YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 19, 2016

“New York values”

New-Yorker-NY-Daily-News-side-by-side-CruzWhen presidential aspirant Ted Cruz accused his rival Donald J. Trump of professing “New York values” (ultra-liberal sponsorship of gay marriage and “pro-abortion” sentiments) I immediately took offense, for I recognized the latent antisemitism in that remark. Not so on Fox News Channel, with the notable exception of Geraldo Rivera, whose mother is Jewish.  Last  night (1-18-16) Irish Catholic Bill O’Reilly sharply distanced himself from the Geraldo diagnosis, perhaps  oblivious to his semi-conscious feelings. (As a culture warrior, O’Reilly blames “secular progressives” for assaulting Christmas. His [deicide] guests from that ostensibly atheistic faction have had “Jewish” names, though O’Reilly has not been an obvious antisemite.)

This blog goes over old ground, for since 1986 I have been studying both latent and explicit antisemitism, and I will be very specific.

Cruz’s characterization of “New York values” evokes the rural hostility to “Cain’s cities” that, in the [Iowan] agrarian argot signify violence and decadence. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/17/melencolia-i-and-the-apocalypse-1938/.) Moreover, New York has always been a target of politicians for its Jewish population, and it is accurate that “liberal” Jews have, since they were supposedly agents of ferment hostile to WASP America, risen in the socio-economic scale, and arousing fear of “the Jewish vote” (see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/17/the-famed-jewish-vote/).

But consider the two policies specified by Senator Cruz: “pro-abortion” and “gay marriage.” First, no feminist (female or male) is in favor of slaughtering babies. That expression “pro-abortion” evokes the blood libel, an ancient fantasy that Jews murder Christian infants for their matzo-flavoring blood. (Some feminists may refer to “abortion rights” but I prefer the notion of “choice.”)

“Gay marriage” offends some ultra-conservatives, because it evokes androgyny, blurring the sharp separation between male and female that, it is believed, are necessary ingredients for abolishing poverty in the (restored) patriarchal family. Hitler (in Mein Kampf) referred to the “feminized masses” who, in my reading, were oddly both gullible and too curious about the affairs of their betters. Hitler, like many historians, abhorred “mass politics” pandering to the base instincts, unlike the displaced aristocracy.

Caruba/Flickr in Reason.com

Caruba/Flickr in Reason.com

Close reading is necessary to decode propaganda. It is unlikely that Ted Cruz intended to vilify Jews. But when sharp eyed and sensitive students of stereotypes call him out on at least latent name-calling, it behooves him and all politicians and journalists to wise up, as O’Reilly likes to say. (Update: I found the Leipzig postcard under Google images for “mass politics”; i.e., the loss of the “good King” opens the door to the “special interest group” that divides and ultimately conquers “the body politic.”)

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group

 

 

 

August 14, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon: a triumph or a disaster?

Trump on the stump in Iowa

Trump on the stump in Iowa

[Update 3-16-16: Read this carefully. Trump’s position on Israel has been distorted by his rivals. He has said that he would like to see peace in the Middle East but that it would be the “toughest negotiation” ever. No signs of anti-Semitism in my view.]

[Update 3-10-16: I didn’t compare Trump to Hitler here, but as a populist and nationalist, he does resonate in some respects with the Strasser brothers. I want to distance myself from liberals and even conservatives who are calling him a Nazi. I  have thought of taking this down owing to inevitable mis-readings; I am now supporting him because I believe that the system is terminally corrupt, and that he will be an improvement over Hillary. A reminder: I am an Independent and a scholar, not an ideologue.]

[Update 12-12-15: I agree with David Horowitz that if Trump’s ban on all Muslims entering the US  (temporarily) is unconstitutional, the GOP should find a Constitutional proposal to prevent more terror. (I hope I got that right.]

[Update 10-15-15: I would be very unhappy if this blog was used by anarchists or lefties for anti-Trump propaganda. After seeing the Democrat debate 10-13, it is that party that more closely resembles fascism (for the S. A. was always populistic, hence anti-Semitic). Trump has since been less vague about his policy objectives, and, in my view, is clearly superior to any Democrat, especially Hillary Clinton, the most likely to win the Donkey nomination.]

[Update 9-19-15]: Since writing this, several arguments might be added to my  argument that Trump’s followers resemble the populist members of the S.A. under Hitler. 1. The appeal to national greatness was deployed by Hitler after the defeat in WW1. His followers, many of them humble and feeling crowded out by other rising groups, may long for vicarious “greatness”; 2. Hitler was a Pan-Germanist, calling for an all German-speaking unity. Trump’s nativism echoes such grandiloquent notions; 3. Hitler lifted Germany out of the Depression by remilitarizing, defying the terms of the Versailles settlement. Similarly, Trump calls for a massive military expenditure, which can only raise the fantasy of more jobs for the unemployed and semi-employed; and 4. Trump lies a lot. His mob followers are as cynical as he is. (End update)].

