YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 9, 2015

Monster Moms

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

sweet kaulitz09, Deviant Art

Ever since I read Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers (1942) I have been racking my brains for the origins of his diatribe against MOM. Here is how Wylie, later to be matched by the fictional mother in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), or the frequent naming of the welfare state as “nanny state” by conservative journalists, described the transformation of the faultless Cinderella into a (secret) monster:

[Wylie:] “MOM is the end product of SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis,  of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)

[Clare:] Here are some of my prior musings upon the origin of the Bad Mother, ambivalently celebrated in film noir and pop culture: First, Freud described the Oedipus complex, in which daughters would inevitably compete with Mom for the favors of Dad. This can’t end well.

Second, the Switch from smiling caretaker to Bitch Goddess, of good Mother to bad: (This is an excerpt from an MLA paper I delivered in 2002 to the Melville Society):

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This was an inference only. I have never seen it described in the psychoanalytic literature, let alone by feminists.]

Third, political scientists and historians agree that since the Industrial Revolution, paternal authority in the home has diminished, giving rise to “domestic feminism.” Men would be the absent breadwinner, no longer paterfamilias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pater_familias), while Mom now (seemingly) ruled the roost, then, in her moralistic way, going on to invent progressivism and its welfare state. Simultaneously, Jesus became feminized, as Ann Douglas pointed out in her overwrought defense of traditional, masculinist Calvinism in The Feminization of American Culture (1977).

Fourth, “splitting” as the Kleinian object relations analysts describe it: Romantic attachments, whether to the family or to other love objects, often entail idealization. The [narcissist], depleted of “narcissistic supplies” demonizes what was once a perfect creature. Which brings us back to Papa Freud, who had already figured this out in his descriptions of romantic love and idealization.

Fifth, and perhaps the most current and relevant. Mom’s are supposed to keep us safe, but I hear reports that pre-teens and teens are suffering from OCD and related problems (e.g. eating disorders) because the world is perceived as just too dangerous. Even omnipotent Mom is helpless against these real-life monsters: jihadism, global warming, race relations gone wrong, etc. Hence the pop culture vogue for zombies, werewolves, vampires, etc. who have nothing to do with the return of the repressed but are signs of objective media-fortified anxieties.

There is no escaping from the Good-Bad Mother (or Father either), for these imagos are reinforced in popular culture, but rarely analyzed in journalism, not even by many feminists.

All attachments are problematic. Get used to ambivalence, and if your parent is gone, my advice is to focus on her or his strengths, not her weaknesses. (https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.)

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July 6, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision and the War on Women

silencedwomanThree events prompt this blog today: 1. Last night I saw the much praised “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the first time (out of anxiety in watching a fiercely antagonistic marriage told through an existentialist lens?); 2. There was a Masters of Sex marathon in preparation for the second season starting next Sunday on Showtime; and 3. One of the panelists on Fox News Sunday predicted that Democrats would benefit from the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision, one that upheld the right of businesses to withhold abortifacients from their employees in the cause of “religious liberty.” This blog is definitely NOT about government forcing pro-life advocates to provide free contraception/abortifacients.

Start with Lizzy Caplan’s character “Virginia Johnson”—a witty and streetwise young woman “ahead of her time” as the show is set in the repressed 1950s, and the bohemian Virginia (a divorced ex-singer with a swing band and mother of two children) is a model of sexual freedom, outspokenness, an advocate for “women’s health”, and a reluctance to commit to bourgeois marriage. (The women’s health argument is currently featured in the talking points of liberal feminists reacting with shock and anger at the Hobby Lobby 5-4 decision.)

Which reminds me: numerous professionals on current television series are depicted as monomaniacally devoted to their professions, and wary of marital commitments (both “Alicia Florrick” and the late “Will Gardner” on The Good Wife, “ “Dr. Katherine Black” and her doctor lover on Black Box, “Olivia Benson” on Law and Order: SVU, “Meghan Draper” on Mad Men, and even “Olivia Pope” on Scandal. Is it any accident that married women or “male feminists” created most of these shows?

I have written numerous blogs criticizing the focus on sexuality to the exclusion of the context in which sex happens or doesn’t happen; I have also written about “the family” as the site of strife and even bondage—a point that is obscured by political rhetoric deploying the rhetoric of heterosexual family unity either to buttress collectivist ideology, or to fend off the decadence and poverty that conservatives attribute to illegitimate birth and mother-headed (usually minority) families.

I have also written extensively about misogyny, a neglected subject in defenses of male homosexuality, even as male critics praise film noir as their favorite genre, a genre that gloried in representations of the “femme fatale,” carrying forth the stereotype of the terrifying “woman with book” (as Leo Steinberg called her, in one of his popular lectures: I believe that the newly literate woman is one of the monsters inhabiting the Tory imagination: Woman as Jew of the Home). (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled “Film Noir decoded”.)

Also on this website, I have emphasized developments in the diagnoses of mental health problems, both aligning with and opposing the anti-psychiatry movement. I should have mentioned more frequently that individual psychiatry is no substitute for family therapy—a field that presumably closely examines how individuals in families relate to one another—or fail utterly owing to underdevelopment of the emotions in our supposedly “modern” society. Such family or couples therapy presumably avail themselves of attachment theory.

