The Clare Spark Blog

June 16, 2011

The antiquated “melting pot”

Israel Zangwill, Time cover 1923

The following short statement was posted on H-US1918-1945, June 15, 2011 and was hotly contested in three responses today by academic defenders of social history. This is what aroused objections, including one that demanded to change the subject.

[My slightly revised posting:] One feature of my research (on contending ideologies during the period covered in this discussion group) has been on the move away from “scientific history” toward “cultural history” and “social history.” Although the statement in the first issue of Commentary, quoted below, is dated 1945, Carolyn Ware had already reported to the American Historical Society in 1939 that “scientific history” (apparently materialist in her eyes, and too focused on the individual investigator following the evidence wherever it led) was now displaced by what many call culturalism, a focus on the individual as interacting with groups, and indeed, groups now possessed individuality in her ideology, thus erasing the conflict between the individual and society. I am wondering if anyone on this list has looked into the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, cited in this article quoted below. I noticed that the stigmatizing of the unique individual as the measure of value had begun long before, as I showed in this blog  https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness, also in my work on the German Romantic predecessors to what is now called “multiculturalism.” [See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.  The lengthy quotes from Mordecai Grossman’s article are followed by a comment of mine.

[Mordecai Grossman, “The Schools Fight Prejudice,” Commentary,Nov. 1945:]

“To many school people and laymen, prevailing widespread intergroup antagonisms with their tensions and outbreaks, like the recent school strikes and riots, testify to the school’s failure to date to communicate America’s democratic heritage.

“The intercultural education movement [begun with the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, 1935] in which many teachers, schools and national organizations of teachers…are now joined, is based on two principal assumptions: first, that prejudices are culturally transmitted rather than biologically inherited, and second, that the school can, by one method or another, contribute significantly to the transformation of self-enclosed, mutually exclusive and hate-breeding cultures into open, interplaying and cooperating cultures. We have here a reaffirmation of the faith in education as a force for human progress and in the schools as the principal instrument of education in democratic ideals. A democratic way of life…is one which seeks to provide every individual with the maximum possible opportunity for personal growth and community service, for sharing in the control over the economic, political, and social conditions of group life, and for mastery over his own destiny–for all individuals regardless of race, creed, or ancestry.

“However, inter-individual (man-to-man) democracy is…only one aspect of the democratic way of life. The other is intercultural democracy [that] occupies a somewhat intermediate position between the ideals of “cultural pluralism” and of the “melting pot.” In contrast with the former, intercultural democracy denies both the possibility and the desirability of maintaining fairly intact the ancestral cultures of the varied ethnic groups that came here. But it also denies the possibility and desirability of stamping the 140,000,000 Americans in the mold of a uniform dominant culture–of a “melting pot” Americanism. For a democratic culture is an open culture, continually growing through individual and group interaction. Advocates of intercultural education recognize the survival of elements of old world culture in the new. Such elements of the old world heritage that are at odds with a democratic way of life are to be eliminated.

“But there are others which do not impede the growth of a common democratic culture, and which may even enrich it. These are to be retained…(35). [The Program:]…to contrast democracy with rival ways of life, say fascism…The thick walls which separate the social and ethnic groups in American society consist in large part of the stereotyped pictures that members of the “in” group have in their minds of individuals in the “out” group…[We must study] the tricks the human mind plays on itself, including those of “rationalization,” “projection,” and “scapegoating,” and which others play on us by means of propaganda techniques,
etc. (37, 38)…[T]here is the risk that the gains likely to accrue from the school’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the sub-culture will be nullified by the possible heightening of the sense of difference. Much depends on the way the intercultural program is administered (42).” [end Grossman quote, my emphasis]

[My commentary on the Grossman quote:] For the latest version of this project see https://clarespark.com/2015/02/08/steven-pinkers-reciprocal-altruism/. All of postwar pedagogy fits into these impossible dreams, schemes to be realized by artful administrators (who would presumably prevent further “school strikes and riots”). But Grossman has distorted the meaning of “the melting pot” as it was previously understood and bodied forth in Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908. For Zangwill and his predecessors (including de Crèvecoeur and Jefferson), a new man would be created out of the religious and ethnic mix unique to America, and this rights-endowed individual new man and woman presumably would be fit to judge their elected government representatives with the critical tools of the Enlightenment: analysis of propaganda and access to primary source documents, ending the monopoly of rulers whose affairs were conducted far from the public eye.

By rejecting the culturally syncretic* “melting pot,” Grossman was left with the cultural pluralism he was adjusting, to be replaced by a vaguely defined “intercultural democracy.” There are no autonomous free-standing individuals in his model, only interactive (collectivist) entities. Since he was actually reversing the Enlightenment by replacing individuals with groups (today we would say “community” as a substitute for the group and a corrective to hyper-individualistic loose cannons of all types), he resorted to the contrast of “democracy” with “fascism,” all the while ignoring the statism and destruction of the dissenting individual that was common to both ideologies as realized in the collectivist categories asserted in the New Deal and its progressive antecedents. (For “the individual” or “rugged individualist” was now associated with “laissez-faire capitalism” by statists of every stripe, from fascists to social democrats, though I do not equate them.) And of course Grossman underestimated the grip that authoritarian ideologies and ancestor-worship maintained in the offspring of his would-be democrats.

