the presidential campaign of 2008, I wrote an essay for History News Network http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html. I am posting the unedited version, which is also slightly updated and retitled. Two recent events have prompted this move: 1. David Plouffe’s memoir of the campaign will be released on November 3, and 2. the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a poll concluding that antisemitism in America has declined. I am wondering about the veracity of Plouffe (could he not have been aware of how black politics have moved away from integrationist to nationalist tactics)? I also doubt that the ADL sampled enough of the black population (a powerful force in both local and national politics when it is unified), nor do I believe that the pollsters were sufficiently skeptical of the tendency to deny bigotry when persons are asked such loaded questions by pollsters. So I am presenting this blog to remind visitors that black liberation theology annexed Martin Luther King, Jr. in a frightening synthesis that is undoubtedly appealing to much of the anti-imperialist Left, long famous for its view on “internal colonialism” and also “multiculturalism” (in my view, a resegregation of minorities who either were moving into the middle-class, or who participated in urban riots in the 1960s, prompting their co-option by major universities).  (On multiculturalism and its origins, see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.) [added 8-27-13: for more on James Cone and the conception of the Black Jesus see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

My article follows, with a quote from the Plouffe book as first item.

[From David Plouffe’s upcoming book, as quoted by George Stephanopolous on his blog, 10-31- 09:] “The incident [the news about Reverend Wright and his parishioner BHO] should have prompted an immediate scouring of the Reverend Wright and all he has said over the years….it’s worth noting that our systemic failure to deal with this issue properly started the day before Obama’s announcement.  I still kick myself for how terribly we mishandled our internal Wright work.” [Added 11-5: Plouffe was queried about the Rev. Wright relationship by Terri Gross on NPR, 11-4, and stated flat out that Obama had joined Wright’s church not because of its leader but mostly because of the strong community it attracted. This was exactly the line during the campaign, during damage control time as Wright’s politics were revealed.]

Is Reverend Wright a Black Liberationist?
By Clare L. Spark

Ralph Luker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3-18-08

“The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, ‘I love you, Israel.’ He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: ‘Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power, and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.”

Those words sound like something by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s minister. He was much quoted over the weekend as having said: “God damn America.” But the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words. … ‘G-d damn, America,’ indeed. It should have more men like him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12-5-55

“The Almighty God himself is not only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God (Yeah), that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” (That’s right) Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation. (Yeah) [applause]”

It is puzzling to me that Ralph Luker can partially excerpt a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. to link King’s prophetic voice to the pastor of black liberation theology who shouted “God damn America,” for it was the separatist black power movement (derived from black supremacist Pan-Africanism and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, and later Christianized by James Cone) that saw “white supremacist” America as irrevocably damned, whereas the integrationist King, speaking at the inception of the Montgomery bus boycott movement, protested the failure of American democracy to live up to its stated ideals, and proposed legal, non-violent means to rectify a shameful lapse: moral suasion and legislation. King did not present a damned America, but one with promise if, as a Christian and democratic nation, its professed universal brotherhood, signifying equality before the law, was to be addressed: “And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That’s right) [applause].”

One of my areas of research is black history, particularly the ideas of Ralph Bunche, both before he collaborated with Gunnar Myrdal in the research for An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) and during the years he worked for the United Nations. Bunche, despite his interest in the 1930s Left, was always an integrationist with a strong commitment to the welfare of “my people,” and who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, distanced himself from separatist movements until the end of his life, despite efforts of Malcolm X and others to enlist his participation in an “umbrella movement,” or, in the case of UC Berkeley professor Charles P. Henry, to claim Bunche for “black power” in a late-life conversion. Bunche’s biographer Sir Brian Urquhart put a special emphasis on Bunche’s as “an American life,” not the life of a hyphenated American, and that was Bunche’s line as well. It was most probably he who gave Myrdal the idea of “an American Creed” of rationalism, democracy, and egalitarianism, to which even Southern whites gave at least lip service. In a 1941 speech urging black participation in the resistance to Nazism, he reiterated the American Creed, and, referring to Southern white laggards, memorably concluded, “Democracy, to be realized, must be lived broadly.”

