The Clare Spark Blog

January 23, 2015

What is an organic conservative?

Gene  Wilder as young Frankenstein

Gene Wilder as young Frankenstein

I congratulated a well-known moderately conservative (?)journalist for bringing up “multiculturalism” as an obstacle to defeating jihadism. His response shocked me, for he declared that he was defending a “common culture” against the divisiveness of “multiculturalism.” Some organic conservatives (including “liberals”) will agree with admirers of Edmund Burke (in his Tory response to the French Revolution) and to Russell Kirk. For who does not long for “order” and a route to uniting divided families, polarized political parties, and the fragments of our memories and consciousness? The longed for “union” is glamorous, even glitzy.

Such responses, however, alarm me, for I had taken it for granted that this conservative journalist would prefer intellectual and religious pluralism/diversity to the implicit racialism that underlies the term “multiculturalism.” I don’t know if he sees the racialist underpinnings of the now hegemonic pseudo-solution to racism, one that was advanced by [covertly racist/German nationalist] German Romantics in the late 18th century to stave off the “mechanical materialism” they saw looming in the French Enlightenment. The French pox was an epistemology that led inexorably to worship of the Goddess of Reason that noted academics condemn today, irrationalist social democrats that they are, despising Jacobinism and its guillotine, you know, the guillotine that to the Gothic mentality resembles a printing press. (I am not nostalgic for Jacobins, but rather favor Condorcet, the Girondist, who was hounded to death by Jacobins.)

German printing press, 1811

German printing press, 1811

But America already has a common culture, and we didn’t need Edmund Burke to invent it, nor the Frankenstein monster to scare us half to death. That common culture is embodied in the social contract that separates church and state, and that guarantees the freedoms in the First and subsequent Amendments to the Constitution, not to speak of the property rights that enable economic growth and equal opportunity. Indeed, the very structure of the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, its separation of powers, enables us to agree to disagree. For conflict is normal and productive, unlike the dogma of “tradition” (unless that tradition favors literacy, numeracy, skepticism and close reading of texts). (Perhaps that is what the conservative journalist meant by a “common culture.” I sent him this blog and he agrees with me: his notion of a common culture is “secular and civic” and he firmly stands behind the First Amendment.)

Standing apart from these vanguard institutions are the dragons devised to scare us by less attractive conservatives like Mary Shelley, the author of the timeless Gothic thriller, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Her message, typical of all reactionaries, is reiterated in the popular Showtime series Penny Dreadful, where Victor Frankenstein is an actual character intended to remind us that the evil within us is too powerful to achieve the goals of the American and French Revolutions with respect to human rights. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

It is not only far-Right conservatives who prefer the Terror-Gothic style of social organization, wherein mystical bonds are the source of social cohesion, not the rule of law and individual human rights, including property rights. Social democrats and even revolutionary socialists are just as eager to resuscitate Edmund Burke when it suits them. (On Edmund Burke’s frantic response to the French Revolution, inverting freedom and obedience, see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/.)

Consider the abandonment of class or gender interest as an analytic category by today’s academic leftists. Gone with the wind are the days when revolutionary socialists forbade any social analysis that ignored “class struggle.” We are all multiculturalists now, Trotskyists and Stalinists alike. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. Underneath that shift to social democratic tactics is organicism brought about by the worship of the administrative state, the one that brought us permanent divisiveness and opened the gates to barbarian hordes.

All we fallen angels have to look forward to is the apocalypse. Goodbye Areopagitica; goodbye Paradise Lost. When I was a small child, I made a crayon drawing of a “happy harem girl” lacking sharp elbows. Perhaps I was more clairvoyant than Clare Spark.

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

August 22, 2013

The Godfather, Jamie Wyeth Gorgon, culture wars and rustic chivalry

Jamie Wyeth unsettles Dr. Taussig

Jamie Wyeth unsettles Dr. Taussig

I was gone for a week, and ONLY 52 viewers (outside of regulars who come to the home page) came to my last blog (https://clarespark.com/2013/08/13/victor-hugos-93-and-condorcet/), which quoted from Victor Hugo’s 93. I haven’t had numbers that low since I started the website. What was unattractive about this contrast of Terror and Mercy? Was a preference for absolute standards in morality the problem? Be warned, as a historian, I understand that morality is culture-specific, though the Enlightenment popularized the notion of universalist ethics as first advanced by the early French Revolution, and before the Reign of Terror. The Enlightenment philosophes were looking to a future where all people would live in republics and abide by the rule of law.

While gone I had three or four interesting encounters with popular and high culture.

First, the New York Times article about the controversy regarding Jamie Wyeth’s long-hidden painting of a famous female doctor. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/arts/design/a-showing-for-jamie-wyeths-portrait-of-a-cardiac-pioneer.html?pagewanted=all. Helen Brooke Taussig was the subject, but when her portrait was unveiled in May 1964, male doctors/colleagues freaked out. Look at the portrait yourselves and leave comments if you care to. (Jamie Wyeth preceded by famous painters and illustrators N. C. Wyeth, grandfather, and Andrew Wyeth, father and realist painter.)