Even Fox News Channel can’t make up its collective mind over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Hannity loves him and O’Reilly subtly pushes him, while Charles Krauthammer, their most respected pundit, doesn’t take him all that seriously (though that may change).

I do.

For most of my adult life I have studied the influence of fascism in Europe and America, in all its manifestations. While others castigate Trump as a bully, a fraud, a celebrity tied to mass culture, a narcissistic businessman allied with dubious companies (such as ACN, see page one story in WSJ (8-14-15), I agree with my son-in-law who nailed him as a street fighter and a primitive. I go even further, for he reminds me of a parody of masculinity, but more, the S.A., Hitler’s populist Brownshirts, led by the Strasser brothers, who made trouble throughout the 1920s and early 30s until they were [partially] purged in The Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934, an event that led William E. Dodd, the US Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, resign his post. (https://clarespark.com/2011/08/14/review-in-the-garden-of-beasts-by-erik-larson/.)

Hitler with S.A. comrades

Hitler with S.A. comrades

Although propagandists and even historians emphasize “the Nazi seizure of power” the better scholars emphasize Hitler’s coalition with monarchists and conservatives opposed to the social democratic Weimar Republic. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg in order to destroy communism (a communism that today’s Right frequently associates with the Democratic Party), and the 1933 elections were no Nazi landslide, but garnered only 43.91% of the vote (almost the same plurality that elected Bill Clinton). For my blog on how the Democratic Party has absorbed ideas originally associated with Marxist practice, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/.

Sturmabteilung poster

Sturmabteilung poster

As for big lying to the public, Trump has already delivered some whoppers. For instance, he takes credit for introducing the subject of illegal immigration, when anyone following the records of other Republican candidates is familiar with how and when the views of Bush and Rubio have been modified regarding amnesty. Similarly, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump mentioned “health savings accounts” as if he had just dreamed it up. (Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have supported such accounts, but see the idea’s origins here: http://www.afcm.org/hsahistory.html.)

I have my own suspicions of why so many voters are wowed by The Donald. Noting the popularity of The Godfather, The Sopranos, and lately, the wealthy can-do, know-it-all killer played by James Spader on NBC’s The Blacklist, it is not surprising that another larger-than-life character would suddenly capture the imaginations of many populist voters.

So we now have a choice: creeping fascist/populism on the Left with Hillary Clinton/Sanders/Warren/, or creepy populism on the Right with Donald Trump, our latest Knight in Shining, Glitzy, Armor.

[Update: I now believe that our biggest threat of fascism comes from (welfare statist) social democrats. I still don’t like glitz, but understand its appeal to the child in all of us.]

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

March 15, 2014

Is America a Christian state?

Haman

Haman

A relative of mine surprised me by observing that since the USA is fundamentally a Christian state, so why should not Israel be a Jewish state? (He was reacting to John Kerry’s –and Obama’s–opposition to the notion of a Jewish state in the current “negotiations.”)

During my days at Pacifica radio, there was an anonymous crank caller who started every comment with the allegation that “Western Christian civilization” was in jeopardy if the various 1960s movements made significant headway. I thought then that he was nuts, but now I am coming around to seeing what he meant, and how valid an observation his was.

Take the much vaunted “Judeo-Christian heritage” that supposedly defines this country and its founding. It turns out that such a benign construction of interfaith comity appeared during the 1940s and 1950s, with occasional outcroppings in later years. Such a fantasy could only have taken hold by professional harmonizers (including many assimilated Jews), determined to overlook the degree of antisemitism in the Christian Bible (only “the Gospel according to John,” says Benzion Netanyahu), and in misunderstandings of how ordinary Christians view the Old Testament. Many of those of us descended from immigrant Jews would rather not know for the sake of getting along, even if it means ignoring the growing antisemitism not only after the Great War, but in the lead up and execution of WW2. We are often oblivious to the depraved indifference to the Holocaust in progress, at a point where it could have been stopped or alleviated. We don’t notice that the “atheists” derided by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News have Jewish names. Every single one. And guess who the “secular progressives” signify to such as O’Reilly? (This is a hunch that I cannot prove.)