The editor of this Humanities-Net list, Jeremy Bonner, helped historians on the list with the following addition: “For the record, the papers of the Bureau for Intercultural Education are located at the University of Minnesota. Founded in 1934, it initially operated in New York high schools as the Service Bureau for Education in Human Relations. The Bureau for Intercultural Education emerged out of a reorganization of the original Service Bureau in 1939-1941. It subsequently provided workshop training for teachers and scientific research in human relations through field centers in Detroit, Gary, and Battle Creek. It was dissolved in 1954.

A finding aid can be found at: http://www.ihrc.umn.edu/research/vitrage/all/bo/GENbie.htm

*Syncretic means that cultures do not evolve in isolation but frequently fuse with other cultures. For instance, the popular music of the early 20th century was a fusion of mid-19th century middle-class music (often Irish or British in origin), black music, remembered Jewish music, and music from such sources as Gilbert and Sullivan and European opera.

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June 2, 2011

The Mass Culture Problem

There is a Humanities-Net list devoted to the period between 1918-1945 that has been discussing modernity, mass culture, and assimilation. For some, “nativists” are viewed as perpetrators of racism.  I started a glossary to see if we could come to agreement on the terms we used in debating this premise.

Public library luring readers with Captain Ahab "sea food"

Modernity: some  scholars start it with the age of expansion. I see modernity as starting with the Reformation, nascent capitalism in England on the land and then in finance, the invention of the printing press and growing mass literacy and numeracy, the Scientific Revolution, then the  speedup in industrialization, long distance transportation, and the settling of great cities in the West. Other scholars prefer to start with expansionism/imperialism alone. When the postmodernists seemingly burst upon the scene, I noted that there was little agreement about when modernism began or ended. Some seemed to be irrationalists echoing the
widespread horror at the casualties of the Great War.

Racism: Recent scholars have frequently erased “class” by collapsing it into “race” or “ethnicity.” Scientific racism and the intertwined notion of national character is best traced to the German Romantics of the late 18th century, following Herder. I blogged about the latter and others here:

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism,
also https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

Race” as a concept that predicts mental and other psychological characteristics was challenged in the mid-1930s, as was “ethnicity” insofar as these were held to be predictors of character, as opposed to physical variations within one species. It is my view that “antiracists”today use a racialist discourse while disavowing “racism.”

Assimilation:  the Left in general interprets this as adjusting to ugly nativism, and the nativists are supposedly chauvinistic believers in “American exceptionalism” by which they supposedly agree that America is the greatest country in the history of the world, based upon American military power. It is my view that assimilation in America requires no more than learning the customary language and obeying the laws of the land, by which I mean internalizing the novel idea of equality before the law and limited government. (It is true that the quietism of immigrant ancestors may cause rifts in families.)  As for “American exceptionalism” it once referred to “careers open to the talents” as opposed to a rigid class and caste society. America, lacking a hereditary aristocracy, was the land of upward mobility for all, and after the civil rights movement and the laws that followed, such mobility was offered to the descendants of slaves and even women.

Secularism: many cultural historians characterize the modern world as primarily “secular”.  This term is hotly contested in the culture wars.  “Traditionalists” abhor “secularists” who, they believe, have opened the flood gates of diabolism, degeneracy and every type of “unrest.”  The traditionalists insist that no separation between Church and State was intended by the Founding Fathers, who believed in America’s Providential mission. It is my position that religious and intellectual pluralism were institutionalized in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The culture war positions point to the unfinished revolutions, about which I wrote here:  https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

Organic conservatives:  These persons tend to reject the “anomie” of the modern world, also the notion of irreconcilable conflicts between persons,  nation-states, religions, and so on. They prefer social models, either state-imposed or religious, that unite warring factions or individuals through mystical bonds, not congruent material interests. Examples are the Catholic essayists de Maistre and  Bonald after the French Revolution.  But many of the corporatist liberals (i.e., conservative reformers of the New Deal) also posit mystical bonds of blood and soil. Here are to be found the ethnic nationalists and some regionalists.

Organic conservatives may be found throughout the political spectrum. They are not to be confused with libertarians, who tend to be materialists, and expect competing (free) markets to produce social well-being and a rising standard of living for all. The dread homo economicus is described here: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

Mass Culture: This is a term much used by the Frankfurt School critical theorists, who, as I have shown elsewhere on this website, attribute Hitler’s appeal to “the revolt of the masses” in tandem with the one-sidedness of an increasingly technological society and a Kafka-esque bureaucracy. They blame the Enlightenment for the Holocaust. I reject both their counter-Enlightenment views and their explanation for the rise of Hitler, which is a culturalist one only, and is historically inadequate to explain such a multi-faceted phenomenon. Modernity and “consumerism” are seen by the critical theorists (Frankfurters) as bourgeoisifying a social class that should be transcending capitalism and bringing in a form of libertarian socialism. These refugees from Germany were linked to left-liberals who themselves did sykewar for the Roosevelt administration and its social psychologist allies. There is a related category: mass politics, which signifies the type of log cabin politics initiated by the administration of Andrew Jackson. Mass politics are said by left-wing academics to have replaced “the politics of deference” and the rule of the best families. Hence the novel catering to “public opinion” in our political culture, and the fascination with propaganda as the primary mover of political choice.

[Added 6-3-11:] Don’t miss the two interesting comments by CatoRenasci below. Read #3 first, then #1.

