YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 6, 2014

Standing up to bullying social democrats (2)




Yesterday (4-5-14) I posted a popular blog. https://clarespark.com/2014/04/05/standing-up-to-bullying-social-democrats/. There is no way of knowing why so many viewers came to it: was it the enticing title, the provocative illustration of a plump lady’s posterior flanked by fat cats, or the revelation that Ernest Bevin’s “socialism” was directed against finance capital (the Jews)? (The latter motivation could have fed into neo-Nazi fantasies that “the Jews” are to blame for the plight of the working class, everywhere.)

This is my advice in part two of this series, for I speak out of long experience with Democrats and leftists (who now seem to be inseparable, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/):

Unless you have an independent income and/or are in a family that is exceptionally tolerant and libertarian, it is best to hold your tongue. Do not expose yourself to more strife and rejection. SDs, in their own minds, have, since the mid-nineteenth century, identified with an updated, paternalistic aristocracy (the Disraelian type of Christian Socialist). Witness the educated audience for Downton Abbey.

No amount of facts or rational arguments will persuade SDs to stop their 1. state-worship; or 2. “anti-Zionism.” In their compassionate hearts, they “know” they are correct. They believe in the statistics that other progressives have compiled, even though such statistics render them ciphers, lacking individuality and an appropriately curious, questing mind. As members of volunteer groups or the “healing” professions, they are invested in group identities (“we are the good people”) and such soothing perks as academic tenure. Moreover, the SDs believe that they are standing up to bullies of the Neanderthal Right!


Conclusion: it should be obvious that SDs must be defeated at the polling place—venues that may be fraudulent. So it should be the primary task of libertarian believers in capitalism, equal opportunity, equality before the law for rich and poor alike, and limited government, to make their votes count. (For statistics and other issues see http://tinyurl.com/p3k3quh.)

Save your breath, unless you are talking to your pre-adolescent children or advocating for charter schools with curricula that encourage critical thought: no amount of pop cultural appropriation, father-led families, or overt attempts at persuasion will lure the dependent population away from the welfare state.

We are running out of time.

May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed but dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)

The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)

While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.

First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe.  I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)

How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.

Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably  have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.

If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.

Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they  emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

May 10, 2012

Androgyny, with an aside on Edna Ferber

Kleo, by Kremena Ivanova

“Receptiveness is a rare and massive power, like fortitude; and this state of mind now gave Deronda’s face its utmost expression of calm benignant force—“  [Ch.24,  Daniel Deronda, 1876, by George Eliot, nom de plume for Marianne Evans]

I read a lot, but rarely does a sentence such as George Eliot’s stick in my mind as a life lesson. I’m not sure we mean the same thing by “fortitude” (its religious meaning is to soldier on as vessels of God’s will), but if she means a kind of courage and honor that women usually attribute to men, then I am with her in her suggestion of androgyny. For every artistic person must combine the qualities often assigned either to men (fortitude) or to women (receptiveness).

In reading and teaching the literature of the past, militantly gay academics, journalists, and critics, have detected closeted gays in 19th century literature. We were not there, so cannot evaluate such annexations to the (male) gay project, but in the case of Herman Melville, it is possible that he was simply androgynous, blending the receptiveness and fortitude recommended by George Eliot. Melville’s British admirer, James Thomson (“B.V.”), was thinking of Eliot when Thomson wrote his famously pessimistic poem “The City of Dreadful Night”: the Queen who ruled this godless, desperate place, was none other than Eliot! See my essay https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/, where I quote an interchange between Thomson and Eliot, also from his poetry. For misogynistic images linking Gorgon, vagina dentata, and androgynes as Pierrot figures, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/assorted-degenerates/.

In the past month or so, I have been reading some of the major novels of a 20th century successor to George Eliot, the famed best-selling author Edna Ferber (1885-1968) who, unlike George Eliot, never shacked up with a man (Eliot’s love was Goethe biographer George Henry Lewes, 1817-1878). Indeed, Ferber’s spinsterhood is in doubt among some younger critics, who deduce that she must have been a lesbian. But in the case of Ferber, it is crucial to go back to her texts and to her autobiography in order to evaluate her status as a feminist and antiracist avant la lettre.

