YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 17, 2013

The Illusion of National Unity

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

In this brief blog I will address those still potent divisions that the “turn to culturalism” has masked. I will, as usual, reject the inheritance of the “organic nation,” or the misnamed cultural pluralism that goes by the name of “multiculturalism,” as well as such terms as “national identity,” “group identity” or “zeitgeist.” All these terms are the effluents of German Romanticism, or the “Aufklärung” as it is misleading named. The German” Enlightenment” is a misnomer for it asserted itself against the all-too “bourgeois” “mechanical materialism” of the French and English Enlightenments.

No one with even a passing knowledge of US history can imagine that we are a unified entity unless they are chauvinists who revel in the notion of American superpower status, as opposed to celebrating the good sense embodied in the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, separation of powers, and frankly materialistic approach to conflict (see the Federalist Papers that made almost no mention of “God.”) Nor did the framers of that Constitution have any illusions about human nature. Federalist #10 made the conflict between creditors and debtors clear enough, and the Left loves to cite Madison’s contribution as proof that capitalism is elitist and opposed to the interests of the common man; that the Constitution is an elitist document). What are the real divisions that complicate the controversies swirling around us and that are masked by “culturalism” and its rhetoric?

Besides the ongoing structural conflict between creditors and debtors that often takes the form of populism, already mentioned, First, there is not a [jewified] communist party versus a capitalist party, as some on the Far Right would have it. Two capitalist parties confront one another, with differing strategies for wealth creation: one generally looks to state-imposed Keynesian demand-stimulus economic remedies for economic downturns, while those Republicans who are not overly indebted to “progressives” look to free markets and supply-side economics. (For living economists exemplifying the latter, see Larry Lindsey’s latest book, or the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 9-17-13 by Martin Feldstein.) The fact that Keynesians may be found in both parties owing to the bipartisan origins of progressivism, complicates the picture.

Second, there is a strong argument for the South having won the peace through the popularity of the paternalistic organic society that Southerners asserted as superior to the “wage-slavery” of the urbanized, capitalist, puritan North.

Gemeinschaft beat out Gesellschaft during successive phases of the progressive movement, culminating in the New Deal, hence the collectivist vocabulary that may be found in advertising and political speeches. Ayn Rand railed against this, to little avail. She was preceded in the 19th century by the antislavery Senator from Massachusetts, the descendant of Puritans: Charles Sumner.

Thus we have an ongoing conflict between the country and the city, with many protest movements flavored by agrarianism and nostalgia for the allegedly neighborly and unified small town (compare to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, 1919). Sumner took liberal nationalism to mean a government that protected the rights of individuals as opposed to collective entities. For this (along with Sumner’s proposals for “Radical Reconstruction”) Sumner has been read out of the canon of great Americans until very recently.

Third, anyone who thinks that the Reformation was settled long ago, and that there is no deeply rooted religious conflict today is uneducated about the history of immigration and of religiously defined conflict in general. Sectarian divisions within and between the major religions impinge on all the other conflicts. I could go on, but won’t, for too long a blog would emerge. I will mention, however, the omnipresent sentimentality of our popular culture, whether this is reflected in the worship of “romantic love,” “the happy family,” “the community,” adorable babies, or pets–all attempts to find internal unity in divided selves. Community-and-Society It is difficult to navigate oneself politically through all these intertwined conflicts. But it would be true progress to admit that they exist. On Toennies see https://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/.

August 13, 2013

Victor Hugo’s “93” and Condorcet

Hugoquatrevingt-treize_The French Revolution at its most Jacobin extreme has been appropriated by Communists as a great bourgeois revolution that laid the groundwork for the absolutist morality of subsequent revolutions. This is a dangerous error for persons of libertarian beliefs, who also think kindly of progress, anti-racist policies, market economies, and feminism.

Hugo’s last novel, 93, published in 1874, lays out the moral quandaries of various factions in the French Revolution. It is notable that Ayn Rand admired this novel, and it affected her own We The Living (1937, see my blog https://clarespark.com/2011/01/12/ayn-rands-we-the-living/).

In my view, Hugo is aligned in this book that focuses on the moral quandary of the civil war in France (the French Revolution centered in Paris, as opposed by the rural Vendée), with the anti-capital punishment of the Marquis de Condorcet, whose advanced Enlightenment ideas have yet to be realized in our own times. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-Three and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_Condorcet .

Here is a key passage in the Hugo novel in which a ci-devant aristocrat, a fighter for the Republic, Gauvain, argues with his beloved teacher Cimourdain, who has gone over to Robespierre, Danton, and Marat as they operated in the Committee for Public Safety.

[Cimourdain:] One day, the Revolution will be the justification of this Terror.

