The Clare Spark Blog

December 16, 2015

The Depression Grand Challenge: UCLA style

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

Human brain, conceptual computer artwork. HuffPo

The well-funded David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA has issued its monthly fund-raising magazine, this one titled “The Golden Age of Brain Science.” Removing the stigma from genetically transmitted “depression” is one of their major themes. Turns out that “depression” is entirely inherited, and their interdisciplinary team includes no historians or even anthropologists, but not to worry, psychiatrists are included.

Lest the reader think that social responsibility has been abandoned by the new neuroscientists, note that final paragraph in the featured article: it is a typical liberal double bind/mixed message. Has the Nature-Nurture controversy been resolved?https://clarespark.com/2016/02/09/is-the-nature-nurture-debate-over/

As the Golden Age progresses, neuroscience will transform society: Artificial limbs controlled by thought. Enhanced cognition. Drugs precisely targeted to individuals. Understanding of how external forces like poverty affect the brain.

And a looming new responsibility.

Our brain is not just a reflection of our genetics but is also very much a reflection of our environment,’ says [Kelsey] Martin [interim Dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine]. We have a social responsibility to make sure that the environment is one in which human beings flourish.’

Forget socially-induced trauma, forget [Freudians or Kleinians or socially irresponsible Republicans and Milton Friedman-esque advocates of free markets/upward mobility]. UCLA’s message of genetically engineered and psychotropic-drug-induced “hope” will usher us into the Brave New World.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

As for myself, between the bread and circus atmosphere of political “debates” this election season, or the rise of ISIS and the general incompetence of the political class, I hold on to my environmentally-induced anxiety and depression like Captain Ahab’s red flag.

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October 7, 2015

The Patriarchal Family: what could possibly go wrong?

patriarchal-familiesFirst read this account of patriarchy as contrasted with feminism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy.

The call for the strong father-led family did not originate with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s call for the [patriarchal] family: Jindal’s antidote to the Roseburg, Oregon massacre. Like other conservatives, he blames social decadence on moral laxity, accelerated by abortion rights, bad mothers, and video games. “Garbage in, garbage out,” he proclaimed. (https://www.bobbyjindal.com/jindal-we-fill-our-culture-with-garbage/)

This battle cry hardly originated with social conservatives like Jindal, but, was confirmed yet again during the 20th Century with such liberal mavericks  as D. H. Lawrence, Gregory Bateson and Henry A. Murray, all of whom worried that relationships in the modern family were gravely flawed, as I showed in these blogs: https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/ (especially the material in bold face type on Gregory Bateson, objecting to mother-son bonding), this collage taken from various 20th century masculinists, including Henry A. Murray warning about the feminization of American culture, Picasso, and another writer for Survey Graphic: https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/image-861.jpg, and https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/.  Double binds inherent in social democracies (the unstated conflict between Truth and Order) were blamed on feminization, particularly the rise of the moral mother as husbands left home for offices and factories: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/

Here are some of the other complications that can emerge with the stern, disciplinary father who compensates for the too-attaching, seductive mother:

Corporal punishment. It was not long ago that whips, belts, and other paraphernalia were wielded by the male. “Wait until your father gets home!” warned the unconditionally loving mother. But even if father eschews beatings, there is much evidence that parental quarreling in front of the children is also traumatic. At every stage in development, we search for safety and family division can be terrifying.

What might be the consequences of spanking and whipping? Over-identification with “authority” at the least. Any form of social protest will be viewed as illegitimate and dangerous to the adult veteran of harsh childhood discipline. Adult sexuality is likely to be sadomasochistic in practice.

Catting around for him, but not for her. I need not belabor the double standard.

Divorce. No-fault divorces, easy to get, may result in the high rate of failed marriages and traumatized children. Romantic love may fade as pre-marital idealizations are shattered by the boredom of everyday life, despite television commercials to the contrary. Community property states are deterrents, so pre-nuptial agreements are demanded before assuming the risk of dividing property half and half. [Update: some readers took this to mean that I am against all divorces, but recent research suggests that single mothers are not to blame for delinquent children; that it depends on the skills of the single parent whether or not children are raised without trauma (look up Rebecca Ryan’s research at Georgetown U.)]

Need I go on? The irony is that authoritarian families (located in either Left, Right, or middle) engender revolt in the children, especially after puberty as the peer group more and more takes over in the inculcation of “values.” Conservatives do what they can to ignore this platitude, but no study in child development will deny its validity. (For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2014/08/14/understanding-obamas-ongoing-appeal/.)

thrash

 

September 20, 2014

“Taking responsibility” for ourselves and society

free_will-net_This blog is about personal responsibility and how that demand affects the writing of both personal histories and world historical events, especially catastrophic ones that cause mass death.

Personal responsibility/free will: I have written before about the ambiguities of assigning praise and blame for our life choices. When Melville did it in his under-read novel that followed Moby-Dick, Pierre, or the Ambiguities,  his mother thought he was crazy and called in Oliver Wendell Holmes (author of the snake-infested book Elsie Venner) to evaluate his mental health, perhaps to institutionalize him. Yet on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are told to take an individual (not collective) inventory of those whom we have harmed, to change our conduct, and to make restitution to the damaged victim of our presumed malice or carelessness. (On Melville and free will see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

If only it were that easy to determine cause and effect. My baby may be screaming and driving me to distraction, but is her wailing an inherited feature of her temperament, or is she responding to negligent or stupid parenting choices, possibly picked up from my own parents?