I have read in this order, Showboat (1926), Giant (1952), So Big (1924), and her first autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure (1938), also Ferber (1978),  a semi-debunking biography by her great niece Julie Goldsmith Gilbert, who reveals her as a closet racist, and a mother- and-sister-hater, as well as a probable lover of several men. In the 1938 autobiography, though she has been writing as a regionalist and a friend to the “common man”, she suddenly comes out as an indignant ueber-Jew, furious with Hitler for Kristallnacht. And yet, she rejects her father, the small businessman (of Eastern Europe extraction and owner of a dry-goods store) in favor of her German Jewish ancestry through mother, which is ever so much more aristocratic in their tastes. Her most appalling villain is a New England Puritan (with all the Hebraic characteristics assigned to them), “Parthy”—Magnolia’s penny-pinching mother in Showboat.

It happens that aristocratic women in Europe were not only educated, but were influential behind the scenes, if we are to believe the 19th Century novels of Benjamin Disraeli, who glorifies and adores them (see https://clarespark.com/2011/05/04/disraelis-captive-queens/) . Similarly, in Ferber, her female heroines are remarkably persevering, outspoken, and progressive in all their social views; they are autodidacts like herself; they also are not great beauties. But most remarkably, they conquer their hidebound conservative antagonists with wit, compassion, endurance, and the power of their arguments, i.e., they are admitted to boy’s clubs to take off the rough edges. Would that all outspoken women were so persuasive, or all plain women so beloved by men.

In real life, Ferber adopted all the traits of the traditional woman eager to please various establishments: she had a nose job, was a fashion plate, threw herself into home decoration, gourmet food, and grand dinner parties; but most importantly, ingratiated herself with the leading WASP progressives and assimilated Jewish businessmen-artists (such as “Dicky” Rogers or his half-Jewish collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II, whose lyrics could not be more traditional in the subordination of women to men). As an aesthete and a moralist, Ferber lived out the European tradition of the aristocratic woman who pulls the strings behind the scenes. Or was she the puppet of social forces and inner drives that she had yet to master? (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/24/the-subtle-racism-of-edna-ferber-and-oscar-hammerstein-ii/.)

On the illustration: the two white lines on the right of the image are probably damage to the post card I scanned, advertising a student art show at El Camino College.

September 17, 2011

Edmund Burke’s tantrum

Marie-Antoinette in Muslin dress

Today, Constitution Day in the United States, brings back the chief ideas of the American Revolution, an exceptional event that partly inspired the French Revolution, the latter upheaval said by its critics to be the blueprint for 20th century totalitarian states. On my Facebook page yesterday, I quoted Burke’s line “…the age of chivalry is gone.” Readers took it to mean chivalrous behavior by men toward women today, and generally did not recognize the quote, nor did all but one show concrete knowledge of the nature of feudalism and its knightly practices, made hollow by the Inquisitions and constant war/anarchy. Most did, however, distance themselves from 1970s feminism. So I quote the context of Burke’s lament, and note that Burke saw a written constitution based on universal human rights as an offense against Nature herself. Note the inversion of deference to established authority and “exalted freedom.” Orwell, anyone?

Before reading the Burke quote, here are two links that fill in some history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinettehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man.

[Burke, writing about Marie Antoinette* after the natural rights/natural law doctrine embodied in the  Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), and four years before her execution by guillotine]:

“ It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! What a revolution! And what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles and veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace in her bosom! Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more [Poe’s “The Raven”?CS] , shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!….” [footnote: The quoted paragraph “has been called a landmark in the beginning of English literary romanticism.”][i]

Is there any doubt that Disraeli was writing about the Austrian noblewoman in his first novel? See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/04/disraelis-captive-queens/?

Declaration of the Rights of Man

Edmund Burke, “Impractical Zealots,” The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations, ed. Frank A. Kafker, James M. Laux, Darline Gay Levy (Malabar, Florida: Krieger, Fifth Edition, 2002), 87-88. This was an excerpt from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), famously answered by Thomas Paine in a controversy that remains timely today.

July 16, 2011

Disraeli’s contribution to social democracy

One of the chief tactics of populists and progressives is to depict themselves as persons of the “grass roots”; as spokesmen for the common man and woman against “the money power.”

And [hook-nosed] moneybags are held by the populist-progressives to control all information in the society, with the exception of underground messaging and alternative media. The internet has only facilitated such carelessness and populists can be found on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. I have found them to be haters and uninterested in the histories they claim to depict with accuracy, deluded into the belief that they are correcting the “propaganda” generated by serious students of the past. There is money in it, as the book sales figures or viewers of some “traditionalist” conservative stars can attest. This blog seeks to correct a common misconception I have found in the ranks of some who deem themselves conservatives: that Rousseau* generated the Jacobins, and that a straight line can be drawn between the furious mob behavior in the Reign of Terror and the Democratic or even moderate Republican (“RINO”) opposition.  And the enemy is “secularism, ” redefined to signify atheism, a.k.a., worship of the Goddess of Reason, rather than religious pluralism and the separation of church and state.