[Gauvain:] Beware lest the Terror become the calumny of the Revolution. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,—these are the dogmas of peace and harmony. Why give them an alarming aspect? What is it we want? To bring the peoples to a universal republic. Well, do not let us make them afraid. What can intimidation serve? The people can no more be attracted by a scarecrow than birds can. One must  not do evil to bring about good; one does not overturn the throne in order to leave the gibbet standing. Death to kings, and life to nations! Strike off the crowns; spare the heads! The Revolution is concord, not fright.  Clement ideas are ill-served by cruel men. Amnesty is to me the most beautiful word in human language. I will only shed blood in risking my own.  Besides, I simply know how to fight. I am nothing but a soldier. But if I may not pardon, victory is not worth the trouble it costs. During battle let us be the enemies of our enemies, and after victory, their brothers.

[Cimourdain:] Take care!

At the end, Hugo’s novel starts to look like Melville’s Billy Budd (not published until 1924, but written between 1886-91). The same moral quandary is revealed, and the Melville dénouement somewhat resembles the ending of the Hugo novel. Gauvain liberates his Royalist ancestor the ci-devant Marquis de Lantenac (only because the aristocrat risked his life to rescue three peasant tots in a fire), and after a strenuous argument with his conscience, subsequently offering his own life instead. Cimourdain, as a representative of the Jacobins, condemns the court-martialed Gauvain to the guillotine, but then takes his own life from remorse at having violated the higher law. (In Billy Budd, Captain Vere’s enigmatic last words as he lies dying from a shot from The Athée are “Billy Budd.”)

In the series Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Bobby Goren, often read as demonic by the critics, opposes capital punishment, but must serve the superiority of the Law above people. Read the interaction between Cimourdain and Gauvain, for it is a persistent theme in American culture. Even in our supposedly anti-Stalinist democracy, we struggle with the same paradox. And Hugo’s final published novel is a page-turner, and completely absorbing, free from the long digressions of Les Misérables.

La Torgue castle

La Torgue castle

September 25, 2012

Thought police on Fox?

You can’t say “savage” on Fox News Channel.

This morning, Jamie Colby, a Fox News anchor, explained to the audience that she could not bring herself to quote the ad, formulated by Pamela Geller, which, upon a judge’s orders, is now placed on subways in NYC and other venues.  For Ms. Colby, the words (later described as “fighting words” by her guests) were simply unmentionable in polite company. I gather from the ad that the word “savage” (along with “savages”?) takes its place with F-bombs and other evil expletives.

Here is the advertisement, part of which is a quotation from Ayn Rand:

Geller’s ad was responding to anti-Israel ads that had been placed in New York City subways for several years, and had to sue the MTA to get it posted. It was not that long ago that a Harvard professor as prestigious as F. O. Matthiessen could divide up humanity into the civilized and the savage, seeing this as a core conflict around which one could write literary history. But that was 1941, in his still read American Renaissance. And Matthiessen was no friend to American expansion.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/12/29/f-o-matthiessen-martyr-to-mccarthyism/).

What is at issue here is the ongoing victory of the forces of political correctness. The ad in contention nowhere says that all Muslims are enemies of Israel; rather it singles out jihadists, about whose intentions to wipe Israel off the map, no one should be in doubt.

I first found out that the adjective or noun “savage” or “savages” was forbidden to the politically progressive when I read Richard Slotkin’s book Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, at the recommendation of my friend Michael Rogin, author of Fathers and Children, a controversial book on Andrew Jackson’s policies as genocidal toward native Americans, and that further maintained that all American institutions shared  Jackson’s  paternalistic and hierarchical military model.  (Rogin told me himself that he was very wounded when his colleague, political scientist John Schaar, also a famous New Leftist, had criticized Rogin for placing Indian removal at the heart of American history; perhaps the anti-expansionist line was too simplistic.) Professor Slotkin has continued his theme through decades of books and novels dedicated to his thesis, identical with Rogin’s and with other celebrities in American Studies. (For a rundown on the anti-American celebrities in academe, including Edward Said, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.) Cultural relativism demands that we erase the notion of “savagery” from our memory banks, and we are ordered to understand alien cultures on their own terms. One society is not better than any other: this is what liberals mean by “diversity.” (This notion was sharply criticized by Ralph Bunche while he was assisting Gunnar Myrdal in the preparation of An American Dilemma. What the libertarian-leaning Bunche wanted was an America that would live up to its founding creed.)

Jackson swats Amerindian

Fast forward to my years in graduate school, and a visiting professor who specialized in the history of native American warfare and politics. A silence spread over the room when the professor declared that American Indians were highly various in their social organization and that they constantly fought with each other. This would seem to be common sense, but it cut into the narrative propagated by the U.S. field at UCLA that “civilized” Europeans had literally invaded America and [savagely] destroyed the indigenous peoples all by themselves. I.e., Michael Rogin’s anti-American narrative had been complicated, too complicated for persons who preferred to tell a simple story of American [savagery] at its core.