But most to the point, I have criticized the omnipresent, belabored usage of the phrase “hard work” especially as the key to achieving “the American Dream.” The subject of women’s labor in the home, with or without male participation, is rarely treated with the respect and caution it deserves: surely the second wave feminists were often on the lam and only partly deserved my scorn.

In one of my favorite episodes of Masters of Sex, Lizzy Caplan (“Virginia Johnson”) sings “You Don’t Know Me”—either a conventional love song about a triangle, or an ironic comment on a doctor lover who wants to tie her down, while her heart remains with another. She is in a booth in an amusement park, with the (temporary) boyfriend and her children looking fondly at her while she warns them through music not to presume anything about the content of her inner thoughts. (For the entire clip see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjfQwNXSfgo.) We have always lived in hierarchies, whatever the pretensions of democratic “egalitarianism” may be. Let those higher up in the food chain beware: You don’t know me/us.

As I have said over and over, “hierarchies breed deceit.” The Woman Question may never go away; in any case, the women’s vote may well decide the next series of elections. And it will be about sexual freedom. (For my explanation of “sexual freedom” see https://clarespark.com/2014/07/08/what-is-sexual-freedom/)

Image (84)-001

December 1, 2013

Reflections on the Affordable Care Act

demondoctor“Obamacare” is rightly the domestic issue that is upsetting the nation, so although I am neither a lawyer, nor a physician, I will lay out some of the difficulties that I see in the debates to date. In no particular order, then

First, the Democratic Party’s obliviousness to the enforced changing of doctors is indicative of a pandering and incompetent mind-set: Compassionate beings that they claim to be, Democrats would never argue that it is no big deal to change mothers. The benefit of a doctor who knows your history, and is invested in your good health, is comparable to the trust we place in our mothers (and present loving fathers).  How to explain this blind spot? Society (like the body) is not a machine, with interchangeable parts, though some political groupings seem to be.

Second, to what degree are we responsible for our health? With the body, we can choose not to drink to excess, not to smoke, to practice correct hygiene, to eat for maximum nutrition and to exercise. It is not so clear how we can control our mental states, which in turn impact our immune systems and the degree to which we take care of ourselves. I cannot understand why these matters are not taken up in our school curricula and in the media, though I suppose that religious diversity plays a large role, with some belief systems rejecting the physiological lessons of modernity.

Third, don’t look to the hip universities to be sympathetic to either medicine or psychiatry. At the university where I received my graduate training in history, the history of science encompassed the history of medicine and psychiatry, and the Foucauldians and the Left were in charge. Science was held to be a joke, and amusing, just as eighteenth century quacks were to be written about and mocked. The radical historicism I encountered at UCLA could not possibly distinguish between antique fads and misconceptions and modern medicine. Post WW1 German Expressionism has a grip on many academic mentalities–those sports who inhabit “the dark side” or, who are irresistibly drawn to the femme fatale.

cabinet of doctor caligari

Fourth, when I was much younger, I recall the responsibility that doctors and dentists alike felt for the poor. So they volunteered at free clinics, or might travel to the central valley in California to treat farm workers. Medicine, like dentistry, was held to be a noble profession, perhaps because parents or grandparents were immigrants.  Nowadays, many doctors expect to be multi-millionaires; ironically, their wives and children benefit from a life of luxury, while the physician (male or female), is expected to care for too many patients. This is a world I did not know in my youth, and do not like now.

Finally, the chant from ACA boosters that the Republican Party is simply obstructionist and has no alternative proposals, is tiresome and ludicrous.  Tort reform and competition across states lines for insurance companies are only two of oft-repeated suggestions. I would be even happier with the ACA opposition if they proposed changes in the curriculum that would put health, physical and mental, at the top of the list in curriculum reform.  That will never happen here until outdated notions such as demonic possession and/or fallen flesh are finally banished from our public schools and related institutions.

fallen flesh

January 12, 2013

Hate, “hard liberty,” quick fixes

mammon_11-0x550LOVE VERSUS HATE. First, take a look at this blog on Bullies: https://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/ . Although the Harvard education school was mostly fixated upon the controversial switching of gender identities and the promotion of Love as against Hate, Harvard hasn’t noticed that the “binary opposition” of love and hate is one of the staples of Western Civilization. One of the great fears of the “paleo-conservatives” is that the Religion of Love will lose its authority, hence unleashing sinister forces (the “neocon” haters) upon the land. Paleos dig Chuck Hagel.

Here is how “Ishmael” described the most striking feature of Ahab’s personality: “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it” (p. 184)

That word “hate” is omnipresent in our political and social discourse: we condemn “hate speech” as if changing the language with which we describe the poor, minorities, women, and gays will remove “prejudice” against them and summon that lost “unity” we believe once characterized “the nation.”

And before Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick, the British essayist William Hazlitt declared his hatred of tyrants:

[William Hazlitt on love and hate, 1819:] “To be a true Jacobin, a man must be a good hater;…The love of liberty consists in the hatred of tyrants…I am no politician and still less can I be said to be a partyman: but I have a hatred of tyranny, and a contempt for its tools…I deny that liberty and slavery are convertible terms, that right and wrong, truth and falsehood, plenty and famine, the comforts or wretchedness of a people, are matters of perfect indifference. That is all I know of the matter; but on these points I am likely to remain incorrigible.”