Here is how I described the “binary opposition” of Christian versus Jew” in another blog describing a Nazi exhibit der ewige Jude in 1937:

No European myth is benign or even neutral with regard to Jews or to the liberal values that “moderates” want to defend, nor can it be otherwise. All Jews, including the “eternal” ones, are “bad”; the antithesis of Christian and Jew corresponds to the antipodes of Christian [organic] conservatism* and Jewish [classical] liberalism: (heartfelt) mysticism and (heartless) science, trust and withering skepticism, loyalty and betrayal, community and mob, busy bee and parasite, garden and wasteland. “Good Jews” like Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, Cumberland’s Sheva, Walker’s Schechem, and Dickens’ Riah who appeared in the humanitarian literature of the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century were good only because they were more Christian than the bourgeois Christians who were behaving like Shylock and Fagin; capitalism purged of its Judas red-beards would presumably lose its heartless and exploitative character. Christian landlords would never evict a tenant, Christian bankers would never foreclose a mortgage: this demented idea is fundamental to the völkisch revolution of Nazism,[2] but was not their invention. Nazi anti-Semitism, then, was only partly about the considerable material advantages in expropriating Jewish property and expelling Jewish rivals: Nazis, to maintain their credibility as redeemers and protectors, would have to plunge a stake in the heart of the “demon Thought” (to use Byron’s expression). For the antifascist critical mind is not found in a guilt-ridden Adam shrinking from conflict with illegitimate authority or from the perception of other irreconcilable conflicts. Instead, the anti-Semitic/ anti-intellectual mind anxiously mystifies group antagonisms by positing (an unattainable) harmony as “normal.” Brandishing images of solidarity, the fascist bonds people only to “romance” in a false utopia necessarily maintained through deceit, terror and catharsis.

So hip liberal television writers may freely mock Southern conservatives such as the extremist “Sally Langston” in the popular television series Scandal, but ignore the pervasive theme of Amor Vincit Omnia (a habit inculcated in united happy families?) in liberal theories of conflict-resolution.

amorvincitomnia2

Enter “hate speech” or “hate crimes”. We should be loving one another, we should be walking in the steps of Christ in all our dealings with “the Other.” “To know all is to forgive all.” And who inflicted repression of “free speech” on us? None other than the putatively Jewish critical theorists, all “Jews” or renegade “Jews” whose chief aim in life is to control “the goyim.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.)

Is it any wonder that with all the curriculum reforms urged upon us by liberals, conservatives, and radicals alike, no one is pressing for a systematic study of antisemitism in the West, including the USA, the every-day variety that stops short of mass murder, but feels no compunction about inflicting mild to serious traumas on its “Jews” who remain strangers in a strange land?

amorvincitomnia3

Happy Purim, even though the Israeli Left still doesn’t get it: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/rabbis-round-table/.premium-1.579731. I could have entitled this blog “Is John Kerry the new Haman?”

December 13, 2013

Culture wars, religion, and the (neurotic?) historian

modernity1One reason for the endurance of the American experiment is cultural and religious pluralism as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. And yet, every year about this time, renewed angst and outrage is expressed that “secular progressives” are out to remove the Christ from Christmas. I have written endless blogs on the culture wars; see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/02/index-to-blogs-on-culture-wars/.

But I have not always spelled out in plain language how a historian differs from an organic conservative or a leftist whose ideology is a substitute for religion. [Note: this blog is not intended as an attack on either religion or leftism as such. It is about the tools in the historian’s tool box, and what may not be used in our analyses. I admit that the writing of history is an enlightenment science.]

First, a historian may choose to write a history of a religion or of religious conflict. But if that writer is making judgments within a particular religion, and defending that religion against competitors, that person is not a historian, but a special pleader or advocate. Such a one is Bill O’Reilly, one of the most popular and prolific of the would-be “moderates” and healers, but whose world view is possibly tempered  by Rerum Novarum (see the encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, 1891), by his desire to maintain his audience ratings, and the protection of his own considerable wealth. It is no accident that O’Reilly becomes especially heated when “atheists” attack Christmas.  Or, for another example, see my essay on “cultural historian” Nicholas Boyle: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

Second, a religious framework may implicitly deny human agency and institutional structures, relying instead on “Providence,” “God’s plan,” or any other superhuman force (e.g. “dialectical materialism” or any other telos) that determines the destinies of humans and planets. There are some deep ecologists who view “Nature” within a religious framework, hence tend to be allergic to facts that contradict their often apocalyptic predictions.

Third, as in the case of Goethe scholar Nicholas Boyle, such an organic conservative in historian’s clothing may refuse to mark turning points in world history: historians call this marking of “change over time”  “periodization.” Current organicist/mystical examples are nostalgic for the Middle Ages, when troublesome challenges to authority are believed to have been alleviated by the Good King or “the King’s touch.” See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.

Another feature of the Middle Ages was the absence of feminism, for birth control in its modern forms was unknown at that time, and women were lucky to live beyond child-bearing age. Television pundits or even fictional characters in the media may view themselves as good Kings, uniting warring factions/taming the wild man within, as Good Kings were imagined to do. For instance, the episode of Blue Bloods broadcast December 13, 2013, served the multicultural agenda by showing sympathy for a disaffected Muslim, who had already bombed his local mosque and was determined to bomb thousands of fellow Muslims in a big parade. Why? Losing his job as a computer technician had alienated the terrorist from God and Allah’s plan for his life. But the good King, in the guise of a NYC Catholic policeman, returned him to peace and tolerance by showing him his daughter, a symbol for all the other innocent children who would be harmed were the Muslim not to divulge where he had planted the fatal bomb. Order and inter-religious comity was restored to interchangeable persons of “faith.” (For a related blog emphasizing the power of “family” rhetoric, with the family/tribe headed by the charismatic leader see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/07/charisma-and-symbolic-politics/.)