Social responsibility. I have been reading books by historian Michael Burleigh, who seems quite Catholic to me in his leaning toward a late 19th century version of social democracy (see Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum 1891), and Burleigh’s rejection of the liberal theory of “totalitarianism” that equates Nazism and communism, i.e., Nazism is bad because of its divisive racial theories, while the Soviet Union attacked the materialist, modernizing bourgeoisie; at least the Reds were not wigged out with nationalism and differing sets of rules for hedgehogs and foxes. Or perhaps Burleigh dislikes the notion of totalitarianism because it implies total control and hence threatens his notion of free will and personal responsibility, without considering the details of Soviets versus Nazis. (The latter seems more likely, as he uses and abandons the term “totalitarian” depending on his outrage.)

Burleigh’s co-authored book on the Nazi “racial state” (with Wolfgang Wipperman) makes the point that Hitler’s welfare measures were directed solely at biologically fit, sports loving Aryans and depended on a racial hierarchy that demeaned Jews, feminists, Slavs, gypsies, “asocials”, and homosexuals; i.e., he is protecting the welfare statism of social democrats and their much vaunted “tolerance” of “difference.”

socialresponsibility

As an historian of the Third Reich, Burleigh has emphasized individual acts of resistance to Hitler’s policies, thus linking him to those believers in free will and social responsibility. BUT this traps us in the double bind so plainly delineated in “crazy” Melville’s novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) that mocked “virtuous expediency.” (On the latter see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

I would gladly atone for my lapses and flaws; would that I knew what they are, without the inevitable muddle. “These free men are  not as free as they think” wrote Melville in his novel Mardi (1847).

doublebind

April 12, 2014

The Organization of American Historians taking sides

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dissenthouston[From Rick Shenkman’s report on day 2 of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2014:] The major event of the day was the late-afternoon plenary session devoted to “historians and their publics.”  The standout panel included Alan Kraut, Spencer Crew, Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, and filmmaker Shola Lynch.  Unfortunately, we can’t show you a video as one member of the panel objected to cameras.  So you’ll have to take our word for it that it was a great panel.  Wilentz, typically combative, said that historians should use their authority to police the public square.  When pundits and politicians (Glen Beck, they’re talking about you) make stuff up about history, they should be called out.  Lepore said when she tried to do that very thing in her book on the Tea Party historians wondered why on earth she was bothering. 

Wilentz got off a great line.  Historians, he said, “want to make the alien seem more familiar and the familiar seem more alien.”  That was something all the panelists seemed to agree with.

– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155258#sthash.wSDxdAJH.dpuf]

[My stunned comment:] This is an astonishing statement to emanate from an academic conference. Read it closely. No longer is US history to be a search for more accurate knowledge about the past, but one of its leading lights, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz recommends [the alienation-effect made famous by Bertolt Brecht?]. Even worse, Rick Shenkman, former chief editor of History News Network, agreeing with Wilentz, sees historians as an arm of the state, policing “the public square”—presumably filled with bothersome and  unteachable Tea Party hoi polloi.

These sentiments are what passes for academic freedom and free speech today. “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is [not] us.”

dissent

No conservative call for anticommunist or anti-progressive historians will remedy the sorry state of academe. Rather, what is needed is an injection of courage and especially the re-examination of the liberal assumptions of yesteryear.

Ralph Bunche complained bitterly of those upper-class white liberal foundations that funded only those projects that increased communications between warring groups, such as white and black. Such tactics offended him because he saw structural flaws in American society that would not disintegrate because whites and blacks played nicely together, eschewing [hate speech].

We should be so lucky now. The polarization is so complete and hardened that certified teachers of the young see themselves as guardians of public order, ONLY. (In the past, their impetus toward political and social “stability” was rarely stated with such startling candor. If the rabble was rioting, you bought them off or co-opted them]

But more, though self-satisfied in their allegiance to that side that works toward “social justice” Wilentz’s Brechtian moment suggests a tactical distancing from complacency with respect to received knowledge, that is belied by the opinion that historians should be the thought police.

It is back: the same old liberal double bind that I complain about endlessly here: There is no conflict between Truth (found out by poring through archives and distancing oneself from inherited biases–i.e., making the familiar seem alien, making the invisible visible) and Order.

These social democrats and leftists may hold the commanding heights of academe, but their opposition holds the mantle of free speech, which I implore them, as the [unruly] public, neither to abuse, nor to take for granted. Our betters have spoken and now it is up to us to uphold reasoned dissent and the rule of law. [Update: 5-7-14: a conservative scholar has taken issue with my thesis here; says that OAH is a private organization and has the right to these sentiments, which he does not associate with policing, but rather with inspection, and that my blog would deny similar rights to conservative academics. I stand by my reading of “policing”, but hope that cultural pluralism is alive and well, as much as this conservative scholar believes to be case, as opposed to leftish academics functioning as an arm of the State while dominating higher education.]

dissentlaws

 

March 20, 2014

Role models, Talcott Parsons, and Structural Functionalism

Tinguely construction

Tinguely construction

The persistent theme of this website is to decode the propaganda of all political factions, tracing their histories back to the invention of the printing press, when ordinary people first became at least partly independent of “traditional” hierarchies. So began the modern world in my lexicon, where anything can happen in relations with “authority” and new strategies for “order” were invented by threatened elites.