May 5, 2011

Assimilation and its malcontents

Yesterday on Facebook I started a thread asking my friends what they thought that assimilation meant, then refined it to assimilation in a democratic republic. I got this strong response from Tom Nichols, a political scientist and frequent contributor to the History of Diplomacy (Humanities Net) discussion group:

“Assimilation, to me, has never had a negative connotation. To me it means that if you ask to immigrate to another country, you’re accepting that you’re asking other people to let you make your home with them. The house rules are posted up front: you don’t get to pick and choose. If the adopting country is attractive enough to you to move there and seek citizenship, then you must accept all of the communal responsibilities of citizenship. But let’s leave the U.S. out of it for a moment, and let’s pretend we’re talking about assimilation if you move to Saudi Arabia. If you want to move to the Kingdom, then suck it up: the little missus is going to have to wear a headscarf. It’s their country, not yours, and if you want to join their family, get it straight about who wears the veil and who wears the pants. It might be ridiculous, but it’s their right as a society. On the other hand, it’s our right not to have to move there, and this might explain why talented, smart people in the West are not deluging the Saudi consulates for immigration visas.

Or better yet, take France, which has had the stones to pass some laws we would never have the guts to pass here. If you move to France, you respect and practice French values, at least in public — and that means you don’t form roving packs of boys raping unveiled women in Marseilles. If your son is in one of those packs, you don’t later defend him by saying that in your culture, women who are unveiled are asking for it. (If you like your own culture so much, then stay where you are.) It means you accept the decisions of the legally-elected French government until the next election, and
if you lose in that election, you don’t protest those decisions by wilding in the streets because it’s your “culture” to do so. You become French, and you damn well stand up when the French flag is raised. Assimilation doesn’t mean losing your identity; in a democratic republic it means your public identity must conform to the values that made you want to move in the first place. It means not being cynical about being an immigrant. And in a democratic republic, the bargain is this: it means your private life is just that — private. Do what you like at home, but one you step outside, your public life conforms to the norms of the Republic. Most importantly, you cannot be a hypocrite. You cannot come to France, take citizenship, study in the great
halls of the Sorbonne, gorge on wine and cognac, chase the local gals, download porn at prodigious rates over Europe’s free and uncensored internet, and then complain that the EU is just a decadent, indulgent melange of perverts and that is why you therefore maintain two or three passports, just like you have two or three wives, no matter what those French snobs think about it. That all sounds harsh, maybe, but the solution is clear: if you don’t like it, don’t get off the plane at De Gaulle. Try Russia or Japan or Mexico, pull your anti-assimilationist *merde* there, and see how that goes for you. So vive la France. And good luck to every other country that takes in and tolerates immigrants who think that “immigration” means staking out a community like some sort of hostile base camp deep in enemy territory. Let’s have more assimilation and less use of the word “culture.” Oh, and PS: Learn French, damn it.” [end, Tom Nichols quote]

I was glad that professor Nichols picked France as his example, as it has been secular (off and on)* since the much derided French Revolution, a revolution that took its inspiration in part from the previous American Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment to the Constitution. This is significant to me because some “traditionalist” conservatives regularly condemn “secularism” as if the conception was derived from the godlessly atheistic Soviet Union. These same persons are busy finding fault with the separation of church and state, and combing through documents for proof that the Founding Fathers were godly and never intended to leave spiritual matters to the privacy of the individual conscience. Hence, the culture wars. I have written about that tendency among the social conservatives before on this website, and deplore their abandonment of libertarian ideas originated in the early modern period.

To end this blog, let me make a distinction between multiculturalism ( a pseudo-solution to the existence of prejudice or bigotry) and the pluralism guaranteed by our Constitution, particularly in the First Amendment. The American and French Revolutions were children of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, with the exception of the divergent German Enlightenment, the latter an irrationalist assault on the Age of Reason. Multiculturalism was consciously counter-revolutionary, a response to the French philosophes, materialists all, who preceded them. As I have shown with quotes from Herder and his followers on this website, the notion of national character, a racialist and collectivist idea, was the linchpin of their philosophy.

[Added after I was working on the blog, from Tom Nichols:  just to be clear, I think every country’s culture is its own business, and that each nation decides for itself what is acceptable within its own social norms — except when those practices become so dangerous to human life that they must be stopped (like, say, genocide or ritual female mutilation). I just happen to think that *Western* nations have the same rights.”

* When I first wrote this I had forgotten that the Declaration of the Rights of Man has had a rocky history in France. When Melville’s Billy Budd says farewell to the Rights of Man, we have a hint that Melville was not assigning to his character the qualities often ascribed to him.

April 3, 2010

Liberals and “Jewish” racism

Rockwell Kent

An astonishing number of liberal journalists are accusing the entire opposition to the President as either covertly or overtly racist. These accusations may take many forms, depending on the context. For instance, one liberal friend of mine referred to John Silber’s opinion that Jews were “phenomenal” in their racism because they did not welcome non-Jewish spouses or converts into the fold. What he did not state was that Silber (a Protestant then in divinity school, later the controversial President of Boston University and a candidate for Governor) held that opinion circa 1947, as he described it in a 1990 interview in the Boston Globe. At that time, he was considering converting to Judaism, not knowing that his own father, a German-Jewish emigrant and an architect, was a Jew. *

From what I have read, many refugees and/or survivors wished to spare their children the agonies of European Jewry, and hid their “identities”. At the same time, other Jews, including the Orthodox, were traumatized by the Shoah and felt that their culture, i.e., their sense of belonging to a larger family, was being systematically demolished, and that it was hence the duty of living Jews to resist intermarriage and assimilation, and thus to reconstitute the lost, ever-threatened world of Judaism. Not to do so was to betray their cultural heritage and their own ancestors who had stubbornly struggled to hold onto an ancient religion as the route to Diaspora survival. Perhaps a Freudian would surmise that most or many Jews were in a panic state as their world with its libidinous communal connections (no matter how imaginary), was disintegrating, before, during, and after the second world war. (See Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1922, esp. Chapter V: “Two Artificial Groups: The Church and the Army”).

