YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 9, 2014

Disastrous nationalisms: the Kedourie version

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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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May 10, 2013

Losing focus and mass media

mass-media1This blog is about how journalism can break our concentration on the most vital subjects, simply through its format. Nothing gets treated in adequate depth, anchors don’t press their guests to answer questions in any detail, and other events are interpolated that are de-politicizing and hence impede ameliorative action or curiosity about those debates that are crucial to our personal safety and survival as a putatively democratic republic.

Why elites hate mass media. Mass illiteracy in reading print and in reading other forms of media (including photos) is a present-day emergency, but I can’t get anyone excited about this. Many academics (the Frankfurt School critical theorists, for instance) blame totalitarianism on mass culture, by which they mean newspapers, radio, television, and movies. Today, add to that list the internet and social media. Why? Because religous authority, the Church that diverted attention from this world to life after death, suffered the greatest crisis since the Reformation at the point where visual and audio media became cheap and popular, promising large financial rewards to its technicians, writers, and artists.

Once naturalism and realism overtook mysticism and symbolism, accelerated by the world-shaking innovation of mass literacy that began to build after the invention of the printing press, democratic sects sprang up in Europe as part of the Reformation. (Read the communist historian Christopher Hill’s semi-classic The World Turned Upside Down that detailed such as Gerard Winstanley’s Diggers and other radical puritan sects of the 17th century, and which Hill clearly hoped would inspire current day readers to adopt their collectivism, including the notion that the earth was a common treasury. Such a historical reconstruction and popularization was surely meant to counter the growing individualism that leftish Romanticism and free markets had encouraged.)

In prior blogs I have shown how popular television shows not only instil fear of the internet and social media as a goad to “malignant narcissism” and serial killers, but that many series create an atmosphere of paranoia (“you are being watched” says Person of Interest every episode). Paranoia erodes basic trust, without which self-confidence and the search for truth are effectively undermined. We can’t count on our own senses, even when we reflect upon them and do research, for “we see through a glass darkly.” Thus, the old religious fears of “worldliness” and the terminal acceptance of insoluble “mystery” is reinforced: We won’t solve the mystery until we get to Heaven. (For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/01/13/mark-twains-failed-yankee/.)

Why I wrote this blog. This blog, however, is not a defense of the potential democratizing mass media as currently practiced, but rather a different kind of warning about their effects, for this criticism comes from a historian who must focus, if necessarily, obsessively, on a significant problem before any writing can begin, and even after that, one’s writing is constantly interrogated with the same concentration, lest distortions and false claims be laid upon readers, readers who are expected to act upon this new knowledge that has been dug up, chewed over, tested and retested, and usually read by sympathetic but critical colleagues prior to publication.

What concerns me the day after the “explosive” hearings on the Benghazi affair, is that no sooner has the viewer or listener or reader absorbed new and potentially destabilizing information, than the subject is suddenly changed to a “human interest story” that invariably arouses strong emotions and causes the new facts on State Department misconduct to disappear from memory. So it was yesterday: the Jodi Arias verdict, the continuing drama of the Cleveland kidnappings, new facts on the Tsernaev brothers, all jumbled together with Democratic Party accusations that the hearings were a Republican stunt over a phony affair that was already moribund, and that nobody could have saved the four Benghazi victims, even if Clinton and the military had acted immediately upon being notified. (What is of course ignored is the prior cries for enhanced security sent to the State Department and then refused. A few commentators have emphasized this point, but only a few.)

Hence rational political discourse is discouraged, not only because the French Revolution is still on, producing only mobs, or because the nation is polarized over economic strategies or illegal immigrants. We are hampered from focusing on those preconditions that make citizenship possible: the close scrutiny of all our relationships, the desperate need for education reform, and the knowledge gap between most of the electorate and the specialists who make our society hum.

Without basic trust in our (educated) abilities to make sense of conflict; without proportion and a sense of appropriate scale so that we can discern between national emergencies and local problems, all talk of “participatory democracy” is an obscene joke. At one time, our opinion leaders knew this. (See Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, publ. in 1922, and my blog about Chomsky’s attempt to take it down: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)

media overload

This was a letter from your surrogate mother. Happy Mother’s Day.

November 7, 2012

“Capitalism” is on the line

As I watched Mitt Romney’s most recent stump speeches, noting his emphasis on bipartisanship, my heart sank, for the current polarization is not about matters that are easily conciliated through finding “common ground” or “compromise.” Romney’s is the voice and admonition of the moderate man, avatar of the neutered state (see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/).