Reading comprehension (my strongest suit) became my preoccupation, for language, music, and visual symbols are powerful forces that may either aid emancipation from illegitimate authority, or may fasten “ordinary people” to bad “role models” as they are called today.

The phrase “role model” is constantly trotted out as THE solution to upward mobility for “victims” of capitalism and the modern world in general. The “leaders” we encounter are held to mold our characters and desires: parents, teachers, entertainers, artists, the media, public intellectuals. These figures may be forces for positive growth as unique individuals, capable of seeing through confidence men, or, as now-and-then rebels/protesters, they may relieve the negative aspects of “tradition,” allowing us to blow off steam—a process that leaves oppressive elites undamaged.

Or these designated role models may be so ambiguous as to be indecipherable, even as they appeal to our needs for safety and sense of belonging to what is called either “family” or “community.” It is my view that multiculturalism is one pervasive elite strategy that appears to “include” everyone in the “international community”, but in practice, divides groups from one another. Enter cultural anthropology and its spin-off: “interdisciplinary cultural studies” that avoid “economic determinism” like the plague.

For economic factors are too central to understanding the material world we live in, and too close to science, especially to the empiricism that strengthens “ordinary people.” They also buttress the claims of classical liberals (the Founders and framers of the US Constitution); try to read the Federalist papers without understanding the economic disaster of the Articles of Confederation, or without understanding the liberating conception of equality under the law—and the laws are at bottom about economic factors and their interpretation.

One reason I mention the moderate men so frequently is not out of antagonism toward moderation as such, but because “moderate conservatives” (the progressives) changed their spots with particular effectiveness at the end of the Red Decade (the 1930s), in order to lure “ordinary people” away from either communism or “laissez-faire capitalism” as it was derisively called by its elite antagonists. (FDR, a conservative reformer, called his opponents “economic royalists,” all the while courting allies such as Harvard social psychologist Dr. Henry A. Murray, whose notes on Melville’s White-Jacket insisted that ordinary people were not “trained to rule.”)

Central to that project of counter-Enlightenment were the fields of social psychology, social relations, and sociology. No longer would professionals in these fields follow the procedures of science (either “pure” or “applied”), following material evidence to its logical conclusions, but now, echoing British Tories and Whigs, their aims were “social cohesion” and “political stability”—sometimes called the Third Way.  If this meant abandoning the authority of (unreliably changeable) science, so be it. After all, materialist procedures buttressed the arguments of the Enlightenment (see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.) Here are some of Parsons’s other achievements: 1. The declaration that free speech should be tolerated solely in a psychiatrist’s office; 2. An essay in a volume on antisemitism that described the Jewish God as domineering and genocidal; and 3. The blaming of native Nazism on “romantic puritans”. These claims were not hidden away in private communications or notes, but published in 1942, where I found them, with my eyebrows raised to my hairline.

Indeed, the great achievement of progressive sociology (as exemplified by Parsons and other authoritarian “liberals”) was to place the academic reader in a double bind: society was ideally a self-contained smoothly functioning machine, similar to that of the plant world. But social bonds were mystical, not materialist as the puritan romantics would have it.

Enter the role of language: “communities” substituted for identity of material interests, let alone the rule of law.  “Role models” became a useful form of identity formation, stopping moves toward individual judgment, for role models originated within “the system”—hyper-“individualists” must be outside agitators, troublemakers too reliant on their sense impressions and readings of key texts.

Indeed, the Parsons cohort had elaborate plans to enhance “national morale” that effectively identified gritty individuals before they ascended to positions of power. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ followed by https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/. These are excerpts from my book on the Melville Revival and are unknown or off limits to most researchers.)

Is it any wonder that artists have resisted the process by which they were invited to enter the machine world of the structural functionalists and their allies in the progressive movement, even as they, like Jean Tinguely, proclaimed the superior “social” qualities of the “self-sufficient” world of the artist? http://www.moma.org/pdfs/docs/press_archives/4149/releases/MOMA_1968_July-December_0081.pdf?2010. Would they have been exhibited under a different banner?

Tinguely2

March 19, 2014

Thomas Carlyle, German Romanticism, and the double bind of modernity

thomascarlyle [Thomas Carlyle’s idea of politically correct sublimity:]”…In Goethe’s mind, the first aspect that strikes us is its calmness, then its beauty; a deeper inspection reveals to us its vastness and unmeasured strength.  This man rules and is not ruled.  The stern and fiery energies of a most passionate soul lie silent in the centre of his being; a trembling sensibility has been inured to stand, without flinching or murmur, the sharpest trials.  Nothing outward, nothing inward, shall agitate or control him.  The brightest and most capricious fancy, the most piercing and inquisitive intellect, the wildest and deepest imagination; the highest thrills of joy, the bitterest pangs of sorrow: all these are his, he is not theirs.  While he moves every heart from its steadfastness, his own is firm and still: the words that search into the inmost recesses of our nature, he pronounces with a tone of coldness and equanimity; in the deepest pathos, he weeps not, or his tears are like water trickling from a rock of adamant.  He is king of himself and his world; nor does he rule it like a vulgar great man, like a Napoleon or Charles II, by the mere brute exertion of his will, grounded on no principle, or on a false one: his faculties and feelings are not fettered or prostrated under the iron sway of Passion, but led and guided in kindly union under the mild sway of Reason; as the fierce primeval elements of Nature were stilled at the coming of Light, and bound together, under its soft vesture, into a glorious and beneficent Creation.