One might ask: what is civilization? To Walter Lippmann, writing in The Good Society, the idea of the individual’s equality with other individuals before God was a turning point in the rejection of barbarism. (An assimilated Jew, Lippmann awarded that honor to Christianity; he might have mentioned Judaism See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/.) Before that, the Massachusetts Senator who was notorious for his aggressive arguments against slavery, Charles Sumner, defined the liberal state as protecting individual rights through equality before the law, and his notion of law was limited mostly to national security and the protection of individual welfare, inseparable from liberty.  Here was no coward, bending the knee to those forces demanding unquestioning obedience to those supporting chattel slavery. For his efforts on behalf of equality before the law he was suspected of carrying Jewish blood through his mother by his most important biographer, a Southerner by birth. (For details on David Herbert Donald’s bio of Sumner see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.)

We now should have an idea of what “fair and balanced” means in the practice of Fox News Channel.  As I have argued previously, this cable news outlet, though it broadcasts some dissenting voices on the Right, is centrist, moderate, and progressive. Welcome to the world of 1984. The thought police are everywhere. The founders gave us a republic, and it is up in the air as to whether or not we can summon the will to keep it.

September 16, 2012

Thought Crimes

During the High Holy Days, Jews are supposed to engage in strenuous self-examination. Even as a secular Jew, the solemnity and moral obligation of this time impels me to look inside and make reparations to those I may have neglected or lied to or otherwise misled as to my deep inner beliefs or opinions.

My thought crimes that everyone already knows about:

a. The subject of antisemitism is only partly understood, even by Jews and their friends;

b. The exact techniques of populist demagoguery always rely on an underlying antisemitic set of assumptions about “the money power.” If we knew even the basics of finance and economic history, the bogey man of Wall Street would disintegrate;

c. I enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels with some reservations (masochistic sex), but given her particular history, I brush them aside;

d. Even if there was “school choice” there is no guarantee that students would be prepared for citizenship, given the curricula in vogue, which do not begin to teach freedom of thought, dominated as they are by authoritarian, under-educated, or wimpy progressives;

e. Progressivism and communism are now so interpenetrating that it is hard to tell where Democrats leave off and hard leftists begin. Those scholars who have studied communist influence in the US and who think that the Reds are no longer relevant are mistaken;

f. Although left-wing anarchists and right-wing anarchists would appear to be immiscible, they are both counter-culture and probably acting out rebellion against the rules set by their parents. Anti-capitalism vs. anarcho-capitalism may not be as significant as enjoyment in prolonged tantrums;

g. Much of what passes for high art is primitivist, or at times, expresses nostalgia for an agrarian past that lacked cities, machines, and annoying Jews who make you think too much;

h. The sexual revolution of the 1960s on has been a disaster for most women, who have bought into the regnant masochism and degradation of our gender;

i. Freud is more relevant than ever, yet rarely understood: though a professed atheist, he is still too Jewish;

j. Many workers continue to be exploited and/or have boring, even dangerous jobs.

Thought crimes that nobody knows about:

a. People should not have children if they can’t support them. If marriages break down, the couples should stay together in most cases for the sake of family stability: children hate change and often are caught between parents, with bad life-long after-effects;

b. Some of the authors and artists I most admire are turning out to be either romantic rebels or reactionaries or downright offensive and I don’t care: I will defend their freedom of expression as long as I am breathing;

c. Being at odds with most of the world is downright fun. John Dos Passos admitted this in his old age (see Century’s Ebb), and I recognized my own proclivities. Call me joyfully alienated; (One relative through marriage rightly suspects me of these contrarian tendencies.)

d. As long as I am on hot on the trail of a new (for me) miscreant or set of ‘em, I am happy;

e. Nothing more exciting than changing my mind or reconfiguring a picture of the world: to see with fresh eyes. While I was making radio documentaries, was heard to say that a good edit was way better than sex. Collage will do that for you;

f. I was invited to submit a proposal for a class I would teach in the Los Angeles Woman’s Building. I submitted this title and nothing else: “PUNS KEY TO SECRET ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE.” No one signed up and I didn’t care.

August 16, 2012

Marx, anarchist rivals, and our enigmatic President

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/. Also, https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/]

Because the history of radical thought is rarely taught objectively, if at all, in the universities, much of the electorate is at the mercy of any anti-statist conservative who takes it upon himself to write a book about his political enemies, tarring them with the brush of either communism, fascism, or “totalitarianism” (the latter conflating communism and Nazism/ fascism, which have differing political genealogies, and differ sharply with respect to the Enlightenment).

We remain in an attenuated political culture, because leftists and liberals alike dominate the teaching of the humanities in the public schools, and elite universities (both private and public). Right wing protest attempts to overcome the leftist monopoly with largely religious claims that are often flawed, for instance, holding “atheism” or “materialism” or “science” or “technology” or “feminism” or “gays” responsible for the perceived decadence of our times.