Modernity is a distinct period in world history, and remains hotly contested. Why? Because technology has wrested control from the old elites, who are now routinely criticized by dissenters.  Historians are, or should be, professional dissenters. It is our role to unearth materials that change our view of past and present.  We do not throw up road blocks to such adventures into the unknown, nor do we claim that earthly knowledge is inevitably distorted and unreliable, nor do we fail to identify terrorists as a sop to the levelers of multiculturalism. That does not mean that it is child’s play to assign causes and effects, or that there is no ambiguity in separating human agency (free will) from structural imperative. Indeed, Herman Melville wrote a classic book about just that subject: see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/ That is why (necessarily secular) historians are troublemakers, and must face public and often professional obloquy, for many powerfully placed historians are protecting their jobs, and, sad to say, the early work that got them tenure. It is they who usually control academic publication. And many a ‘modern’ artist resents the “mechanization” they see everywhere. For that reason, I call them primitivists. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/.) modernlife Reconfiguring the past is not yet classified as a personality disorder, but it is a source of very objective anxiety. And such kaleidoscopic new looks may have nothing to say about “progress.”

July 27, 2013

O’Reilly’s riff on ‘race’ relations

MLKJrReacting in part to the uproar over the George Zimmerman verdict, Bill O’Reilly (“number one in cable news”) started the week of July 22, 2013 with an outraged “talking point memo” on the subject of the black family and its disintegration, blaming the current polarization over the jury’s decision to aquit CZ on “’73% illegitimacy” in the ‘African-American’ population. O’Reilly’s causation is typical of culture wars argumentation. Bring the strong father back, and “African-American” culture will right itself again.

The passion, even anger, of his talking points made news all week on Fox News Channel. On Thursday, in the interests of fairness and balance, he invited an assistant professor of sociology and Black Studies from CCNY,  R. L’heureux Lewis-McCoy.  The youthful professor contradicted the notion that fatherlessness caused poverty and crime, but insisted that poverty and lack of access to jobs was the cause of the disintegration of the black family. In other words, O’Reilly had a cultural explanation for the [unruly] black population, while the sociologist offered an economic explanation to explain black problems, (The segment can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYFS_qon3zs. It starts out concerned with a hip-hop artist and Al Sharpton, but at about two and a half minutes in, pivots to a discussion of the disintegrating, tattoo-loving black family. O’Reilly gave the professor a “D” for not answering a question to his liking.)

The notion of the father-directed nuclear family as the fundamental unit of society providing for stability is a throwback to the medieval order, when peasant fathers remained at home, directing the distribution of resources. “Exit the [family] king” under an advanced industrial society, and women have too much power over young males who are thereby feminized and may go homo, another fear of culture warriors. Enter the now fashionable argot that identifies all public health initiatives as vile offshoots of “the nanny state.” (For details on Ionesco’s play Exit The King see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit_the_King.)

On the Tuesday (July 23, 2013) edition of The Factor, trained psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer straight out told O’Reilly that not all problems could be solved, Surely he was thinking about the family and its proposed O’Reilly remedy: no illegitimacy and marriage. As I have suggested on this website, intact families are no panacea, but rather are the site of lifelong ambivalence or worse, owing to sibling rivalry, prolonged attachment to the parent of the opposite sex, and hard-to-control instinctive aggression identified by the now stigmatized Freud and his followers.  Indeed, social psychologists attached to the New Deal (such as Henry A. Murray) fretted about mother-son attachments as leading to an overactive social conscience that could go all the way to communism. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/07/he-loves-his-mommy-too-much/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/02/16/nazi-sykewar-american-style-part-two/, plus others in this series: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

I will say this for the efficacy of having a father in the home. Single mothers, no matter how many children, face an exhausting challenge. A modern male who is willing to take part in family life, including child care and housework, is a blessing.

But the presence of both parents in the family constellation is no guarantee that children will achieve upward mobility or avoid a life of crime. Bill O’Reilly, like other Fox anchors, has replicated the terms advocated by multiculturalists (“African-American Community”), avoiding the thorny questions concerning welfare policies, education reform, and the teaching of parenting skills and other useful mental health concepts. [I added welfare policies to this blog in light of Joe Nicolosi’s comments below.]

