YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 26, 2017

The Monument Business

Robert E. Lee monument, Charlottesville VA

This blog is about one aspect of the fight over American history: the question of modernist abstraction versus “naturalistic” representation. (I have put on my art historical hat/immersion in leftist cultural criticism.)

First read this: https://clarespark.com/2014/03/20/role-models-talcott-parsons-and-structural-functionalism/. (This suggests that statues may be “role models” for “the masses”).

In the spate of demands by “antifa” protesters, the numerous monuments/memorials to Confederate luminaries (and, of course, Columbus) must be taken down by social justice warriors, for they point to a shameful past that had best be forgotten and/or replaced by different monuments that commemorate the resistance to slavery and the glory days of the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks House, Detroit, now in Berlin Germany

Presumably, such monuments (to black/brown power) will hasten the demise of “white supremacy” (a feature of Amerikkka), surely an apocalyptic fantasy with no grounding in the real world.


Modernism vs. conventional representation.

What are the “white supremacists” protesting? Might it be the growth of progressive nostrums to soothe the structural antagonism between “the money power” and the masses (populism), realized today in the fight between Big Government and ordinary people?

Or is the fight about labor competition exacerbated by labor unions and other policies that co-opt “dissent”—all embodied in “realistic” monuments (unlike modernist abstraction or dialectical notions showing the pull of opposing forces).

Bibliography: Victor Davis Hanson and David Horowitz have both written about this culture wars event: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450749/confederate-statues-removed-while-racist-progressive-statues-remain, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450689/erasing-history-censoring-confederate-past-rewriting-memory-mob-vengeance; https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2017/08/24/the_progressive_war_against_the_dead_134819.html.

Other National Review commentary: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/450706/what-do-confederate-statues-say; http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450551/confederate-statues-republicans-democrats-should-let-them-be.

And, by David Horowitz: http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/267676/racist-attacks-america-and-trump-david-horowitz. (I agree with DH on the connotations of “white supremacy” but he doesn’t go far enough. “Cultural Marxism” was not  primarily about the “racism” that DH deplores, but about balance/stability as delivered by “antifascist” social democrats in the “Popular Front.” (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/.)

Here are some neglected aspects of the “culture wars”: https://clarespark.com/2013/01/02/index-to-blogs-on-culture-wars/).


November 23, 2012

Historians vs. pundits: the Eric Hobsbawm synthesis

Liberty Leading the People

For a more recent assessment of Hobsbawm, see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/.

I was going to write a straightforward few paragraphs on the irresponsibility of today’s journalists/pundits compared to archive-scouring historians. But in the meantime, I was reading Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (1962), and my focus changed to the achievement of EH’s major work, and its precise transmission of Marxist-Leninist dogma, dialectical materialism and all, as he strives to fuse the Hegelian opposites of Romanticism and neoclassicism, letting vitalism and mysticism into his ostensibly rationalist synthesis explaining the rise of mass politics after the French Revolution.

For those who have missed the furious debate since the death of EH and his legacy on October 1, 2012, here is a sampling of what I have read. Ron Radosh’s essay was my favorite, for it was a fine survey of opinion, and also recounted some horrifying details missed by others, for instance, EH’s ferocious rejection of Israel, which he wished would be nuked, according to one unpublished account.





Though I thought that EH was clueless regarding the contributions of the Romantic composers and authors (e.g. their exploration of human emotions as worthy subjects for art, often leaving more rigid forms for fantasy. Cf. EH condemning the Romantics as Satanists, or as flunkeys for the bourgeoisie and its heroic individualism/economic liberalism),  I came away with one valuable insight: EH explains that the creation of the new industrial working class kept both aristocracy and bourgeoisie on edge up to the present day. For it was the (middle-class) French Revolution and Napoleon that elevated the self-esteem of “the People” in what EH calls the double revolution: 1. The French Revolution, and 2. The Industrial Revolution. (He implied a third factor: the development of “national cultures” that would lead, in his later life, to the lauding of “liberal nationalism” as a spur to further progress, with capitalism yielding to communism and the defeat of the bourgeois oppressor.)

In whatever period I have studied since the Enlightenment, I have seen the red specter operating in the imaginations of every artist and writer. Certainly it is foregrounded in the work of Herman Melville, whose interpreters cannot make up their minds whether he is a Romantic individualist (of the type that EH excoriates) or a proper moderate conservative like themselves, hence the Ishmaelite repudiator of that arch-individualist and revolutionary Captain Ahab (or his successor, Pierre Glendinning).

