The Clare Spark Blog

September 17, 2013

The Illusion of National Unity

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

In this brief blog I will address those still potent divisions that the “turn to culturalism” has masked. I will, as usual, reject the inheritance of the “organic nation,” or the misnamed cultural pluralism that goes by the name of “multiculturalism,” as well as such terms as “national identity,” “group identity” or “zeitgeist.” All these terms are the effluents of German Romanticism, or the “Aufklärung” as it is misleading named. The German” Enlightenment” is a misnomer for it asserted itself against the all-too “bourgeois” “mechanical materialism” of the French and English Enlightenments.

No one with even a passing knowledge of US history can imagine that we are a unified entity unless they are chauvinists who revel in the notion of American superpower status, as opposed to celebrating the good sense embodied in the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, separation of powers, and frankly materialistic approach to conflict (see the Federalist Papers that made almost no mention of “God.”) Nor did the framers of that Constitution have any illusions about human nature. Federalist #10 made the conflict between creditors and debtors clear enough, and the Left loves to cite Madison’s contribution as proof that capitalism is elitist and opposed to the interests of the common man; that the Constitution is an elitist document). What are the real divisions that complicate the controversies swirling around us and that are masked by “culturalism” and its rhetoric?

Besides the ongoing structural conflict between creditors and debtors that often takes the form of populism, already mentioned, First, there is not a [jewified] communist party versus a capitalist party, as some on the Far Right would have it. Two capitalist parties confront one another, with differing strategies for wealth creation: one generally looks to state-imposed Keynesian demand-stimulus economic remedies for economic downturns, while those Republicans who are not overly indebted to “progressives” look to free markets and supply-side economics. (For living economists exemplifying the latter, see Larry Lindsey’s latest book, or the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 9-17-13 by Martin Feldstein.) The fact that Keynesians may be found in both parties owing to the bipartisan origins of progressivism, complicates the picture.

Second, there is a strong argument for the South having won the peace through the popularity of the paternalistic organic society that Southerners asserted as superior to the “wage-slavery” of the urbanized, capitalist, puritan North.

Gemeinschaft beat out Gesellschaft during successive phases of the progressive movement, culminating in the New Deal, hence the collectivist vocabulary that may be found in advertising and political speeches. Ayn Rand railed against this, to little avail. She was preceded in the 19th century by the antislavery Senator from Massachusetts, the descendant of Puritans: Charles Sumner.

Thus we have an ongoing conflict between the country and the city, with many protest movements flavored by agrarianism and nostalgia for the allegedly neighborly and unified small town (compare to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, 1919). Sumner took liberal nationalism to mean a government that protected the rights of individuals as opposed to collective entities. For this (along with Sumner’s proposals for “Radical Reconstruction”) Sumner has been read out of the canon of great Americans until very recently.

Third, anyone who thinks that the Reformation was settled long ago, and that there is no deeply rooted religious conflict today is uneducated about the history of immigration and of religiously defined conflict in general. Sectarian divisions within and between the major religions impinge on all the other conflicts. I could go on, but won’t, for too long a blog would emerge. I will mention, however, the omnipresent sentimentality of our popular culture, whether this is reflected in the worship of “romantic love,” “the happy family,” “the community,” adorable babies, or pets–all attempts to find internal unity in divided selves. Community-and-Society It is difficult to navigate oneself politically through all these intertwined conflicts. But it would be true progress to admit that they exist. On Toennies see https://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/.

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January 28, 2012

Popular sovereignty on the ropes

I restarted my study of the making of the Constitution last summer, by reading the Federalist papers. I was very excited by Hamilton’s insistence on popular sovereignty as the fountain of authority that must guide the entire national government. (See “…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Federalist #22. Hamilton’s emphasis, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]  Hamilton stressed the power of the House of Representatives as the most direct route to popular control of government.  I was somewhat shocked as the prevalent [Jeffersonian] line on Hamilton is that he was an aristocratic thinker, a quasi-monarchist, who declared at a banquet that the people were “a great beast.” This latter slap at popular sovereignty was disseminated by medievalist Henry Adams and no one has found any source to confirm Adams’s claim. And unlike Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860, Hamilton was an abolitionist, and would not have approved Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty as a route to the expansion of slavery.