Rather, the nation is polarized around capitalism itself, whether or not our market society can offer upward mobility and a better quality of life for all persons willing to work. Let us not forget that “capitalism” is a relatively recent development in the world, and, in the propaganda of entrenched aristocratic elites, “capitalism” was always a term of derision with nasty antisemitic undertones: the God-killing “money power” and the machines the money power (the industrial bourgeoisie) had invented to extend its global reach were the cause of all disasters from mass death in the 20th century wars (themselves alleged to be masked conflicts over imperialist booty), the degradation of the environment, and a popular culture that encouraged decadence through hyper-sexualization, unleashed aggression, materialism, and the susceptibility to “totalitarian”* demagoguery.

No current political party is willing to confront the dominant misguided narrative. Yet this hoity-toity “agrarian” assault on modernity will hover over all argumentation in the coming period, reducing the debates to statism vs. anti-statism, echoing the objections of the Antifederalists and the South during and after the Civil War: States Rights forever!

It is my own position that we are in a period where realignment is possible if we give up the sykewar talk of compromise where no compromise is possible. The moderate men (like FDR) were not “moderates” at all, but were amoralists who sought to preserve their wealth through the manipulation of the masses. They were countered by Rightists who sought to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again through a religious revival and an interpretation of the Constitution that made it divinely inspired. Much of the country agrees with that interpretation, and the Tenth Amendment makes it possible for persons who hold to the pro-life position, for instance, to live in states that legislate their versions of rectitude and holiness.

But the genie is out of the bottle. Most women will never go back to the period of domination wherein they may not control the timing of their reproduction—the most important economic decision of their lives. It is the view of many that the election of 2012 was lost by the Republicans because of the women’s vote, and not because of freeloading minorities and the poor, as some conservative commentators aver.

Free markets (derisively referred to as either laissez-faire capitalism/the Gilded Age) are what make a better life possible for the majority; to me that is a highly moral position. We either defend market society, or decline and die. The guiding principles of our economy are on the line, and not for the first time.

*Many use the word “totalitarianism” to equate Communism and Nazism/Fascism. It is true that historically existing Communism and Fascism have used terror to control resistance from below, but their historical trajectories are entirely different. The first type is an extension of the Enlightenment (though a bastard child), the second is a counter-revolution to the Enlightenment and its anti-racist spawn, and resorts to the cult of the Leader, while the former resorts to bureaucratic centralism in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

October 15, 2012

Orwell, Power, and the ‘Totalitarian’ State

[Updated 6-4-13:] This blog has three purposes: 1. To demonstrate that there is no such thing as “power” as an end in itself, and in Orwell’s most famous book, his villain O’Brien explicitly makes mind-control the chief end of the Inner Party. But in doing that he separates mind from body, suggesting that Orwell was never a materialist, in contrast to Freud and his materialist followers. In prior research, I noted that the formulation of “the will to power” (as an end in itself) was asserted by aristocrats, like Nietzsche, critical of the rising middle class, of rising women, and of the “jewified” bourgeoisie in general. 2. To suggest that social democrats fastened onto the term “totalitarian” (invented by Italian Fascists) in order to distinguish themselves from rival statists, whether these be fascists or communists. It is my contention (and here I find both Eric Hobsbawm and Jacob Talmon very helpful) that fascists and communists had antithetical orientations to the Enlightenment, notwithstanding their terroristic methods and lack of regard for dissent. But communists acquired adherents among artists, for instance, because they promised emancipation from the philistine bourgeoisie and the commodification imposed by “capitalism.” That Bolsheviks (including Trotsky) did not deliver on this promise is often forgotten by today’s New Left and the counter-culture with which it is in alliance. 3. To suggest that George Orwell was taken up by British social democrats, even though he was obviously concerned about the direction of the (anticommunist) British Labour Party as he wrote his last book. The companion piece to this blog is https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.]

One of the chief claims of Orwell’s 1984 is that, for the Inner Party (the state terrorists who destroy the autonomy of Winston Smith–one of the Outer Party intellectuals who writes history according to the ideological needs of Big Brother, but who struggles to maintain his inner freedom– the aim of O’Brien and his cohort is to maintain power for its own sake. Such an attachment to total control as an end in itself is a symptom of the ‘totalitarian state’, i.e. Nazi Germany and its supposed twin, the Soviet Union. “O’Brien” makes this explicit as he tortures Winston Smith:

[Part 3, Chapter 2:] “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ [O’Brien]

…’We are the priests of power,’ he said. ‘God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone — free — the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter — external reality, as you would call it — is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’” [End, excerpt from 1984, my emph.]