   Indeed, Freud’s passing remarks stopped me short, as I thought about Michelle Obama’s honors thesis at Princeton, a paper that riled me up when I read it in 2008. Having grown up in a working class family, she was obviously anxious about upward mobility, and whether white people would ever accept her, a feeling that was tied with the (perhaps idealized) memory of a tightly knit black community in Chicago. Her bibliography featured black nationalists and she recommended more funding for the Black Studies Center at Princeton. I was very critical of her thesis because of the alliance with militant cultural nationalists and my aversion to separatism generally, but I failed to recognize her emotional defenses. It is true that many successful people, in whatever group, reject or stigmatize those in their group who are left behind, or who cling to what they think is a retardataire way of thinking and living. And those left behind may return the favor by shutting down all empathy for the successful among them. It is true that assimilation into the dominant culture extracts a high price for majority acceptance—a degree of conformity to a new set of rules compelling “moderation” in all things, a pose of serenity in their new social environment, and the denial that prejudice against them still exists. It is also true that those who are left behind feel abandoned and betrayed. On both sides of the class divide, conduct may not be pretty, but don’t look to me to throw stones at either party.

* [From the Boston Globe, 2-11-90, this excerpt from an interview with Silber during his campaign for governor of Massachusetts:]

As a 21-year-old divinity student, he took over a Baptist congregation in Connecticut when the minister he had been assisting quit. “I helped him leave because at the end he had asked me what I thought of his sermons and I would tell him,” he said. “They were awful. They were really bad.” The church was not Southern Baptist; he said it was “much more latitudinarian” than his own Presbyterian church.

To help pay for divinity school, he sang in the choir of a Jewish reform synagogue, where he found “the music was wonderful and the sermons were excellent.” He considered converting to Judaism. “I thought about it, and then found out that the racism of Jews is quite phenomenal,” he said. “If you are goyim considering becoming a Jew, you are going to be second-class in that synagogue, and I didn’t have any interest at all in moving into that congregation as a second-class citizen. I also thought that Judaism made a great mistake in not recognizing Jesus as one in the line of the great Hebrew prophets.”

In 1959, after Yale, while he was studying at the University of Bonn on a Fulbright scholarship, Silber said he discovered that his father was Jewish. He knows nothing of the Jewish background. In fact, his father had become so assimilated in the United States that a stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio is dedicated to his father’s mother. “If she had been a practicing Jew, I don’t believe my father would have done that,” Silber said. [end Boston Globe excerpt]

December 17, 2009

Assimilation in a democratic republic

 
 
 
 

from Steadman Thompson's notebook/collage

 Please go to https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/ for a cleaned-up copy of this posting.

I have just finished reading a recent book by Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America  (Harvard UP, 2004). If Kaufmann’s reading of U.S. history is correct, then almost everything on this website is either mistaken or misguided. But I don’t think so. What his book  does is replicate the same Harvard line that I experienced there in the Graduate School of Education: that “sub-cultures” were the unit for sorting out people. Moreover, it promotes the “multiculturalism” that I have reported repeatedly as deceptive and confusing: it purports to be anti-racist, but maintains a racialist discourse. (See my article, http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. See also the two blogs on Arne Duncan’s statism. )

 

    In the case of Kaufmann’s book, he generally underreports or misreports his sources in the service of anti-imperialism, cultural relativism, internationalism, affirmative action, and the United Nations, while lauding the comfort of multiple group affiliations and the irreplaceable warmth of ethnic ties and local color. Taken together, American identity is a “mosaic” in the same sense that Horace Kallen meant (see below), though at times he distances himself from such organicist formulations. 

 At no point does the author define his terms, and though he is a sociologist, well-acquainted with such distinctions as the rooted versus the rootless cosmopolitan, or gemeinschaft versus gesellschaft, he does not confront the problem of citizenship in a democratic republic: i.e., the necessity for the individual to vote from a standpoint of knowledge, rationality and deep immersion in the policy issues that will determine the course of her life. At no point, does Kaufmann, himself the product of mixed ‘races’, rank the West or the politically libertarian heritage of Britain as possibly superior to competing political arrangements. Hence assimilation for him is simply a rupture with the family of origin and submission to the hegemony of an alien ethnic group (I think he means the Hebraic Protestants of New England), rather than the absolutely imperative reconfiguration of what we think of as family loyalty in a situation where emancipation from the dead hand of the past is a possibility. As I have said before here, either we teach the critical processes necessary for popular sovereignty or we turn tail and return to an oligarchy masked as democracy. (See my blog on the Southern Agrarians and their role in reconstructing the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s. https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/)

     The book’s most alarming rewriting of history is the account of the melting pot, seen as the forced imposition of WASP hegemony until some key figures in the early 20th century—John Dewey, William James, and Jane Addams—introduced what he calls “Liberal Progressivism” (or what I have termed elsewhere corporatist liberalism). Added to the Progressive juggernaut, Kaufmann (self-described as a “mutt”) makes much of the soiled “individualist-expressive” line of Greenwich Village, tarred by its love for the “exotic” “bricolage,” but still acting against the dreary old WASPs. But hold on, a choppy and embarrassing U.S. history will have a happy ending if we adjust to “liberty” (undefined) and “equality” (undefined) in the context of a feast of ethnic preferences, with no one ethnicity dominating.