[Carlyle, continued:] This is the true Rest of man; no stunted unbelieving callousness, no reckless surrender to blind Force, no opiate delusion; but the harmonious adjustment of Necessity and Accident, of what is changeable and what is unchangeable in our destiny; the calm supremacy of the spirit over its circumstances; the dim aim of every human soul, the full attainment of only a chosen few….[German Romance, Vol. IV, 17-18].

[Clare:] Historicizing the double-bind.  </ Since the inception of modernity (especially after the seventeenth century), conservative “liberal” institutions have placed their inhabitants in double-binds, transmitting libertarian ideals while simultaneously (and vaguely) delimiting the institutional transformation that would make these ideals fully realizable.  Treasured liberal virtues of free thought and tolerance of intellectual difference need to be shored up and reinforced by institutions that boldly imagine structures capable of systematically advancing and protecting autonomy; not only emancipation from the burden of the antidemocratic past, but informed participation in collective decision-making.  As moderns of course, we are supposed to be willing to dissolve conventional categories to follow the dynamics of change; we allow our minds freely to speculate and experiment, no matter who may be offended.

As social critics, we supposedly bring to the humanities and social sciences the same attention to minute empirical detail that a biochemist applies to the study of molecular structure.  Although every serious artist studies the world with the concentration of scientists and puts out, similarly darting habits of mind will be absent from academics who study each other for career cues then lapse into strategic silences.  Inattention to psychological nuance in primary source materials yields the field to practitioners of psychological warfare and other tireless propagandists who, like Thomas Carlyle, while apparently affirming the values of the Reformation, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, have sought to undo the democratic momentum of the scientific revolution, attacking the self-confidence of newly empowered groups (the increasingly literate lower orders of the bourgeois democracies) with cautionary tales that stigmatize the questing, critical (Lockean) intellect that exposes “the ill designs of the rulers” as sources of social catastrophe.

thomascarlyle2

The pseudo-moderate men make no sense: Carlyle, in one breath, denounces “the reckless surrender to blind force”; in almost the next he praises “the harmonious adjustment of Necessity and Accident.”  The “will,” we have already learned, is a “mere brute exertion,” ruled by “Passion,” unless led by “mild Reason”–madly defined as that “Rest” discerning what “is changeable and what is unchangeable in our destiny” as if the formulation of correct social policy (an intervention) is not only obvious to the quieted mind but not canceled by “destiny.”

In his sketch of Goethe, Carlyle has given us a rectified Wandering Jew recognizable now as a conservative psychoanalyst/academic, a “scientific” harmonizer at once promoting “the temper of a third party” (today called “the observing ego”) and the stoic adjustment to social forces that may be incomprehensible and certainly are not of his making.  History is marshaled to underline the inevitability of human weakness; coolness and kindness are attained when he objectively understands the power of the past “in the formation of his character and mode of thought.”  Here is the proof of superior self-control, a quality glaringly absent in the weeping, willful, defiant lower orders: masochism builds character.

Germanromanticmorbid

I want to suggest why, even in the most exhaustive historical treatments of the Third Reich, the psychological aspects of “the National Socialist past” are the least developed and understood.[1]  We should look to the repressive character of academic politics since the late 1930s, intensified, but not initiated by “the Cold War.”  No societies, even those with robust Left intelligentsias, have formulated satisfactory explanations for popular support of authoritarian regimes and genocidal practices in this century.

The deficiencies of academe today may be partly traced to the eerie quiet that followed World War II regarding the nature of fascism, a richly controversial subject in the relatively wide-open 1930s.  One might think that “the Holocaust” would have provoked tireless efforts to decode the symbols and narratives that undermine democratic morale.  Instead we have been served a very few crude explanations, each interesting and perhaps useful, but too narrow and unempathic fully to explain Hitler’s mass appeal, even in the working class.[2]  Why do we not demand the teaching of competing systematic accounts of Nazi ideology, scrutinizing those features also found in the discourse and practice of  Progressive reform, or to Nazism’s corporatist precursors in Wilhelmine Germany(Bismarck!) and other hierarchical societies, Western and non-Western alike?

In my view, the reticences reflect the prestige of “holistic””structural-functionalism,”[3] the victorious counter-Enlightenment that purged the classical liberals, tending to legitimate only different varieties of conservatives and reactionaries: a coalition of “centrist” or “moderate” corporatist liberals, and “left-wing” romantic anticapitalists, defining themselves against “right-wing” or “fascist” laissez-faire conservatives.  Rallying its forces in the late 1930s, the new “non-élitist” cultural anthropology/”new historicism” tended to proscribe the critical tool of empiricism, employing an ostensibly more advanced, but arguably pseudo-modern, protofascist concept of “the individual-in-society” pursuing “equilibrium,” not enlightenment.[4]

Structural functionalists following Talcott Parsons have co-opted the terms and methods of science to mystify social structures and functions, substituting their “interdisciplinary” social science for the soul-less “economic determinism” ushered in by the Individualists: materialists such as Locke, Mandeville, and Smith who fixated upon relations between men and things, displacing the prior preoccupation with relations between men and men in that healthier world where economics and morality were fused.[5]  Hence all of American intellectual history could be organized around the “tension” between “individual and community,” suggesting that self-control, curbing our evil propensities, was the key to social cohesion, and this was a quality that rulers had or could display as they faced down and soothed screaming mobs and other self-interested parties.  (See Boas above and compare to Henry A. Murray’s “personology.”)  This idealist formulation dominates the profession of history today; current guides to upwardly-mobile youth include “pragmatists” William James, John Dewey and Richard Rorty.