However, the fact that both loathsome dictatorships murdered millions of their own and warred with rival peoples, does not justify lumping them together as if each had exactly the same historical trajectory; as if each and every member of the Third Reich or the Soviet Union was successfully inveigled to love Big Brother. Indeed, Orwell may have been criticizing capitalism, not some variant of socialism, so as not to become commodified in a world where every human relationship is on the market, measured by “the [Jewish] money power,” as the broken Winston recites ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘.

It is my suggestion that “totalitarianism” as a conception (from Italian Fascism, coined by Giovanni Gentile) was adopted by social democrats in order to remove the stain of proto-fascism from themselves. Hence, in opposition to these admittedly violent dictatorships, they could grab the flag of freedom, while conflating Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as structurally equivalent tyrannies, and as predictable outcomes of the Enlightenment. Such a strategy was brilliant, for it constructed statist New Dealers in America as the polar opposites of the hated dictators, notwithstanding the New Deal’s social policy rejection of the Enlightenment conception of the autonomous individual in favor of collectivist political identities and rule by Platonic guardians. (For more on the “integral nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/.) Indeed, many of Roosevelt’s social psychologists and sociologists were busy looting Hitler’s remarkable sykewar arsenal, admiring Hitler’s management of “the little man” whom they held responsible for his popular appeal. (For examples, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/, https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

And so it is with numerous academic studies of Orwell, written by members of the British Labour Party,  in which the word “totalitarianism” is thrown around (or, in one case, was seen as somewhat old hat, as a Cold War strategy that became passé after the 1950s, yet the word was used by this academic). Similarly, they do not question the notion of “power” as an end in itself, which of course, in their emotional identification with “the working class,” they wholeheartedly reject.

Are these Labourite authors both narcissistic and statist (as one friend suggested today)? Reading British Labourites on the Orwell problem,* I tend to agree with the view that statists are narcissistic. Like George Orwell, they imagine “the working class” as one happy, warmly attached family, lodged in its compassionate, emotionally expressive, and self-enclosed “community.” So Orwell’s greatest quality is his identification with such working-class communities, where egalitarianism reigns supreme. Perhaps this confusion of themselves with working class students whom they teach,  is a projection of their own grandiosity as advocates of the (hypermoral) planning state.

Why do I then reject the  notion of “power” as an end in itself? First, the word power is abstract and empty. It only has content with respect to “power” over something. As I read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) and then 1984 (1949), I was struck by his belaboring of the theme of dirt and smell, all the while imagining that working class folk in Spain or in a future Britain, had the gift of comradeship and a lust for life, something missing in his own family and in his schooling. He also belabored/glorified suffering along with the total control exerted by his villains: in this he reminded me of a practicing sadomasochist (Steadman Thompson) in middle management whose collages and fantasies I examined in the Sadomasochism collection at UCLA Special Collections. Like Orwell in his latter years, S.T. believed that revolutions were pointless in that masters and slaves simply changed places, with former slaves becoming as brutal as the former ruling class. Second, the only character in the history and mythology of “the West” who wants power for its own sake is the Devil. One cannot argue across religious lines.

The persistent theme in S. T.’s writing was this: once he had subjected himself to caning or whipping by a maternal dominatrix, he was restored to the lap of the good parent. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.) Of all the biographies I have read, only Jeffrey Meyers has emphasized the masochistic elements of Orwell’s personality, but even Meyers does not report the tedious quality of  the early pages of Homage to Catalonia, dwelling as they do on the repulsive aspects of trench warfare in northern Spain for page after page. However, Meyers’s biography does pick up on the suicidal tendencies of Orwell’s management of his own health.

We don’t see often enough that middle managers (college professors or high school teachers) are masochistic insofar as they submit to the bullying direction of their superiors, but sadistic in depriving their students or the workers whom they manage of the skills necessary to reject illegitimate authority. By crippling their students of the power to think, and to see the inseparability of mind and matter, they are minor league O’Briens. (It is materialists like myself who insist on the unity of mind and body.)