Both authors, Hazlitt and Melville had read John Milton’s Paradise Lost, written under censorship. Surely each of these close readers noticed this speech from Book II, possibly Milton’s own (semi-silenced) voice speaking through “Mammon,” who counsels the other fallen angels to avoid war with the heavenly Deity:

…how wearisome

Eternity so spent in worship paid

To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue

By force impossible, by leave obtain’d

Unacceptable, though in Heav’n our state

Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek

Our own good from ourselves, and from our own

Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,

Free, and to none accountable, preferring

Hard liberty before the easy yoke

 Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear

 Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,

 Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse

 We can create, and in what place so e’er

 Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain

 Through labour and endurance. This deep world

Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth heaven’s all-ruling sire

Choose to reside, His glory unobscured,

And with the majesty of darkness round

Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar

Mustering thir rage, and Heav’n resembles hell?

As he our darkness, cannot we his light

Imitate when we please? This desert soil

Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold;

Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise

Magnificence; and what can heaven show more?

Our torments also may in length of time

Become our elements, these piercing fires

As soft as now severe, our temper changed

Into their temper; which must needs remove

The sensible of pain. All things invite

To peaceful counsels, and the settled state

Of order, how in safety best we may

Compose our present evils, with regard

Of what we are and were, dismissing quite

All thoughts of war: ye have what I advise. (II, 247-283)

HARD LIBERTY. (Milton’s seventeenth century puritan readers would have understood that mining was a symbol for discovery and the search for knowledge.)

As I write this, the media are obsessed with the gun control debate, as if further restricting access to certain weapons and ammunition, in tandem with greater attention to “mental health” and the “culture of violence” will prevent future massacres by deranged young men. These would be amusing quick fixes were not the cultural issues so deeply conflicted and elusive. Why are they so hard to explicate and pin down?

  1. There is no agreed upon definition of what constitutes mental health, nor has there ever been. Freud is still an offbeat interest and thought to be crazily sex-obsessed himself (thus fulfilling the image of the carnal, divisive, lucre-obsessed Jew).
  2. No one can measure the effects of “media violence” or pictorial violence; for centuries images of violence were thought to provide a salutary catharsis for the pent-up rage that all civilized societies inflict upon children. And since Freudian ideas are off the table, for instance that siblings consciously and unconsciously harbor murderous impulses toward each other and toward one or both parents, we have no critical tools to evaluate “violence” by psychopaths. True, the better “profiler” shows on television do point to parental abuse as the long term cause of serial killing. But they do not mount any substantial critique of masculinity, even when favorite sports figures sacrifice their lives, like gladiators of old, to entertain the masses.
  3. As for the femmes fatales (the woman with gun), the general subject of motherhood is evaded, even as film noir is celebrated by film critics. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/.)
  4. Who doesn’t hate anything smacking of “the Puritan” today? We throw around the words “freedom” and “liberty” as if these had the same meaning to everyone, or worse, we invert freedom and slavery, so that we do not see our lust for “servile pomp.” Nor would we imagine that such a dark passion only binds us closer to Leviathan.
Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale

April 27, 2011

Film Noir, decoded

Cover art for audio version of unabridged Mildred Pierce

This is the analysis of James M. Cain’s popular novel Mildred Pierce, especially as interpreted by HBO this Spring (2011). I started by finding the lyrics to the song derived from Chopin’s Grand Valse Brillante, “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” (1917). This song is the leitmotif for both the HBO series and Cain’s book.

At the end of the rainbow there’s happiness,
And to find it how often I’ve tried,
But my life is a race, just a wild goose chase,
And my dreams have all been denied.
Why have I always been a failure?
What can the reason be?
I wonder if the world’s to blame,
I wonder if it could be me.

Chorus:

I’m always chasing rainbows,
Watching clouds drifting by,
My dreams are just like all my schemes,
Ending in the sky.
Some fellows look and find the sunshine,
I always look and find the rain.
Some fellows make a winning sometime,
I never even make a gain, believe me,
I’m always chasing rainbows,
Waiting to find a little bluebird in vain.

I have read the very wild and violent and strange James M. Cain original as adapted both in cinema and by HBO in a much touted and praised miniseries.  Briefly, Cain sees all women, especially those grown in Southern California, as monomaniacs, driven by unhealthy passions. The theme of mother-daughter incest runs throughout the novel, though Cain, born an Irish Catholic, is almost reserved on the subject. His last word on the Mildred-Veda dyad is the remark that she was a woman who loved her daughter too much, but there are insinuations and even graphic descriptions of a physical passion dotted throughout (and that HBO downplayed). I had suspected that the film noir or literary noir corpus was an assault on the idea of Progress (with its predecessor in the Terror Gothic genre that appeared in the eighteenth century and eventually became a staple of horror movies, for instance Frankenstein). But what I did not see was the full-blown assault on women as killers, serpents, and parasites on men and even on each other.