    Here is an excerpt from  Hunting Captain Ahab that contradicts Kaufmann’s presentation of Horace Kallen’s theory of cultural pluralism as directed against “Anglo-conformity” and ethical universalism: [Kaufmann:] “… Kallen expressed his political vision of America as a ‘democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind’ (Kallen 1924: 123).” Contrast this claim (Kaufmann, p.155) with my use of the same Kallen publication of 1924 and the great ideas (Adam Smith’s homo economicus and the specter of proletarian internationalism/solidarity) that Kallen was refuting with his Lamarckian assertions.

[Hunting Captain Ahab excerpt:] The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal rights to every individual citizen. The new social psychology was ‘sanely’ designed to wrest the concept of individuality from individual persons to groups: races, ethnicities and business corporations.[i] There might be no commitment to civil liberties in the practice of corporatist intellectuals had not the bloody repression of oppositional political speech during the first two decades of the twentieth century apparently propelled workers and their allies toward socialism, forcing moderate conservatives to forestall revolution in the disillusioned lower orders after the Great War by incorporating libertarian ideals and subversive writers. But the inspiring enlightenment rationalism of John Locke, Condorcet, and the Founding Fathers [ii] was vitiated by the racialist Progressive discourse derived from German idealism and the ideas of J. G. Von Herder, the hyphenated Americanism promoted after 1916 that advocated antiracist social and educational policies persisting today as “multiculturalism.” [iii] Horace Kallen’s Culture and Democracy in the United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples (1924) [iv] linked blood and soil determinism with anti-imperialism, boldly asserting an eighteenth-century völkisch social theory against materialist class analysis, proletarian internationalism, and war:

[Kallen:] The experiments on the salamander and the ascidian, on the rat and the rabbit, make a prima facie case, the importance of which cannot be seriously questioned, for the inheritance of acquired physical traits. The experiments upon the white mice make an even more significant case for the inheritance of acquired “mental” traits (29). …The American people…are no longer one in the same sense in which the people of Germany or the people of France are one, or in which the people of the American Revolution were one. They are a mosaic of peoples, of different bloods and of different origins, engaged in rather different economic fields, and varied in background and outlook as well as in blood…The very conception of the individual has changed. He is seen no longer as an absolutely distinct and autonomous entity, but as a link in an endless historical chain which is heredity, and as a point in a geographical extent involving political, economic, social organization, and all the other factors of group life, which are his environment (58-59).

 …The fact is that similarity of class rests upon no inevitable external condition: while similarity of nationality has usually a considerable intrinsic base. Hence the poor of two different peoples tend to be less like-minded than the poor and the rich of the same peoples. At his core, no human being, even in a “state of nature” is a mere mathematical unit of action like the “economic man.” Behind him in time and tremendously in him in quality, are his ancestors; around him in space are his relative and kin, carrying in common with him the inherited organic set from a remoter common ancestry. In all these he lives and moves and has his being. They constitute his, literally, natio, the inwardness of his nativity, and in Europe every inch of his non-human environment wears the effects of their action upon it and breathes their spirit (93-94)…Americans are a sort of collective Faust, whose memories of Gretchen and the cloister trouble but do not restrain the conquest of the new empire, and perhaps, the endeavor after Helen (265). (my emph.)[end Kallen quote]

[Hunting Captain Ahab:] Researchers would not examine unique individuals with highly variable life experience, capabilities and allegiances: more or less informed individuals making hard choices in shifting situations that were similarly available to empirical investigation, reporting their findings to anyone who cared to listen and respond. For many “symbolic interactionists” or “structuralists,” “society” or “the nation” was a collective subject composed of smaller collective subjects or “sub-cultures”: classes, races, ethnicities, and genders; these collectivities each possessed group “character” expressed in distinctive languages; we communicated solely through the mediations of symbols or “institutional discourses,” and badly. The dissenting, universal individual (the mad scientist) had been swallowed up, while at the same time the conservative reformers claimed to protect or restore individuality in their rescue of deracinated immigrants. Such confusing policies, I believe, are a futile attempt by planners from the right wing of the Progressive movement to impose a sunny, placid, crystalline exterior upon social actors–both individuals and groups–riven by unrecognizable but seething inter- and intra-class conflicts.[v] Although Progressive “corporate liberalism” has been derided by recent populists and New Leftists, its critics have not brought out the organicist sub-text, which, curiously, many radical critics carry but do not seem to see. Melville as Ahab and other dark characters diagnosed the demented character of ‘moderate’ social nostrums;[vi] his conservative characters blinkered themselves for the sake of family unity. Why this semi-visible racialist discourse on behalf of a more rooted cosmopolitanism was deemed indispensable to many Progressives is one theme in my book. The construction of the Jungian unconscious as site for Progressive purification and uplift is further developed below as I draw a straight line between some aristocratic radicals of the 1920s and their New Left admirers in the field of American literature.

 

 


[i] A clipping preserved by Carey McWilliams is revealing in this regard: Woodruff Randolph’s editorial in the Typographical Journal 9/4/37, protested recent right-wing offensives; the headline read “Incorporate Unions? Step Toward Fascism, Says ‘Typo’ Secretary.” Randolph contrasted the business corporation “partly a person and partly a citizen, yet it has not the inalienable rights of a natural person” with “A labor organization [which] is organized to do in numbers what each may do individually under his inalienable rights.” Carey McWilliams Papers, UCLA Special Collections, Box 14.