From the vantage point of my years, I have often seen the desire for boys and girls alike to control Mothers—mothers who may cling indefinitely, or who, conversely, may separate too crudely and quickly from their small children. It is in such twisted experiences of early childhood that we might find the appeal of “power as an end in itself” or the notion of totalitarianism itself. The abandoned child wants to control straying Mother, while the suffocated child needs to push Mother away.  But in the real world of adulthood, such maternal imagos may not have the power imagined by Orwell or by his character, “the Last Man in Europe.”  The antimodernist Orwell, who sees Nature as a maternal refuge, apparently even in the hostile, punishing Hebrides, was emotionally and politically confused. One of his critics should point this out. Stephen Ingle’s second book makes a stab at the political confusions, but is limited by his “ethical socialist” commitments. But we must not forget that Orwell was worried about central planning by the new managerial class, as warned by James Burnham. I don’t want to psychologize this structural change and thus reduce it to family relations alone.

Owell passport photo

*Orwell’s 1984 was welcomed by rightists and Cold Warriors in 1949 and afterwards as proof that Orwell, as in Animal Farm, had exposed the bogus democratic pretensions of the Soviet Union. Much of the voluminous subsequent academic scholarship was devoted to retrieving Orwell for the “socialists” in Britain, not that these authors were themselves unequivocal in the accomplishments of the British Labour Party.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Brunsdale,  Mitzi M. Student Companion to George Orwell. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters. Basic Books, 2002.

Ingle, Stephen. George Orwell: A Political Life. Manchester UP, 1993.

__________. The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment. Routledge, 2006.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. Norton, 2000.

Newsinger, John. Orwell’s Politics. Macmillan, 1999.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Secker and Warburg, 1986.

__________. 1984. (Read online)

Rai, Alok. Orwell and the Politics of Despair. Cambridge UP, 1988. Chapter two is devoted to tracking the conception of totalitarianism, which he traces back to Giovanni Gentile, Mussolini’s confederate and a major figure in Italian Fascism.

August 30, 2012

Political hate speech in the media

The theme of this blog is that  Communism is not interchangeable with Nazism, or with Fascism, or with Social Democracy. Nor is the Republican Party to be labeled “Nazi.”

Our understanding is conducted solely by means of the word: anyone who falsifies it betrays public society. It is the only tool by which we communicate our wishes and our thoughts; it is our soul’s interpreter: if we lack that, we can no longer hold together; we can no longer know each other. When words deceive us, it breaks all intercourse and loosens the bonds of our polity.”Montaigne

A word on context.  I have noticed among comments posted by various segments of “the Right” or “liberal Left” alike that all too often their anger is expressed in imprecise comparisons with forms of government that were specific to the interwar period. These political types cannot be transferred to current-day American politics willy-nilly. It is a crime against the truth.

Nazism was specific to Germany and its ambiguous, humiliating defeat after the Great War. Hitler appealed to a broad constituency, arguing that the German Volk or “people’s community” was supreme. To attain that long-lost glory supposedly limned by Tacitus in his Germania, Jews would have to be removed and Slavs enslaved in the Nazi drive for Lebensraum.  The result was a “modernizing” racial state, with some continuities with the welfare statism of Bismarck and with the social democratic Weimar Republic. The Nazi  turn toward the archaic and the medieval was a blow against the Enlightenment as practiced by Western Europeans and America. The uses of “science” for military purposes or for “racial hygiene” should not be marshaled as proof that Nazism was the non plus ultra of modernity. Nazism was reactionary and anti-modern. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest.)  Nazism was distinct from either Mussolini’s Fascism or Franco’s Clerical-fascism, though all three authoritarian governments were directed against the labor movement or any other form of lower-class radicalism. (I have not mentioned anarcho-syndicalism, a target both of Franco and the Soviet Union during the Spanish Civil War.)

Adolph Wissel’s farm family

Communism was not supposed to happen in a backward country (Russia), but the Bolshevik coup, taking advantage of the military situation on the Eastern Front in 1917 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Brest-Litovsk, especially “Background”), amazed the world as 1/6 of the land mass of planet Earth would now advertise itself as a “workers’ state.” Its early phase celebrated modernity and was believed by its adherents to be the fulfillment of the Enlightenment and the liberation of the individual. As a result American writers and intellectuals were excited by the Soviet vanguard, and many were won over to some form of radicalism, especially after the Great Depression hit the U.S., in spite of the socialist realist protocols administered to Soviet artists and fellow travelers in the 1930s.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Realism, also  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhdanov_Doctrine.) Socialist realism and Nazi art both idealized the People.