In Cain’s novel, Mildred is no laudable waitress-becoming-businesswoman, picking herself up as an entrepreneur and capitalizing on her capacity for hard work and talent in cooking artistic cakes and pies. She does cook brilliantly, apparently an inborn quality, just as Veda’s inborn musicality is prodigious, rare, and obsessive. Rather, after her husband’s fall in the early Depression, every move she makes is for the sake of Veda, her superior in every way, and whose love or classiness she can never gain. The HBO treatment of the novel does capture much of that, but not with the social history clarity of the novel, including the dialogue spoken in dialect that is un-PC, or the important original class difference between Mildred and her husband Bert Pierce, or their tenuous religious affiliations (Episcopalian vs. Methodist). The matter of class is crucial, for Veda resembles Bert, not Mildred, and seeks to restore or exceed his prior success.

Like other writers utilizing the realist tradition in literature, and infusing his tales with forbidden sex and violence to gain a popular audience, Cain has more than one agenda. In his case, his novel is not only about two crazed women, but about materialism, pride, and the failure of the American dream, a dream that is built on the theft of Indian and Mexican lands. The University of Maryland Special Collections (where his papers are stored) tells the researcher that Cain was interested in the lives and speech of the common man. They don’t say that he looked down on the lower-middle class; indeed his sociology in Mildred Pierce is very precisely delineated, down to the last detail of decor and clothing, but also the occupations of Mildred’s family and friends. The uppity Pierce home is decorated with paintings of cowboys and the West, with a hat tip toward the covered wagons and their pioneers. Later, the decayed patrician Monty Beragon makes light of his ancestors and their triumph over Mexicans in California. Mildred’s foolish overspending for the sake of Veda is described with the zeal of a bookkeeper, and of course this unrequited, very physical, passion brings her down and back to her first husband, who outclasses her throughout. Very little of this detail makes it into the HBO version, which condenses some of the most significant episodes in the novel, for instance the repeated image of the rainbow, first seen as a halo around the dead younger child in her coffin, Ray, who dies of a respiratory ailment early on in the tale, leaving Veda as the sole focus of Mildred’s life. The rainbow, traditionally a symbol of God’s benevolence after the Flood, refers to the American pursuit of happiness that eludes these characters who are stunningly devoid of self-knowledge, with the exception of Veda and Monty, matched, purposeful, and articulate cynics, unlike the comparatively wordless Mildred, whose untamed passions are mirrored in a winter storm that she fails to defeat, and whose temporary success is the result of the business-sense of others.

We should not underestimate the importance of the popular song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” as used in both the novel and the HBO series. Long ago, I interviewed Roger Angell on his fascination with baseball, and he said that the sport was really about the inevitable failure that we all experience. I called that radio program (a collage) “Play Ball, or The Aesthetics of Failure.” Chopin’s ravishing lyricism can be seen as romantic yearning. The noir genre, whether in literature or film, should be seen as a sign for the end of the line for humanity. This ideology is profoundly antidemocratic and anti-American. It does not deserve our sympathy, though James M. Cain’s novel is interesting as a reactionary artifact, and more skillfully written than I had anticipated.

September 5, 2009

The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired)

    As I have been trying to demonstrate in prior blogs, free thought in the academy has been circumscribed, generally away from the public eye.  Led by cultural anthropologists and other social theorists of the Right (masquerading as the Left), science tout court has been vigorously opposed by the humanities, not for its excesses, but for its allegedly flawed methodology. These positions can be subtle and invisible to readers not acquainted with the contested history of the West.  For instance, intellectual historian David Hollinger, a professor teaching at UC Berkeley (the top-rated history department in the country) has begun his collected essays Science, Jews, and Secular Culture (Princeton U.P., 1996) by invoking Walter Lippmann, who thought that universities had a crucial part to play in public life. “A faith in the unique importance of secular inquiry to the making of a good society had been inherited from the people who built the American universities between the Civil War and World War I, and was then renewed and expanded during the prodigious growth of American higher education that followed World War II.” Hollinger goes on to argue that the Jews who “quietly entered” university faculties since the last war have further weakened the hold of Christian ideas. Did he mean to imply that Jewish professors manipulated science as their weapon, a weapon that produced the Bomb? Hollinger does not think there is anything antisemitic or anti-intellectual about his book; indeed, he is an avowed pluralist, an anti-essentialist, and faithful defender of the Enlightenment repudiating “blood and history”; it is just that he thinks ethnicity/religion is an overarching and explanatory category that applies whether or not “Jews” like Lippmann or J. Robert Oppenheimer had any ties to Judaism whatsoever.       

 

      Like other cultural historians, Hollinger believes that “Protestant hegemony” persisted until the 1960s (with a brief interlude of ethnopluralism in the thought of Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen before the Immigration Act of 1924).  There is no consideration of the ethnopluralist vision of Hitler and Goebbels or their primitivist predecessors, entailing the leadership of the Socialist racial State that would bring joy to the weeping world once the tyrannical Jews and their materialist analyses were removed. Nor does he examine the ways in which the Jews who were awarded professorships might have accommodated their thought to a WASP establishment, adopting cultural explanations for conflict that had never lost their supremacy over materialist ones in history or literature, namely that the flowering of national character from the grass roots would reanimate decadent societies, that “individuation” meant freedom from the repressive and depressing rule of law that had originated with the Mosaic code.