[ii] James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America, Chapter 2. Ceaser differentiates among the Founders, arguing that Jefferson’s political rationalism existed in tension with received ideas on race; the overall effect was to replace political science with natural history as the guide to sound government. Condorcet, the most comprehensively democratic philosophe, the champion of internationalism, popular sovereignty, public education, feminism, and progress, and enemy to separation of powers and checks and balances (as ploys of elites to subvert democratic will), was annexed to the conservative enlightenment to give liberal credibility to the New Deal elevation of the executive branch of government over the legislative branch. See J. Salwyn Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (N.Y.: Octagon Reprint, 1978, orig. pub. 1934, repub. 1963), 276-277: “Security for both capital and labor is essential if freedom of enterprise is to survive…Responsibility in government can be more efficiently maintained by giving more authority to the executive, who would wield power, not as an irresponsible dictator, but as a democratically chosen official responsible to a legislature whose essential function would be to act as the nation’s monitor. Progress has been the peculiar heritage of liberalism to which it must be ever faithful in order to survive.” Condorcet joins Paine and Jefferson as fodder for the moderate men of the vital center.

 [iii]  I am using 1916 as a milestone in the promotion of ethnopluralism because of the publication of the Randolph Bourne article, “Trans-National America,” and a now forgotten book by the head psychologist of the Boston Normal School, J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916). The latter introduced Herder as the precursor to Franz Boas and advocated the new “race pedagogy.” There was no ambiguity about the welcome counter-Enlightenment drift of German Romanticism in this work. For Andress, the German Romantic hero was a rooted cosmopolitan, fighting to throw off [Jewish] materialist domination to liberate the Volksgeist. In 1942, Herder was presented as a Kantian, pantheist, cosmopolitan and quasi-democrat, even a supporter of the French Revolution in James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing, Vol. 2, 33-138, especially 137.

Some more recent intellectual historians are rehabilitating Herder along with other figures of the Hochklarung, similarly held to be avatars of the freethinking emancipated individual. In his talk at the Clark Library symposium “Materialist Philosophy, Religious Heresy, and Political Radicalism, 1650-1800,” (May 1, 1999) John H. Zammito declared that Herder’s philosophy (the demolition of mechanical materialism?) cleared the way for the further development of natural science in Germany. The key figure for these scholars is Spinoza, his pantheism the apex of “vitalist materialism.” Margaret C. Jacob, author of The Radical Enlightenment, 1981, was organizer of the conference, but we are using the term with differing assumptions about scientific method and what, exactly, constitutes the radical Enlightenment.

     [iv] Horace M. Kallen, Culture and Democracy in The United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples, (N.Y: Boni and Liveright: 1924), recognized in Alfred E. Zimmern’s review in The Nation and the Atheneum, 5/17/24, 207, as a shift away from Lockean environmentalism toward hereditarian racism, however (benignly) characterized as “a cooperation of cultural diversities”; Zimmern linked Kallen’s pluralism to that of William James. He did not mention Randolph Bourne’s Atlantic Monthly essay of 1916, “Trans-National America.” See also Robert Reinhold Ergang, Herder and the Foundations of German Nationalism, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1931), Chapter III. On the explicit and implicit antisemitism/Counter-Enlightenment in Herder’s position, see p. 92: “The Hebrews ‘were a people spoiled in their education, because they never arrived at a maturity of political culture on their own soil, and consequently not to any true sentiment of liberty and honor.’ ” There it is, the Big Lie of rootless cosmopolitanism. See p.95 for the basis of Herder’s anti-French revolt: Rousseau’s Contrat social is not the force that binds a nation, but nature’s laws of blood and soil; Nature, not Culture creates interdependence; for Herder there is only Nature and all history is natural history; environmentally acquired characteristics are inherited by the corporate entity.

[v]  See for instance, Louis Filler, Randolph Bourne (Washington, D.C.: American Council On Public Affairs, 1943). The Council was a Progressive organization producing pamphlets during the war and promoting cooperation between capital and labor. Louis Filler (also a Nation writer) explained why Randolph Bourne, espousing an orderly “international identity” for America and explaining war as an outgrowth of nationalism, had been wrongly deemed as irrelevant to the youth of the 1930s; we need Bourne today.

    Filler explained, “Alien cultures, Bourne declared, brought new forces and ideas to American life. [Those bossy, snobbish Anglo-Saxon assimilationists who controlled everything, so] discouraged retention by immigrants of their Old World heritage did not thereby create Americans. Filler quotes Bourne: They created “hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” Moreover: “those who come to find liberty achieve only license. They become the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see in our slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the vacuous faces of the crowds on the city street. This is the cultural wreckage of our time, and it is from the fringes of the Anglo-Saxon as well as the other stocks that it falls. America has as yet no compelling integrating force. It makes too easily for this detritus of cultures. In our loose, free country, no constraining national purpose, no tenacious folk-tradition and folk-style hold the people to a line.”