Such attention to factors other than father-headed families may be a bridge too far for the employees of Rupert Murdoch.

race

May 15, 2013

Who is Barack Obama?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:41 pm
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Moderation taught here

Moderation taught here

My most popular blogs have dealt with the enigma of POTUS, with a consensus among many of my readers that he is a narcissist, possibly of the most malignant and incurable variety. This blog makes the claim that Obama’s personality is the wrong focus of attention. We do better to look at the incoherence of the base that elected him, and what is the bond that links him to such disparate sectors of the electorate, ranging from Wall Street liberals, Hollywood moguls and celebrities, teachers unions, the AFL-CIO, youth culture, environmentalists, and “racial” minorities, including liberal Jews still tied to the New Deal embraced by their parents. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/04/06/diagnosing-potus/ and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/05/is-potus-crazy/.)

Moreover, there is wide difference among both supporters and critics as to his “real” politics: Is he a stealth Leninist, a crypto-Muslim with jihadist sympathies, a liberal internationalist in the Wilsonian tradition, or a traditional Democratic Party centrist (the latter a diagnosis by disgusted Leftists and populists who hoped for a more radical, anti-imperialist agenda)?

Mental health professionals and cultural historians have (perhaps) unwittingly aided the current focus on personality disorders, especially with the proposed revision of DSM-IV in the news during the last year. (On the theoretical foundations of the DSM manuals see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/09/neurotic-vs-objective-anxiety-dsm-iv-and-beyond/. Also “identity politics” as promoted by social democrats.) That and the popularity of mental health and relationship advice on radio and television have taken the voting public into private space at the expense of a broader and more appropriate education in political and economic theory, about which the general public is ignorant, thanks to decades of indoctrination in schools and universities regarding remaking ourselves so that we are wiped clean of “prejudice” toward “the Other.” Such a purification ritual has served some social movements and their upwardly mobile adherents, but destroyed our critical faculties.

The questions we should be addressing are these: why are so many American voters glued to celebrity culture, including pundits of either major political party? Why are the public schools so awful in urban ghettoes, and who made them that way? Why has public speech deteriorated to the point where the English language has been ground down to such exclamations as “awesome”! “amazing”! “cool”! No tribe of grunting savages in the prehistoric ages of our species could have survived with such a limited vocabulary. If we taught Shakespeare today, would students even be able to read him with comprehension? Or a plot summary, even? Meanwhile, my blogs, deliberately written to a non-academic audience, are often deemed to be “over the heads” of many readers.

To answer the question posed in the title of this blog: we cannot look into the heart of Barack Obama. We are not psychoanalysts who have treated him for many years, with accurate information about his childhood and the many traumas he may or may not have endured. But we can look into his social policies, and evaluate their content and efficacy. These fail on the grounds of intelligibility and effectiveness. Both our economy and our safety as Americans are on the table.  Yet “moderates” in both parties urge us not to get over excited or too “extreme;” rather, find your “community” and cuddle up with it, no matter how incoherent or internally divided on major issues the “members” may be. (I am thinking specifically of Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly, who yesterday advised their viewers on Fox  to lay off POTUS and Hillary Clinton until “facts” on such matters as the AP scandal are uncovered.)

I would be happier with “the moderate men” if they refrained from cooling us out, and departed from the safety of their cliques inside the Washington DC Beltway. They won’t of course, for they are paid handsomely for their services to the status quo, specifically to the ideal of the neutral state, and of the notions of “healing” and “closure.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)

We are in terrible trouble, and have no one but ourselves to rely upon. We still have the internet and social media. These must be protected above all else, whatever our politics. The republic will stand or fall depending on our defense of free and inquisitive communication, let the chips fall…. (For a follow-up blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/16/divide-et-impera/.)

March 30, 2013

Philip Roth, The Following, and Identification with the Aggressor

Sabbaths_theaterI raised this issue after the third season of HBO’s In Treatment, (See https://clarespark.com/2010/12/12/hbo%e2%80%99s-in-treatment-and-boardwalk-empire/, and continued my theme in https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/. After having seen the PBS American Masters “unmasking” of novelist Philip Roth (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/philip-roth/film-philip-roth-unmasked/2467/) and noticing a representation of the devil on the cover of the 1995 National Book Award winner Sabbath’s Theater (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath’s_Theater), a novel about sex, adultery, and suicide, and roughly based on the life of artist R. J. Kitaj (who was indeed a suicide at age 75), I thought it was time to write a very short blog on the attraction to the demonic, a theme usually tossed off as wayward Romanticism, and yet devil worship and sadism pervade popular and high culture alike. (Think of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), that made his reputation in Europe and prompted many suicides.)

Why is such identification with the demonic so prevalent? Bill O’Reilly interviewed Christopher Ruddy, a Catholic professor of theology, and Rabbi Aryeh Spero, who is famous on the Right for defending America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage.” O’Reilly seemed surprised to learn that Jews have no conception of the Devil as an independent force in the universe, looking rather to inborn instincts at odds with one another: good versus evil. After pushing him, O’Reilly finally got the Rabbi to declare that there would indeed be heavenly rewards or punishment, thus bringing Judaism in line with the Catholicism that O’Reilly vigorously defends. (So much for the unbridgeable gap between Judaism and Christianity, not a popular theme these days.)