At the same time, many vocal post-60s leftists refuse to acknowledge that this is a big country, with diverse belief systems. Hence their political tactics may be intolerant and lacking in empathy for those who find purpose and meaning in Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, etc. Enter the fiercely argued culture wars, where “secularism,” to take one example, has been transformed from the separation of Church and State to “godless Communism.” Do we enjoy Ayn Rand’s novels? She must be the devil, for she was a materialist who lauded creative achievement in this world. What we may not do is view her as the product of a particular moment in history, when collectivism (either Soviet Communism or the New Deal) was justified as the realization of altruism, a quality held to be lacking in dog-eat-dog hyper-individualistic industrial society, controlled by “economic royalists” as FDR named his opponents. At a moment when social bonds were mystical (as envisioned by either the corporatist liberals or the Soviets), Rand defended science, technology, and the materialist Enlightenment:  for Rand social bonds were rational and based on competence in manipulating the materials of this world.

What to do when there is no common basis for agreement regarding fundamental values, let alone the application of the Constitution to an industrialized or post-industrial society such as our own? My personal solution is to defend scientific method, political pluralism (on “cultural pluralism” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/26/cultural-pluralism-vs-multiculturalism/), and creative freedom against all authoritarian tendencies, whether these emanate from the Left, the “moderate men,” or the Right. That is the purpose of the website, and decades earlier, was the project of my radio programs on KPFK-FM, Los Angeles. Whereas “leftists”(including anarchists) claim to stand with “the oppressed,” I stand with artists, the unleashed imagination, and the creative spirit in general, which I believe each one of our species possesses.

Yesterday, I promised my Facebook friends that I would try to write a blog distinguishing between Karl Marx and his anarchist rivals. Looking over the various Wikipedia biographies of the major actors in this (anarchist) trend in European history (see below), I was daunted, even floored. But I did discover that Noam Chomsky admired such anarchist thinkers as Bakunin (add Perry Anderson to that list), while Martin Luther King, Jr. is better seen as a descendant of Tolstoy.

As for Marx versus Lenin versus Mao-Tse-tung, I will summarize all too briefly what their differences were here (and note that I am drastically oversimplifying, and everything I write will be seen as reductionist and dumb by those who are intellectuals in the many left-wing sects):

  1. Marx was  hardly the sole critic of industrial society, but it is his apocalyptic prophecies of socialist revolution that distinguish him from his rivals. He believed that the working class would become immiserated, and that portions of the bourgeoisie would desert their class to join with the workers to “expropriate the expropriators.” This could  only happen in advanced industrial societies where the working class comprised the majority. Marx had little use for petit-bourgeois radicalism  (such as utopian socialism advanced by many of his contemporaries, including Robert Owen and the Fourierites in America). And he famously despised “the idiocy of rural life” and societies he considered to be backward, which aroused the fury of such as the anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist Edward Said, along with other primitivists and antisemites. Most controversially, Marx predicted the withering away of the state after a relatively brief period of working class dictatorship. In his fantasies, the creative spirit soon would be enjoyed by everyone, once the commodifying capitalist boot was lifted from the necks of hapless workers.
  2. Soviet Communism. It was not supposed to happen in a backward country, but Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades took advantage of the Great War and Russia’s defeat to mount a  coup and a separate peace. Lenin was deeply influenced by J. A. Hobson, and one emphasis was breaking the stranglehold of finance capital (“the Jews”). Rather than allowing worker’s councils (as had sprung up in numerous locales), he supported “war communism” and “bureaucratic  centralism” that easily was transmuted by Stalin to “socialism in one country.” Meanwhile, Trotskyists broke with Stalinism to foment international revolution, while I. N. Steinberg, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, fled for his life.
  3. Maoism. The Chinese Communists broke with Moscow from about 1958 onward. Mao’s theory that the peasants were the revolutionary class in China appealed to many radicals  with an agrarian bias. Such incendiary radicals as H. Bruce Franklin,  however, managed to defend Stalin while advocating Third World revolution  in the 1960s. Here is where the New Left and the anti-urban, libertarian, anarchistic “counter-culture” could join hands. “Old Guard” members of SDS finally lined up with the Democratic Party, while some of the “direct action” folk blew themselves up and their ideological offspring can be found in parts of the Occupy Wall Street, anti-globalization demonstrations. In pop culture they may “rage against the machine.”
  4. The irony of Marxism. For true Marxists, the bourgeoisie was a progressive class. This is basic, for without Adam Smith and Company, there would be no industrial society that could lead to a utopia that would eliminate toil and drudgery for the majority of humanity. For the others mentioned here and below in the biographies of the most important European anarchists, the bourgeoisie was evil, amoral, and thieving of the labor of workers and peasants. Nihilistic  gangs such as Baader-Meinhof or the Weathermen (as embodied in Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers) hold to the violence of George Sorel. To what extent their beliefs have penetrated youth culture I cannot say for certain, but it should worry us all.

Bernadine Dohrn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_materialism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proudhon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakunin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Kropotkin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Sorel

Finally, given the intricacy of these European social movements and their chief ideologues, I hesitate to apply them willy nilly to American political figures. We are too given to easy labels, without nuance and without knowledge of revolutionary theories that were developed on crowded continents with autocratic ruling classes. There is no substitute for studying the labor movement in America. Let the intellectuals fret over “Why there is no socialism in America.”  We might do better to study shifting coalitions in American political parties as they existed in the past and in the campaign year of 2012. Are the varied components of either the Democratic or the Republican parties compatible with each other, or are they at odds? And does or does not this internal incoherence complicate our picture of the often enigmatic Barack Obama and his challengers?