   What would be done about such a state of affairs? [Filler:] “America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men. To seek no other good but the weary old nationalism–belligerent, exclusive, inbreeding, the poison of which we are witnessing now in Europe–is to make patriotism a hollow sham, and to declare, that, in spite of our boastings, America must ever be a follower and not a leader of nations.” Do not, therefore, denigrate any culture that has driven stakes into the American soil: do not, certainly, term it un-American: “There is no distinctive American culture.” Do not, above all, set up American material achievement as a token of American fulfillment: “If the American note is bigness, action, the objective as contrasted with the reflective life, where is the epic expression of this spirit?” We were patently inhibited from presenting in impressive artistic form the energy with which we were filled. The reason was that we had not yet accepted the cosmopolitanism with which we had been endowed. Americans of culture could be made of the Germans in Wisconsin, the Scandinavians in Minnesota, and the Irish and Italians of New York. “In a world which has dreamed of internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been building up the first international identity (76-78)…[Bourne’s] ideas, his experiences, the warp and woof of his personality were not necessary to a generation that believed it had discovered impersonal economic laws that (properly applied) would at last bring about a settlement of human affairs (133).” Filler is obviously writing against the Red Decade. (I don’t have Filler’s little book in front of me, but I believe most of these words are his, perhaps with interjections by Bourne.)

[vi] Cf. David Leverenz on the “Ugly Narcissus,” Ahab: “He certainly is not afflicted with contradictory or discontinuous role-expectations. But he does start to experience a desire for [sadomasochistic] fusion, previously blocked by his obsession.” In Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 294.

July 31, 2009

More On The ABCs of Staying Alive and Preserving The Planet

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Simon Schaffer of Cambridge U.

I. Life is just a bunch of stories, or so sayeth some high-achieving men who were or are close to me: all “narratives” are idiosyncratic to individuals or groups, they believe(d). In the case of one trendy political scientist, his anti-science, irrationalist world view proved fatal, and he was dead at 64. Another friend/mentor was dead at age 55. Both men were academic stars whose careerist allegiance to anti-medical, anti-science views deprived them of the accumulated knowledge of medicine and hygiene, much of it achieved despite centuries of persecution by those reactionaries who are now sometimes called “traditionalists.” Postmodernists and multiculturalists would agree with my prematurely deceased ex-lovers, but few public intellectuals today seem interested in tracking down the sources of their quack belief systems, despite their professed love for “nature” and the preservation of the natural world. For them, science is “essentially a swindle” [Simon Schaffer, declared in a UCLA seminar that I audited] and cannot help us think and test our way out of the ecological catastrophe that they fear, for science and technology are the culprits who must be overcome.

I have written elsewhere on this site how the rule of law, the very foundation of what we call “civilization,” is undermined by such assaults on facts or the ranking of historical narratives so that the ordinary citizen has a basis for judging the worth and validity of contending “stories.” It is to me unbelievable that I have had to write of such basic conceptions in political and social theory as I have done over the last few decades, but such is the almost incomprehensible deterioration of our shared culture since at least the second world war, a dumbing down that was exacerbated during the 1960s counter-culture, that I find myself having to remind readers of historical developments, conflicts, and methods of investigation that they should have thought about and mastered in high school and college. So please bear with me, those of you for whom these arguments are old hat, or a not-so-fresh bowl of cherries.

I am arguing here for an ever-evolving but deepening objectivity as we contemplate conflict. To be sure, we experience the world through lenses that are often distorted by those ideologies or unhealthy family relationships that formed our personal subjectivities. But it is our life task as would-be enlightened and progressive liberals to reconstruct over time just how our personal stories or narratives wired our brains in a particular way, so that we are predisposed either to love or hate or feel indifference to those individuals, groups, and principles that compete for our attention and loyalty. To be less abstract, consider the case of the child caught in the middle between divorcing parents. Each party to the conflict, say mom and dad, has a different story about the cause(s) of the breakup and the character of the other parent, and the bewildered young child who does not, cannot at this stage of life (for s/he is dependent on a unified family for protection), favor one parent over the other, may throw up his or her hands and state, over and over, “there are only stories: there is no truth. I cannot bear the thought that one of my beloved parents is lying to me, or is a flawed person in any way.” In adulthood, that grown (but emotionally stuck) child of a messy divorce may embrace what is now called postmodernism, that is the radical subjectivism or “perspectivism” that permeates the humanities: it is argued in our “elitist liberal” schools that there is no universal truth, no compelling universal moral order, but that there are only points of view, and we should not intervene to establish which stories are in accord with facts or correct conduct, for now all “facts” are factoids, or are observations entirely dependent on context and the will to control wealth and hence those groups said to be oppressed. As for bourgeois “morality” (a.k.a. the rule of law, often blamed on Jewish “legalism”) it is a confidence game contrived by the rising middle-class (the modernists) to displace libertine monarchs, and it is the job of the postmodernist to rip off the mask of the new oppressors. Take that, Thomas Jefferson, you sanctimonious hypocrite!

II. Secularists versus traditionalists. Assimilation and its complications. The melting pot and its vicissitudes.
I watch Fox News Channel to see what Catholic rightists are dispensing to their populist supporters. O’Reilly and Hannity in particular are indignant with “secular progressives” who are destroying “traditionalism.” It seems to be a replay of the Reformation-Counter-Reformation argument (see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/). For these spokesmen for the conservative movement, “secularism” has changed its meaning from what I once understood it to be; i.e., for the popular Fox pundits, secularists are now atheistic heretics (archetypally Hebraic/Protestant) out to destroy all religion, the better to enslave the credulous masses with materialism, the masses being “the folks” for whom these pundits purport to speak. But this was not the meaning of “secular” as I have understood it. Secularism was that Enlightenment pluralism that prevented the establishment of a state religion, and it was another term for tolerance—including toleration for the non-believer. It was a brilliant innovation in government that aimed to prevent wars of religion as had convulsed Europe with huge consequences for subsequent history, for instance, in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). And secularism also signifies the “worldliness” also blamed on “the Jews” and their refusal of Christ and the promised eternal afterlife.

