YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 19, 2015

Still Looking for Mr. Goodbar: the fear of individual liberty and self-direction

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Mr_GoodbarI was much influenced by Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom (1941). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Freedom. Wiki leaves out Fromm’s theory of working class authoritarianism to account for Nazism and makes him a typical social democrat, critical of experts and advertising whose origin and targets are “the mobocracy.”) This blog is about the nostalgia for monarchism providing definite authority and the novelty of free market economics. It is not about Fromm’s notion of the authoritarian personality, a preoccupation understandable in the face of Nazism and related isms.

Like most of my readers and FB friends, I have been trying to situate myself somewhere in the current political campaign for president. I am particularly interested in the Frank Luntz focus groups, for a variety of ordinary people seem to be seeking a manly, stable “leader,” whatever the flaws or evasions in his social policy views.

This last week, I read Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962), which is a systematic defense of free markets and untrammeled cultural freedom, an outcome that Friedman finds inseparable from capitalism in its most laissez-faire mode. (I agree with most of what he writes, but wonder if “choice” is invariably wise, given the fatal possibilities of succumbing to quacks and other “professional” frauds.)

At the same time, I have been studying very old fights among historians about the major turning points in the history of our sorry species. My most vivid recollection is that of Louis XIV and the prestige of his absolute despotism as the embodiment of the State. It occurred to me that we have, in spite of our Constitution, not progressed very far from Louis’s [vulgarity], using the magnificence of Versailles-like splendor, for instance, to wow the masses and the King’s underlings, rather like the glitterati, “traditional” mansions, and “special effects” in film celebrated especially during the holiday season to induce spending, notwithstanding the solemnity of religious observance.


Back to Luntz’s focus group regarding Trump and his competition (broadcast on Fox 12-18-15, on The Kelly File). Numerous persons in the Luntz focus group referred to “the people” as the preferred source of authority. But through the centuries, “the people” have been acted upon by elites, and the efforts of individuals to assert liberty have been criminalized as demonic and sneaky. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.) Moreover, there is no such animal as “the people”: that is a construction by “traditional” organic conservatives seeking a compact mass to dominate. Friedman, like Charles Sumner before him, favored small government, and saw “society” as a collection of individuals.

Is it not the case that we are, more often than not, scared to death of asserting our individual rights, in what Fromm correctly called an escape from freedom?


David Bog Big Picture


December 4, 2014

“Race relations” as managed by the Left

whitepolice[This is the first of two blogs on the subject of race relations after Ferguson. See https://clarespark.com/2014/11/25/reflections-on-the-ferguson-aftermath/.%5D

Is there a thread linking the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner cases?

This blog is about the horrific consequences of abandoning the widely differing details of each of these deaths, in favor of collapsing unique events into the discourse of “race relations.”  This, along with securitizing mortgages, was a practice initiated by the white liberal establishment in response to thuggish “cultural nationalists” who mounted urban race riots in the mid to late 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of legal integration was annexed to the Pan Africanism of “black power” with the blessing of cultural anthropology and the Democratic Party. This recent history, documented in widely available books, has either been ignored or forgotten or buried. For my blogs on this transformation see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/ and  especially https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/ .

The most elite universities and foundations came up with the idea co-opting the mob’s “leaders.”  Along with this mystification that erased individual differences for the sake of the organic community/multiculturalism/social stability/group cohesion, came the ratification of a certain kind of reactionary nationalism.

Recall that for decades, Nazis and “fascists” were believed to be produced by excessive “nationalism.” Only a few voices bothered to make distinctions between contrasting forms of “nationalism.” The anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, was one of these. Oddly the late historian Eric Hobsbawm was another, but he was arguing from the communist Left, whereas Sumner thought of himself as a moderate conservative.

First, Charles Sumner: For the lawyer Sumner, an admirer of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution (that he viewed as having the force of law, affirming human equality and negating slavery), the state had limited functions: national security and the protection of individual human rights (that meant equality before the law, rich and poor alike). He was also a modernizer who believed that all Americans deserved an excellent free education. See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. For Sumner’s view of railroads as modern improvements see https://clarespark.com/2013/11/30/railroading-captain-ahab/, and https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.  I see Sumner as a proponent of limited government. Were he alive today, he might be a libertarian with a bias in favor of meritocracy; he would surely be enraged by the inferior educations tolerated in ghetto schools. Sumner was a man of the Enlightenment, as was his intellectual descendant Walter Lippmann (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)


Second, Eric Hobsbawm, who made crucial distinctions between liberal nationalism and conservative nationalism in a widely read Nation article: Liberal nationalism, unlike its conservative form, was about reducing privilege, step by step. Conservative nationalism was solely about the control of territory and resources, in competition with other states.