EH mentions Herman Melville twice, though he does not go into any detail whatsoever. I presume that he viewed Moby-Dick as an allegory for the French Revolution and those that followed in 1848, perhaps dwelling upon the multi-colored crew of harpooners, as did C. L. R. James, a favorite of the New Left anti-imperialists. But this would make EH no better than the bourgeois primitivists EH attacks as perpetuators of the noble savage image. [Added, Nov. 23: In his second book, EH makes it clear that he believes that Moby-Dick is an indictment of American capitalist-imperialism; he has a superficial reading about whaling ships and the denouement near Japan. EH believes that Melville is the greatest artist of the American 19th century, for that reason, obviously.]

Alarmingly, EH’s book on the “Age of Revolution” laid out the synthesis that guided my graduate work in history at UCLA, and that now dominates textbook writing throughout the liberal school system in America. Prende garde, mes amis. Eric Hobsbawm, in death lauded by many communists, liberals, and conservatives alike, fused the roles of pundit and historian, leaving us with activists in both fields, while drowning in their wakes those historians whose regard for the truth is, well, undialectical. (For my assessment of “activist” scholars see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/06/the-new-left-activist-scholars/.)

January 15, 2012

Prometheus Bound, but good

Rubens's Prometheus BoundThis blog responds to a heated interchange this last week over whether Republicans or Democrats were more “anti-science.” I complained bitterly about the foolish framing of the question, but since few non-scientists may understand my own indignation, I thought I had better explain.

There is no such thing as a “science” that encompasses all the worldly, materialist efforts to grasp the facts of life and death, thence to intervene to enhance life and forestall death. What the electorate is debating is the power of ultraconservative evangelical Protestants and Catholics to roll back the achievements (or, in their views, atrocities) of the modern world, a modernity that is held responsible for decadence and mass death, owing to the mistaken notions of progress and “enlightenment;” a secular wasteland that is gleefully responsible for “the death of God,” or, failing that, banishing Christian symbols from public space. Such a dive into the muck betrays “life” itself.  In other words, the question regarding “anti-science” serves culture warriors in both political parties and is intrinsic to the current polarization.

Scientism versus science.   In my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, I made a distinction between the Radical and Conservative Enlightenments. The Radical Enlightenment (a 16th century development that educated and raised the morale of “the lower orders”) was co-opted by anxious elites fearing the leveling tendencies of science and its alleged worship of the Goddess of Reason. These “moderate conservative” elites formed the progressive movement, and used “scientific management” to forestall servile revolts, arguing that free markets, left unregulated, would generate mobs who would abolish private property tout court. Similarly, social psychology was harnessed to the New Deal, using statistics and other scientistic (i.e., pretending to scientific method) strategies to get a consensus behind the ever more powerful federal government and the authority of the presidency.  I call this co-opting of “science” the Conservative Enlightenment. The social bonds it advocates are based on mystical bonds between leaders and the led, not upon the convergence of real interests within groups. Such are the methods espoused by the troops of the allegedly “pro-science” Democratic Party.

Science versus Magic. Scientific method, i.e., relying on material evidence and following facts wherever they lead, does not come naturally to a growing child. As an infant and toddler, and even into adolescence, magical thinking will dominate the psyche. Seeing “things as they are” may be fraught with fear, pain, and conflict. In my own examination of Herman Melville’s writing, I have seen the anguish with which the idealizations of childhood are relinquished. His kaleidoscopic imagination, that constantly reconfigures the world we think we see, so apparent to readers who have gone that route themselves, is generally suppressed in the scholarship, or dismissed as “incoherence,” or as a pre-Freudianism that is easily dismissed as bogus, carnal, and hence “Jewish.” Melville himself never resolved his inner war between science and religion, at times demonizing his “dark” Promethean characters, including “Margoth” an apostate secular Jew, who bears comparison with Twain’s Yankee.

Dialectical materialism versus materialism. Realism and naturalism in the arts have gotten a bad rap because of their association with the marxiste notion of dialectical materialism. The latter is a form of Hegelianism that banishes the real world in favor of an unalterable march toward communism/the reign of Spirit, a march supposedly led by the politically-conscious working class, but in practice, guided by intellectuals. These same intellectuals decry (undialectical) “materialism” as atomization and hyper-individualism of the most hateful “bourgeois” variety. I have been called that atomic bomb by more than one Leninist. As culture critics, they purportedly espouse “realism,” which for them consists of unveiling the mystifications of the bourgeoisie, pulling back the curtain to expose exploited masses and wily magicians in the urbanized land of Oz. Where these mystical anti-mystics go wrong is in their condemnation of the Promethean bourgeoisie, a class that relies on science and technology to improve the world and the life chances of its inhabitants.

Science is not dogma, and is constantly self-correcting in the collective criticism of the community of scientists (unless they are bought off by patronage). But that is not the view of those relativists who now study the history of science in order to discredit is as “essentially, a swindle.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ or https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.)

In the world of true science, quacks are driven out, and commonly held beliefs subject to alteration in the face of new evidence. Would that our political culture were as discriminating in extruding frauds.


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