I can also say that the cultural nationalists who are now the primary black voices on the Pacifica Radio network are frequently just as paranoid as Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bunche, in his memoranda to Myrdal, observed that ghettoes produce parochialism: the self-destructive suspicion of outsiders that cannot distinguish friends from enemies. Bunche’s analysis has been vindicated. Listening to Wright’s claim that government programs originated the AIDS virus to destroy blacks reminded me of “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend,” a notorious series of radio broadcasts on Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK in the early 1990s, that virtually damned “the ice people.” The financial support emanating from black listeners was intense. Such irrationalism was not part of the American Creed as formulated by Bunche, who died in 1971; on the contrary he was ever wary of incendiary language and populist revolts that released pent-up hatred and resentment along with fantastic longings for an idealized past or utopian future. Unfortunately several trends in American life in the last several decades have marginalized Bunche’s vision of an imperfect America that was yet capable of equal treatment for minorities, especially the right of equal opportunity to “get ahead,” universally applied to all its citizens.

Some months ago, a prominent libertarian commentator predicted that the 2008 presidential campaign could profitably facilitate a national discussion on the appropriate role of the state in the economy, a prediction based on the assumption that Republicans and libertarians generally favor free markets and limited government, while Democrats and leftists look to statist remedies conferring “social justice” in order to correct a bogus and skewed “free market”:  For some “progressives” Adam Smith was dead wrong: free trade and market economies do not promote peace or create wealth and an ever rising standard of living for ordinary people, but rather imperialist war, accelerating inequality, and the destruction of nature. This could be a productive conversation for all Americans, and would engage such books as Jonah Goldberg’s popular polemic Liberal Fascism (2008) and the more nuanced, historically grounded examination of the role of the state in a market economy, Jerry Z. Muller’s The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (2002). Sadly, that debate is not the one we are having, although it may underlie the current controversy regarding Obama’s true beliefs with respect to “black liberation theology.” On the surface the political class wonders, does Barack Obama silently agree while he publicly disagrees with his ex-pastor and mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Moreover, there are questions about Wright’s place within American black history: is he a separatist in the tradition of Malcolm X and other cultural nationalists, or are his Afro-centric “jeremiads” and his “African Christianity” a legitimate offspring of the postwar civil rights movement, peacefully opposing “segregation, separatism, sectarianism and superiority” as Martin Marty has argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education (4-11-08)?

What I find shocking is the erasure of historical memory and analytic precision that seems to exist inside those ostensibly liberal institutions that affect public opinion.  The vague and undefined buzz words—not just “change” or “hope” but “the black community,” “diversity,” “social justice”– that pervade media commentary were partly produced or ratified by leading universities as their administrations incorporated and co-opted 1960s social movements. Writing in the late 1930s, Bunche and his colleagues had demanded an integrated political, social, and economic history of blacks in America with investigators approaching the problem from diverse antiracist perspectives, but cooperatively developing a scientifically collected knowledge base of use to all reformers. By contrast, in response to the urban riots of the middle and late 1960s, college administrators shoved the often class-based grievances of blacks and other protestors, for instance, women and Latinos, into separate departments defined by gender or race/ethnicity, and eventually taught by members of their racial or gender group. Simultaneously, fields of study bloomed in departments of English and cultural studies that disavowed [WASP-Jewish] Euro-centric white male supremacy and racism, while, oddly, perpetuating a racial and communitarian discourse of “diversity.” “Educational” (tax-exempt) public media, supported by the federal government, the liberal foundations, and listener-sponsors quickly followed suit. Disappeared was the concept of American society as a collection of free-standing individuals whose civil rights were (or should be) guaranteed by the liberal state; taking its place were autonomous racial or ethnic communities whose distinctive “cultures” (each with its own particular Zeitgeist and heroes, unrecognized or indecipherable to other races or ethnicities) would be celebrated as the antidote to debilitating “negative images” supposedly dispensed by rich white males and their white  supremacist lackeys. Also deseparecido was the 18th century concept of the melting pot, which was now seen as a conspiracy against the regnant “cultural pluralism.” Israel Zangwill had explicated “The Melting Pot” in his popular play of 1908; his was a syncretic view of the unprecedented enriched and enriching American culture-in-formation that would leave European blood feuds behind, but such clarifications were soon viewed as apologetics for a manipulative pseudo-objective “science” that dissolved precious ancestral ties, leaving deracinated immigrants and ex-slaves victims of either [Jewishly-inspired] proletarian internationalism, or of urban anomie, hence newly susceptible to a debasing jewified mass culture, and consigned to slugging it out in the war of all against all that was the legacy of Locke, Hobbes, and their atomizing doctrines of “possessive individualism.”  That “identity politics” retains its salience is demonstrated by The New York Times in its report of Obama’s speech on race, 3-19-08: “Mr. Obama stayed up well into the night writing much of the speech himself, aides said. His words carried familiar strains of the biography he wrote more than a decade ago about his search for racial identity.”