As everything on this website will attest, populism and progressivism did not spring, fully-formed, from the industrial working class, or small farmers, or any other sector of the population de-skilled or otherwise harmed by the industrial revolution and the concentration of ownership in corporations. Rather, its ideology was largely cooked up by those European intellectuals who identified with a threatened aristocracy, and who wrote copiously in order to persuade a frivolous and conspicuously consuming class of lords and ladies, princes and kings, that they had better unite with The People against the “laissez-faire” industrial bourgeoisie that was the chief cause of lower-class suffering with the advent of science, the machine age, utilitarianism, railroads, the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and of course, Darwinism.

With a renewed devotion to “religion” (now seen as instrument of social control for all classes) the aristocracy would mend its ways, reverting to the gentle paternalism that was believed to have existed in the Middle Ages, and the new education-hungry working-class would settle for those reforms that did not threaten the social order as it had existed before mad scientists and engineers made the scene. The lower orders would be treated to lots and lots of spectacles and costume parties.

Benjamin Disraeli, a prolific author before he entered the British parliament, later to become Prime Minister and the Earl of Beaconsfield, wrote novels all his life, but the group of novels relevant to this posting was published in the mid-1840s, and meant to introduce “The New Generation” that would represent “Young England.”  Coningsby, Sybil, or the Two Nations, and Tancred, or the New Crusade,** were a trilogy intended to instruct Europe as to the chaos that was to be generated by the new industrial poor, whether they be slaves to the machine or miners–unless they were rescued by an enlightened and progressive aristocracy. Sybil, in particular, sounded the tocsin, and appeared the same year, 1845, as did Engels’ famous book on the condition of the working class in Manchester. Disraeli’s father, Isaac D’Israeli, never renounced Judaism, but did baptize all his children into the Church of England, home of the Elizabethan Compromise.

What Disraeli accomplished was to provide the moderate conservative alternative to the red specter that was haunting Europe. The Good King would represent the People against all forces of dissolution, and all would be self-sacrificing as their model, Jesus Christ, had been. Without faith, there could be no sense of duty, and everyone was bound by duty and those rights that kept the peasantry prosperous, and the male working class not exhausted or forced to compete with female and child labor.

Sybil with book

Disraeli was hardly alone in his prescriptions for a measured progress, with his religious model apostolic Christianity and the “reverence” it embodied. He was writing in the tradition of Hume and Burke, of the German Romantics (including Herder and Goethe). His contemporaries, such as hero-worshipping Carlyle and the Christian Socialists, and later Bismarck, would echo the same tradition of conservative reform, staving off excess of every kind, whether it be upper-class selfishness (“individualism” or “puritanism”) or lower-class licentiousness and excessive interest in the heroism of some Old Testament figures (see Kingsley’s Alton Locke, a founding document of Christian Socialism, puported to be the confession of an ex-Chartist, now dying of consumption).

Populism is inconceivable without hero-worship and the obeisance to opinion leaders, stand-ins today for the Good King imagined by Disraeli. In the populist appeal to emotions (“compassion”) and false utopias, rather than to careful analysis of policy, the notion of a democratic republic is subverted beyond recognition, wherever it may be found, on the left or right. Class warfare, wielded cynically by some Democrats, works, for populists hate capitalism/the money power. That is “the way we live now.”

*See image from Columbia Today (Alumni Magazine responding to 1968 student strike): https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/rousseau-amidst-primitive-columbia-student-strikers/.

** See cartoon and description of Tancred in Arab News: http://www.arabnewsblog.net/2011/05/11/tabsir-redux-tancred-or-the-new-crusade/. The blurb author misses the point of Disraeli’s trilogy: to relocate the fount of Christianity in Jerusalem rather than Rome. Disraeli seems to have reconciled his Judaic ancestors with Christianity by finding heroism, honor, and direct communication with the Deity in the Middle East. What this may hint about relations with his father is speculation on my part. He does mention “theocratic equality” in Tancred, which suggests that equality is defined in religious terms, not material ones (those of the working poor who rise in the class system are tamed through deference and self-control), and that an established religion is the major source of social solidarity.