The cultural nationalism favored by today’s liberal elites who  push “multiculturalism” based on racial identity or similar forms of artificial “community” (like affinity groups), would have to be rejected by that forgotten man, Sumner.  Hobsbawm would probably go along with the ethnicity/race craze that has substituted for class analysis since the days of the Popular Front, even though 1930s Marxist-Leninists were strongly anti-racist before they got their marching orders from Stalin to bond with their prior class enemies, the “anti-fascist [imperialist, racist] bourgeoisie.”

Then the New Left came along, allegedly the friends of the downtrodden. Those who had benefited from prestigious educations went on to fight for the commanding heights of academe and journalism, which they now occupy, having been tolerated by weak-kneed liberals (conservatives having been banished from the respectable humanities owing to their “McCarthyism”). Their students have been indoctrinated into the belief that “African Americans” (a Pan-African term) are a cohesive whole, each one oppressed by “Whitey.” Some of these new model “anti-racists” even write popular television shows in which blacks not only enjoy interracial sex or marry with whites, but dominate them, sometimes behind the scenes (Scandal comes to mind: will Olivia Pope and her “gladiators”–other liberals masquerading as moderate Republicans– ever escape from her father’s net?).

Even some anchors on Fox News Channel accept the premises of identity politics: the police should “look like” the communities where they enforce the law, as if “white people” need to be reined in or “balanced” by members of minority groups. (Joe Hicks made two appearances on Fox, mocking such a premise, but he has disappeared from their channel as of this writing.)


If historian Michael Burleigh is correct, and the most salient feature of Nazism was the “racial state,” then I will have to drop my cautious use of the term “proto-fascist.” We are in for it, the real thing, shipmates.


The law is now a dead letter, as dead as Charles Sumner’s vision of limited but just government.  (For an academic critique of nationalism that I found on the web see http://professornerdster.com/nationalism-why-wont-you-just-die-seriously/.)

March 30, 2014

What makes America strong?

self-reliance2Fox News Channel has been playing a documentary all weekend (March 28-30, 2014) on the subject of America’s surrender to permanent [leading from behind]. It ended, however, in a strongly optimistic note from neocon Charles Krauthammer, who predicted that getting our act together would reverse what appears to be decline and even doom.

This blog reviews the sources of “American” strength, and makes the case that it is our intellectual and cultural diversity that constitutes “American exceptionalism.” In other words, the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the Constitution were not only unique in world history, but continue to protect us against authoritarian forces of every type—but only if we make the effort.

It is possibly the case that our species tends toward the tribal and the local over the utopian notion of international unification, as expressed in the rhetoric of “international community” that demonstrably does not exist, and probably will never exist. The Left wants us to believe that the WASP elite that emerged after the Civil War, forcibly “Americanized” immigrants to a form of buccaneering capitalism that deracinated them, throwing over all ancestral cultural ties in order to conform to a murderous and immoral “system” run by extreme white supremacists. Why is this argument repeated over and over in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities and in school textbooks? The red specter still lives in fervid imaginations.


Oddly, multiculturalism or “ethnopluralism” was advanced by progressives as an antidote to claims of proletarian internationalism asserted by leftists from the late 19th century onward, and even before the Soviet coup of 1917. That story has been repeated over and over on this website. I view it as a greater threat to national unity than any other single factor.

Liberal nationalism versus conservative nationalism. In past blogs, I have contrasted the German Idealist notion of national character with classical liberal notions of the relatively autonomous individual. The Germans followed Herder’s notion of the rooted cosmopolitan, a notion that led to Wilsonian internationalism and more recently, the United Nations.

Conservative nationalism entails control over specific territories, staking its claims with arguments of blood and soil. Geopolitics emphasizes fights over borders and possession of the land since time out of mind. Blood and soil nationalism is collectivist in its vocabulary, even though the territory claimed contains wildly different populations with respect to world-views and ideologies. Thus “post-colonialist” scholars and pundits use the vocabulary of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, etc. and deem “the West” as scheming totalitarians and exploiters of lands and resources that were conquered through militarism, and its handmaidens of science and technology.