So popular sovereignty is linked, not to Rousseau’s notion of the general/popular will (an idea taken up by the Jacobins and by many leftists today), but to the deliberations of a representative republic in which, presumably, the House of Representatives is recognized by the other branches of government as the “pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

We find ourselves in campaign season 2012, in a condition where “the consent of the people” is a dream. In this polarized polity, characterized by a mish-mash of religious, class, ethnic, and gender politics, plus a stunning ignorance of political science, economics, and American and European history and its bevy of authoritarian social movements, “the people” is a convenient fiction of demagoguery, trotted out as counterpoint to special interests/”the nanny state.”

What is a writer with a popular audience to do? What can educators, including parents do to instill the mental habits that would make a representative republic more than a recruiting slogan for conservatives wishing to restore the divine origin of such innovations as the separation of powers and checks and balances, all treated in The Federalist? “God” is barely summoned in The Federalist; rather these pamphlets were a scientific, materialist proposal and defense of an unprecedented national government that would halt the slide to chaos and failure under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the U.S. Constitution, and before that, the Declaration of Independence were products of the Enlightenment. “We” were “Nature’s nation” and for many, bearers of a providential mission to lead the world in political democracy. When Charles Sumner asked “Are We A Nation?” in 1867, he envisioned “the people” as the repository of those rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and these “human rights” were universal, and, quoting James Otis, “without distinction of color.” (Sumner also nodded to The Federalist and Alexander Hamilton). For more on Providence and American mission, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.  Rooseveltian internationalists, leaders of the American Studies movement, were fond of trouncing the Founders and Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab as messianic and rabidly imperialistic. Thus “American exceptionalism” has come to signify the overweening desire to dominate the globe, rather than the invention of a nation grounded in natural, i.e., universal human rights: life, liberty, and property. However guided by “Providence,” Sumner, echoing Hamilton, insisted that “We the people,” not “We the States” were the source of legitimacy for the Constitution.

Although the President, along with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called for the beefing up of “education,” neither one suggested a debate about the curriculum, particularly who decides what is the proper training for would-be citizens. And by citizenship, I refer to a person with the critical tools to read the messages that affect all our choices. Here is where “protestant pluralism” founders on the rocks of neo-tribalism, “local control,” anti-intellectualism, populism, proto-fascism, and other man-traps. We are cathected to leaders who pander to our pre-existent prejudices or to reverence for ancestors, to the fear of an eternity in hell, to the presidential horse-race that the media promote, and to groupiness and partisanship in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/06/groupiness/.) We are constantly agitated and may enjoy the inner turmoil and suspense that a political campaign offers. Or we may feel helpless and permanently unrepresented in both high and popular culture, so turn inward to self, or to family, friends, employment, sports, and sex/personal appearance as primary sources of identity and purpose. Patriotism is taken to be a tic of “the Right,” not exemplary loyalty to human rights without distinction of color.

What I complain about here regarding our distorted and irrational political culture may seem so cosmic, so impossible to rectify, that a sane person must give up on this country and its survival as a representative republic. Indeed, the powerful historian Edmund S. Morgan denies that we ever had anything resembling popular rule, nor does he appear to be sanguine as to its prospects. (See his 1988 publication: Inventing the People, in which he concludes that we have moved from the politics of deference to the politics of leadership, i.e., the manipulation of public opinion.) So to be concrete, I suggest that each person concerned with her or his child’s education, encourage that child to look up the phrase “popular sovereignty” and to urge her or his teachers to discuss it in the appropriate grades. But first, look inside, and what do you see?  A terrified conformist, a romantic renegade, or a competent voter–a faithful seeker after truth, the universal truth that is the foundation of human rights and the glory of American nationality?  Captain Ahab, arousing his crew to find and fight Leviathan, echoed Milton’s Satan in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, when Ahab/Satan declared “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Are We a Nation? For more on Alexander Hamilton and the search for truth see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

January 2, 2011

The Watchbird State

I object to the term “nanny state” as sexist. Here is an argument for “Watchbird State” as alternative, taken from chapter 9 of my book Hunting Captain Ahab. The powerful social psychologists I cite here viewed themselves as “moderate conservatives”. Today, they occupy the “left,” having purified the republic of the dangerous extremists who once perched on our shoulders.  The watchbird was an invention of Munro Leaf, and during the 1950s, was a familiar cartoon figure.  (For a related blog, preparing the reader for this one, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/.)