 

         Thanks to the sociologists following Durkheim and Weber, we can deal with conflict on the expansive terrain of the culture wars, inside cultural formations that “have a life of their own.” Gone is the concept of society as a collection of individuals, positioned with regard to economic interests and political choices and curious about the decisions and motives of powerful individuals and agencies who make policy in response to social forces that are not always visible or explicable on rational grounds.  The anti-racist liberals in the universities tell us we must have “affiliations,” multiple and overlapping, else there can be no national identity, no unum in the rooted pluribuses, just the easy-to-recognize uniforms of the racial community (that no sane conservative could bear). Also disappeared are the macro-economic changes that would explain the increased polarization of the 1980s and 90s.[1] 

 

 One would think that the academic Left would have cleared all this up with some hard facts and a review of racial theory as it has evolved, but no; it is the failure of those who profess to represent the interests of workers and the neglected and abandoned of our country that I find most distressing.  “The Left” has brought neither history nor analytic clarity to this momentous debate; it is indeed one of the players in obscuring the long and short-term causes of the so-called culture wars. This lapse is linked to other errors, instances of amnesia, namely, the intellectual lineage of the democratic tradition that leftists are supposed to be carrying forward against all challenges from the forces of reaction.

 

 

       Hollinger is at one with New Dealers and their allies on the Left in his periodization of repression directed against free thought.  “The Cold War” or “McCarthy-ite” assault on critical thought did not launch the repression associated with the establishment of the national security state in 1947 and the Republican backlash against the New Deal as they have argued. With this formulation the democratic pluralists, as these conservative reformers call themselves, mask ongoing upper-class resistance to democratic processes and mass education since notions of science and democracy took hold in antiquity. It was a defensive élite response intensified after the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, formulations and reformulations of cosmopolitanism, species-unity, natural law, natural rights and equality in the Enlightenment debates over slavery, and made particularly urgent in mid-1930s America as domestic radicalism/antifascism made significant gains, provoking “moderate” solutions to economic crisis and creeping fascism.

 

   

     The subject of prior blogs was this very clique of social psychologists and “cultural historians; it is they who dominate the humanities in America and who put forth the diagnosis of scapegoating to explain “prejudice,” powerfully affecting the direction of postwar ameliorative social movements and demands for better race relations. Following their lead, cultural nationalist media reformers demand positive images to build esteem in stigmatized ethnic or racial groups, often holding the bad Jews of Hollywood and/or the secular academy responsible for maliciously disseminating negative images as the means to further their own nefarious schemes to dominate the world.  But for these Progressive social pathologists, bigotry is rarely viewed as plausible, adaptive, and inevitable because (however crudely) it feeds off and rationalizes rivalry and subordination in either autarchic or competitive free market economies. Economic relations tend to be absent from their analyses because cultural, i.e., religious, explanations explain all of social life: God made diversity and we celebrate the perfection of the world as it is. The vivid and earthy polyglot culture of cities, properly understood, could be the antidote to the etiolating genteel tradition.

 

  

     Social conflict, they argue, arises from hubris; the rationalistic scientists think their models have absolute authority, usurping God’s.  Mammon, like the moral mother of the nineteenth-century, has overstepped her bounds. Told as the story of Icarus such overreaching explains the horrors of human history.  Discreetly bounded “communities” are the longed-for alternative to “consumerism.” When thinkers like Hollinger criticize Protestant hegemony, it is the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament they may have in mind; their target is the Hebraic radical puritan whose egalitarian, universalist and messianic ideals could not be absorbed and deflected by the Christian-Platonic organic conservatives—the classicist Robert Hutchins for one. By conflating the most right-wing and nativist Protestant evangelicals with the radical protestants, Hollinger and other ethnopluralists make their elimination a victory for the forces of democracy, not a rout for radical liberals. 

 

 

    Of course “negative images” may function to confuse and further split groups who must unite to further their own class interests, and who should be wondering if abstract, impersonal social forces and property relations are the root sources of their suffering or malaise; e.g., physicians continue to locate the sources of “stress” primarily in (poorly managed) individuals, not structurally flawed class or caste institutions.  Lacking such curiosity, troubled individuals and persecuted groups may fatally misdirect their righteous indignation, resorting to conspiracy theories and terror to explain and ameliorate their condition, unable to decide whether structural transformation or incremental improvements are appropriate measures to effect their aims.  

 

 

     The romantic conservatives/cultural nationalists I have introduced reify distinctions between “Self” and “Other,” embracing ethnopluralism–a “rooted” localism that, while apparently condemning elitism, in practice may be exaggerating differences between groups needing, and already possessing, common ground.  Even the past becomes Other; each incomparable, finally inscrutable event is an example of historische Individualität. [2]  For intellectual descendants of J.G. von Herder [3] and other German idealists, history is a subset of a poetic natural history: unlike the mechanical Staatsnation (whose bogus liberties are the source of selfishness and anomie), the Kulturnation is rooted in blood and soil; each nationality is uniquely shaped by a combination of instinct and the physical environment.  No culture is inferior to any other as long as each one springs from the Volksgeist; toward that end the Volk must throw off alien cultural domination.  Following Kant and Herder, one modern pedagogue resisted what he called the arbitrary, repressive and formalistic devices of the Middle Ages in coping with the racial mingling that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.  Such harsh discipline in the process of assimilating the foreigner hampers true, because rooted, individuality and freedom: [4]  We don’t have to be, must not be, “Jewish.”  