Notwithstanding the twists and turns of the Comintern line, the Soviet Union prided itself on its freedom from racialism and all forms of nationalism/imperialism, lauding in its place “proletarian internationalism.” There were supporters of both Lenin and Woodrow Wilson in the post-WW1 period.

Social Democracy was an aristocratic response to the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie and the Frankenstein monster Adam Smith & Co. had spawned. Its chief proponents in Europe were Disraeli, Christian Socialists, Bismarck, and Pope Leo XIII (author of Rerum Novarum). Together, they offered a competing notion of Enlightenment to the rabble-rousers of the anti-clerical French Enlightenment. Historians identify their ideology and its chief lights “the moderate men,” believers in the creed of “progressivism.” In America, the early progressives might be Mugwumps, then radical advocates of a “cooperative Commonwealth.”  As shown elsewhere on this website, social psychologists allied with the Roosevelt administration did not hesitate to deploy German or Nazi methods in managing the “masses” they held responsible for supporting Hitler.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

The progressives offered their own version of racism, while professing to be anti-racists. Multiculturalism was a defense by crypto-nativist Americans to the looming threat of “proletarian internationalism” and could be seen as early as 1916, in articles by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen. Ethnicity now trumped “class” as the preferred method for sorting out people and appealing to their political interests. The hyphenated-American made his entrance to the stage of U.S. history and is currently consigned to separatist ethnic studies programs, tilted to social democracy, now called “the Left.”

The Republican Party lopped off its radical branch during Reconstruction, thence to be the party of industry and finance. Because Popular Front Communists insisted that the Republican Party was composed of Nazis, in contrast to their ultra-democratic selves (the “true” anti-fascists, e.g. the Abraham Lincoln Battalion), Democrats and CP fellow travelers alike have fastened that hateful term (Nazis) on Republicans (and Trotskyists, the anti-Stalinist Left). Even so, Progressivism was bipartisan in nature, with many Republicans (e.g. the Theodore Roosevelt administration) supporting a “new nationalism” with a safety net, support for unions, and a “living Constitution.” But more pertinent to today’s Republicans is the move of “socially responsible capitalists” switching to Keynesian economics in 1942, as they formed the Committee For Economic Development and bolstered the ranks of progressivism (see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/). The Democratic Party thus became the party of a certain kind of rich person, who ostentatiously show their love for “the Common Man,”while simultaneously shopping with Saudi Royals and perusing luxury magazines such as Du Jour (illustrated above). The frugal housewife went out, while the revolt against “Puritanism” flourished in both mass culture and high culture.

A Big Mess. Because of the intellectual backwardness of American journalism we have a confusing political vocabulary, accompanied by ignorant slugfests. Books like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism gained a large following on the populist Right with its indictment of “the nanny state” seen as fascist or proto-fascist. Meanwhile, the field of American Studies, following the anti-American Soviet or even Nazi line to a “T” has taught millions of students that the U.S. is genocidal, imperialist, patriarchal, racist, and ecocidal. Above all, Communists and Nazis could agree that America is in the dirty paws of “finance capital” and hedge-fund managers, the generic JEW. (See praise of the new movie Arbitrage in the upscale magazine illustrated above.)

While in graduate school, I noted that graduate students in the U.S. field were fixated on American colonialism and “inequality.” We were a hopelessly class-ridden society given to narcissism and slaughter. The grad students in the U.S. field did not generally study European history, let alone the lead up to the world wars or the interwar period, while antisemitism was not a legitimate field of study.  It was not until David Wyman and Deborah Lipstadt gave a talk at UCLA in 1986 that I became aware that the Holocaust was known to the West before 1945 and the liberation of the death camps. (It is one of my contentions in this blog that the shameful neglect of the many forms in which antisemitism appears may explain the big mess in political taxonomy that we now face–a mess that announces itself in the furious comments that appear in any and all websites and newspapers across the political spectrum.)

What has happened to our political culture? Can we no longer inform the public that there is an entirely different strategy for wealth creation in  the Democratic and Republican parties as currently constituted; that Keynesian economics are different from supply-side economics, and should be calmly described without cursing out the opposition?

