YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 12, 2018

Ludwig von Mises’s Socialism

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von Mises SocialismI have some agreements, disagreements, and there are open questions regarding the renowned economist’s book denouncing the socialist movements of the nineteenth century and then, the Soviet revolution of 1917.

Agreements: 1.von Mises is a fan of science and Enlightenment. And yet, he does not denounce religion, but rather complains that “socialism” is a form of religion. But, like the 18th Century Enlighteners, he has standards, and affirms the meritocracy. (This separates him from populists.)

2. von Mises is appalled by the repressiveness of Big Government (socialism and communism).

Disagreements 1. Affirming supply and demand (the free market), von Mises favored open borders. This is an outmoded standard, taken up by liberals and globalists. von Mises’s standard made sense at the time he was writing this (in the early 20th century), but would he have agreed with the multiculturalists? Perhaps he would have, as he affirmed (somewhat?) the validity of racial and gender differences.

2. von Mises includes in one bag, social democrats (following FDR’s New Deal) and communists. I agree that Big Government/bureaucracy) is a bad thing, but have taken pains to distinguish liberals from communists (especially following the Popular Front Against Fascism (1935). Liberal anticommunism still prevails. Liberals of course co-opted some socialist demands, but distorted them, especially in their avid support of labor unions (also criticized by 1930s radicals).

3. The Enlighteners were empiricists, yet von Mises provides no facts to support his thesis that capitalist institutions do not exploit the workers.

Open question: Is Nazism to be grouped with Socialism? von Mises, using the standard of state control of prices and interest, said yes. Since he did not treat the cult of the Leader (or other cultural factors), I remain unconvinced.


July 18, 2016

Materialists v. organic conservatives

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Thinkstock digital image

Thinkstock digital image

The most common question I get from readers is “what do you mean by ‘organic conservative’ versus ‘materialism’? I tried to explain here and elsewhere (https://clarespark.com/2015/01/23/what-is-an-organic-conservative/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/08/what-is-a-materialist/.

These antitheses may be associated with some as “science” versus “religion” or Democrat versus Republican, but these terms are not necessarily opposites (e.g., “moderates” may be New Dealers/Big Government advocates).

For instance, a materialist may be someone who focuses on the reliability of our senses with implications for eventually finding objective truth.

Put simply, a materialist is not necessarily a revolutionary socialist, for “dialectical materialism” is a Hegelian mystical conception, not to be confused with the empiricism of John Locke. And materialists may be religious, in the sense that they do not await for realistic contact with the world only as a heavenly reward for good behavior in this life.

Whereas organic conservatives may found in the Red-Green movement, or, perhaps surprisingly, among ‘traditionalist’ Burkeans: they do similarly rely on mystical bonds in order to achieve social cohesion. In many cases, mystics are on the lam from the machine, finding solace in idealized Nature.


Materialists like this writer find social cohesion/social peace, if at all, among individuals who share the same interests. A historian must look at all irreconcilable conflicts within the individuals, groups and/or institutions under study, whether these exist among sibling rivals, parents and children, men and women, economic groups, or nationalities. Few of us live long enough to master a ‘holistic’ view of the past, while part of that quandary is owing to the secrecy of those who wield power over others.

Unresolved is the existence of “race” as an objective division. Frantz Fanon and Ashley Montagu continue to confront one other, with “diversity” intended to validate [socially constructed] “race.” Cultural nationalists are convinced that all histories, including warfare, can be explained in terms of race and exploitation, while other [organic conservatives], like supporters of the United Nations, embrace unity in diversity, once known as e pluribus unum. I prefer the physical anthropologist Montagu who agrees with my dissertation adviser, Alex Saxton, that while physical variations are obvious, mental characteristics vary from individual to individual. This does not sit well with the propaganda disseminated by both political parties.

Racism is real, but “race” is a social construction; if you are a proud materialist, put those commas back!

February 19, 2016

Is the word “liar” un-PC?

liar-woman-lyingNumerous pundits on the Right have been stigmatizing certain candidates for calling one another “liars.” I found this startling, for in the theater of politics “anything goes.”

I have been aghast at this turn of group criticism, for in my youth, I assumed that fact-checking would be a prime responsibility of citizen-journalists and the candidates too, but I was unaware then, that “the search for truth” was considered a fool’s errand, indeed, a form of “monomania.” I blame the bad reputation that rationalism and empiricism have earned in this long period of irrationalism and the elevation of “feeling” as “freedom” over critical thought; i.e., digging into the archives with appropriate skepticism and the resuscitation of relevant contexts. https://clarespark.com/2014/05/08/index-to-blogs-on-postmodernism-and-its-spawn/.