Second, I have been reading both academic and coffee table studies (written by professors here and in Germany) of the history of the movies. Before that I read a recent biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, and to leave him out of the story where dopy Jewish moguls (all by themselves) are said to have caused mass degeneracy and a misreading of history in our most popular art form, and without mentioning either Joe Kennedy, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, and the Catholic Legion of Decency, is yet another depressing episode in the cultural history we teach to our eager beaver tech-savvy children who adore images and are virtually on their own in finding out how stories and images can shape their emotions and politics. What the “history of the movies” reveals, for these liberal writers, is the inevitability of radical subjectivism, mystery, and the unknowability of even the most famous, documented lives. A running theme in many of these film histories:  McCarthyism caused brain drain in Hollywood, so the 1950s were beneath contempt, except for Vertigo (Hitchcock learned from the German refugees) and On the Waterfront (“cold war liberalism,” thumbs down on snitch Elia Kazan).

The recent film histories, obviously directed to an upper-class readership, are glitzy, often lavishly illustrated, sensitive in a superficial English major way, and hardly do justice to individual artifacts. If these English professors or culture studies specialists ever turned in such hasty plot summaries to a graduate seminar, they would possible be thrown out of school. As for film noir, blame it on the German refugees and their immersion in German Expressionism and post Great War angst, which, though partly true, does not fully explain disillusion and cultural pessimism (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled Film Noir, decoded.)

Speaking of angst, on the flight home I watched all of The Godfather  (175 minutes). Like zillions of others, I thought it was a powerful and well-made movie; I have done zero research on it yet, but here are some guesses ahead of my future study. First, it was obviously Coppola’s FU to the Hollywood system. The first villain, though not identified as Jewish, was vulgar (rather like Citizen Kane/Cain). His name was Woltz (sounds German, could be German-Jewish). The corruption of Hollywood stands for a society that is utterly bought and sold by criminal elements: politicians, law enforcement, newspapers, everybody that shapes public opinion or protects us from the bad guys: (more Citizen Kane). The transformation of war hero, Ivy-educated Michael from “civilian” to his father’s successor as head of the family “business” could signify that brutalization of the young that is said by many historians to have followed the Great War. Note that conflicts between gang bosses are always referred to as wars, not disputes between criminals. In the world we see depicted everybody is guilty, except for the women, who are merely hysterical when they are not putting up with spousal abuse or neglect. They are both protected from the world of men, or are contented to be Sicilian breeders and feeders. Finally, I noted the importance of neighborhood, religion, family and ethnicity to Southern Italian immigrants. The Godfather series came out during the height of the social policy transition from an emphasis on class, to an emphasis on the durability of ethnic ties over class ties. The Corleone family has not assimilated, and doesn’t care. They hew to the colorful ways of 19th and 20th century urban ethnics with their scofflaw patronage systems, or in the case of the Corleones, Sicilian peasants and the patriarchal system. In comes localism, radical historicism, and multiculturalism. In other mass media offerings, the demonic is celebrated, in dangerous neo-Romantic fashion, see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/30/philip-roth-the-following-and-identification-with-the-aggressor/.

Third, I found a copy of a documentary study and chronology of the Culture Wars, that covers the censorship of artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, and focuses primarily on events during the Reagan administration and the first years of Bush 41. The introduction that I raced through made the claim that the artist freedom jeopardized by right-wing kvetching about tax dollars going to the National Endowment for the Arts, was tied to working class benefits. It does have a useful chronology of government funding of the arts since the Kennedy administration, and it is something to look into. How “high art” that many Americans see as handmaidens to the wealthy became a matter of interest to the labor movement and other ‘slobs’ defies comprehension. Artist Richard Bolton explains away this seeming  contradiction, “It is more than passing interest that ‘populist’ conservatives, while rejecting ‘high culture’ in the name of the masses, also detest the popular culture–television, music, and film—commonly shared by these same masses. And in matters of policy, conservative activists and officials  have consistently opposed government programs that would benefit the typical worker….” (Culture Wars, ed. Richard Bolton, p.5) Bolton goes on to describe statist interventions against the market that ostensibly benefit the working class. In other words, Bolton’s ‘populist’ conservatives are hypocrites. Mapplethorpe and Serrano et al are the true populists.

But there was solidarity of a sort evident in the movie The Big Chill that I watched on my way back East. This cloying cluster of U. of Michigan graduates, ex-radicals who have gone bourgeois in their forties and feel guilty about it, is hardly worth mentioning, though it was interesting to see how major movie stars looked when much younger. The one Jewish character was something of a geek (played by Jeff Goldblum) whose attempts to fit in were ludicrous.