Liberal nationalism is a child of the Enlightenment, and was not invented by the Progressive movement that emerged in America during the early 20th century. It was best articulated by the modernizing Senator Charles Sumner who saw the State as limited in scope. The American government was above all a collection of individuals seeking safety from foreign invaders, and possessed of equal rights under the law. The human rights of individuals come out of this Enlightenment tradition. The “human rights” of groups come out of Herder, the mis-named German Enlightenment, and lead into organic conservative and reactionary directions. Social democrats do not fret over this distinction, but promiscuously resort to collectivist statements such as “the people” whom they pretend to defend with their lives and reputations (see https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/). Similarly, they have co-opted the language of classical liberalism, deeming their opponents to be termites eating at the foundation of the “republic.”

I view social democrats (today’s “liberals”) as reactionaries, and the source of American division and decline. “America” taken as a collective entity, should always be viewed as a collection of diverse individuals, whether these be conformists, rootless cosmopolitans, or alienated artists.

It is the notion of the unique, irreplaceable, seeking individual, educated to self-reliance and free to choose among competing beliefs, that is the true and only source of American strength and viability in the future decades. To deny this, and to give in to fantasies of decline and apocalypse, is to abandon our children and our ancestors too.


September 17, 2013

The Illusion of National Unity

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)





January 24, 2013

Culture wars and the secular progressives

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Walter Hudson has written an essay for Pajamas Media ( http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2013/01/15/whose-morality-is-it-anyway/) touting religion as the sole building block of social order, the only belief system that prevents “evil.”  Hudson, like many other believers, holds Communists (and by implication, “secularists”) responsible for wanton killing and mass death, perhaps of the kind we have seen at such locales as Newtown, Connecticut, or in the underreported incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as perpetrated by Nehemiah Griego (the fifteen-year-old killer, whose father was a local pastor and reportedly  liberal).

It is true that communists have inveighed against religion as “the opiate of the masses” that holds workers in bondage to a fantasy at best, or terrorizes them at worst (with threats of eternal hell), but Hudson’s privileging of religion as the sole source of morality is repugnant to me. I am one of the dread secularists, which puts me in the same category as those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, that forbade any established state religion. It is cultural pluralism that has enabled diverse immigrant groups to come to America, and protected them from forced conversion to a state religion. Has Hudson forgotten that “equality under the law” was a salutary innovation that protected all of us from murder and from what Hudson regards as “evil” in general?

But worse, Hudson’s essay negates the Enlightenment, which removed truth, absolute authority and “virtue” from Kings and established Churches, instead investing knowledge, power, and (potential) virtue in the People and their political institutions.  This disestablishment of monarchs and clergy was laid at the feet of the rising bourgeoisie (themselves the children of the French Revolution), who were then attacked by both the deposed monarchists of the ultra-right and future hard leftists. The new popular freedoms were associated by the ultras with the Cult of Reason (symbolized by Marianne), cannibalism, and a host of other horrors, including parricide and deicide.  And so Mary Shelley wrote her famous Frankenstein;  or the Modern Prometheus, while Herman Melville fretted about his own Promethean impulses throughout life. (For more on this theme see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/.)

Much of what Hudson has written is directed at Ayn Rand, her followers, and “Objectivism” in general.  I conclude that it is the “atomized” individual (along with free market society) that is his target. This so-called “atomized” individual was also the target of the moderate men, the Progressives who hoped to stave off Red Revolution through a compassionate welfare state, that would stop just short of turning the world upside down,  and would co-opt religion in the service of those buzz-words “social cohesion” and “political stability.”

Not all moderate conservatives believed that modernity and capitalism would lead to widespread mayhem. See for instance the social thought of Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, whose moral code embraced all of humanity, and most particularly slaves and then the freedmen, while his bosom enemies sought to return the freedmen to new forms of bondage after the Civil War. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/ )  Sumner was a visionary, and for his sacrifices to humanity at large, he has been assailed as a carrier of Jewish blood by his major 20th century biographer.


If Walter Hudson and those who agree with him want to improve morality, he should come down on the authoritarian family and all those institutions that fail to educate their children to the obligations of citizenry, or those families who believe in demonic possession as the explanation for mental illness. We need more science in our thought patterns, and less regression to pre-capitalist forms of authority, authority that cannot be made legitimate through any appeal to Reason as embodied in the laws, laws that men and women of all colors fought for and formulated out of an abundance of experience.