Germanromantic2

NOTES


                [1] See Tim Mason, “Open Questions on Nazism,” People’s History and Socialist Theory, ed. Raphael Samuel (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981): 205-210.  Cf. Wolfgang Benz, “Warding Off The Past,” Hitler, The Holocaust, and the Historians’ Debate, ed. Peter Baldwin (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990): 198.  Benz wants the social psychological processes more fully explored, but does not acknowledge that social psychology was invented by antidemocratic social theorists.  I see “psychology” as coterminous with the recuperation of an accurate personal and social history/critical sociology, all institutional sources of coercion and duplicity in place.

                [2] Many conservative historians argue that fascism was rooted in the period between the wars and cannot be theorized.  But liberals and Marxists disagree.  For example, Marxists argue that fascism is always present in crisis-ridden late capitalism, its productive relations and capitalist forms in increasing irreconcilable conflict appearing as monopoly capitalism or “social democracy”; or, fascism is a response to capitalist crises, but crucially is a mobilization of the ruined middle-class that moves both against big capital and the revolutionary workers; or capitalism will produce cyclical downturns, but not necessarily crises (which are caused by bungling leaders and bad political decisions which then allowed the rise of crazy Hitler, a unique event); or Nazism was the product of crazy, cynical Hitler and his deluded German followers (the inheritors of German Romanticism lacking a developed pluralistic bourgeoisie, unlike Mussolini); or Hitler could not have existed without Stalin.  I prefer the approach of the German historian Fritz Fischer in Germany’s Aims in the First World War (Norton, 1967) which stresses the similarity in objectives between the German imperialism of the Wilhelmine and Nazi periods; hence the weight given to Hitler’s demonic personality and its aberrant hold over the duped masses is diminished by crucial archival evidence (retrieved by Fischer and unavailable until after the second world war) demonstrating that the German military and industrial élite stage-managed the diplomacy leading to the outbreak of hostilities in World War I to make Germany appear as innocent victim of the Entente powers.

There is an important debate between “intentionalists” and “functionalists” re the dynamics of the Final Solution; however the psychoanalytic model, ostensibly opposed to the instrumentalism of the functionalists is not an alternative.  Psychoanalytic theories of Nazi antisemitism are biologized and mirror the reform-or-ruin adjurations of post-French Revolution conservatives (and before that all antidemocratic “classical” theorists): overly repressive (aristocrats, fathers, superegos) should be reformed to prevent catastrophic revolts from below (the bloody, tyrannical People, Id merged with seductive Mothers); this may produce contradictions in the thought of its leading historians.  Saul Friedländer argues simultaneously that Germans in general were unenthusiastic about Jewish extermination during the late 1930s-early 1940s and that the same Germans liberalized family relations in succeeding generations to give us hope.  For a classic statement of the Stalinist 1930s view of fascism as capitalism in decay, see Joseph Freeman, “The Meaning of Fascism,” (favorable review of R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution), New Masses, 10/2/34, 34-36.  For a non-Marxist account of Hitler’s rise to power, then Third Reich business policies see David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 to the present (Cambridge U. P., 1969): 359-419.

For the second position (that “late capitalism”is not necessarily fascist), see Stephen Eric Bronner, Moments of Decision (N.Y.: Routledge, 1992).  For historiographical essays, see Peter Loewenberg, “Psychohistorical Perspectives on Modern German History,” Journal of Modern History 47 (1975): 229-279.  Also, Pierre Ayçoberry, The Nazi Question (Pantheon, 1981): Chapter 10 (for Freudian interpretations); Saul Friedländer, “From Anti-Semitism to Extermination: A Historiographical Study of Nazi Policies Toward The Jews and an Essay in Interpretation,” Yad Vashem Studies 16 (1984): 1-50.

The other (related) set of debates concerns whether or not fascism (or Nazism, which is not necessarily “fascist” because of the centrality of antisemitism to its ideology) is rooted and sui generis, or in any way comparable to tendencies in the “democratic” West, and most sensitively, whether or not “the Holocaust” can be compared with other forms of group violence.  See Tim Mason, “Intention and Explanation: A Current Controversy about the Interpretation of National Socialism,” The Führer State: Myth and Reality, ed. Gerhard Hirschfeld and Lothar Kettenacker (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1981): 23-40; also Peter Baldwin, “Introduction,” Reworking The Past (Beacon, 1990) for a review of these issues insofar as they impact on “the historian’s debate” (Nolte vs. Habermas, et al, 1988 and after) regarding continuity and rupture in German history.  Conservatives seem to have set the agenda for postwar history of Germany, Nazis, and antisemitism; see Forever In The Shadow of Hitler? The Dispute About The Germans’ Understanding of History, trans. Knowlton and Cates (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1994): All these eminent scholars use the terms of enlightenment to “unmask” each other; no one reports the contours of Hitler’s antisemitism as it is revealed in the texts quoted in my essay, perhaps because their organicist assumptions would become apparent.