With respect to his relations with Judaism, his move was simply to stress the Judaic origins of Christianity, thus knocking out the antithesis between Good Christian and Evil Jew and making Jerusalem and environs the cradle of civilization. I don’t know if he was the first to do this, but it was certainly an obsessive theme. In Tancred, he complains bitterly about antisemitism, and lets none of his characters off the hook. It is unfortunate that in the process, he cleaved to contemporary notions of race and national character.

It is also interesting that his orientalist hero, Tancred, Lord Montecute, is prevented at the last minute from marrying the gorgeous Jewess Eva. In the last sentence we discover that his parents have come to Jerusalem to get him away from all those too rich, brilliant, and irresistible  Jews. There is also a hint that momma’s puritanism may have driven Tancred to excessive religiosity and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem/Syria, where any sensitive, shy fellow would have gone off the deep end, faced with all that glamor. As for Sidonia, a character sometimes identified with a Rothschild or even with Disraeli himself, Sidonia is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and the model man of the world, brilliant and a linguist, but he lacks a heart: Sidonia is incapable of emotional attachments–he is a rootless cosmopolitan, the very embodiment of THE MONEY POWER, as drawn by the would-be aristocratic anticapitalist, Benjamin Disraeli.

July 8, 2011

Is Glenn Beck an antisemite?

Isaac D'Israeli, Dizzy's Jewish papa

In this blog, I recount a controversy that has erupted on a H-Net discussion group devoted to the history of antisemitism, but that has, in my view, degenerated into a quarrel between leftists and imaginary “rightists” or neocons. The following message of mine, stimulated several responses that I answer in the second part of this blog essay. I do not identify list members by name here.

[My first (recent) message to the group:]

“List member X is convinced that Glenn Beck is an antisemite, and objects to my recent blog questioning that judgment. In my own  mind, I was challenging the common belief (and shared by the editors of Wikipedia) that if one is born “a Jew” then it follows as the night follows the day that one is indeed “a Jew.” That is a racist assumption that is shared by some scholars (who should know better), and ignores the lack of Jewish self-identification of many “Jews” on the hard left or on the social democratic left. Surely, in a list that is devoted to the history of antisemitism, this notion (the shedding of Jewish identity) should not be surprising. To remind X and others, those persons of Jewish ancestry who joined the Stalinist Left or other left factions, switched their primary identification from that of their ancestors to that of the international proletariat, or if Maoists, included peasants in that category. So what makes these persons Jewish? It has been well-documented that in Russia, where antisemitism was horrific, one strategy to preserve one’s life and rise in the social scale was to join the Bolsheviks, distancing oneself from the poor Jews who were embracing Zionism as a different means of escape.

Glenn Beck is first and foremost a populist. Like other populists, he rails against the money power. Whether or not he consciously equates the money power with the International Jew (as did Henry Ford and before that, J. A. Hobson) I cannot tell. But his stand against the Flotilla to Gaza, and his declared willingness to” stand with Israel” against her enemies does suggest to Dr. Barry Rubin, as well to other public intellectuals, that Beck is at least pro-Israel.

In my blog, https://clarespark.com/2010/02/20/the-glenn-beck-problem/, I noted that Beck was wrong about Walter Lippmann, and  that he had replicated Chomsky’s famous take-down of Lippmann. I also linked him to the most organic conservatives on the Right today.

Finally, I request that we recall that definitions of antisemitism, overt or covert, change according to the particular historical context. There may be latent or implicit antisemitism (as in populist rhetoric), rhetorical antisemitism, political antisemitism (pogroms, expulsion, the Shoah), or false philosemitism (the approval of Good Jews versus Bad Jews: https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/). I would appreciate seeing precise and contextualized judgments of what is and what is not antisemitic conduct. [End first message]

This blog prompted several responses, which I answered here:

I  am not sure that list members Q, R, and S  have understood my last message, with which they either find fault or reiterate somewhat. I am answering them here, because I want to clear up any misunderstandings about my own position. In this expanded one, I will make the following assertions:

1. That Jews do not control their “identities,” and that notwithstanding whether or not a “Jew” identifies with other Jews as an ethnicity or “race,” ancestry alone not only defines Jewishness, but ascribes a group character to all Jews, and that is implicit in populism, whether of the Left or Right. Beck may be just that sort of right-wing populist. But, as an admitted autodidact, it remains an open question as to whether he sees a vampire Jew when attacking George Soros. Barry Rubin, a self-described left of center scholar, doesn’t see Beck as an antisemite, probably because of Beck’s strong stand in support of Israel. You may quibble,
as many do, whether or not supporting Israel always has some hidden End of Days agenda for the Christian Right, with which Beck is surely affiliated, and he may even be as convinced as they are by a coming Apocalypse. But we don’t know that for a fact.