[Illustrated: Isaac N. Steinberg, briefly in a coalition government with Lenin, leader of the Left Social Revolutionaries, and author of Workshop of the Revolution, that denounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the suppression of the mutinous Kronstadt sailors. Steinberg and his family–including his son Leo who went on to be a great and revered art historian–fled the Soviets in 1923. Steinberg went on to search for a homeland for the Jews that would not make them vulnerable to a sea of Arab neighbors.]

I.N. Steinberg

April 16, 2011

Index to Ayn Rand blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 2:35 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Note that these blogs are not unqualified endorsements of Ayn Rand. I am trying to understand her social critique in light of her personal experience with Soviet Communism. For a view more consistent with my own, see the writings of legal theorist Richard Epstein, who understands that government regulation is at times appropriate, but must be designed with great caution and constantly tested.  For this reason, I especially recommend the blog on We The Living, which tells you more about the young Rand and the Soviet Union’s totalitarianism than any other work of hers. But I have reread all three blogs, and they are well worth your time, if you want to resist collectivist propaganda.

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/12/ayn-rands-we-the-living/

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/04/railroading-ayn-randalissa-rosenbaumdagny-taggart/

https://clarespark.com/2010/12/29/ayn-rands-rational-modernism/.

April 3, 2011

Progressives, the luxury debate, and decadence

Thos. Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836

Our nation is currently embroiled in a turmoil over finances, the debt, and the potential fall of the  American Republic, indeed, of the West itself. This blog sketches contrasting theories of progress and decadence. The purpose is to identify the eclectic character of history as written by the Progressives and their progeny. I propose that there are three primary schools of interpretation: one is entirely religious, and two are secular, but are not identical. All three are infused with what historians call “the luxury debate,” the secularism debate, and the danger of cities.

1. Many Christians take the position that there was a Golden Age in Eden before Eve ate of the Apple. Since that fatal bite, the world is fallen, and all hopes for amelioration are transferred to Paradise. The world we inhabit is a vale of tears and we “see through a glass, darkly.” The author Hilaire Belloc was of this view, and, like other ultra-Catholics, fixated his attention on the Crucifixion as the moment when Christ’s passion  purified humanity of its sins, promising a better place for the faithful after death. Arthur Lovejoy’s book, The Great Chain of Being, spelled out the Platonic-Christian world view very clearly. If an historian is known by the ability to distinguish between change and continuity through the accumulation of empirical evidence, then such “periodization” is irrelevant within this anti-materialist world view. See my blog on Nicholas Boyle for an example: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

2.  In the eighteenth century, Volney and others (Vico, earlier) dramatically intervened in the conservative Christian world-view with the cyclical view of history. That secular and “scientific” view is illustrated in Thomas Cole’s famous series The Course of Empire. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire.) Cole’s bleak prognosis remains the preferred interpretation for organic conservatives who liken the course of history to the life cycles of plants (Goethe, for instance). A seed germinates, flourishes, then drops to the mold. Similarly, a warrior class is feminized by excessive love of luxury, and fails to maintain its defenses, hence  is invaded by warrior-barbarians, is destroyed, and we are left with romantic  ruins only. Such was the vision of those who posited a sequence of inevitable stages in the history of humanity. Keep in mind that “the Jews” have been seen as agents of feminization,  illicit luxury, and debauchery by such as the Nazis and New Dealers alike. Asceticism was the ticket to neoclassical order,  a point challenged by romantic Nietzsche in Genealogy of Morals.

3. With the development of capitalism and industry, innovations grounded in a scientific (materialist) and worldly view of humanity and its future, various optimistic proposals emerged before and during the American and French Revolutions. The most famous intervention was by Marx, but he was competing with various Utopians, also believers in Progress: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte.  But in all these cases, human nature was not fallen or doomed, but rather susceptible to changes in the environment and particularly in institutions that brought out the best in [malleable] human nature. Although the new industrial working class did not turn out to be the revolutionary class that would bring about emancipation and utopia(for Marxists), there was enough servile revolt (actually starting with the English Civil War) to implant the continued fear of the red menace in the upper classes. Their pre-emptive strategy was to make concessions to social movements originating from “below” or to attempt to co-opt them through various motions of conservative reform. The Populist-Progressive movement is the most prominent and still powerful of these tendencies in America; they were following that master strategist Bismarck, originator of social insurance even as he made the German Social Democratic Party illegal. Populist-Progressives may be found in either the Democratic or Republican Parties (the latter as “moderates”) and are spurned by “social conservatives” today.