But that gap is not the subject of this blog. Rather, I want to focus on the popularity of gangsters and other rebels against such admonitions as “thou shalt not murder.”

Although it was never explicitly addressed in the PBS documentary, though the first part did dwell at some length on Roth’s middle class parents, we do learn that 1. His father expected him to be a lawyer; and 2. Before the release of the raunchy Portnoy’s Complaint, the novel that made Roth not only famous but financially independent, he “prepared” his parents for the shock of the content matter, reassuring them that the parents in the novel bore no resemblance to themselves, but were fiction. From the documentary, we might infer that Roth never separated from his parents, was afraid of their rejection, and has maintained a punitive, puritanical superego to this day. (Look at his home in Connecticut: it is a model of 17th century puritan architecture.) I would not be surprised if Roth takes his own life now that he has retired from writing, for he dreads a biography, as he made clear in the PBS piece.

PHILIP ROTH

How to explain this bad boy of literature and the fascination he exerts on millions of liberal readers? I have often mentioned authoritarian parenting on prior blogs. There are many ways to be authoritarian, ranging from physical abuse, incest, clinging, or abandonment to aggressive siblings or schoolmates, on to subtle or overt disapproval of the path taken by one’s children. Perhaps they marry out of the faith or “race,” perhaps they are bisexual or gay, perhaps they go native by choosing a life of bohemian lawlessness over middle-class respectability. Or in Roth’s case, perhaps some of the above, but also what if they write stories hostile to many Jews, literally taunting religious, unassimilated Jews in such stories as “The Defender of the Faith,” “The Conversion of the Jews” (published in Goodbye Columbus, 1959) or the novel Operation Shylock (1993) in which the protagonist and his double share the same anti-Zionist narrative of the founding of Israel and its subsequent history. In the PBS documentary, Roth asserts that he is not a Jewish writer at all (as many consider him to be), but an “American” writer.

Roth Conn

Finally, I get to my argument: as any clinical psychologist or psychoanalyst or social worker will tell you, a defense against the (usually repressed) rage felt against the cruel or confusing* parent or parents who may be internalized in the omnipresent superego, is to identify with the aggressor (some people call this the Stockholm Syndrome). By becoming the parent/perpetrator (even if only imaginatively), we avoid the stigma of victim and avoid intolerable feelings of helplessness, the dread of falling that we experienced as dependent infants or toddlers. (This is the profile of the sadomasochist, who, in my experience as a student of sadomasochism, harbors rage against the Mother who asks her son for unattainable perfection in a society replete with cognitive dissonance.)

I am not a Roth scholar; I have read many of his books, but not nearly all of them, and have enjoyed his writing, especially in American Pastoral and The Human Stain. Whatever I write here about him, is what I caught from the PBS documentary, and my ongoing study of the irresistible demonic in popular and high culture.

*I have not mentioned mixed messages and double binds that liberal parents often inflict (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/10/columbia-u-s-double-bind-october-1917/). Roth mentions that his family was generally “left-of center,” implying that some were communists. But if he harbors communist sympathies, he is surely a Popular Front red, for FDR rescues the USA from Lindbergh’s fascism in The Plot Against America (2004). This novel is the closest he will get to the possible extra-parental traumas of his youth: the Great Depression, the second world war, and the (supposedly invisible) Holocaust. None of that is in the PBS special. [POSTSCRIPT. Since writing this blog, I have read Sabbath’s Theater, and admire it more than words can express. It is Roth’s masterpiece, and wonderfully funny and trenchant. Of all his contemporaries, he has made the best use of Freud that I  have yet encountered, and the protagonist’s traumas lay exposed for all to see.]

Kitaj: Where the railroad meets the sea

Kitaj: Where the railroad meets the sea

March 22, 2013

“Traditionalists” on the culture front

Kinkade

Kinkade “Sunrise”

[This is the second blog that mentions Andrew Klavan. See part one of this series here: https://clarespark.com/2013/03/11/do-paleoconservatives-want-a-theocracy/.]

As if the “culture wars” had not already sown enough confusion and polarization, some “traditionalists” are now encouraging right-thinking conservatives to make popular art that would challenge what is seen as the Hollywood monopoly on popular entertainment—a mass culture with way too much sex and not enough religion. Some warriors are humorously grotesque, for instance Bill O’Reilly’s offensive on behalf of the Easter Bunny. But others on the right participate in this war against “secular progressives” while others scan high culture for salutary examples with potential to heal a sick “body politic.”  For instance, Andrew Klavan (a convert to Christianity, and an ex-liberal as well, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Klavan), who writes popular mysteries, also writes on culture regularly for Pajamas Media. Klavan deplores what he calls “moral relativism,” preferring Immanuel Kant, the ethical universalist, over godless Nietzschean Supermen and the dread (and misconstrued) “deconstructionists” whom he links to Nazism. (See his talk of March 18, 2013 at the David Horowitz Freedom Center: http://tinyurl.com/ch8ucow.)