January 20, 2013

An awesome Inauguration

Nation_cover_journalismHere are two paragraphs from the late Jacob L. Talmon’s final book on political messianism (Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution):

“The general and increasing preoccupation with the nation’s rights, needs and grievances, the brooding over its identity and its past, its fate and its manifest destiny, the reflections on its moments of glory and its failures and defeats were every case a journey into bygone ages, a reckoning with ancestors, a communing with the myth of the nation. No wonder the [19th] century produced such a flowering of the historical sciences and of a literature and art that set out to serve as a mirror to the nation’s soul and a portrait of its modes of existence. National cults grew up and spread, replete with myths, symbols, rites, liturgy, commemoration, and heroes and saint’s days, parades and displays, artistic effects and hypnotic suggestiveness. [Compare to today’s pageantry and the invocation of the Nation, https://clarespark.com/2013/01/21/citizen-obama-political-pluralism-and-the-elusive-search-for-unity/. CS, 1-21-13]

“All these tendencies fed upon and in turn promoted the far-reaching change in the image of man from that bequeathed by the Enlightenment. Far from constituting the basic element and goal of society, from being his own autonomous lawgiver and free and equal partner to the social contract, as he was seen in the eighteenth century, man was made to appear more and more a function of collective forces, past traditions, the social setting, the organizational framework, the spirit of the nation, the Zeitgeist, the milieu, group mentality, finally the race. No longer a free agent in making choices, the individual was shown to be in the grip of compulsive urges and aversions, automatically re-enacting ingrained modes of behavior and reflexes. In brief, the individual was portrayed as the plaything of the unconscious and the hereditary, a mere abstraction when pitted against the collective forces deposited in the whole to which he belonged, above all, in the nation [Talmon is not referring to Freud here, but probably to Pareto, a great favorite of some Harvard professors in the 1930s, CS]. Not man, therefore, but the nation, was the measure of all things, and the dominion of the dead was depicted as infinitely more potent than the deliberate decisions of the living. Indeed, this state of affairs was made the condition of social cohesion, political stability and the health of the nation. …Every nation was a world of its own, a unique blend. Since it fashioned countless men and determined their fate and well-being, the nation’s interests, the imperatives of its particular situation, the conditions favoring its survival, cohesion, strength and influence contained its truth, morality and justice. The latter were perspectives, not objective data.” (my emphasis, pp. 544-545)

Talmon associates these counter-Enlightenment tendencies as culminating in “integral nationalism” a characteristic of both Fascism and Nazism. If Talmon’s analysis is correct, then multiculturalism and perspectivism, inventions of the rooted cosmopolitans of Germany (Herder  and his followers) who greatly influenced 20th century pedagogy in America, should be seen in the strategy of the “moderate” Right, not to either classical liberalism or to  libertarianism in either major political party, or in the scholarly search for truth.


How then should we see Fox News Channel’s coverage of the second Obama inauguration?  Is this supposed vindication of the eighteenth century Constitution awesome, as in remarkable and admirable, or should we return to the words original meaning: awe-inspiring as terrifying. As Charles Sumner awesomely asked in the nineteenth century “Are We A Nation?” And how do we know (e.g. this weekend) when we are not fascists?  See (https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/)

December 3, 2012

Index to blogs on Lincoln, Sumner, Reconstruction

Lincoln, March 1865

Lincoln, March 1865


https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. (Sumner’s advanced views and links with Captain Ahab)



https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. (on attempts to link Lincoln with FDR and other moderates)


https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/. (on negative views of Charles Sumner)



July 4, 2012

Index to Fourth of July blogs

Sumner as painted by Eastman Johnson

I included the most substantial blogs on America’s favorite holiday. The whole website is dedicated to the ongoing interpretation (including distortions) of the Declaration of Independence.



https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/  (Sumner argued that the Declaration of Independence had the force of law, hence must be seen as an anti-slavery document.)