In one of my essays posted here (“Why Multiculturalists and Wilsonians Can’t Diagnose the New Antisemitism” https://clarespark.com/2009/07/11/multiculturalists-and-wilsonians-cant-diagnose-the-new-antisemitism/) I mention the conditions of assimilation for a certain group of upwardly mobile Jews, who may have felt that they had to conform to all the precepts of Christianity in order to find acceptance and earn a fine living. Since the “traditionalists” are dead set against liberalism tout court, (all the while defending “liberty” or “free will” and the God-loving Founding Fathers) I should explain my position, especially as what I found in my research on the origins of multiculturalism is relevant to this nation of immigrants and the descendants of slaves, many of whom as “cultural nationalists” and “anti-imperialists” now refuse “assimilation.” The turn to “culturalism” as a substitute for a scientific education, and yet, an education that would oppose racism (racism being a well-known feature of Nazi ideology), occurred during the Roosevelt administration, and here below is a revealing document that is conscious of the difficulties in adapting to the secular state—a liberal state that demands critical analysis of its operations by all its voters (blame Jefferson and the Enlightenment for this).

[Mordecai Grossman, “The Schools Fight Prejudice,” Commentary, Nov. 1945:] “To many school people and laymen, prevailing widespread intergroup antagonisms with their tensions and outbreaks, like the recent school strikes and riots, testify to the school’s failure to date to communicate America’s democratic heritage.

The intercultural education movement [begun with the New Deal Bureau for Intercultural Education, 1935] in which many teachers, schools and national organizations of teachers…are now joined, is based on two principal assumptions: first, that prejudices are culturally transmitted rather than biologically inherited, and second, that the school can, by one method or another, contribute significantly to the transformation of self-enclosed, mutually exclusive and hate-breeding cultures into open, interplaying and cooperating cultures. We have here a reaffirmation of the faith in education as a force for human progress and in the schools as the principal instrument of education in democratic ideals.
A democratic way of life…is one which seeks to provide every individual with the maximum possible opportunity for personal growth and community service, for sharing in the control over the economic, political, and social conditions of group life, and for mastery over his own destiny–for all individuals regardless of race, creed, or ancestry.
However, inter-individual (man-to-man) democracy is…only one aspect of the democratic way of life. The other is intercultural democracy [that] occupies a somewhat intermediate position between the ideals of “cultural pluralism” and of the “melting pot.” In contrast with the former, intercultural democracy denies both the possibility and the desirability of maintaining fairly intact the ancestral cultures of the varied ethnic groups that came here. But it also denies the possibility and desirability of stamping the 140,000,000 Americans in the mold of a uniform dominant culture–of a “melting pot” Americanism. For a democratic culture is an open culture, continually growing through individual and group interaction. Advocates of intercultural education recognize the survival of elements of old world culture in the new. Such elements of the old world heritage that are at odds with a democratic way of life are to be eliminated. But there are others which do not impede the growth of a common democratic culture, and which may even enrich it. These are to be retained…(35). [The Program:]…to contrast democracy with rival ways of life, say fascism…The thick walls which separate the social and ethnic groups in American society consist in large part of the stereotyped pictures that members of the “in” group have in their minds of individuals in the “out” group…[We must study] the tricks the human mind plays on itself, including those of “rationalization,” “projection,” and “scapegoating,” and which others play on us by means of propaganda techniques, etc.(37, 38)…[T]here is the risk that the gains likely to accrue from the school’s attempt to develop an appreciation of the sub-culture will be nullified by the possible heightening of the sense of difference. Much depends on the way the intercultural program is administered (42).”

All of postwar pedagogy fits into this impossible dream, a scheme to be realized by an artful administrator. But Grossman has distorted the meaning of “the melting pot” as it was previously understood and bodied forth in Israel Zangwill’s famous play of 1908. For Zangwill and his predecessors (including de Crèvecoeur and Jefferson), a new man would be created out of the religious and ethnic mix unique to America, and this rights-endowed individual new man and woman would be fit to judge their elected government representatives with the critical tools of the Enlightenment: analysis of propaganda and access to primary source documents, ending the monopoly of rulers whose affairs were conducted far from the public eye. By misreporting the culturally syncretic “melting pot,” Grossman was left with the cultural pluralism he was presumably replacing with a vaguely defined “intercultural democracy.” There are no autonomous free-standing individuals in his model, only interactive entities. Since he was actually reversing the Enlightenment by replacing individuals with groups (today we would say “community” as a substitute for the group and a corrective to hyper-individualistic loose cannons of all types),  he resorted to the contrast of “democracy” with “fascism,” all the while ignoring the statism and destruction of the dissenting individual that was common to both ideologies. And of course he underestimated the grip that authoritarian ideologies and ancestor-worship maintained in the offspring of his would-be democrats.

As I have argued in all my recent outpourings here, in my articles on History News Network, and in my book on the Melville Revival, the necessity of group cohesion (or “consensus”) trumped the critical processes that make a rational democracy possible, and here in Grossman’s well-meaning but irrational policy statement was only one example of a flood of crazy-making institutional practices from the late 1930s on, although the stage had been set from the Reformation and the invention of the printing press onward. Stay tuned.

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