 

 

       Recent research into the history of the humanistic sciences suggests that sociological investigations of human institutions are conducted with ideal organic models lurking in the background: progress has been understood as the throwing off of an invading force (e.g. the “jewified” bourgeoisie) to permit “natural growth” to return.  We need the tools of eighteenth-century materialism to determine exactly how established institutions have actually operated by studying their evolution and the political context in which institutions developed or became obsolete.  How else can we devise new experimental institutional forms to further human development in democratic, scientifically informed directions?  

 

 

     Liberals and leftists have not systematically examined the nuances of antidemocratic propaganda in the West though they confidently denounce the overpowering influence of “the media.”  This cultural failure is partly a product of conservative ascendancy since the radical 1890s-World War I period in which corporatist liberals (the “progressives” or “moderate” conservatives) appropriated the prestige of science and progress to discredit the radical liberals. In reaction the corporatist liberals promoted a new/old species of organic conservatism widely practiced in Europe; the Christian-Platonic Great Chain of Being was revitalized in the pseudo-democratic idea of an international federation of folkish states, sometimes known as aristo-democracy (see the writings of Randolph Bourne, Horace Kallen, or the eugenicists Stoddard, McDougall).  Romantic anticapitalism, expressed today as communitarianism and a resurgent arts and crafts movement, was transmitted by the German Romantics and common to Herder, Kant, Burke, Goethe, Hegel, Blake, Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin, the von Humboldts and William Morris, to name a few.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this irrationalist ideology was represented as “materialism” and “the new social history” derived from Frederick Jackson Turner; after the war as “genuine liberalism” represented by T.W. Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality (1950).     

 

    Some Marxists and New Leftists (the critical theorists) have similarly rejected radical liberalism for this reactionary but “cosmopolitan” and “progressive” ideology: such Leftists are more accurately joined to the defensive progressive reaction to the mass politics furthered by the American and French Revolutions; they too have stigmatized the critical processes associated with empiricism (an epistemology grounded in observable facts, experience, and inductive logic) as excessively cerebral, detached, cancerous and corrosive to “cohesion” or “the Heart.” In their demonology, radical liberals sometime appear as the rootless cosmopolitan or the defiant Romantic Wandering Jew, but also as the domineering market or the jacobin or crazy scientist or as a (switching) two-faced femme fatale/moral mother.

 

 
Bottoms-Up. The German Romantics and their descendants have co-opted radical Enlightenment concepts (tolerance, the rejection of innate ideas and fallen flesh as determinants of “human nature,” the cultural biases of the participant-observer) and practices (introspection, scientific materialism, the comparative history and analysis of political and economic institutions).  These “enlightened” concepts and practices were then turned against “the lower orders.”  For instance, the social psychology of “progressivism” transforms the common-sense perception of objective social conflicts and clashing interests into personal, anti-social symptoms of “xenophobia,” “prejudice” or “scapegoating,” i.e., distorted vision of “the Other.”  Insofar as they are conservative Freudians and Jungians, the progressive psychologists attribute negative “stereotypes” to individual weakness and social irresponsibility: Entirely inner conflicts (Oedipal or pre-Oedipal in origin) are projected onto the outer world; this social world could be made harmonious through “integration”; i.e., discreet purges aka correct adjustments or through the emotionally mature recourse to administrative remedies.  In their moralistic, muckraking diagnostics it is possible to construct an entire Weltanschauung in which an entitity called “the Jews” possesses the god-like omnipotence attributed by Christians to the Devil; all modern social movements that question religious authority in favor of empirical investigation of both the natural world and the structures and practices of human institutions will be characterized as false friends to the people, for this world is controlled by our Great Adversary, the archetypal confidence-man represented by the power of filthy lucre aka “finance capital.”  

 

 

     It is my argument that “the new social history,”  like “cultural history” has an antisemitic sub-text that few cared to identify after World War II.  But before the murder of European Jewry, writers were less tactful.  J. Mace Andress was head of the Boston Normal School; his lucid book tracing the lineage from Herder to Franz Boas introduced this unknown forefather to fellow teacher-trainers.  His tolerance broke down, however, when giving advice about Bible appreciation: “The Bible Herder regarded as the deepest source of wisdom, and the biblical stories he considered as important means toward education.  In the handling of the Bible stories he recommended the greatest care.  All that was essentially Jewish, not Christian, should be avoided” (168).        Like moderates before him, Andress was looking to moral reform as the basis for socially responsible capitalism; for a progressivism that restored the hierarchical organic social relations of the Middle Ages into micro-units, relieving local élites of competing loyalty to either the universal Catholic Church or to the universal brotherhood and egalitarianism preached by the “Hebraic” Radical Reformation.  Andress’ rhetoric suggests that the essentially Jewish character (God as Devil) is construed as rationalism: “[The rationalist type] of philosophy had made a conquest of the intellectual world, and with self-complacency, looked upon its work and called it good.  The millennium of life was a paradise guided solely by reason; that was sufficient unto itself for everybody at any time and under every condition.  Reason was regarded as the only measure of the values of life.  With contempt it turned to the past to see mirrored there the gloom, fanaticism, and ignorance due to irrationalism!  This brand of philosophy was quite important, thoroughly dogmatic, and quite unsympathetic with historical thought.  The world was to be created anew by man’s power of reason” (52).  