Since the moderate men must deal with a constituency that is internally conflicted, they take pieces of earlier world-views and incorporate all of them in an incoherent and confusing mix. But mostly, they are slippery and hard to pin down, except where the Marxist-Leninist Left is concerned.  That Left is either purged or marginalized, so that current journalists can simply describe what was originally a “moderate conservative” movement as “the hard Left” fading gently into left-liberalism. State power in the service of redistributive justice unites all these tendencies—Marxist-Leninist Left and progressives alike. The moderate men support science, but attempt to halt the inevitable warfare between science and religion.  The recent British movie Creation (2009), a recounting of Darwin’s emotional struggles as he moved toward publication of The Origin of Species (1859), is one example. Yes, Darwin finally puts out into the world his completely destabilizing view of evolution and natural selection, removing God from direct interference in the plan for humanity, but he is buried with full Christian honors in Westminster Abbey. Goethe, with his Pelagian heresy (we are not fallen, there is no original sin), is memorialized throughout the progressive West as the greatest cosmopolitan intellectual ever, but Goethe’s view of human society and progress is grounded in the life of plants and follows Herder’s cultural relativism and rooted cosmopolitanism. His American utopia has no modern Jews—they lack “reverence” and “roots.”

Who then are the moderns? We are left with the classical liberals or libertarians. These thinkers, following Adam Smith, von Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and the Friedmans, see competitive markets as the route to wealth creation and a better life on earth. They are worldly, but not immoralists, for some see the need for state action (see especially the legal theorist Richard A. Epstein). Their European predecessors were the “mechanical materialists” denounced by all the ultra-conservatives, faux liberals, and dialectical materialists who followed. It is this school (not necessarily united within their ranks) , who put the future in the laps of our assessing, choosing, individual selves, who reject the fatalism of Vico, Volney, or their Greek and Christian-Platonic predecessors. (For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.)

March 24, 2011

“Queer” Disraeli, Glitz, and the Royals

Endymion and Selene, Sebastiono Ricci, 1713

Reposting this because of the Royal Wedding this week. The blog is relevant because the old deference was supposed to give way to self-reliance and excellent public education in the U.S. I am wondering whether the celebrity culture is not reactionary and an obstacle to a functioning democracy based on neither hero-worship nor state worship. Or should I be drawing distinctions between British royals and Hollywood movie stars, who come from the People?

I spent much of this week reading Benjamin Disraeli’s last published novel, Endymion (1880), which I found generally engrossing and possibly a displaced memoir of his own rise to power. Several recent events prompt this particular blog: 1. a Pajamas Media essay today (March 24, 2011) by Rick Moran complaining about the massive attention paid to the glitzy and vulgar upcoming royal wedding in the U.K., and 2. My surprise that Disraeli’s novels are not in the British literary canon, though his large body of fiction, all dealing with thinly veiled political prime movers and tangential personalities in the world he knew so intimately, is a comprehensive social history of the British aristocracy as it dealt with its gradual displacement by the new “middle class” created by the Industrial Revolution. But more, Disraeli’s novels, devoted as they are to the masculinized intelligence of the British female aristocracy– the powers behind every nobleman and every move up the social ladder for parvenus such as himself– are feasts for fashionistas, gourmands, the horsy set, and admirers of statuesque pre-Raphaelite women with their cascades of hair and enormous long-lashed colored eyes.  Disraeli’s women, so au courant in international and national politics, languages, and the arts, and so astute in the management of their noble spouses, are almost surely men to whom Disraeli was attracted.

Take Endymion. A fantastically beautiful set of twins, Endymion and Myra Ferrars, experience sudden and drastic fall in status owing to the politics surrounding the Reform Bill of 1832. The rest of the book is devoted to their triumphant rise to power beyond the dreams of their fallen genteel parents: they become orphans, but do not complain; rather through ferocious acts of will, self-discipline, and patience they will prevail over the fates. By the end of the story, Myra has become the queen of a new Latin monarchy,  and the beauteous and suave Endymion, coached throughout by his sister and another gorgeous and determined woman, Lady Montfort, becomes Prime Minister and Lady Montfort, newly widowed and
fabulously rich will wed him.  Leaving aside the sub-textual themes of incest and probable gayness, many political lessons are apparent to the American reader, especially to me, for some of the themes developed on this website are vindicated:

1. The landed class of Victorian England maintained its cohesiveness. Aristocratic Whigs and Tories socialized together through all the turmoil: the Reform Bill, the Corn Laws agitation, the Chartists, the revolutions in Europe (1848), the development of a national railroad system. It was clear that they had a common enemy: the new industrial working class and the rising industrialists, all of whom looked back to the puritans of the English Civil War and the poet John Milton. The answer to this challenge from below was moderation, continued paternalism, and an alliance with bankers. The “Neuchatel” family (modeled perhaps on the Rothschilds, though they are definitely not Jewish) are hand in glove with the aristocracy and quickly learn to share their finely wrought tastes and manners.