The reason that scholars are supposed to use footnotes when challenging older versions of history harkens back to the early phases of modernity, but “postmodernism” has made the use of footnotes a bad joke, for “inter-subjectivity” and the unreliability of all “texts” fits all too snugly into multiculturalism and its “perspectivism” in which “facts” are relegated to the realm of “group facts”—indecipherable to other races, though you have to dig a bit to find that out.

Or the curious reader might consider this: an alarming number of persons, world-wide, believe in the real existence of the Devil, the Great Liar, whose antithesis is the Truth conveyed by either the Gospel or by the deity “in a better place” than “this vale of tears”; i.e., the inevitable deceptions of our earthly existence.

Of course, “everybody” knows who the greatest liars are: women and Jews. No kidding. https://clarespark.com/2014/01/16/hitler-and-the-big-lie-corrected/

British professor Simon Schama addresses a seminar entitled 'Facing the Climate Crisis' at the St James's Palace Nobel Laureate's Symposium in London, on May 27, 2009. The Symposium convenes Nobel Laureates from a variety of disciplines and world experts in climate change. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry/WPA POOL/AFP (Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images)

SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images); found on Eddie Izzard’s AZL page

June 25, 2014

Penny Dreadful’s sinister significance

Frankensteinpenny-dreadfulIn the US, late 19th century dime novels were the precursors to early movies; while in the UK, their similarly cheap, sensational analogs were “penny dreadfuls” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_dreadful).

Surely working class males are not the target audience for the Showtime series Penny Dreadful that is winding up its first season this Sunday; otherwise how can we account for its deliriously positive reception in, say, The New York Times and Vanity Fair?


When I commented on the postmodern slant of this serialized horror thriller with pretensions to serious high art, one of my Facebook friends groaned. This blog explains why I think the fact of its existence and its considerable success is of more than passing interest. I had thought that horror movies with their vampires, zombies, and werewolves, were for adolescents with kinky tastes. But the successful writer for screen and theater, John Logan, author of the series, is no kid (born 1961), but as a graduate of Northwestern University, he may have been exposed to the techniques of postmodernism, along with a fine cast of actors who probably think that this is a high class production, appropriately critical of this entirely mechanized, overly rational and complacent world we supposedly inhabit. I sometimes think that the production is a postmodern emphasis on “acting” and the theatricality of everyday life, along with the postmodern/youthful preoccupation with “real or fake”–a question I have taken up before on this website. What ever its intentions, it surely plays up the irrational and could not be more emphatically counter-Enlightenment, and even anti-American, particularly “America’s” treatment of its indigenous peoples, cruelly uprooted from their native culture and languages by the (ever imperialistic, expansionist) White Man.

Eva Green as Artemisia in

Eva Green as Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire”

The “pomos” deploy pastiche, distort prior genres, and appropriate prior cultural figures at will, all to comment on the horrors of modernity, most famously rendered in the Tory Terror-Gothic genre, and exemplified in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus. Wordsworth and Keats are quoted, while one of the characters is lifted out of Oscar Wilde—Dorian Gray. Significantly, Jack the Ripper hovers over the production, as if the overarching theme is that the social fabric is ripped to shreds by 19th century optimism and confidence in progress through market capitalism. Logan’s target is clearly the empiricism and leftish Romanticism of the 18th and 19th centuries. For the theme of the series, despite its mysterious plot twists and turns and lurid developments, is this: science (including medicine) is destroying our humanity and fellow-feeling, by ignoring the invisible world of demons—the monsters within, and who lead us to perdition when we deny their existence. Even the Catholic Church, possibly represented in the lead character “Vanessa Ives” cannot overcome the unpredictable demon(s) who torments her. And that demon, if we are to believe the publicity surrounding the series, may be inescapable “destiny”–a doctrine opposed by Catholic emphasis on free will and personal responsibility for our actions. Or compare the emphasis on “fate” with Milton’s Mammon, a puritan character who argues for “hard liberty” instead of submission to an unaccountable deity. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/07/09/preconditions-for-hard-liberty/.)


Prometheus, along with the rest of the Judeo-Christian West, is so over. As for individual moral accountability, that too is gone with the desert wind: we are left with a reproach to God as Frankenstein’s omnivorously reading monster quotes Adam’s lament in the season finale: “O fleeting joys Of Paradise, dear bought with lasting woes! Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me Man?”[ Paradise Lost, Book 10]. More: in the last words of the season finale, a Catholic priest asks Vanessa (the femme fatale who stands in for the demon-touched, hence “sacred” Romantic artist, i.e., Logan himself) “Do you really want to be normal?”

