YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 15, 2017

Is the USA a terror state?

cartoon from History4Kim

cartoon from History4Kim

I was startled to see political scientists associated with the New Left go so far as to condemn the Constitution and the Founders as terrorists, inflicting Federalist authoritarianism upon antiFederalists.

This blog is about the coordinated attack on the US Constitution by “moderates,” social democrats and New Leftists in academe. My views have been informed by reading leading political scientists: Sheldon Wolin (The Presence of the Past: Essays on the State and the Constitution, 1989), Thomas R. Dye and L. Harmon Ziegler (The Irony of Democracy, 1970 now in its fifteenth edition!).

Dye and Ziegler, unlike the late superstar Sheldon Wolin, make the argument that New Deal liberals (social democrats) are the only advocates of “democracy.” Of course, all three political scientists. take a dim view of the power elite, and are critical of the Enlightenment, white males and, in Wolin, the Reagan administration).

Illustration by Michael Hogue for American Conservative

Illustration by Michael Hogue for American Conservative

But in both books such contemporary conflicts as the culture wars are viewed as outgrowths of the elitism inherent in a society that defends private property and the meritocracy at the expense of benighted women and blacks. Wolin is more measured in opposing current-day Federalists, but he still ends one essay by lamenting the force that Hamiltonian-style statism exerts on you and me. The late Princeton professor ends up agreeing with Dye and Ziegler that the American state is militaristic and outrageous in its power and reach.

By implication, capitalism, not social democracy (the latter an understandable elite response to capitalist crisis in Dye and Ziegler), is thus blamed for all social ills, but especially for the oppression of blacks and women. Gone is the 1930s’ charting of class conflict with predictions of working class victory. It is all New Left “anti-imperialism” and cultural relativism now. (On the case for and against cultural relativism, see https://clarespark.com/2014/03/13/what-is-cultural-relativism/.)

With the deceptive Constitution and the Federalist Founders thus tainted as designing aristocrats, is it any wonder that the electoral victory of Trump and his supporters appalls half of our country, conditioned as they are by the ascendancy of the New Left and its revolt against what they deem to be a terror state, American style?

Antiwar album cover Anti-Flag

Antiwar album cover

January 12, 2012

The Counter-culture vs. “the Establishment”

“America The Nation of Trampled Rights”

[Illustrated: Soviet poster. Tom Nichols translated it for me: “…an anti-imperialist passage written by Mark Twain in 1901 criticizing the Spanish-American war, but the Soviets mangled it slightly. The original goes like this: ‘And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one–our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.’ The Soviet poster says: “We can set up a special flag, just the same flag with the white stripes black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones. — Mark Twain’  Then at the bottom: AMERICA – THE NATION OF TRAMPLED RIGHTS….”

We are now in full campaign mode, and the media are belching out polls and opinions 24/7. Our political culture is so messed up with respect to labels that it is necessary from time to time to look at the key words that many Americans take for gospel truth, for a meaningful statement of fact. In this blog, I criticize the notion of a [Northeastern] Republican establishment that is held to be the big money behind the Romney candidacy (but see my critique of the New Dealers who indeed were instrumental in politics and social psychology: https://clarespark.com/2015/03/16/who-were-the-precursors-of-the-new-left-the-wasp-establishment-or-communists/).  For “establishment” read “[one faction] of an elite.” For “counter-culture” read the Ron Paul enthusiasts and overlapping leftovers from the 1960s, or even from the coalition between the CPUSA and America First, 1939-41.