2. It is almost overwhelming to contrast the paradisaical world inhabited by Endymion and Myra with the description of the working classes of Manchester in 1844 as rendered famously by Friedrich Engels.  The English aristocracy, however apparently engrossed in luxury and frivolity, was faithful to its tradition of paternalism and the providing of spectacle to the lower orders (their tenant farmers, but also small traders and artisans). But among themselves, their young were educated from early childhood on in languages, and learned that the path to glory and the maintenance of class position lay in the mixing with powerful visitors and each other. No frivolity in their table talk; rather it was crucial to read “character” early on, for in Disraeli’s view, it was the will to power by exceptional individuals that caused history (also “race”), and the psychological reading of (highly placed and informed) men and women was their most valuable tool in the race of life.

3. Shockingly, Disraeli allows one of his Continental noble characters to articulate the conspiratorial fantasies alleging Jewish aspirations for world domination that rocked 19th century Europe after the emancipation of the Jews. This is a minor theme, but he does not distance himself from “Baron Sergius.”

4. I was going to say that American feminists should read Disraeli, for his heroines are ever alert to the details of politics and management of foreign relations, but they are probably not typical, and may be masks for men. It is true that there have been European women of learning, distinction, and power, but I can’t take these Ladies too seriously as they are drawn by Disraeli. (On the other hand, Georg Brandes, in his biography of Voltaire describes aristocratic French women of great artistic accomplishment and intellectual power, so Disraeli may not have been exaggerating or masking.  Still, give me Margaret Thatcher and Ayn Rand any day.)

5. I think that the exclusion of Disraeli from the literary canon  is deliberate. He may have been an insider, but he was enough of the outsider to expose the foolishness of the English aristocracy and all other reactionary medievalists. When he isn’t fantasizing about matches made in heaven, he has a sharp tongue and a sense of the absurd that is unsurpassed in more famously comic authors.

January 26, 2011

Obama and the rhetoric of the political “family”

Fragonard’s Happy Mother, 1753

[Here is a new blog that relies on this earlier one on the rhetoric of “family.” See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/.

The President’s State of the Union speech, January 25, 2011, began with a declaration that we (the American people) are a “family”* and then went on to list the “investments” in a happy future that would be originated and subsidized by the federal government. Hegel once said that the family delivers the child to the state. I am not a Hegelian, but he got that right.

When I complained about the use of the F word to drastically and unforgivably describe the individual citizens of a democratic republic, I was immediately reminded by one Facebook friend that it was the Right that proclaimed “family values.” This blog will attempt to analyze the political speech that misdescribes citizens with diverse and opposed opinions about economics and culture as members of a potential “family,” for the F word is one of the most potent items in the arsenals of mind-managers, while “the Right” is by no means unified in their use of the word.

First, on “family values.” Liberals today should stop for a moment and contemplate the massive changes in our political culture since the movements of the 1960s and 70s began their assault on the traditional family, an institution that for many signified protection and solidarity, notwithstanding such divisive emotions as sibling rivalry and flawed parenting strategies or bad examples (i.e., clinging mothers, absent fathers, deadbeat dads, etc.). The middle class family was held to be “a haven in a heartless world” and a bulwark against the State as Christopher Lasch famously wrote in his study with that title.  The culture wars have been fought over the perceived decadence and/or dysfunction that “liberation” movements brought in their wake, and I have written about them here: primitivism, bohemianism, early adolescent sexuality and a frightening rise in teen age pregnancy (See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/11/do-paleoconservatives-want-a-theocracy/) . Add these rational fears to the propaganda churned out by social psychologists after World War 2, namely that fathers must stay at the helm of the family in order to avoid too strong an attachment between sons and mothers–an attachment that led straight to feminization and Marxist adventurism. (I wrote about it here: https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/.)

I have not studied libertarians on their positioning regarding “family values,” but suspect that most would prefer that the state keep its nose out of the choices of individuals, whether these be marijuana use, abortion rights (Ayn Rand supported them, but limited abortions to the first trimester for the sake of the mother’s safety), or the freedom not to reproduce at all.

I have noticed with some outrage that the image of Gabrielle Giffords has been deployed by liberals, and it is here that I complete this blog. The moderate Democrat was the focus of public concern for many weeks, and we still do not know that she will fully surmount the bullet to her brain. But as a famously “caring” politician she fulfilled the happy mother archetype, eager for face to face contact with her constituency where a very bad boy assaulted her and killed six other innocents. Hence Democratic propaganda blaming excessively harsh political speech on the Republican Party and on conservative talk radio and television could be effective in raising Obama’s approval rating, especially after his speech calling on civility (by which he could only have meant the toning down of “right-wing” radio and television). The good father was protecting the good mother from resentments internal to the national “family.” In his call for a national healing, Obama benefitted from decades of “family” rhetoric and the faith in the possibility of  national unity, notwithstanding the glaringly opposed political philosophies that confront each other today as Keynesians and proponents of the laissez-faire economy (or limited government) slug it out in public space. Of course by healing and moderation, POTUS means yielding to statism as he defines it, for one cannot through “common ground” or “compromise” reconcile irreconcilable facts and strategies to achieve a “national consensus”.