For in Logan’s Terror-Gothic world, a world shared by many opponents of “modernity”, “reality” exists solely in a chaotic invisible world that is inaccessible to our eyes, brains, and control. Could anything be more reactionary, hence agreeable to antidemocrats?

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.

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?


April 29, 2012

Fred Siegel’s melodrama of 20th C. cultural history

Fred Siegel of Manhattan Institute

The April 2012 issue of Commentary features an article by Fred Siegel, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/how-highbrows-killed-culture/#.T5mYHo0AEuZ.facebook. (See his mini-bio here: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/siegel.htm). The essay is illustrated with a picture of Sir Lawrence Olivier as the diabolical King Richard III.* Originally a lecture delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, the essay has been featured on Facebook, and is highly recommended by John Podhoretz and Richard Miniter.

The chief villains in Siegel’s piece are a motley crew of intellectuals who ostensibly spurned “mass culture” and “mass man”: Nietzsche, the Frankfurt School critical theorists (he mentions Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse), Ortega y Gasset, Dwight MacDonald, Aldous Huxley, H. L. Mencken, the disillusioned authors of the 1920s (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson). Siegel’s positive models are few, but include Robert M. Hutchins, T.S. Eliot, and apparently himself, as one who would rescue “middlebrow” taste and  “American” culture from its hatchet men. Presumably this rectified “mass culture” is the best defense against leftist and liberal statism and elitism. (Using the word “rectified” was a Marcel Duchamp joke, readers.)

Siegel, seizing the populist moment, perhaps, wants to rehabilitate the middle class and its cultural preferences away from European-friendly snobs, Western Marxists (i.e., the Frankfurters), Trotskyists, and New Leftists too. How he manages to upgrade organic conservatives such as Hutchins and Eliot to his camp is a mystery, for Hutchins was a leader in the semi-public move toward elite rule, relying for instance on Plato, no friend to the masses. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/, https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/ .  Hutchins and his cohort of “moderate men” were frank and public manipulators of the masses Siegel says he wants to protect, while Eliot abhorred “free thinking Jews” (1933) as well as the decadence they brought to the modern world, e.g. “damp souls of housemaids” in his “Morning at the Window” (1920).

I have been thinking how to transmit my horror upon reading this type of “cultural” history. There have been other such essays and books purporting to give the reader a cultural or intellectual history of the 20th century, similarly detached from politics, economics, social movements, divergent ideological/class tendencies, and the ongoing controversies over the causes of wars and mass death. For these “culturalist” authors, “ideas” or “philosophy” are the very engines of history, and anyone who protests such a narrow view is ipso facto a “historical materialist,” i.e., a communist or fellow traveler: I am not one of this dragon crew.

There is simply no way to describe “culture” in a vacuum. It is the same problem that I have found in other culture war manifestoes. The organic conservatives (like the apparently “moderate” Siegel) ignore all of history since the invention of the printing press. (For a summary of elite moves against autodidacts see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/, especially the “letter to the editor” that explains why non-literary critics should read my book.) Without examining constant offensives against the newly literate and numerate, there can be no “cultural history.” That would entail, pace Siegel, a grander sweep than he has attempted. Since the Reformation, elites threatened with displacement have drenched ordinary people with counter-revolutionary, irrationalist propaganda, whether this takes place in the realm of language, or ongoing debates about human nature, or the Promethean impulse (always a bad thing for fact-hoarding elites), or what is or is not fascism.

To summarize, readers and other consumers of “culture” want to know (or should want to know) what they are experiencing. They (should) want to know who made this or that artifact (including her or his biography), who paid for it, what it is saying about past and present conflict (for instance, the range of permissible emotions, disobedience to authority or the role of Church and State in everyday life). Whereas organic conservatives are interested in none of the above. They value social cohesion/stability over the search for truth, and trot out their celebrities or institutions du jour to guide the autodidact away from the abyss they most fear:  rupture with the past—a past that is irrationalist to its very core, that makes objective reality a phantasm pursued only by monomaniacs.

Fred Siegel wants to be a friend to mass man, and to the middle class consumer of masscult. Yet he does not respect the very tools that ordinary people have developed, against the wishes of their betters, critical tools such as science and empiricism that point the way to understanding past and present.

*Siegel actually praises the large audience for the television presentation of Richard III, as part of his defense of 1950s popular culture, but the deployment of Richard III’s face by Commentary suggests a group assassination to me. And where oh where is John Milton and Paradise Lost? It was once the case that Shakespeare and Milton were paired as the leading voices in English poetry, but Milton, the puritan whose “Satan” “traced the ways of highest agents,”  and, with Eve, purveyor of the Fortunate Fall, is nowhere to be found in the new dispensation.

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