There were other casualties in the post-60s process of co-opting the movements of women and minorities as they had existed since the entwined Protestant-led reform movements of the antebellum period, including abolitionism and feminism. I have mentioned above the denigration of the Enlightenment concept of individuality and universal civil rights as the individual, dissenting or otherwise, was melted into “community” (das Volk or “integral nationalism” as understood by German Romantics). The postmodern revolt against science (science as just another “story”) jettisoned the notion of free speech also central to the Enlightenment: Free speech was not an excuse for slander and libel or loose talk in general, but that which enabled the no-holds-barred search for truth, that is, a search that would ultimately yield a working consensus on social policy and reform, arrived at through collective deliberation based on universally observable facts, not site-specific group facts.  But there are no universally observable facts, nor are there objective histories of conflict, according to those literary theorists who have annexed history and anthropology to their projects of advancing moral and cultural relativism, God or Goddess damning the bigoted imperialist, patriarchal, and ecocidal “Amerika”/“the hypocritical West,” and justifying “terror” as a legitimate weapon against predatory Eurocentric scientific method as wielded by mad scientists and Romantic Wandering Jews. Hence, James Cone, originator of “black liberation theology” could state in 1971 with conviction (and future support): “If the oppressed are to attain their freedom, they must begin to create a new style of communication which is consistent with their struggle for liberation. In part they must deny the accepted canons of logic, allowing the liberation struggle alone to be the logical test for meaningful discourse. Logical consistency, as defined by the oppressors, is irrelevant.”  

Without understanding the recent submergence of the rational argumentation that sustains productive democratic participation in our “progressive” institutions, it is difficult to see the scandal of the Obama-Wright controversy and the shallow analysis in some quarters that has accompanied the dissemination of Wright’s sermons and Obama’s speech on race. Think of the learned political debates of the 1930s or the pre-60s postwar civil rights movement that, in retrospect, were oases of scholarship and empiricism. The very concept of “racial diversity” as currently deployed was dissected by anti-Nazis, for example Julian Huxley in We Europeans (1936), or by such proponents of an educated and unified industrial union movement as political scientist Bunche and his mentor and colleague at Howard University, the economist Abram L. Harris. Throw in their friend, the anthropologist Melville Herskovits who challenged “the myth of the Negro past” (i.e., that there were no African survivals in the U.S.) by arguing for cultural syncretism. These materialists were keenly aware of clashing interests and strategies among blacks, and Bunche, for one, not only challenged the concept of “race” tout court in his well-known pamphlet A World View of Race (1936) but lamented the fiasco of the 1935 National Negro Congress that he and his mentor Abram L. Harris had helped to organize, for he understood that no agreement over tactics could be achieved where black integrationists and black nationalists, or capitalists and labor union bureaucrats oblivious to the needs of rank and file workers, sat at the same table. As he bitterly noted in his memoranda, “There is no such thing as “the Negro.” For Bunche at that time, there could be no institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified (black-white) class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. But taking his writings as a whole, “integration” for Bunche signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

Whether or not Marxist postulations of irreconcilable structural antagonisms between capital and labor are still relevant and helpful, the Bunche cohort’s disdain for the toothless strategies of upper-class white foundations who were advocating interracial understanding and enhanced communication, i.e., [Christian] love not [Jewish] hate, as the primary solution to black poverty and political powerlessness, remains apposite. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.) So much for “the black community” as posited by today’s pundits, dutifully echoing the histrionic cultural nationalists who dominate the public square, claiming to speak for all members of their “race”, while hoping to mobilize mass (and liberal upper-class) support for the advancement of their own very particular careers. As long as we allow color and an antiquated discourse of the organic [black] community to define the political divisions that matter, we ignore the urgent question that begs to be addressed: In an era of globalization, what role should government intervention and regulation play in an advanced market economy, and how well have prior interventions and regulations served their purported objectives? The “civil rights movements” (feminism, gay rights, etc.) that piggy-backed on the black movement (one that was always internally divided between integrationist and separatist strategies) may have exacerbated already existing divisions in the democratic polity, diverting attention from the bigger picture, which is the long-standing polarization over the role of the state in regulating a free market economy. Questions of remedies for exclusion—of women, minorities, and gays– are properly subsumed under this larger problem of government, especially since we are federalists in an enormous nation with diverse and often conflicting belief systems. Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., could and should have made that the focus of “the ferocious urgency of now.”