January 28, 2012

Popular sovereignty on the ropes

I restarted my study of the making of the Constitution last summer, by reading the Federalist papers. I was very excited by Hamilton’s insistence on popular sovereignty as the fountain of authority that must guide the entire national government. (See “…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Federalist #22. Hamilton’s emphasis, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]  Hamilton stressed the power of the House of Representatives as the most direct route to popular control of government.  I was somewhat shocked as the prevalent [Jeffersonian] line on Hamilton is that he was an aristocratic thinker, a quasi-monarchist, who declared at a banquet that the people were “a great beast.” This latter slap at popular sovereignty was disseminated by medievalist Henry Adams and no one has found any source to confirm Adams’s claim. And unlike Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860, Hamilton was an abolitionist, and would not have approved Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty as a route to the expansion of slavery.

So popular sovereignty is linked, not to Rousseau’s notion of the general/popular will (an idea taken up by the Jacobins and by many leftists today), but to the deliberations of a representative republic in which, presumably, the House of Representatives is recognized by the other branches of government as the “pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

We find ourselves in campaign season 2012, in a condition where “the consent of the people” is a dream. In this polarized polity, characterized by a mish-mash of religious, class, ethnic, and gender politics, plus a stunning ignorance of political science, economics, and American and European history and its bevy of authoritarian social movements, “the people” is a convenient fiction of demagoguery, trotted out as counterpoint to special interests/”the nanny state.”

What is a writer with a popular audience to do? What can educators, including parents do to instill the mental habits that would make a representative republic more than a recruiting slogan for conservatives wishing to restore the divine origin of such innovations as the separation of powers and checks and balances, all treated in The Federalist? “God” is barely summoned in The Federalist; rather these pamphlets were a scientific, materialist proposal and defense of an unprecedented national government that would halt the slide to chaos and failure under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the U.S. Constitution, and before that, the Declaration of Independence were products of the Enlightenment. “We” were “Nature’s nation” and for many, bearers of a providential mission to lead the world in political democracy. When Charles Sumner asked “Are We A Nation?” in 1867, he envisioned “the people” as the repository of those rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and these “human rights” were universal, and, quoting James Otis, “without distinction of color.” (Sumner also nodded to The Federalist and Alexander Hamilton). For more on Providence and American mission, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.  Rooseveltian internationalists, leaders of the American Studies movement, were fond of trouncing the Founders and Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab as messianic and rabidly imperialistic. Thus “American exceptionalism” has come to signify the overweening desire to dominate the globe, rather than the invention of a nation grounded in natural, i.e., universal human rights: life, liberty, and property. However guided by “Providence,” Sumner, echoing Hamilton, insisted that “We the people,” not “We the States” were the source of legitimacy for the Constitution.

Although the President, along with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called for the beefing up of “education,” neither one suggested a debate about the curriculum, particularly who decides what is the proper training for would-be citizens. And by citizenship, I refer to a person with the critical tools to read the messages that affect all our choices. Here is where “protestant pluralism” founders on the rocks of neo-tribalism, “local control,” anti-intellectualism, populism, proto-fascism, and other man-traps. We are cathected to leaders who pander to our pre-existent prejudices or to reverence for ancestors, to the fear of an eternity in hell, to the presidential horse-race that the media promote, and to groupiness and partisanship in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness/.) We are constantly agitated and may enjoy the inner turmoil and suspense that a political campaign offers. Or we may feel helpless and permanently unrepresented in both high and popular culture, so turn inward to self, or to family, friends, employment, sports, and sex/personal appearance as primary sources of identity and purpose. Patriotism is taken to be a tic of “the Right,” not exemplary loyalty to human rights without distinction of color.

What I complain about here regarding our distorted and irrational political culture may seem so cosmic, so impossible to rectify, that a sane person must give up on this country and its survival as a representative republic. Indeed, the powerful historian Edmund S. Morgan denies that we ever had anything resembling popular rule, nor does he appear to be sanguine as to its prospects. (See his 1988 publication: Inventing the People, in which he concludes that we have moved from the politics of deference to the politics of leadership, i.e., the manipulation of public opinion.) So to be concrete, I suggest that each person concerned with her or his child’s education, encourage that child to look up the phrase “popular sovereignty” and to urge her or his teachers to discuss it in the appropriate grades. But first, look inside, and what do you see?  A terrified conformist, a romantic renegade, or a competent voter–a faithful seeker after truth, the universal truth that is the foundation of human rights and the glory of American nationality?  Captain Ahab, arousing his crew to find and fight Leviathan, echoed Milton’s Satan in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, when Ahab/Satan declared “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Are We a Nation? For more on Alexander Hamilton and the search for truth see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

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