[book excerpt:]    Pragmatic Harvard social psychologists appropriated Madisonian pluralist politics, ignoring the libertarian, anti-corporative* aspect of their theoretical underpinnings. For the new moderates, social stability was achieved when triumphalist factions (instigated by religious enthusiasm or other forms of zealotry such as an inordinate love of gain), were replaced by amoral interest groups; relieved of (Hume’s) plundering or leveling extremists, bargains could be struck, reconciling private interest with public good: the moderates would have clambered onto solidly “mobile-middle ground.”[i]

Reading Madison in Federalist #10, they could infer that free speech was a safety valve, circumscribed spatially and irrelevant to political processes with realistic goals.[ii] Having banished irrationality from their own procedures, the Harvard clique could see themselves as resolutely antifascist, for it was the mob-driven Nazi movement (likened by Talcott Parsons to romantic puritans in other writing of 1942) that was pathological. Ritual rebellions could be safely confined within psychiatrists’ offices or the pages of Typee (or in the bed Ishmael shared with Queequeg). Parsons’ contribution appeared in Psychiatry along with a germinal article “Hitler’s Imagery and German Youth,” by Erik Homburger Erikson, another colleague of Murray’s at Harvard. Erikson presented Hitler as a “great adventurer” possessed of “borderline traits”; he was the perennial adolescent, a big brother to other unyielding gangsters. Erikson held that broken-spirited German fathers lacking inner integration and authority were responsible for the (hysterical) romantic revolt of the sons.[iii] Erikson’s identity politics owed more to Henry A. Murray and the romantic conservative Jung, a theorist of racial character, than to the cosmopolitan and bourgeois Freud. Soon the Jungian analyst Murray (who admired the Wandering Jew Freud’s eyes that penetrated walled-up areas of the psyche) would be advising President Roosevelt that Hitler, the autodidact Id-man, the Dionysiac Man of the Crowd who had overcome big Capital, was an “arch-Romantic,” a composite of Lord Byron and Al Capone, a paranoid schizophrenic, a homosexual, and probably a carrier of Jewish blood through his father; ergo Hitler’s “uncanny knowledge of the average man” should “be appropriated to good advantage.” Disillusion with the Führer was perilous; Murray argued for “a profound conversion of Germany’s attitude” after the Allied victory:

“Disorganization and confusion will be general, creating breeding ground for cults of extreme individualism. A considerable part of the population will be weighted down with a heavy sense of guilt, which should lead to a revival of religion. The soil will be laid [sic] for a spiritual regeneration; and perhaps the Germans, not we, will inherit the future.[iv]

Harold Lasswell and Murray, both progressives, thought as one. In his Power and Personality (1948), Lasswell contemplated the continuing plausibility of Marxist analysis, worried about “paranoids” with their fingers on nuclear buttons, and urged “genuine democrats to expose the dubious and dangerous expectation of democracy through mass revolution.” The world revolution of the twentieth century would probably culminate in mutually annihilating technocratic garrison states unless “the scientists of democracy” intervened to create the “sociocapitalist” “free man’s commonwealth.” Murray’s personality tests (developed in the mid-1930s and during his stint with the OSS during the war) fertilized Lasswell’s febrile, holistic imagination. While deploying the concepts of accountability and openness that for John Locke had been indispensable to the functioning of popular sovereignty, Lasswell, with Murray’s personnel assessment tests in tow, had turned Locke upside down:

One of the practical means by which tensions arising from provocativeness can be reduced is by the selection of leaders from among non-destructive, genuinely democratic characters…. This has already gone far in appointive jobs. Several businesses are accustomed to promote executives not only on the basis of the general administrative record but according to scientific methods of personality appraisal. The aim is to discern whether factors in the personality structure counterindicate the placing of heavier responsibilities on the person.