The Antifederalists were populists furiously opposed to the output of the Constitutional Convention (1787), but who plays the populist card these days? I have argued here before that populism may have had a startling recrudescence as a grass roots movement of farmers reacting to the Depression of 1893, angry at banks and railroads and railing against the gold standard; however its demands for more direct democracy were co-opted and advanced by a bipartisan progressive movement (as emphasized by Martin Sklar’s big book on the “socially constructed” transition to progressivism). Thus, it can be said, with accuracy, that there is a progressive movement that spans both major political parties, but is mostly unopposed within the Democratic Party (and that in turn often makes common cause with the Leninist Left), and that finds powerful adherents in the Republican Party, especially those espousing “compassionate conservatism.” It is also true that both political parties are internally incoherent, for they are playing to a highly diverse electorate with the same, often irrational or outdated appeals. I hope that the following key words can clear up a bit of the media-bred confusion.

1. Establishment. If classes were akin to geologic strata or rungs in a ladder, and if we had a stable ruling class with the powers of the medieval Catholic Church or the absolutist monarchies that joined King and Church, there might be some basis for the counter-culture dropping out from, or rejecting “the establishment.” But class is not a ladder or a layer of sedimentary rock; equal opportunity does exist under capitalism, and groups that were once exploited in an earlier America (slaves and many workers, including women) now have organized themselves so that they wield enough political power to make or break a federal or state election, not to speak of the power awarded to them by an ever-alert and porous progressive ruling class, alarmed by rowdy movements from below. Clearly, there are de-centered loci of power (as the postmodernists claim), and there is more fluidity and opportunity to rise than the class-warfare ideologues claim. In the case of the Ron Paul adherents, there exist such hated entities as “the military-industrial complex” or “the Fed” (aka the money power). Just to emit these key words, so resonant with authoritarian parenting styles, is enough to stir up a mob.

2. Experts. The stubborn  hatred directed against Walter Lippmann by followers of Noam Chomsky is impressive in its magnitude. Apply to antagonism to Mitt  Romney as “technocrat”. See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.

3. American exceptionalism. Anti-Americans, whether Soviet or Nazi/Fascist, have wreaked havoc on the writing of history. Partly because of the way that the corporatist liberals (i.e. the pseudo-moderate men of either Party, see https://clarespark.com/2011/12/02/the-whiteness-of-the-whale/, etc.) absorbed movements from below during the 1960s and 70s, catering to cultural nationalists (subtly racist)  of all kinds, and because there was much ammunition available in the American past, owing to our particular history, the most self-critical,  open and pluralistic society on earth has a terrible international reputation, just as does democratic Israel with its authoritarian neighbors. With a very few exceptions, our most prominent intellectuals and opinion-makers see us as no more than rapacious white people/Jews plundering the other “races” and Mother Nature herself. Who wouldn’t want to drop out and turn on Nirvana in such a hellhole? Hence, the demand for cheap narcotics and other forms of escape, strongly reinforced in the popular culture. (I developed this paragraph further here: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/27/american-exceptionalism-retold/.)

4. The moderate men. There is pseudo-moderation and true moderation. But the word itself is a staple of psychological warfare. No better way to affect public opinion than to name your opponent as “extremist” while claiming the rational position for oneself. And rationality has come to mean the willingness to find the middle ground so that compromises can be effected and wars averted. Pseudo-moderates are often found in those statists who see regulatory agencies and the bureaucracy in general as floating above the fray, able through artfulness to bring extremist antagonists to the bargaining table, where the mediator will accomplish his [magic tricks]. Since everyone wants to be reasonable (i.e., not crazy), we often let this buzz-word go by without critical reflection, without asking for a detailed analysis of the policy that is under review by its citizens or their representatives. A mob is never moderate; a citizen is always thoughtful, self-examining, and prefers the marketplace of ideas as the best place to separate reconcilable from irreconcilable conflicts, taking action accordingly without fear of “flip-flopping.”

5. Flip-flopping.  Any person who has never changed her or his mind is a slave to institutional authority. I have flipped-flopped numerous time, from housewife to radio personality (and with much internal role conflict); from liberal to leftist; from leftist to independent or classical liberal or just plain seeker after truth as a scholar. If a politician is merely an opportunist who changes his/her line depending on the audience, rather than speaking from soundly analyzed and specified policy preferences, then I understand the animus against flip-flopping. But someone who cries “liberty” without spelling out what that means in the most detailed and concrete manner, to be judged by American citizens accordingly, is a charlatan. But then, is our most visible culture not given to the most abstract buzz words and expressions?