2. The notion, advanced by Q, that there are similarities between anti-Catholicism and antisemitism may stem from a common inheritance of German idealist epistemology, one that was adapted and advanced by the
Frankfurt School critical theorists in tandem with American social psychologists of the social democratic Left after WW2: that the uppity petit-bourgeoisie  (unlike their aristocratic selves), project their evil will-to-power onto hapless Others: a congeries of victims, mixed together willy-nilly. I wrote about the history of this ideological nonsense in my book on the ideological currents that fed the Melville Revival, and here in the following essays, essays that represented decades of intensive and obsessive research into the history of racial theory. Read any one of them, and you will find abundant support for my position–one that discards collective categories for any group, other than adherence to the same set of laws.



3. I cannot believe that Professor Q would use Benjamin Disraeli as an example of Jewishness in any sense whatsoever. I have read and reread Disraeli’s major novels, and though he elevates his character Sidonia as the smartest man alive (though too cerebral to form attachments), and Sidonia is a pure Semite (with both Arab and Jewish blood, i.e., characteristics), to imagine that Disraeli himself was anything but an opportunistic adherent to Anglicanism (wavering at times into medieval Catholicism), I find quite astonishing. To this reader, Disraeli emerges as the echt progenitor of modern social democracy, making fun of  and jibing profligate and inattentive aristocrats, who were refusing their paternal duties in an age of industrialism that he abhorred for its sharp division between rich and poor, plus its abhorrent materialism, utilitarianism, and economic determinism. In its place, he reinstated the old religion (i.e., apostolic Christianity, in which Christianity is “completed Judaism,” with Jerusalem, not Rome, as its progenitor, see Sybil, Book 2, Chapter 12) and the good King to unite the People and avert class war. He offered, instead of Benthamite Utilitarianism and Whiggish Progress, the New Generation that was blatantly Burkean and “progressive” in the ways of organic conservatives, then and now. If Q has evidence that Disraeli thought of himself as Jewish, as opposed to fulfilling the reputation of smart and wily Jews, then I welcome an addition to my study of that important and world-shaking figure. As I reread this paragraph, I would say that Disraeli’s Sidonia is an archetypal Wandering Jew– or even the evil twin of his pre-Raphaelite ladies, and that Disraeli is ambivalent about his admiration, to say the least. But in his insistence on apostolic Christianity as completed Judaism, Disraeli did destroy the antithesis between Judaism and Christianity that has been a staple of Christian antisemitism. It should also be noted the Glenn Beck is now a Mormon, and that religion is considered to be philo-Semitic and pro-Israel.

Sidonia The Sorceress

May 10, 2011

What is an elite/elitism?


As my readers know, I used to be active at Pacifica radio in Los Angeles (KPFK-FM), especially as program director, but also during my series “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” that ended in the late 1990s. My project then as now was to defend the Enlightenment and science against its numerous anti-intellectual detractors. There were moments when a barrage of angry phone calls accused me of “elitism” though that term was not defined by those who use it regularly. Later in my career, a Canadian follower of Charles Olson accused me of having written “a Medusa book.” What I did not see then was that for many of these [populist] name-callers (always male, by the way), elite meant Jews–the demonic Jews who supposedly infested Hollywood and the mass media; Jews who had planted a computer chip in their brains that set them against authority and/or their parents; such mad scientists and masculinized women were emissaries of Our Great Adversary. Had I polled my most vehement critics, I suspect that each and every one was a follower of Noam Chomsky–a great favorite with the Pacifica audience and with such New Leftists as populated Z Magazine or South End Press.

This will be a short blog. In the olden times, before the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, then the American and French Revolutions, the term elites referred to the monarchs of Europe, the Catholic Church, and the aristocracy, whose wealth was usually based on the land and the rents their tenants provided. (During the age of exploration, some aristocrats merged their interests with the rising bourgeoisie, so we cannot say that every aristocrat was an agrarian. See Robert Brenner’s Merchants and Revolution.) The point is that class mobility was limited in the various old regimes. There was a definable elite, and the lower orders stayed put. They had no intellectual or political or economic apparatus to lift them from the mire.