In the high Renaissance, great artists limited their subject matter to either religious art or to naked goddesses that pleased the propensities of aristocratic patrons. Recall too that Shakespeare was a Catholic, an anti-puritan, and a proponent of the organic society.  The Reformation, then the Enlightenment, began the long road to (partial) independence for artists, and a freer choice of subject matter and (subtly limited) freedom of thought and expression.

It is my own view that any repressed human being will be unable to make anything that passes for “modern” art, and that the traditionalist artists and illustrators (like Thomas Kinkade or Andrew Wyeth that seemingly upheld either “Christian” (Kinkade) or rural values (Wyeth) may be popular among older conservatives and even among liberals nostalgic for representation, but in this age of mass media with its celebration of youth culture, the call for more conservative artists and writers will find few patrons to subsidize their neo-“puritanism” except among themselves. But then today’s “culture warriors” define themselves against “modernity” and the dissenting individual, even as they protest groupiness–those notions such as multiculturalism that are collectivist in nature. For many “libertarians” (Klavan), the goal in “speaking truth to power” is to demolish Big Government, not to criticize authoritarian institutions, whether these appear at the national, local or state level, let alone within the family. (Even moderates may call for a revitalized mass culture: see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/29/fred-siegels-melodrama-of-20th-c-cultural-history/.)

Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny

We are all anticapitalists now. Modernism in the arts participated in the degeneration narrative, for these confusingly named “modernists,” the big corporation and technological pseudo-progress were agents of decadence, producing seductive consumer goods that vitiated class consciousness.  Along with celebrities, movie stars, and journalists, were the mobs unleashed by industrial capitalism, the New Woman, and the international Jewish conspiracy. Cain’s cities therefore were the site of hyper-sexuality, homosexuality, and all nervous anxieties, to be cured by a return to Nature and/or to order and anti-secular religion. The path to neoclassical safety would be mapped by primitivists and/or neo-medievalists from Left to Right seeking to renew paternal authority in the family. (On the dangers of cities see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/19/the-scary-city-lamprecht-becker-lynd/.)

Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth “Spring” (1978)

March 11, 2013

Do House hard-liners want a theocracy?

CabaretAre the culture wars heating up?

Some right-wing websites are calling for a re-energized cultural offensive, one that would dislodge the monopoly that “the Left” has attained in education, particularly in public schools, in the elite universities, and in popular culture. For these warriors (including “moderate” Bill O’Reilly), social democrats (once known as liberal anticommunists) and various Leninists are all under the same statist umbrella, and they must be stopped cold.

The rightist culture warriors will be blocked and court discouragement, for they face opposition from “RINO’s” (a.k.a. the big businessmen who joined the progressive Keynesians in 1942), as well as from the new “Jacobins” out to get them in the Democratic Party. In short, movement conservatives partake of a discourse of degeneration, and I understand their panic, for small businessmen and many medical professionals will take the brunt of Democratic initiatives such as Obama-care.

Underneath the angst is a now explicit belief that Hollywood Jews have created the hyper-sexualized culture, money-worshipping mass culture that flouts religious warnings about the dire effects of pornography, adolescent sexuality, gay marriage, and abortion on demand. Thus conservative novelist Andrew Klavan defended Seth MacFarlane’s performance at the Oscars 2013, for moral laxity should be boldly and freshly confronted. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/04/romney-v-the-cultural-politics-of-mean/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic.)

Many of my readers are aware that a prime ingredient in contemporary antisemitism is the association of Jewry with a money-mad, materialist culture. But fewer perhaps know about the Nazi trope (shared by both Julius Streicher and Hitler) that Jews were intent on corrupting the pure flesh of Christian women, indeed were the chief white slavers/whoremasters. How should a moral Christian respond to this apparently unstoppable “Jewish” offensive that is engendering hyper-sexualization, single-mother families, illegitimacy, and devil worship? Have we not seen very effective plays, movies, and television series transmitting the notion that “decadence” (i.e. degeneration) is inimical to the (unitary) values of the Christian West? I am thinking of productions such as CABARET, CHICAGO, and perhaps THE GOOD WIFE (also set in Chicago, and suggesting that the legal profession is similarly intent on materialism and sex, in or out of marriage).

goodwife

What the rightist culture warriors neglect is the plain fact that modern medicine and public health measures have drastically lengthened life expectancy, postponing marriage more than a decade after the onset of puberty. In this technologically advanced world, the old rules are outmoded. Who exactly is resisting sex education in middle school and high school? Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly last Friday, was visibly discomfited when one of her guests suggested that sex education was necessary to teach nubile young girls the difference between sex and a relationship.