Deborah Lipstadt takes a similar line in Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (N.Y.: Free Press, 1993).  Though ostensibly defending the rationalism of the Enlightenment, Lipstadt discards any attempt at comparative analyses of twentieth-century genocides as right-wing relativism akin to Holocaust denying.  On Pol Pot and the sorely tried Khmer Rouge: “…what they did was quite different from the Nazis’ annihilation of the Jews, which was ‘a gratuitous act carried out by a prosperous, advanced, industrial nation at the height of its power’“ (212).  Nor does she correctly report a key point in Nazi propaganda and in their precursors: Referring to the conspiracy theory of the Illuminati, she claims “Those who unearthed this conspiracy were able to impose a logical coherence on the seeming irrational nature of their charges–bankers aiding communists–by arguing that the bankers anticipated that the communists would create a world government that they would then appropriate and control” (37).  This is the only time the book deals with the seemingly irrational claim that Jews were both capitalists and communists.  But it was Hitler’s contention that all Jews were materialists destroying normal racial harmony, and that the Bolsheviks were not communists but the secret representives of finance capital.  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion claimed that Jewish communists would swindle the masses into overthrowing their nationalist masters, then would turn the masses over to the bankers who would fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham and the Chosen People; i.e., the switch is missing from Lipstadt’s account.

                [3] See Barbara Heyl, “The Harvard “Pareto” Circle,”Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 4 (1968): 316-334.  Talcott Parsons changed his earlier (less organicist?) views perhaps as a result of the Pareto seminars organized by the charismatic physiologist Lawrence Henderson, an admirer of Mussolini, in the early 1930s; the Paretans were seen as fascists by their liberal opponents at Harvard.  Participants included Crane Brinton, Henry A. Murray, Clyde Kluckhohn, Joseph Schumpeter, Bernard De Voto, and Robert Merton  However, after sketching a horrifying picture of fascist social theory at Harvard the author concludes that we are finished with such ideas, thanks to the alliance with the Soviet Union during World War II.  Merton is a key figure in the history of science as presently constituted, relativistically emphasizing the shaping power of institutions against 19th century optimism and claims for science’s relative autonomy.  See Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science; The Merton Thesis, edited with Introduction by I. Bernard Cohen (Rutgers U.P., 1990): 1-111, for a glowing anticommunist account of Merton’s eye-opening salutary effect on a hitherto vaguely Marxist (hence, narrow, dogmatic, utopian) British-dominated discipline: “[Mentioning earlier works of the 1930s and 40s on science and society:] It is notable, however, that these works were all produced by socially-minded scientists and were not informed by considerations of professional sociologists [i.e., Durkheim], but exhibited instead a liberal or vague Marxism.  In fact [!] such writings–almost exclusively by British men of science–tended to be more concerned with the potentialities of science as a major molding force of a better society than with an analysis of the possible effects or influences of society on the course of science and its stages of development” (4-5).

                [4] See Carolyn F. Ware, The Cultural Approach to History, ed. for the American Historical Association (N.Y.: Columbia U.P., 1940): 3-16, also Introductory Note.  This source was recommended by Leo Marx at the American Studies Association meeting, November 1990, to demonstrate the links between his generation of scholars and the New Left: they were all pluralists, opposed to hegemony and élitism.  The élitism under assault by Progressives was “scientific history” which led the investigator into uncharted waters.  The “new social history” is drawn from this “centrist” and “bottoms up” ideological tendency.  See also the first issue of Commentary, 1945, which aligned itself with the Progressive movement.

                [5] E.g., Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx:The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology (University of Chicago Press, 1977).  This subtly antisemitic and overtly anti-materialist specimen of cultural anthropology follows Sombart, Weber, and Parsons; it was based on lectures delivered at Princeton in 1973.

January 17, 2014

A final synthesis explaining Hitler’s antisemitism

doublebind3[Clare:] How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was ostensibly stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers.[1]  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.) Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist?  That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution.  Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of what seemed to be capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.  Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase.  Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

doublebind2signs

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual.  However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative!  As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness.  But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” [2] gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and equality under the law, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended. Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939).  Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to social idealism of the enlightened bourgeoisie.  All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man. [3]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:]  The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution.  Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction.  As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall.  Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!”  To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus.  For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s dog at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws.  The fly came close to him.  He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized.  His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression.  Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated.  I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him.  He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:]  A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe.  They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us.  In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations.  When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs.  As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing.  And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”

Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money.  One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth.  A big city is very ungrateful.  Its inhabitants are like children.  They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility.  A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them.  There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked.  I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

[Clare:] Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence.  It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities.  It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with some Protestant sects, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him.  That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance.  And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous primarily  to their class.  I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable.  Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions.[4]  After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority.  The defining attribute of the “moderate” Enlightenment (as Jonathan Israel calls it), of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character.  To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions.  The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, democratic pluralism, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration.  In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Werner Sombart:] We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about.  Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood.  But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends. [5]

[Clare:]   By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide.  In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good. (On “corporatist liberalism” see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/.)

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

NOTES.


[1] Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.

[2] The passages I have quoted elsewhere from Geoffrey Gorer on de Sade suggest that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201.

  [3] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12.

   [4] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

   [5] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a rationalist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation.

October 27, 2012

Melville, Orwell, Doublethink

 This is my second major Orwell blog: see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/ for the first one.