All that changed in the age of Revolution, the start of which I date with the invention of the printing press and the subsequent, gradual rise in mass literacy. Along with that came a new confidence in “the lower orders” as they were buttressed by empiricism, science, and the evidence of their senses. Such momentous, life-transforming developments destroyed the customary deference to the great families and instilled confidence in the common reader. There was now the possibility of a democratic polity in a republican form of government. I can say with great certainty that the old elites did not take these transformations lying down. When they could not destroy their challengers, they attempted to co-opt them by taking the best and brightest into their ruling institutions. This website is mostly devoted to tracking these usually successful attempts and to warning the autodidacts to beware of false friends, but also that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: to imagine that all “experts” are swindlers is to throw away the competence that has changed the world for the better.

In our would-be democratic republic, the intellectual and emotional demands on the electorate are unprecedented in the history of our species.  If we choose, we may turn away from the difficulties in discovering the truth, and hew to the party line, and I include every political faction that exists. Or we can constantly test our leaders and representatives, using every tool and resource at our disposal.  What we cannot do is blindly follow the leader and react emotionally to the appeal of demagogues who denounce all “experts” or “elites” in the name of vox populi. Such persons, while supposedly attuned to the voice of God speaking through the People,  implicitly embrace nihilism, a philosophy wherein all truths are contingent and relative–except those spewing from the lips of the celebrity or pundit or cleric or public intellectual du jour.

I have just finished reading Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Contarini Fleming. My jaw dropped as I read its final three paragraphs, for I had not expected this noted organic conservative, surely an avatar of the European elite, to end Contarini’s romantic memoir with these modern sentiments:

“When I examine the state of European society with the unimpassioned spirit which the philosopher can alone command, I perceive that it is in a state of transition from feodal to federal principles. This I conceive to be the sole and secret cause of all the convulsions that have occurred and are to occur.

“Circumstances are beyond the control of man; but his conduct is in his own power. The great event is as sure as that I am now penning this prophecy of its occurrence. With us it rests whether it shall be welcomed by wisdom or by ignorance, whether its beneficent results shall be accelerated by enlightened minds, or retarded by its dark passions.

“What is the arch of the conqueror, what the laurel of the poet! I think of the infinity of space, I feel my nothingness. Yet if I am to be remembered, let me be remembered as one who, in a sad night of gloomy ignorance and savage bigotry was prescient of the flaming morning-break of bright philosophy, as one who deeply sympathized with his fellow-men, and felt a proud and profound conviction of their perfectibility; as one who devoted himself to the amelioration of his kind, by the destruction of error and the propagation of truth.”

Truth and Perfectibility: those are fighting words in a meritocracy.

May 4, 2011

Disraeli’s captive Queens

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Undated portrait of Disraeli

With millions of women envying Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, I thought it would be a nice contrast to the universal gush to quote from Benjamin Disraeli’s first novel, Vivan Grey, written when he was only twenty-one years of age, and later suppressed, but then republished at the urging of Goethe and other admirers.  It is almost inconceivable, reading this book, that he would one day be the Prime Minister of England, a close adviser to Queen Victoria, and a major player in world politics.

The young hero, wandering miserably through various German principalities after a political fiasco in England, falls in love with a mystery woman, who turns out to be an Austrian Princess incognito, who returns his passion but cannot control her fate. What follows is Disraeli’s commentary on women who marry kings or who themselves are “political queens” (i.e., like Elizabeth the First):

[Disraeli’s narrator, describing the Princess’s letter to Vivian:] She spoke of her exalted station as a woman, that station which so many women envy, in a spirit of agonising bitterness.  A royal princess is only the most flattered of state victims. She is a political sacrifice, by which enraged Governments are appeased, wavering allies conciliated and ancient amities confirmed. Debarred by her rank and her education from looking forward to that exchange of equal affection which is the great end and charm of female existence, no individual finds more fatally and feels more keenly that pomp is not felicity, and splendour not content.

Deprived of all those sources of happiness which seem inherent in woman, the wife of the Sovereign sometimes seeks in politics and in pleasure a means of excitement which may purchase oblivion. But the political queen is a rare character; she must possess an intellect of unusual power, and her lot must be considered an exception in the fortunes of female royalty. Even the political queen generally closes an agitated career with a broken heart. And for the unhappy votary of pleasure, who owns her cold duty to a royal husband, we must not forget that even in the most dissipated courts the conduct of the queen is expected to be decorous, and that the instances are not rare when the wife of the monarch has died on the scaffold, or in a dungeon, or in exile, because she dared to be indiscreet where all are debauched. But for the great majority of royal wives, they exist without a passion; they have nothing to hope, nothing to fear, nothing to envy, nothing to want, nothing to confide, nothing to hate, and nothing to love. Even their duties, though multitudinous, are mechanical, and while they require much attention, occasion no anxiety. Amusement is their moment of greatest emotion, and for them amusement is rare; for amusement is the result of equal companionship. Thus situated, they are doomed to become frivolous in their pursuits and formal in their manners, and the Court chaplain or the Court confessor is the only person who can prove they have a soul, by convincing them that it will be saved. [Book VIII, p. 492-93]

Some parts of this first novel are obviously satirical, for instance the calamitous ending that parodies German Romanticism. But the passage I quoted above seems to be written from the heart and in the author’s true voice.  Also, I am convinced that either Melville channeled the young Disraeli or read this book, for the sendups of fashion and foppery will find their echoes in Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857).