     Herder, like his teacher Hamann, grasped the superior power of faith and spirit; these would unify humanity against the divisiveness imposed by [modern Jews, scientists, radical puritans] (53). Titans need not be Prometheans; ordinary folk, resisting the syren call of democratic citizenship could become gods. Excerpts from the Andress protocols for the new race pedagogy follow.

 

 
“Kant gave to the world…a new sense of spiritual freedom.  He taught that the individual is able to build his own world.  No matter what your condition in life, your world may become glorious if only you will make it so.  ‘Its spirituality is your own creation, or else is nothing.  Awake, arise, be willing, endure, struggle, defy evil, cleave to good, strive, be strenuous, be devoted, throw into the face of evil and depression your brave cry of resistance, and then this dark universe of destiny will glow with a divine light.  For you have no relations with the eternal world save such as you make for yourself.’  This sort of philosophy was a call to the individual to arise to self-mastery and self-realization.  Kant believed that the world is not beyond us but is the deepest truth within us.  As we master this truth we conquer the discordant tendencies of our own lives…With Kant [German idealism] said the world is indeed the world as built by self-consciousness; but the real world is the world of the genius, the poet, the artist.  It refused to interpret the world according to reason or the moral law, but in terms of sentiment, emotion, and heart longings.  Romanticism found its chief interest in man’s wealth of divine emotions (Andress, 29-30).” 
 
“We have noted again and again [Herder’s] opposition to the rationalist philosopher.  Men like Rousseau and Hamann had already led the way, but it was Herder who first put the reactionary movement on a firm basis and gave it solidity.  This was not a result merely of his revulsion of feeling, but because he penetrated beyond to a conception of human life as an organic whole.  He was the first to adopt the historical method in the effort to find meaning in the world as a whole.  Bossert said of Herder that he ‘created the historical method which revived the study of language, literature and religion, and he applied it with such authority and such competence that he rendered for a long time any other method impossible’…In his search for origins both in science and history he foreshadowed the progress of culture for a century after his time…It is no exaggeration to say that Herder foreshadowed the modern trend in psychology…His method, as might be expected, is the genetic….(Andress, 278, 279).” 
 
     “Herder’s service to religion was monumental. Here again we find him a foe of the Aufklärung, which would make everything amenable to common understanding, which attempted to force truth into the narrow moulds of intellectualism.  As a follower of Rousseau and Hamann, Herder entertained a profound contempt for such rationalistic procedure.  He was not impressed by the merely traditional, the dogmas, the artificiality of churches.  He tried to find the genuine religious feelings of the people which had become largely suppressed by rules and dogma.  As a student of civilization, he went back to the study of the ancient and primitive religions with enthusiasm, intelligence and insight.  Although often reflecting the spirit of traditionalism and the spirit of the past, he was remarkably open minded.  The bigot finds nothing to praise in religions outside his own; but Herder was superior to the littleness of mind often characteristic of the theologian (Andress, 283-84).” 
 
     “When we stop to think that the science of sociology was unknown in the eighteenth century, we begin to realize how penetrating was Herder’s insight.  He was mindful of the progress of the individual, his enthusiasm for individuality and his rebellion against formalism did not prevent his understanding the real significance of the past, the relation of the individual to the group, and the contribution of society as a whole to culture.  In a broad way Herder in his philosophy of culture lays the foundation for a race pedagogy, which stated tersely would read: in the teaching of a people we should build upon their culture not try to destroy it.  The world-wide efforts to convert primitive peoples to Christianity, the forcing of a foreign culture upon an alien conquered people, are examples of the violation of this pedagogy.  The social philosophy of Herder suggests the beginnings of sociology and social psychology and the recognition of the social aspects of education and culture.  Again we find Herder the Bahnbrecher, one standing on the tiptoe of expectancy for the gates of the nineteenth century to swing wide open, a blazer of new trails for humanity (Andress, 298).” 
 
A Change of Spectacles.  While class hierarchies and national character are natural, (Jewish) bigotry is not.  The (Jewishly-inspired) scientific revolution plainly ruptures traditional social bonds; like the national chauvinism which would impose “reason and the moral law” on “alien” cultures, such artifice could only be catastrophic.  German Romanticism corrects the death-ray vision of the new science: in the process of self-cultivation or Bildung, sub-divided humanity, like Leibnitz’s monads, are properly seen as units in a grand, gradually evolving whole, judenrein, hence moving onward and upward toward God-like perfection, harmony and equilibrium, each living out its unique potential in the universal Becoming (Werden).     