As I wrote in my last blog (https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/), the year 2011 will see a rise in public talk about the Union and the Civil War that was fought to vanquish slavery and enable the modernization process stalled by the Southern slaveholding politicians in the antebellum period. I predict a resurgence of the far Left and its stigmatizing America as a very bad, essentially evil entity whose sins overwhelm its positive achievements. They will press for a reconstructed, redistributionist “family” that repents and makes reparations to its millions of victims, using the failure of Reconstruction as a talking point. Given the positioning of the 60s-70s generation in the commanding heights of the education establishment and in the media, get ready for the Happy Mother who gathers all her children to her ever lactating breast once “social justice” is finally achieved. And the milk-fed “children” will never notice that they are in a state of strategic regression, enlisted men and women in the eternal war against Evil.

*Here are the President’s exact words:

“…It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. (Applause.)”

January 12, 2011

Ayn Rand’s We The Living

movie poster for We The Living

As I write this, liberals (with a few exceptions) are still fretting about “the climate of hate” that produced, they claim, the Tucson massacre of July 8, 2011.  At the same time that the media covered the event around-the-clock, I read Ayn Rand’s semi-historical and semi-autobiographical first novel, We The Living (1936). It was published during the Red Decade, when such a forthright, devastating account of life in the Soviet Union from roughly 1920-25, must have seemed like a reactionary howl from the Far, Far Right. But not only has her veracity about life in the U.S.S. R. been vindicated, but the power of collectivism against which she argued in such painful detail, continues unabated. And the collectivist propaganda machine has once more been wheeled out to link Jared Lee Loughner’s paranoid act with “hate speech” and other incendiary symbols emanating, it is claimed, from the Right, while those anywhere on “the Left” continue to monopolize moderation and solicitude for the health of the body politic.

I have tried valiantly on this website to distinguish between factions of the Left and Right in the interest of historical accuracy and necessary distinctions. But after reading the copious examples of Soviet propaganda and the resultant distorted human relations after the Revolution in Rand’s novel, I have to agree with her (and others: Rohan Butler, George Orwell, et al) that the totalitarian temptation is not only widespread in today’s USA and the West in general, but that reds and deep pinks share a fear of the independent spirit and of the libertarianism of the 18th century that is appalling and even terrifying.

I have seen and heard at close quarters the ongoing influence of Leninism and Stalinism in numerous institutions: Pacifica Radio, NPR, the National Endowment for the Arts, academe, and now in the left-wing blogosphere and in the leading newspapers in Blue States especially. There is the same denial that Stalinism was ever influential in the U.S., the same class hatred, the same urge to conformity, the same elevation of “community” and “duty,” the same diagnosis of “narcissism” to anyone who believes in self-determination and self-management. What has changed now is the intensity of leftist a.k.a. “liberal” fear and loathing of “the Right” in the wake of November 2, 2010, and in a growing interest in the supply-side economics espoused by von Mises, Hayek, and the Friedmans. Plus of course the new specter of the internet, talk radio, and Fox News as purveyors of social chaos and further mass death. Some fear that the intensity of the latest “liberal” or “moderate” offensive signals an intent to muzzle dissent, and I can understand that fear.

Something should be noted about Ayn Rand’s novel. I almost called it “Ayn Rand’s Inner Trotskyism,” for with respect to Kira’s two lovers, the author shows more heroism in her depiction of the ex-worker Andrei than for the stunningly handsome but decadent, cynical aristocrat Leo; indeed she is Leo’s sexual slave and Kira may have driven Andrei to suicide.

There are no Jews, though Andrei of the GPU (almost Rand’s mouthpiece in his final self-damning speech to the Party) could conceivably have been drawn as a Jew who thought he could escape Jew-hatred by converting to the “classless” society that would wipe out all divisive particularisms. Alissa Rosenbaum came from a haute bourgeois family not unlike Kira’s, but they were secular Jews. The antisemitism in Russia was fearsome and, in Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews, Soviet antisemitism was perhaps the worst in Europe. Francine Heller’s recent biography of Rand is particularly strong in her narration of the young Alissa’s travails and the vile appeal to antisemitism that helped the Leninists gain power in the October Revolution (Heller was leaning on Johnson’s History).

Based upon my own life experience, then, I found nothing excessively anticommunist in Rand’s novel, nor do I find today’s libertarian anxiety about the future of the marketplace of ideas to be an overreaction. If We The Living was a call to rationality and resistance to political tyranny, then that call reverberates today with just as much clamor, just as much pathos, just as much celebration of life. In her next two novels, Ayn Rand’s heroes and heroines defeat their enemies and she celebrates the self-made man, advocating free markets as the best remedy for abolishing poverty. But in a way, “Kira” (trapped in the Oedipal drama, and in the trauma of a drastic fall in social class– matters underemphasized by her biographers and not adequately taken up here), remained in her psyche, not always to her own benefit, I suspect.

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