I do not claim a perfect analogy with the situation of Kate Middleton. These are more democratic times. But the abasement of many before the aristocracy is noted here, and Disraeli, born a Jew but a convert to Anglicanism, never lost the tongue of the observant artist and independent commoner, [partially] masked though he may have been.

PM Disraeli with Victoria

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.

July 4, 2009

Unfinished Revolutions and contested notions of “identity”

Professor Nicholas Boyle

[For a more recent blog on decadence see https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/.]

Anyone who has followed recent developments in history and politics should be amazed by the ubiquity of the term “identity”. What is not noted is the drastic transformation in the meaning of that word, and the implications are alarming for those who believe that civil rights (most especially the right of every individual citizen to challenge authority and to question the lines of interpretation handed down by all existing establishments as to “truth” or the causes of conflict) are intrinsic to an advanced democracy, such as the one we celebrate today, July 4, 2009. For as I have argued in all my published work and in various blogs and comments on the internet, the very concept of the free-standing, relatively autonomous individual is being systematically erased by antidemocrats or pseudo-democrats, who imagine themselves to be “anti-imperialists” and “anti-racists.” (I have written about the origins of multiculturalism and its racialist discourse in numerous venues, but here is one that tries to sum it all up: http://hnn.us/articles/4533, or see the version I posted here: https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, or try this more recent blog:https://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

What do I mean by unfinished revolutions? While in graduate school in history, as I learned about “the Age of Revolution” it dawned on me that none of the great transformations from the feudal world to the modern one, mostly in “the West” had been resolved. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were not simply about whether monarchs in Europe would adhere to Catholicism or Protestantism or Anglicanism (the “Elizabethan compromise”), but the key element–whether or not individual conscience trumped the authority of Churches and Kings–is still a hot topic today. Then came the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, and the warfare between science and religion proceeds apace, often disguised in “the culture wars.” What is at stake here is the universality of observed facts, but the new identity politics relegates such an affront to authority as crypto-fascism or imperialism. For these supposed freedom fighters, there are only group facts, incomprehensible to those not sharing the same (group) identity.  Now recall that the further liberalizing American Revolution, grounded in both the scientific revolution and left-wing Protestantism, established the “levelling” notion of equality before the law, along with meritocracy, as its founding principles (at least for propertied white males).

Hard by that unprecedented blessed event came the French Revolution (inspired in part by the American Revolution)  and its continued transfer of authority to citizens: Power, knowledge, and virtue now fled castles and cathedrals to repose in the breasts and brains of ordinary people, and, affirming the liberties that had been asserted in the preceding upheavals, appeared a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the elevation of the Prometheus myth, even in the principalities of Germany, as early Goethe and Schiller can attest (and before that, Spinoza in the seventeenth century Netherlandish revolt against Spain).

Lest anyone think that the traditional elites took these events, disastrous to their property and privileges, lying down, one need only read the outpouring of conservative Catholic and other organic conservative denunciations of the bloodthirsty Jacobins and their hideous progeny, progeny that includes Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. For the purpose of this essay, their most significant gesture was the erasure of “rights” in favor of “obligation” or “duty” to the ‘revolution, or ‘race’ or ‘nation’ or ‘community.’ Similarly, the individual observer, testing reality with her or his senses, then submitting facts to open-minded and curious others for confirmation, was beheaded or deemed “vile atheist” and mad scientist. Now “identity”, understood in my youth as a coherent sense of self, a sense of self that was antithetical to the fragmented and dissociated sufferer from paranoia or other mental illnesses, that notion of self was drastically transformed into “identity” as “national character”: a set of perceptions shared by all of the inhabitants of a nation-state or “race” –a population that formed a “community” with a specific Zeitgeist. This latter notion came down to us as Lamarckianism or a kind of blood and soil “environmentalism.” The eighteenth-century German theologian J.G. von Herder, the founder of cultural anthropology, got the credit for his “rooted” cosmopolitanism, supposedly an improvement over the atomized, narcissistic, world-destroying individual allegedly promoted by the dread liberals who preceded him in the English, American, and French Enlightenments. (On the perils of the Age of Reason or Utilitarianism, see the interchanges between Coningsby and Sidonia in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby.)