From “establishment” to “counter-culture” we are not only speaking past each other, we are not speaking at all.

October 24, 2011

Turning points in the ascent/decline of the West

Victor Davis Hanson and George W. Bush

[Added 12-14-11: David P. Goldman (“Spengler”) says that modernity started with Mt. Sinai and Moses. He emphasized the personal relationship with the Jewish God–a God with whom one could argue because [Yahweh] was not perfect. I had not thought of this before, but it explains why Melville was often read as  Jew by Christians, for his “quarrel with God” especially as Captain Ahab.]

[Added July 2, 2013: Read this first: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/.]

Victor Davis Hanson has written an essay for Pajamas Media, 10-24-11 “Rage On—and on and on.” His subject is the PC college education the Occupy Wall Street movement has received, contrasting theirs with his own classical education at Santa Cruz in the 1970s. Dr. Hanson writes, “Politicking was rare even in the 1970s. Well over thirty years ago, I took some 30 courses in Greek and Latin language and literature at UC Santa Cruz, and another 12 PhD seminars at Stanford — all from whom in retrospect I would imagine were mostly hard left. But who knew? Not once in eight years of undergraduate or graduate education did a liberal professor go off topic to rant or, indeed, to mix politics with history or literature or language. There were no points given for politically correct answers. No sermonizing poured forth from the rostrum.”

There is some support for his position. See the photo illustrating a demonstration at Stanford University, in the early 1980s, when I clipped it from the New York Times: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

What Dr. Hanson does not notice is that the 1960s-70s antiwar movement drove many of the protesters into graduate school (for some, avoiding the draft), and it took some time for them to get their doctorates. After that, a buddy system insured that new hires would be agreeable to the “negative critique” (as the Frankfurt School advised) of U.S. and even all of Western history, especially the Enlightenment. Though such critical theorists as Herbert Marcuse complained about “repressive tolerance” (see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/), while others in his clique blamed mass culture for the rise of Hitler, their German Idealist epistemology  (i.e., radical subjectivism) would be useful to the Harvard liberals and their allies who promoted a modified multicultural welfare state that would absorb dissent from below in the new “inclusiveness.” That plus an aggressive recruitment of minorities in the more elite universities to pacify 1960s urban riots led to an all-out assault upon “whiteness” and the popularity of “interdisciplinary” i.e., cultural anthropology courses, that came to encompass the humanities, wiping out universalist ethics in the name of cultural relativism. Radical subjectivism was in, American exceptionalism (with its deplorable protofascist “mass culture”) was out.

At the same time, there was an older generation of professors ready to grant the New Leftists tenure, for the anti-imperialist, antiwar, anti-American tradition had multiple adherents, some of them Stalinoid if not actively Leninist (see https://clarespark.com/2011/04/09/jean-francois-revel-and-father-mapple/).

It takes a long time for cultures to change so drastically. Here are a few turning points, echoing my own research interests, that could lead either to a more thoughtful polity, or to a proto-fascist rejection of liberalism, eighteenth-century style, and especially the rejection of an excellent popular education, for without universal education, the notion of representative government must degenerate into oligarchy:

  1. The invention of the printing press helped the Reformation.
  2. The scientific revolution and the English Civil War emboldened freedom of conscience and the acceptability of  improvement of the material conditions of this world, rather than focusing all hopes for happiness on the afterlife.
  3. The Enlightenment terrified Kings, nobles, and aristocratic hierarchies, so their preferred writers counter-attacked with the Terror-Gothic style in art and life, scaring everyone with mad scientist stories and the Christ-refusing Wandering Jew who longed for death.
  4. The American Revolution, followed by the French Revolution, raised the increasingly frightening Hydra heads of “popular sovereignty”—that would have made education the basis for a rational politics. Ordinary people (the radical Whigs) were studying and discussing fine points of law, history, and philosophy among themselves. But the fight between Federalists and Antifederalists set the stage for future conflicts, unresolved today, between the few and the many, i.e., natural aristocrats versus the less “worthy.” Populism did not suddenly emerge in the 1890s, but is visible in conflicts between debtors and creditors (Shay’s Rebellion) or in resistance to excise taxes (the Whiskey Rebellion). The output of Charles Beard in the early 20th century reflected these earlier suspicions of bond holders (see his still quoted but fallacious Economic Origins of the Constitution, 1913).
  5. The failure of Reconstruction after the American Civil War enabled the perpetuation of slavery by other means, e.g. debt-peonage and Jim Crow. Such ferocious treatment of the freedmen then engendered the beginnings of the civil rights movement, with its demand for education for all, but most especially the black population. It is often said that the South won the peace.
  6. The first world war enabled the Bolshevik coup in Russia, enchanting a whole generation of  intellectuals who thought that finally the Enlightenment and progress had been vindicated. To contain the Populist movement and then the Socialist Party and the IWW in America, Progressives (self-styled “moderate” conservatives) shifted into high leftish gear, co-opting the  populist program and gradually increased the reach of the state for  purposes of “social justice”—and social justice and the ethical state had a long history in the U.S., starting with the debates over the Constitution from the mid-1770s onward.
  7. The Great Depression and the growth of leftish sympathies among the intelligentsia, along with fears for another Depression that would follow demobilization from the looming world war, inspired “socially responsible capitalism” and the adoption of Keynesian economics by key leaders in education, business, and social psychology by 1942. Collectivism and culturalism ruled. Frederick Merk at Harvard inveighed against American expansionism, while the Talcott Parsons cohort at Harvard called a halt to the Enlightenment, such as it was at that time. The liberal foundations went to work to put a labor-friendly face on business, and funded such “community”-centered institutions as Pacifica Radio, that proudly declared their independence from filthy lucre. Today, NPR hosts raising public funds curl their lips at the mention of “corporate media,” which of course they are not.
  8. After the second world war, no one called a conference to examine the intensity of antisemitism in America and in the West. Yet many isolationists had blamed the Jews for American involvement in the war. But Rooseveltian internationalism/the United Nations ruled the day, and that meant competing with both the Soviets and Chinese Communists for the hearts and minds of the Third World.  Attention turned increasingly to the sins of the national past, and Melville was revived as a harsh critic of U.S. imperialism and racism, as “America’s greatest writer.” But his character  Captain Ahab could not be engaged on a quest for truth, or as a critic of Leviathan (the ever-growing State power), or as a radical puritan (see Paradise Lost) but as an “anticipation” of Stalin and Hitler. That impression is almost universally adopted today amongst the literati. Stalinists bonded with militant black nationalists, eschewing “integrationist” strategies, while bohemians went native, liking black entertainers as a release from puritanical upbringing.
  9. During the 1960s student strikes at such places as Columbia U. and Harvard, “moderate” professors at least sympathized with the strikers. The notion of the horrid corporate state (big business in bed with government against “the folks”) was standard fare in the humanities, and it was here that the anti-science, anti-materialist forces gained ever larger audiences. Enter Foucault and postmodernism, sex,     drugs, and rock ‘n roll as a replay of 1920s disillusion and nihilism. But by now we have reached the 1970s and 1980s, when PC and multiculturalism became institutionalized, as I found out to my horror when program director at KPFK in Los Angeles, and then later in graduate school at UCLA during the 1980s-early 90s. See my Pacifica memoirs, posted on the website (https://clarespark.com/2010/10/21/links-to-pacifica-memoirs/).

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