“To a limited extent selection procedures in army, navy and civil administration have been directed to the same end. But the procedure is not yet applied to elective office. What is needed is a National Personnel Assessment Board set up by citizens of unimpeachable integrity which will select and supervise the work of competent experts in the description of democratic and antidemocratic personality. The Assessment Board can maintain continuing inquiry into the most useful tests and provide direct services of certifications of testers. When this institution has been developed it will slowly gather prestige and acceptance. Sooner or later candidates for elective office will have enough sense of responsibility to submit voluntarily to an investigation by the board, which would say only that the candidate has, or has not, met certain defined minimum standards. Gradually, the practice of basic personality disclosure can spread throughout all spheres of life, including not only local, state, national or inter-nation government personnel, but political parties, trade unions, trade associations, churches and other volunteer associations.

“It is an axiom of democratic polity that rational opinion depends upon access to pertinent facts and interpretations. Surely no facts are more pertinent than those pertaining to character structure of candidates for leadership. Progressive democratization calls for the development of such new institutions as the Assessment Board for the purpose of modernizing our methods of self-government.[v]

The National Personnel Assessment Board set up by citizens of unimpeachable integrity,” “gradually” penetrating every institution, would control definitions of acceptable rational opinion. And yet Lasswell was no friend to totalitarian regimes; as member of the Research Advisory Board and spokesman for the Committee For Economic Development (CED), he condemned loyalty investigations. Instead of imitating sleazy witch-hunters on the Right or the “negative” tactics of the ACLU on the Left, he called for an overhaul of leaders and the led (the latter ultimately responsible for protecting First Amendment freedoms). A balance would be struck between national security and individual freedom through formation of community discussion groups, to be fed by appropriately cautious government experts supplying an interactive (but “expert”-controlled) free press and public broadcasting system. [vi] In the 1950s, Lasswell’s study of political symbols helped social scientists refine their tools in the surveillance of blooming political dissidents. Murray’s OSS recruitment test of 1943 could weed potentially disloyal government employees, while his Thematic Apperception Test (1935) could enhance content-analysis of mass communications. Lasswell frankly explained the purposes that infused the new discipline of communications studies, said to be relevant to literary scholars and historians; indeed he decoded authoritarian styles of discourse throughout. [vii]

Watchbird sights bad boy

Modern preventive politics did not begin with the machinations of Lasswell & Co. but with Humean or Burkean autopsies of the regicidal English and French Revolutions. According to the reform-or-ruin school of preventive hygiene, foul winds and cancers appear when aristocrats allow vices to ferment in the bowels; the social bond is broken, virtue and vice trade places.[viii] Through alert planning (like education and sports for the masses and psychoanalysis for their betters), elites would become more flexible while containing their passion for libertine excess and luxurious display; meanwhile the People would have healthy outlets for their discontent and desirousness–like libertine excess and luxurious display especially in the mass media. Thus Reason, Conscience, and the State would be brought into congruence. The reform-or-ruin strategy of social hygiene and preventive politics would dominate the political science and social psychology created by moderate conservatives. Understrapping their dreams of thoroughgoing surveillance, the watchbird watched everybody, leaders and the led.

*Corporative does not signify a state in cahoots with big business and Wall Street (as New Leftists and OWS folk would have it), but rather organizing representation by occupation, such as Mussolini’s “corporative state” where the state regulated relations between the sindicati, imposing harmony from above and erasing the conception of the dissenting individual.

NOTES.

[i]               21. Richard Chase, “New vs. Ordealist,” Kenyon Review, 11 (1949): 12-13, cited again below.