For a related essay by  Ron Radosh in dialogue with David Dreier, see http://hnn.us/articles/how-left-wing-look-americas-heroes-reveals-its-own-ignorance?utm_source=HNN+Newsletter&utm_campaign=39c2ec2f9b-Roundup_Top_10_8_31_128_30_2012&utm_medium=email.

August 5, 2012

Hating finance capital

Big Money crushing the People

Much of this website has been devoted to decoding “liberal” propaganda, especially the repetitive strains of populism that will constitute the Democratic Party playbook in 2012 as we move toward an election that will either push us yet further on the path to communism or dirigisme (a form of elite rule where the state not only regulates the economy but directs investment), or that will reverse course and could restore the American economy along more laissez-faire lines. The rhetoric of “families” can be seen as entirely about collectivist identities, or it can be seen, also, as a plea to corporations to look upon their employees as children whose demands should be met through further concessions. The index that follows is only a small portion of what has been my major concern: the authoritarian character of American political culture since the New Deal. Sadly, Popular Front politics have masked the penetration of communist and other statist ideas into the mainstream political discourse.

In sum, the State exists to cage the octopus of “finance capital.” That is the unifying theme of today’s “progressives” and before that, the Progressive movement: such populist scapegoating provides a bogus image of unity in fragmented societies. And recall that Hitler thought that the Soviets were not really socialists like himself, but were the puppets of “finance capital” a.k.a. the Jews.

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/ (David Brooks separates populism from progressivism, which is wrong.)

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/

https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/ (On German Romantic predecessors to political correctness)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/15/the-politics-of-family-vs-mass-politics-altered/ (retitled Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero)

June 29, 2012

The Neutered State

Statue of Freedom, 1863

For a start, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statism . My blog looks at different things.

Competing visions of the authoritarian state

  1. It is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, and is dependent upon finance capital  (Lenin). It should be overthrown in the interest of the working class (workers and peasants) and led by politically conscious communist intellectuals/planners, who represent and give voice to the exploited masses.
  2. It is, or should be, the embodiment of popular will and the voice of the people (progressives, left-leaning social democrats, sociologist Maurice Zeitlin for instance). The Obama  administration is more and more a blend of numbers one through four.
  3. Owing to rationalization  and the development of “experts,” the modern state is not dependent on any  one class, but is an autonomous entity with its own power drive to persist  (Michael Mann, Max Weber?).
  4. The state and the nation are indivisible (fascism). There are no dissenting individuals; all citizens are merged in the state, which may be organized through syndicati (Italian Fascism, i.e., the corporative state). Multiculturalism or identity politics create little “fascisms” in which blood and soil inheritance or rootedness supplant the roving, evolving,  reconfiguring mind of the Enlightenment.

Versus the minimalist state, advanced by Founding Fathers. Unlike the authoritarian states, there are no mystical bonds to provide “cohesion.” The Constitution, assuming that human nature was imperfect, was designed for a representative republic, not a “democracy” that signified democratic rule by, for instance, debtors seeking to evade creditors, not to speak of post-New Deal layabouts (e.g. the newly “entitled”).

Prometheus (Rubens)

By contrast, in the progressive dispensation, the mediator has become a central figure. The notion that all conflicts can be reconciled with the perfectly rational mediator, who, with artfulness and certain techniques, can bring the warring parties to their senses, restoring “community” or “common ground,” originated in management-labor conflicts in the 1920s. In this case, the State is held to be neutral, above the fray of quarreling classes, genders, or nation-states. The United Nations was designed to serve this antiwar purpose. The notion that all conflict can be settled through mediation by the neutral state or the United Nations would be funny were it not so dangerous. For those who have succumbed to the neutral/neutered State, there can be no creative vision, no conversation that goes beyond trivia, no fertile innovations, no fruitful conflict leading to a new consensus.

(For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/04/04/what-is-truth/, but also https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/. The political tactic of displaying rescued victims diverts attention away from the growth of state power and its increasing opacity.)

March 26, 2011

Race, Class, and Gender

Alexander Saxton, ca. 1948

One Facebook friend (a neocon) has asked me to justify the current emphasis on “race, class, and gender” throughout the curriculum. He believes that the Battle of Gettysburg (i.e. military history) has been squashed in the general stampede toward relevancy. It happens that when I was program director of Pacifica’s Los Angeles radio station, KPFK-FM, I initiated a resolution that was adopted by all the other program directors and then ratified by the National Board of the Pacifica Foundation, that all programmers in our network should be responsible for educating themselves in the history of minorities, women, and labor, understanding that we were to attempt new syntheses that other, more constrained, journalists were not likely to emulate.  I did the same when I was in graduate school at UCLA, and encountered stubborn resistance to the identical resolution I proposed while representing all the graduate students in the University of California system. This blog is about what I meant, why I advanced this proposal, and how other academics and journalists have dealt with the issues I raised.