During my recent forays into the changing interpretations of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949), I was surprised to learn that Orwell had read passages from Herman Melville’s White-Jacket (1850) while broadcasting on the BBC during the early years of WW2. Specifically, he excerpted a gory description of a naval doctor performing an unnecessary and fatal amputation on a wounded U.S. sailor. Elsewhere in White-Jacket, HM had sharply and vividly written about “flogging through the fleet,” a practice that he abhorred, possibly because he had been caned as a child by his own father. Indeed, Roy Porter sent me an ad from a British newspaper offering White-Jacket as sadomasochistic porn. (On the dynamics of sadomasochism see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/21/managerial-psychiatry-jung-murray-and-sadomasochism-2/.)

Though at least one Orwell biographer (Jeffrey Meyers) has emphasized GO’s masochism, I have not found a source yet that relates where the conception of Doublethink originated. Did Orwell know about “cognitive dissonance” from experience, or reading, or had he read Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), where Melville not only describes his mother’s frequent mixed messages, but invents “Plinlimmon’s Pamphlet” that praises “virtuous expediency” as the best morality attainable on this deceptive earth. My book on the Melville Revival (Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival)  is nearly entirely devoted to this theme of the double bind/cognitive dissonance/virtuous expediency, all of which signify what Orwell chose to call Doublethink.

Here are the double binds that I suggest were made apparent in Melville’s novels, and then may have driven his academic revivers in the 20th century into all manner of psychogenic symptoms and illnesses. (It is my contention that Melville readers who wished to advance in academe had to suppress the evidence before them in order to please the reigning ideology in the universities that employed them, so many derided Melville/Ahab as crazy, while defending Plinlimmon’s sensible philosophy, that they attributed to their “moderate” Melville/Ishmael .) But first take Doublethink in Pierre.

  1. There is no conflict between “truth” and Order. Mary Glendinning, Pierre’s mother in the novel, wants her son “just emerging from his teens” to grow into a manly individual, but not such an individual that he disobeys her choice  in choosing his future wife, who will also be perfectly obedient to her wishes.
  2. Pierre is expected to revere his dear perfect (Christian) father, but he must not be so good a Christian as to rescue from near-beggary his “natural” half-sister Isabel.
  3. Pierre reads the double bind, jilts his mother-chosen fiancée, runs off with Isabel, and mother dies of insanity. This book will not end well. (See Pierre’s scolding mother in this hard to find set of illustrations by Maurice Sendak, for a truncated edition of Pierre. https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/pierre3.jpg.)

In the much quoted Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick, the abolitionist preacher speaks of snatching the truth even if it lies hidden under the skirts of judges and Senators. It is unclear here whether “truth” signifies the truth of Christ, or of the truth as defined by lawyers (or today, scientists). But it is a fact that during Captain Ahab’s speech on “the quarter-deck”, he declares that “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Since Ahab is widely described as a blasphemer, I suspect that it is empirical truth that the relatively powerless see, and which is denied by their superiors, that Melville meant to call out. Which links him now to Orwell’s famous “dystopia.”

For Winston Smith works in “the Ministry of Truth” where he rewrites history to suit the propaganda requirements of Big Brother and the Inner Party. Recall Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), where he denounces journalists for taking the Soviet line that all anarchists and Trotskyists were in league with Franco’s fascists. John Dos Passos, in Century’s Ebb, remembered Orwell as an individualist striking out at those man-made institutions that forced him to lie for the sake of Order. Compare Dos’s elevation of Orwell as truth-seeker to the trendier line that Orwell, like Melville, was a premature anti-imperialist, and for that alone we honor his life and work.

[Added 11-10-12 Dos quote: )“If one thinks of the artist as…an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped the patron and had not yet been captured by the bureaucrat…. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and to the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilisation perishes. I have not yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.” (George Orwell, in TRIBUNE, 1944). Quoted by Arthur M. Eckstein, “George Orwell’s Second Thoughts on Capitalism,” The Revised Orwell, ed. Jonathan Rose (Michigan State UP, 1992), p.204.

Another double bind that is especially relevant today:  There is no conflict between national identity and international identity. Hence, the United Nations is our best bet to avoid wars of the catastrophic magnitude of the world wars of the 20th century, or to halt “voter suppression” on November 6, 2012. Such are the psychic requirements of political correctness, the term itself an example of Doublethink, for facts (correctness) are non-partisan. Melville’s takedown of “virtuous expediency” is more to the point.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/. For “political correctness” as decorum, an idea passed out by liberal elites, see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/, especially the suggestion by Christopher Edley, whose career has been remarkable.

February 20, 2011

Are we still fighting the Civil War?