Give me Cavalleria Rusticana transferred to post WW2 America any day over 60s-70s nostalgia felt by successful hippies.  Or perhaps The Big Chill was a less obvious form of rustic chivalry as the Glenn Close character makes a gift of her husband (Kevin Kline) for a night to fertilize the egg of her chum (played by Mary Kay Place). After all, the story was set in the South.

February 11, 2011

“Undoing” multiculturalism

Houdon's Condorcet, 1785

In my last blog, I summarized those who benefited from the institutionalization of “multiculturalism” (https://clarespark.com/2011/02/10/multiculturalism-cui-bono/).  By referring to the Freudian conception of “undoing”, I do not substitute one form of magical thinking with another. Symbolic gestures designed to change behavior are no substitute for a complete renovation of our conception of democracy and its reparable flaws.

I begin by reviewing my own history of the subject. As program director of Pacifica radio station KPFK in Los Angeles, I was told to implement “multiculturalism.” In my naïveté, I thought that meant that the history of minority groups, women, and labor would be integrated into all of our programming. This was no impulsive gesture: I had already heard and seen the rise of cultural nationalism and its feeble opposition in the academy.  Although the other program directors of the five Pacifica stations ratified my resolution to use the integrationist approach throughout the network, I was immediately red-baited by David Salniker, then the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation.  I am convinced that my ongoing insistence on scientific thinking over myth-making was the major cause of my firing in the summer of 1982, eighteen months after my hiring.

In graduate school at UCLA, I was appointed to represent all the students of the University of California system in the Committee on Affirmative Action Hiring and Programs. I introduced a similar resolution there: in those appropriate subjects, all professors would be expected to integrate into their classes the recent discoveries regarding the history of women and minorities, rather than shunting off these new or updated histories to separate departments and leaving the current curricula untouched.  To be unaware of such new scholarship, I argued, would be tantamount to hiring a biologist who hadn’t yet learned about DNA. This resolution was unanimously passed, but I later learned that it was derided by the UC Academic Senates as an impingement on academic freedom and refused.

I had thought that my resolutions at Pacifica and the University of California were innocent and intellectually sound enough, but I had entirely underestimated the power of an ideology and its internalization by conforming academic administrators and their analogs in the liberal foundations. So I systematically went about tracing the history of the concept, and the scales fell from my eyes. The results are found throughout this website, with quotes from the sources of those responsible for perpetuating this social policy, now being disavowed by key European heads of state.

The magnitude of our endeavor can be only briefly sketched here. Here is a preliminary list; the points are all interrelated.

1. We must recover the conception of the autonomous individual, trained in all the skills of citizenship, which in turn suggests the study of the history of individual psychology versus “social psychology.” It is the latter “discipline” that reflected and perpetuated the statist and collectivist notion of “community” and cast the “rugged individualist” as the Indian-killer/enslaver of blacks par excellence. If “white” people have individuality, so does everyone else (potentially), but tribalism and/or premodern economies stunt the growth of individuality, and multiculturalism is tribalism writ large. We need to draw a hard line between ourselves and our ancestors. Their achievements and atrocities are not ours, whatever the reparations/social legislation crowd that controls the teaching of “interdisciplinary” history and “cultural studies” may argue. (For more on this last point, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/. )

2. We must end “liberal guilt” and the social democratic (foggy) conception of “social justice.” The past is past, and although many atrocities are part of our history– atrocities that have the capacity to traumatize the descendants– the conditions and laws that made the atrocities possible have mostly been removed, and yet some prominent academics have made a career dwelling on the past as if it lingered in the present, with no countervailing structures and/or diminishing prejudice, hence “whiteness studies.”  There is no such thing as American identity or “national character” apart from our laws. Such counter-Enlightenment/anti-science notions as the folly of “the search for truth” emanating from postmodernists and their sympathizers must be countered with a renewed insistence on the clear definition of political rhetoric and the history of its usage in propaganda.

3. We can’t solve our gigantic problems with original sin smoking up our minds. Nor can we acquiesce in the religious notion of an uncluttered “free will.” Each of us has had a personal history since infancy, and some of that history has been either traumatic or has created inhibitions that make problem-solving difficult if not impossible.  We must stop thinking of mental health services as a Jewish invention useful primarily to New York Jews. Effects have causes, even if there are many causes that influence the present, and even though it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle them. Victimhood exists, but so does survival and resilience, with help from our friends.

4. We must restore the useful idea of the melting pot. Culture is syncretic: we learn from each other and borrow that which is enriching and bonds us as individuals with other individuals. We may admire, but not hero-worship.  Such idealization of heroes or other celebrities inevitably leads to disillusion, apathy, intolerable stress, and depression. It is a learned helplessness that erases the very notion of a democratic polity. We are all Americans who live under our Constitution and defend it from its enemies. That implies the erasure of the hyphenated American, but not before its depoliticizing, divisive, antidemocratic, and anti-intellectual bases are widely understood.

[Illustrated: the martyred Marquis de Condorcet, avatar of progress, science, anti-slavery, feminism, and enlightenment.]

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