1. Why I did it in the first place. All in my generation and in the one following were deeply affected by the civil rights movement and by the turmoil on the campuses of the major universities in opposition to the Viet Nam war. Had I not been a science major, laden with mostly science classes, perhaps I would have learned something about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow in college, but I did not. Even in graduate school, academic study of race in America was mostly centered around two debates: First, did slavery pay? And two, did slavery destroy the black family and to what extent did slaves revolt, resist, or accommodate to their condition, with lingering effects into the present? Since then (the 1980s) a massive amount of work has been done in these fields, though I have complained about black nationalism as controlling these studies, and hold to that view today, as my prior blogs have demonstrated.

Moreover, the 60s movements and the feminist movement were intertwined. I had never thought that there was anything particularly odd about the socialization of women until I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in the early 1970s. I cannot count on any man to fully understand the subjugation of women unless he is particularly enlightened and has daughters (especially if he has no sons). The gay rights movement too has focused our attention on gender socialization and power between the sexes. My early socialization has not yet been repaired, to my sorrow.

2.  Race, class, and gender at UCLA Department of History in the 1980s onward.  As I have written previously on this website, the left-liberal professors with whom I studied often collapsed class into race, following the historian Edmund Morgan, who had been much affected by the 1960s movements for native American rights and civil rights in general.  With the exception of a Trotskyist professor, class struggle was no longer the engine of history, it was racial struggle that was front and center. The feminist professors were generally progressives (i.e., statists), which could mean straight-up communism or social democracy.  Even labor historians bought into the new social history, and attributed the failure of socialism in America to cultural reasons, mostly attributing its flaws to white working-class racism and/or embourgeoisment.  Although my dissertation director, Alexander Saxton, thought that “race,” unlike class, was “socially constructed,” he still wrote books about working-class racism and “the white republic.” Everyone was hostile to the “consumerism” that afflicted “mass culture.” Luckily for me, my dissertation topic was the revival of Herman Melville’s reputation between the world wars (thank you, Alex! a “proletarian novelist” in his pre-academic life), so that led me into European intellectual history and away from an obsession with heterosexual white male supremacy. I became extremely interested in the massive transformations in politics that followed the invention of the printing press and the gradual spread of mass literacy and numeracy. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.) This focus emancipated me from reliance on class, race, and gender as the explanation for everything and, with a new alertness to the construction of the 20th century humanities curriculum, I soon found myself deep into the history of racial theory and the origins of multiculturalism. “Race” was indeed socially constructed, and a racialist discourse dominates cultural history today, blotting out conflicts of interest having to do with both class and gender, each of which is a material fact. (In this respect, Saxton and I were in complete agreement.)

3. Is class of any relevance? For communists and populists alike, class is everything, and whole upper-class lives may be darkened with fears of servile revolt or, in “the lower orders,” deep, roiling unfocused anger at such targets as Wall Street and the rich in general.  (Antisemitism can be found in rich and poor alike: for the wealthy, Jews are innovators and troublemakers, stirring up revolt and class hatred: Christian love is the antidote for “Jewish” hate. For the poor, Jews are often the agents of modernity that uprooted them from an idyllic, communal, agrarian past and abandoned them to the lonely crowd. )

However, no historian can ignore concrete class interests in describing continuity and change. My (male) reader who objected to “race, class, and gender” was worried about military history and diplomatic history, and I would add international relations in general. Very few individuals in any period of history are so brilliant and versatile as to be able to form a comprehensive history of even one significant event, taking all variables into account.  It is true that international relations and diplomatic history require intensive study and special training  (and even then, the fields are filled with factions that despise each other). But to deprive oneself of crucial analytic tools (i.e., class interest, views of race and national character, or gender roles and socialization in a given historical moment), is to etiolate one’s own grey matter as one undertakes the daunting task of writing history and constructing new and better syntheses. [This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.]

Alexander Saxton as I knew him

September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy, or, better, a constitutional republic:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

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