[Added 2-26-2011: I have finished reading David Blight’s book, quoted below, and now have a better idea of the obsessions of Blight and his academic cohort at Yale and Harvard. They are hostile to modernity, for that signifies the rule of capital, machines, and materialism. The white working class is nailed as part of the Herrenvolk democracy that they decry. So Charles Sumner, notwithstanding his reputation as a great man and friend among 19th century blacks, has to go, for he was a modernizer. Blight is clearly a Populist sympathizer and entirely “anti-imperialist,” and though not a Marxist, his version of U.S. history is identical with that of Soviet critics of the U.S, and he may be viewed, overall, as a cleaned-up Reverend Wright.  So although Blight is fiercely critical of the South, his hostility to modernization ironically aligns him with Southern organic conservatives similarly opposed to markets and the modern world. The South did win the Civil War, ideologically speaking. ]

Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg

This blog is about flawed historical analogies and the appropriation of the Civil War for partisan ends. Writing in Pajamas Media, a non-historian Rand Simberg rejected the usual analogies being tossed about in the media between the uproar in Wisconsin and Egypt or the Spanish Civil War, but chose Gettysburg, forcefully making the point that the unionized state workers were more correctly seen as slaveholders with the citizenry of Wisconsin in a position analogous to those of slaves.  I for one found this comparison to be not just distasteful but disturbing, as are many other analogies that are politically motivated, and often used as a short cut to analytic understanding of a specific conflict. Indeed I wrote about another distasteful analogy in a recent blog: https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/.

When I was considering my doctoral dissertation, I had to defend the idea of comparing the 19th century family of Herman Melville with the situation of academics in the humanities writing after 1919.  Some members of my committee insisted that I had to choose, but I held fast to my interest in both the humanities curriculum as it had been revised between the 20th century wars, and in the ways in which Herman Melville coped with his own family—a family more conservative in most ways than he was, given his life experience as a common sailor and then a form-challenging romantic artist. So I looked around and found that some sociologists considered such violations of strict historicism (the incomparability of individual historical events with one another; i.e., history never repeats itself) to be permissible in the case of a “functional group.” With respect to Melville’s family group, if the purpose of the family was socialization into a particular ideology, with similar relations of the “children” to parental authority, and if this socialization could be shown to be arguably identical with that of academics in elite universities during the decisive phase of the Melville “revival”, then I could be on solid ground. In both cases, archival research strongly indicated that cognitive dissonance abounded, or to put it my way, both institutions inflicted double binds on their members: There could be no conflict between Truth and Order. Melville faced this contradiction head-on in his fiction, while his revivers suppressed it, turned him into a moderate man like themselves,  and got sick or extremely depressed while studying and writing about Melville.

In the blog linked above, I objected to the notion that Americans should “work through” their treatment of black slavery and their promotion of the slave trade just as the Germans had been urged to “work through” the Nazi past, specifically the Holocaust.* I queried a former professor of mine about the propriety of the comparison, and in his answer he ended a long exposition comparing the brutalities of the persecution of the Jews and the slave trade and slavery with the adjuration that the effects of slavery were still with us, implying that the Holocaust and antisemitism were something of a dead letter—a problem already solved.  If that was his implication, I cannot agree.

I got a better understanding of the latter’s mind-set when reading a fascinating cultural history of how the Civil War was memorialized through 1865-1913. The book is Yale Professor David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Johns Hopkins UP, 2001). In this passage, Blight summarizes the situation that apparently motivates an entire generation of activist historians who cut their teeth during and after the civil rights movements of the mid-1950s onward, and who were inspired by the massive contributions of my Cornell professor. Referring to a number of Congressional hearings looking into activities of the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in March 1871, Blight wrote:

“These public hearings are a unique testament of how law and order collapsed in many areas of the South, and to the shuddering brutality of many white Southerners toward blacks and many whites judged to be complicitous with the Yankee conqueror. They are America’s first public record where ordinary freedmen, public officials, poor white farmers, Klansmen, and former Confederate generals came before federal officials and described, or evaded, what the war had wrought—a revolutionary society that attempted forms of racial equality without the means or ultimate will to enforce them against a counterrevolutionary political impulse determined to destroy the new order. The hearings were designed to produce prosecution and justice. Some justice was achieved, but the reconciliation that the country ultimately reached ironically emerged through avoidance and denunciation of the mountain of ugly truths recorded in those hearings.” (p.117)

An entire generation of cultural historians has not only corrected the record, but has taken unto itself a grand piece of the conscience of the nation insofar as it supports big government programs or black studies programs (with a black nationalist flavor) to instruct the unregenerate nation. Ironically, some of these same historians have tended to view Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, proponents of land reform to start the freedmen on the road to capitalist independence, as extremists, as too harsh or even paranoid in their critiques of the old South/the Slave Power/unrepentant rebels (see my conference paper, https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.)

In other words, their hearts are in the right place, but having been focused upon a piece of history that has been at least partly transcended since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and onward, they appear to me to remain invested in the cruelty of white people—a series of injustices that seems to them never to have been fully repaired, and which crowds out those antislavery Americans who rejected big government bureaucratic and collectivist remedies for a divided nation.  It remains to be seen whether this cohort will ever see school choice (as Joel Klein has advised) as a road to “social justice” for inner city schools.  Are our public schools everywhere, but especially in still backward cities and towns practicing a kind of bondage to ignorance, a bondage that can be compared to slavery? Now that is an analogy I can live with.

*In further reading by academics with similar mind sets, I see that I have missed the point: the persons I criticize here are anti-materialists, and write history through the prism of religion, and also epistemological idealism. They believe in “identity” politics, and through appropriate “working through” followed by reparations, believe that a more positive national identity can be achieved. But first, one must acknowledge the atrociousness of the past, repent, undergo a change of heart, and then redemption is possible. This kind of history writing, focusing on myth and symbols, is foreign to me as an epistemological materialist and advocate of secular modernity. Not surprisingly, their anticapitalist, anti-machine mentality, is as ferocious as any academic dare put down on paper.

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