Not too long ago, I discovered that some of Herman Melville’s markings in one of his Bibles came straight out of Goethe’s two Wilhelm Meister novels (the first wild one, written before the French Revolution, the second “reverential” one, written late in life in reaction to the Terror and Napoleon), so I have been reading Goethe and Goethe biography and criticism. It turns out that one Nicholas Boyle, a most prestigious professor of German intellectual history and literature at Cambridge University in the U.K. had published two mammoth volumes on Goethe’s life and art, with a third volume promised. Boyle was so outraged by the French Revolution (an event that seems to have dampened the ardor of the Sturm und Drang German writers), that I suspected a conservative Catholic or Tory reading of that revolution. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Boyle had denounced the unforgiving Captain Ahab in another of his books (quoted below), and also admonished Ishmael too for homosexuality! Melville had written a gay and blasphemous book! My notes from Boyle follow, and I have included them here because he gives us a clue as to the real content of “identity” today as understood by its multicultural advocates. As I have proposed above, we are still fighting for the most basic of human rights as promised in the Declaration of Independence.

[my notes:] Nicholas Boyle, “A Catholic Approach to Literature,” Secular and Sacred Scriptures: A Catholic Approach To Literature, 2004, p.140 [IDENTITY]: Boyle writes, “Both sacred and secular literature involve the noninstrumental, nonpurposive use of words, and in different ways assert our freedom from the tyranny of functional, goal-directed thought and language: secular literature by using words to give pleasure and so enabling us to enjoy what is: sacred literature by using words to utter obligation, and so to give us our identity, not as beings who perform a function, but as creatures who know what ought to be.” P.141: “Even the wisdom books of sacred literature are expressions, however refined and derived, of the original obligation. Even Ecclesiastes, in which first-person utterance and the appeal to the author’s experience are so prominent, enjoins us ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’ (12:1)”

In other chapters (e.g. on Moby-Dick): for Boyle, “having and risking” is modern (false) identity. In this chapter, Boyle deplores the transition starting in 1200 A.D.  from a “feudal” world ordained by God to one ruled by money ( capitalism and imperialism). Boyle asserts that we have forgotten that wealth has its origins in work; we have forgotten our origins in God. A capitalist identity is therefore antithetical to the true Christ-infused identity. Hence, Boyle rejects the very notion of a “feudal” world, for the true world is not characterized by such (utilitarian?) categories. So political theory or structural analysis of economic institutions are off the charts!!! But wait, artists are good: Christ redeemed sinful man, and therefore artists can represent the world, conditioned though they may be by historical and linguistic context (cf. the New Historicism!), but (he implies) their work should participate in the ongoing work of redemption (of suffering?), for we are all in Christ and Christ is in us.

How does Boyle deal with antisemitic representations in literature then?  In his Goethe biography he passes over without judgment Goethe’s several nasty comments about Jews. In the book quoted above, Boyle finds pleasure in Dickens’ Fagin, a monster-victim who is, however, forgiven: pp.133-34: “Fagin is saved from being a stereotypical instrument of anti-Semitism and is raised into literature by our enjoyment of his monstrosity, and that is made possible as much by Oliver’s final prayer for him—Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (in which a direct vocative can be heard behind the gasp of sentiment)—as by the relish in the caricature when we first meet him, stirring the coffee in an iron pot and serving hot rolls and, of all things, ham to his ‘dears,’ while he inspects their pickings.”
Now, dear reader, if you have followed me thus far, you will understand that Captain Ahab’s unpardonable sin, for Boyle and for others who share his ideology, is Ahab’s/Melville’s (Jewish?) predilection for revenge. We may infer that Ahab doesn’t enjoy the Monster, or the idea that Might Makes Right, or that obligation sans “rights” is a source of pleasure. That Captain Ahab’s quest might be a symbol for all the unfinished revolutions of Melville’s time, revolutions that allowed a cat to look at a king, or ordinary people to educate themselves through study and reflection upon their experience, and who, moreover, might indulge themselves in the analysis of the institutions that controlled their lives, thence to participate meaningfully in government and self-government–such a reading cannot be allowed in an academy that called a halt to the Age of Revolution as it was once understood.  Happy Fourth of July. (For a recent blog on this  subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.)

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