The social conservatives seem so intent on taking over the Republican Party, dislodging what they view as an “establishment”, that they may be consigning themselves to permanent irrelevance. Cultural pluralism and the secular state are broadly institutionalized.  Pace Klavan et al, the culture warriors may be too internally uptight to make popular culture artifacts that reach out to a broad public.Chicagoposter

The advice from this scholar and political independent is to focus on fiscal conservatism, to divest oneself and one’s party of embedded and explicit antisemitism, and to cherish the pluralistic society that welcomes all belief systems and all social criticism, under the rule of law. Now remind me who censored the movie version of Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer? (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/02/roman-polanski-and-his-critics/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/09/27/cannibals-negro-jazz-and-servile-revolt/.)

February 9, 2013

LINCOLN (the movie) as propaganda

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

How they did it:

First, detaching Lincoln from the (Hamiltonian) Republicans to reattach him to (Jeffersonian) Jacksonian Democrats: the Andrew Jackson administration was famous for initiating the “spoils system” and by promising Democrats federal jobs as a reward for supporting the Thirteenth Amendment, Spielberg’s Lincoln affixed Honest Abe to the Jeffersonian faction. (Contrasting Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians is one route to  making sense of U.S. political history: see Stephen F. Knott’s book on the Hamilton myth.)

Second, the 2012 movie, with its positive portrayal of Lincoln, vindicated the power of the Executive branch today. There is a hidden link to New Deal propaganda, for progressives Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray recommended in their nationally circulated notebooks on “civilian morale” that FDR be joined with Lincoln and Washington, as strong leaders and father figures.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, or https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. The latter takes up Bill O’Reilly’s efforts to render Lincoln as the pre-eminent healer, one like himself, the good father who is “looking out for you.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/.)

Third, the unnecessary death scene linked Lincoln to Christ and to national redemption, a tactic that was effective in the North, but certainly not in the South.  See http://tinyurl.com/acbqkza on the religious response to Lincoln’s assassination, the paragraph possibly derived from Michael Rogin.

Fourth, by emphasizing the widespread Congressional resistance to the Thirteenth  Amendment, the impression reinforced the New Left line that racism is the overarching theme of American history, and that blacks are owed reparations. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. I do not intend to minimize the importance of “race” and “race relations.”)

Fifth, the flashback to the Second Inaugural Address, coming immediately after the assassination serves to bind the Nation as an organic entity. This is the most reactionary feature of the movie. In truth, we remain fragmented, and neo-Confederate flags still fly. By relying upon Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, Spielberg portrayed Lincoln as the moderate man who could unite warring factions, even within his own party. I.e., all conflicts are reconcilable. The irony is the American Civil War (the “irrepressible conflict”) as the primary locale for this “moderate” strategy of manipulation and compromise. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/19/abandonment-anxiety-and-moderation/.)

Sixth, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens was turned into a pragmatist, like Lincoln, not a wild-eyed ideologue like Charles Sumner. This was another reactionary move, designed to counter Stevens’s rehabilitation in the neo-abolitionist historiography. (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. There is much detail here on Sumner and Stevens as they fought to prepare the freedmen for economic and political independence.)

Seventh, the producer-director chose John Williams to score the movie. With the exception of some plausible period fiddle tunes, Williams looted Aaron Copland, except for George Root’s The Battle Cry of Freedom. Ignored was most popular music of the period in question. Also missing in action were Stevens’s and Sumner’s program for Reconstruction, too sizzling for today’s audiences. (On slanderous depictions of Sumner, and by extension Stevens, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.) Moreover, by focusing strictly on a narrow period of the Lincoln presidency, there was no opportunity to demonstrate land reform by some of the Northern generals (Sherman!) as they marched through the South.

Taken all in all, I can only suggest that the emphasis on the organic Nation, as led by the moderate men (delineated above), demonstrates how the South won the cultural battle for how we remember the American Civil War. Think of the stately brief portrayal of Robert E. Lee, riding away from Appomattox on his horse Traveler, preceded by  horrific shots of the Confederate dead in Petersburg, Virginia.  That the 2012 LINCOLN movie was done skillfully and under the radar speaks to the propaganda skills of the better Hollywood producers and directors.

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

BIBLIOGRAPHY (highly recommended)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs6cIi_mKfg Adlai Stevenson reads text of Copland “Lincoln Portrait” (1942) 15 minutes and well worth comparing the Lincoln of the “fiery trial” with the Lincoln of the Spielberg movie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Portrait  (1942)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_(2012_film) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution,

http://tinyurl.com/avdpq2x (James McPherson’s review of Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln)

http://tinyurl.com/b7kh6ak (Michael Rogin essay on D. W. Griffith and racism in American culture)

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

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_(film)

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