 

     Explicating the elusive concept of Bildung, the distinguished and revered cultural historian George L. Mosse approvingly cited Herder: “Man must grow like a plant, as Johann Gottfried von Herder put it, striving to unfold his personality until he becomes a harmonious, autonomous individual engaged in a continual quest for knowledge.” [5]  Although the German Romantics founded the disciplines of comparative literature, comparative religion, cultural anthropology, social psychology and “modern race pedagogy,” to insist on universal ethical rules or standards or analytic tools would violate the tenets of their “anti-élitist” progressive movement. [6]  For the “cultural materialists” among them “class” is a “socially constructed” category, with no more objectivity in the real world than ugly images of race; for these irrationalists, the inductive scientific method and the monolithic, hegemonic Enlightenment (“the West” as personified in comic-book characters like Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse) remain the sources of iconoclasm and genocidal fascist bureaucracies—the inevitable products of levelling, totalitarian “mass politics” and a discredited Whiggish, covertly imperialist “master narrative.”

 

       The search for origins, the “genetic” method of their “new historicism,” exists solely to delegitimate the claims of science for universal validity; new historicists have mocked the “plodding bourgeois virtues” that “downplay” “character, individuality and point-of-view.” [7]  The searching spotlights of irrationalists, however, cannot be turned upon themselves lest their own schematic diagnostics be relativized as tendentious pronouncements from upper-class controlled institutions; hence the widespread antagonism to Freudian introspection or any declaration of personal interest in the outcomes of their own assertions (aka ‘investigations’).  Such tactful silences would be intolerable if practiced by the scientists who, it is claimed by the new historicists, are inevitably bought and sold by the Big Money.  Hitler, a self-styled critical, independent analyst, said the same about “Jewish Bolshevism” as a front for finance capital. 

 

 

An orgy of obscurantism. My review of the Fallen Flesh Brigade, then, retrieves the history of the antifascist “liberals” who have shaped social psychology in the twentieth century, and who have not been able to explain mass death in the past, nor to prevent its recurrence in the present.  I continue to study institutional sources of dead-end politics and other social pathologies, including primitivism, apathy, sadomasochism, and necrophilia.  I have summoned the ghost of Herman Melville to show the difficulties in achieving autonomy (the precondition for democratic participation) in societies that refuse appropriate structural transformation while simultaneously promoting “freedom,” “democracy,” and “critical thought.”  Racism, sexism, homophobia, artistic censorship, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, family violence, and elitism as they have been defined in today’s social movements will be re-assessed in this political and institutional context.  Artists’ depictions of modernity and its alleged social pathologies should be compared to those of leading journalists and academics treating the same issues.  

 

 

     We may observe that petit-bourgeois intellectuals–the sometimes defiant, sometimes conforming middle-managers who occupy the teaching and healing professions and who create media–have, owing to class origin, education, allegiance and interest, been structurally driven to identify with a declining “aristocracy.”  The middle-managers tend to reject Eros (the life-affirming rainbow sighted by attractive popular democratic movements), for Thanatos (the bleak response of the still-controlling old order looking into a future in which it, the owning-class, could be dispossessed)–hence the flight of middle-management to sadomasochistic social relations as self-discipline or “adjustment” to élite-controlled, pseudo-democratic, unevenly emancipated institutions.  For some progressives, pain melts away as they rosily merge into the All. To a rationalist like myself, amazed but not intimidated by the power of irrational psychological processes, the progressives are a disaster: in their “radical” and “pacifist” but finally völkisch and reactionary ideology there can be no unified social action, no self-management or informed consent to management by experts, no concept of the independent artist, scientist, or any (relatively) autonomous, dissenting individual, no constructively critical intellectual: open-minded and, along with a collective of other critical thinkers, meandering purposefully toward either provisional or solid conclusions.

           [1] See David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (N.Y., Basic Books, 1995); James L. Nolan, Jr. ed., The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996).

            [2] See Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God That Failed: Hans Freyer and the deradicalization of European conservatism (Princeton U.P., 1987).

            [3] My description of German Romanticism and its core beliefs is taken from J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916).

            [4] Andress, p.251.

            [5] George L. Mosse, Confronting The Nation: Jewish and Western Nationalism (Brandeis U. Press, 1993): 133; he was citing Hans Weil, 1930.  But Mosse qualified his approbation, perhaps in defense of his stigmatized homosexuality.  The concept of Sittlichkeit anchored the individual in the “restrictive moral order” of middle-class respectability.

            [6] Andress, p.303.

            [7] George Levine, “The Ambiguous Ethics of Self-Annihilation,” paper given 4/26/97, UCLA symposium, “The Values of Science.” Levine argued that Victorian scientists (e.g., Darwin) had merely substituted submission to Nature for the old submission to religious authority; the fantasy of liberty gave power to their bogus heroic efforts; enabling servants were absent from their narratives; (referring to the followers of Gross and Levitt, authors of The Higher Superstition) their moralistic rhetoric is full of vehemence and rage.  Similar arguments were offered by the other participants: “all knowledge is local,” there is no such thing as “value-free inquiry” or “absolute objectivity” in the academy or anywhere else, etc.

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