The Clare Spark Blog

May 3, 2014

The Good Old Days

good-old-days-276x300[This is the second blog on Elie Kedourie: see https://clarespark.com/2014/04/09/disastrous-nationalisms-the-kedourie-version/, written before the second reading of his book.]
Usually I blog about subjects I understand well and can analyze with some clarity, but I admit to being at a loss to explain why arch-conservative intellectual historian and social theorist Elie Kedourie’s famous book Nationalism (1960) is considered to be a classic in the field of intellectual history. Nor can I explain why Blackwell Press (in the UK) brought out a fourth expanded edition (1993), for Blackwell is a publisher I associate with the Left: indeed they published Thomas Picketty’s Capital, which has lefties in a tizzy, calling Piketty the new Marx. “Everyone is talking about it.”

Kedourie’s book bears all the imprints of the reactionary: he blames the French Revolution for giving ordinary persons the notion that they could reject authority, even secede from or overturn despotic states; he loathes Romanticism as demonic; he prefers the catch as catch can “order” of the Middle Ages (and antiquity?) to modernity—even the “balance of power” is attributed to the sensible compromises that medieval dynasties/royal families were ostensibly prone to; he loathes John Locke’s empiricism, aligning himself with Kant’s radical subjectivism (anticipating postmodernist claims that “all knowledge is local”?); the invention of the printing press was a disaster for Order, as were the Industrial Revolution, machines in general, and the economic determinism they spawned; and the notion of the modern woman working outside of her traditional role is foreign to his mind-set. As for cities, they are home solely to anomie.

On the other hand, he attacks German philology and the notion of national character advanced by the Germans Herder and Fichte, leading, he says to Hitler’s deadly super-nationalism; he blames the settlement following the Great War for disturbing local communities and carving out artificial states that made no sense to either Central Europeans or to the Middle East. (I agree with this critique, and have traced cultural nationalism myself in numerous blogs on this website. But how odd is it that Kedourie uses the word “race” as if these races were real in the world, and not socially constructed: there goes his implicit critique of “multiculturalism”!)

For admirers of England and American constitutionalism, he blames neither the Reformation, the English Civil War, nor the American Revolution as contributing to the chaos he limns throughout his book.

It appears that democracy is his target, but not rule by a flexible hereditary elite. What leaves me bewildered is his affection for primitives on some pages (they comprise authentic communities and should not be disturbed by modernizers), while on other pages primitivism feeds into “nationalism” through the development of distinctive languages that embody popular “feeling”.

In the good old days that Kedourie admires, ordinary people went about their artisanal business and put up with whatever elites dished out: religion bound peasants to monarchs and the status quo (for more on the excellencies of this social bond, see https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/). I give up and am open to comments that explain how an apparent anti-statist can appeal to a distinctively left-wing publishing house–unless the hidden agenda is a defense of Islamic principles. The target of Kedourie’s wrath may be “Jewish nationalism” as embodied in “the Zionist state.” See http://zioncon.blogspot.com/2007/07/yoav-gelber-disease-of-post-zionism.html.

Unless, as Ralph Nader rejoices in his latest book, Left and Right have not only converged, but their marriage is part of a historic political realignment where statist leftism gets thrown out the window.
goodolddaysleft

April 9, 2014

Disastrous nationalisms: the Kedourie version

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 8:05 pm
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Elie Kedourie (1926-1992)

Elie Kedourie (1926-1992)

Here is the Wikipedia entry on Elie Kedourie’s famous book Nationalism, first published in 1960, and available online in pdf format: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elie_Kedourie.

I read it because it was cited by an author whom I am reviewing for an academic publication, Aiyaz Husaini, author of Mapping the End of Empire: American and British Strategic Visions in the Postwar Word (Harvard UP, 2014). Husaini (whose writing is cryptic) appears not to have understood Kedourie’s famous book, so in this blog, I will briefly lay out the conservative late professor Kedourie’s main message, as they bear some resemblance to my own work on the sources of multiculturalism, and more, are relevant to competing narratives regarding Hitler’s intellectual ancestors, a perennial theme on this website.

I have warned readers before about aristocratic interpretations of the genealogy of Nazism and the crypto-racism of multiculturalism. (On the legacy of German Romanticism see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.) For instance, the German aristocrat Friedrich Meinecke is cited favorably in Kedourie, but without laying out Meinecke’s hostility to the narrowly educated, “unspiritual” worker in technology, quoted here: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/. Compare Kedourie’s assessment on the German Romantics with that of Hannah Arendt in Origins of Totalitarianism (1950, 1958). The Leninist Arendt blames “mass culture” for the appeal of Nazism and minimizes the legacy of German Romantic cultural nationalism and “nationalism” in general, unlike Kedourie.

Picasso, 1921

Picasso, 1921

It is well to remind the reader that the rise of Hitler was explained early on in cultural terms by such as Peter Viereck and his reviewer Harvard professor Crane Brinton, an admirer of Nietzsche. Although Brinton’s review of Viereck (Saturday Review, 1941) states that German Romanticism is not the only cause of Hitler’s program, he did find Viereck “reasonable.” That is weird, because organic conservatives such as Kedourie, Brinton, and Viereck, are similarly irrationalists: social bonds are mystical, not rational; established, order-making rulers are legitimate. Kedourie, at the same time he denounced anti-imperialist tribal nationalisms, lamented the invention of the printing press, democracy (as opposed to the republic or traditional state, all balancing each other out), the French Revolution, Napoleon, economic determinism (entirely Marxist in Kedourie’s view), and the Enlightenment-French notion that persons could separate themselves from empires in the name of self-determination. For Kedourie, without religion and tradition, the newly industrialized world would degenerate into mobbish democracies, and racist states, and once more we would hear that “the age of chivalry is gone.”

I have written at length here about cultural pessimism, apocalyptic fantasies, and the culture wars. I could call Kedourie an aristocratic radical or a reactionary. Do we not owe more to our children than to indulge in the gloomy Tory fantasies that opposed the political reforms of the English Civil War and that promoted the idea of the responsible individual?

We have seen years and years of horror movies, unprecedented best sellers that celebrate magic, and real-life retreats into barbarism. Can these be partly explained by movies and television shows that frequently present future technological disasters reaffirming, sometimes subtly, the old top-down neoclassical world view that Kedourie presents as the alternative to demonic Romanticism run amuck?

Fuseli-demon

Or do I give too much weight to cultural, as opposed to political and economic factors, just like the anti-Romantic [i.e., neoclassical] conservatives I am criticizing here?

For Kedourie’s opinion that the problems of the Middle East are insoluble, see this mildly dissenting publication by Harvard University: https://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/2008/02/chasing_illusions_in_the_middle_east/.

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