[ii]               22. See discussion of Madison and the Whigs, Daniel Walker Howe, Political Culture of the American Whigs, 90-91. As I interpret the Federalist Papers, the authors (Jay, Hamilton, and Madison) defined their republicanism against all feudal and corporatist entities– the sources of imbecility, war and anarchy. Liberty was a quality of the rational individual. Collectivities were fictions necessarily sustained by myth, not political science. Their interest groups corresponded to economic interest alone; there was no talk of national “identity.” The idea of using (irrationalist) propaganda to obtain consensus would or should have been anathema. Madison’s Federalist #10 does not discuss free speech directly. Addressing men of property alarmed by Shays Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and demands for several separate confederacies, the acutely class-conscious essay distinguished the benefits of a balanced republic controlling a large territory as compared with the vulnerabilities of small states and the confiscating propensities of small-scale popular democracies. The more interest groups the better, since no one group, unified by economic interest, could attain a legislative majority to oppress other citizens. Madison’s view of human nature does not include moral categories as such: individuals differ in their capacities to acquire property. Men of property, properly chosen (elected) to represent their constituencies for their inner  poise and sense of justice, would be fair to contending parties, abiding by the rule of law–rules that were the same for rich and poor alike. These may be the moderate men interrogated by Melville’s dark characters.

 [iii]             22. Erik Homburger Erikson, “Hitler’s Imagery and German Youth,” Psychiatry 5 (Nov. 1942): 475-493. On 30 Nov. 1952,  Murray sent Erikson a copy of his paper on Ahab, In Nomine Diaboli. On 4 Mar. 1952, Murray asked for a copy of Erikson’s paper “Growth and Crises of the Personality.” On 30 Nov. 1962, Talcott Parsons invited Erikson to present a study of Max Weber in the style of his Luther psychobiography for the 1964 meeting of the American Sociological Association, noting Weber’s “great creative contributions to our culture.” Erikson Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

[iv]              23. The register of the Murray Papers at Harvard state that his analysis of Hitler’s psyche was in process since 1938: it is possible that Murray influenced Erikson, not vice versa. See Henry A. Murray, “Analysis of the personality of Adolph [sic] Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender,” October 1943, 5-7, 31, 46-53, 83, 143, 145, 211 and passim. Declassified confidential report, FDR Library, Hyde Park, quoted with permission. Cf. Anton T. Boisen, “The Form and Content of Schizophrenic Thinking,” Psychiatry 5 (Nov. 1942): 23-33 (the same issue contained the Parsons article on propaganda). Primitives, children, romantic explorers, materialists, individualists, modern artists, and persons undergoing “conversion” experiences are conflated and diagnosed as anxious, fragmenting (“hebephrenic”) schizophrenics. Also see Charles Kligerman’s diagnosis of Melville’s paranoid schizophrenia in “The Psychology of Herman Melville,” Psychoanalytic Review 40 (Apr. 1953): 125-143.

[v]               24. Harold D. Lasswell, Power and Personality (New York: Norton, 1948), 222, 211, 186-187.

[vi]              25. Harold D. Lasswell, National Security and Individual Freedom (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950). Howard B. Myers of CED wrote the brief forward which explained that “This report examines the problems that confront us in seeking national security without forfeit of the basic values and principles of American life.”

[vii]             26. Harold D. Lasswell, Daniel Lerner, Ithiel de Sola Pool, The Comparative Study of Symbols, 24-25. Murray may have gotten the term “apperception” from Goethe’s comments on the rigid moralist Dr. Stilling (aka Jung), an example of a God-intoxicated type, overly impressed by “experience,” that Goethe described in his Auto-biography: “The things sympathetic persons of this kind love most to talk of, are, the so-called awakenings and conversions, to which we will not deny a certain psychological value. They are properly what we call in scientific and poet matters, an “aperçu;” the perception of a great maxim, which is always a genius-like operation of the mind; we arrive at it by pure intuition, that is, by reflection, neither by learning or tradition. In the cases before us it is the perception of the moral power, which anchors in faith, and thus feels itself in proud security in the midst of the waves.” (Truth and Poetry, Vol. II, 75).

[viii]             27. See Richard A. Soloway, “Reform or Ruin: English Moral Thought During The First French Republic,” Review of Politics (Jan. 1963): 110-127.

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