October 26, 2009

“The Money Power” and other Ms.Conceptions

Image (76)The original comment to which this is a reply is found on About Clare Spark. Rereading my answer, I thought that this was a mercifully concise statement of my positions on numerous other blogs. I have added some sentences, here and there.
First, on “the money power.” It is not that the power of money itself that determines our prosperity or poverty, but monetary policy, as Niall Ferguson has shown in book after book, most recently The Ascent of Money, and in The War of the World and also his book on the Rothschilds. You might want to read Maynard Keynes book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace on this subject. Had different arrangements for German reparations been made during the settlement after the Great War all subsequent history would have been different, he argued, with sharp disagreement from Niall Ferguson. For those who think about mass death, this debate is crucial.

What I have said in my various blogs is that “the Jews” should be left out of it. Criticize capitalism to your heart’s content, but as long as the image of a fat Jewish plutocrat with his claws encircling the globe or, with his hypersexuality, polluting innocent Christian or Muslim womanhood inhabits the political imagination, there can be no progress, any more than a belief that this world is controlled by the Devil.

Second, the question of “material forces” as determinants of history, this could be standard Marxist boiler plate to me. To be sure, material conditions are very important, but so are the decisions made by individual leaders. Some historians argue that had Woodrow Wilson used his influence at the Versailles conference of 1919 to stop the excessively punitive ambitions of France and the U.K. [Keynes, see also Skidelsky vol.3], there might not have been a second world war with all its horrific suffering and lingering effects. In thinking about diversity in the multicultural university, administrators could have, but did not, integrate the history of women and minorities into the general curriculum. Because they chose segregated departments of Women’s Studies or Ethnic Studies, they relieved white male professors of the necessity of thinking about these movements in a rigorous way and then teaching their students appropriately. So instead of creating a new synthesis, historians could ignore the woman question or the history of various peoples if they chose, for some other course would make up for their deficiencies. The most we got was “whiteness studies” that were no more than covers for Leninist anti-imperialist orthodoxy and yet another capitulation to anti-Western cultural nationalism (see the lethal influence of black liberation theology, and its shameless annexation of Martin Luther King, Jr. I wrote about this on the History News Network www.hnn.us/articles/48809.html. My favorite novel on the subject of New Left personal politics is William Herrick’s Love and Terror.)

    As for the power of motherhood that I often mention, this is one of the great lacunae in the work of scholarship. The issue of separation from the omnipotent good/bad mother is one of the themes  urgently explored by too few theorists of the psyche, and I am going to post my talk on panic attacks today. [All the posts on sadomasochism deal with this problem.] I have thought a lot about this issue as Herman Melville is obsessed with it in his novel PIERRE, OR THE AMBIGUITIES. There is an obvious link between misogyny and antisemitism [see the two Murdered by the Mob essays]that has not gotten the attention it should. There should be a placard: Woman The Jew of the Home. I would add here that feminists do not always recognize that men feel women, especially modern women, have too much power over their lives. The skeptical male may then put cotton in his ears when feminists speak, then dream of a flight to the primitive (see Picasso image of Spanish peasants: Henry Murray had a print of this painting in his home). Meanwhile other ambitious women often use their sexual/maternal power to advance themselves at the expense of other women. It is a huge subject that I suppose a few others have explored at greater length than I can here.

Finally, it seems to me that the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s (initially mocked by many New Leftists and militant black nationalists) were acceptable to these bohemians, primitivists, and mini-sultans as long as they joined the “anti-imperialist” Left on male terms. Hence the new feminists did not generally defend “the West” but instead attacked it (along with Israel, often), notwithstanding the deplorable condition of women in non-Western societies. This gave some on the Christian Right an opportunity to attack feminism as an assault upon the family. [I understand that this latter claim about feminists and the Left is impressionistic and based upon personal experience with prominent women in the arts during the 1970s and afterwards, not comprehensive statistical research.]

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