The Clare Spark Blog

May 31, 2015

Nietzsche on “the Jews” (and non-Aryan Christians)

Aryan Christ

Aryan Christ

(This the second of two blogs; read this first.

Nietzsche famously proclaimed that “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s fame, however, is not, nor is his professed affiliation with the Christian Middle Ages, noted in The Birth of Tragedy. We find his amorous influence in the Charles Manson cult (an emblem for the flower children of the counter-culture (?), including such immortal pop idols as the late Jim Morrison), in the hip followers of Foucault, and among postmodernists. These late 20th century (sex-obsessed) cultists were preceded by the Nietzsche followers in the earlier 20th century, George Bernard Shaw for one. Nietzsche’s Supermen were later made notorious in the Leopold and Loeb case that was dramatized in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Rope.

I was first introduced to Nietzsche in the works translated by existentialist Walter Kaufmann, who tried to rehabilitate him from charges of proto-Nazism and antisemitism, explaining in one postwar essay that Nietzsche separated Jesus from the Jews, finding them antithetical. I find it incomprehensible how he could have failed to notice this passage from Genealogy of Morals, aphorism VII:

[Nietsche, transl. Francis Golffing:] As we all know, priests are the most evil enemies to have—why should this be so? Because they are the most impotent. It is their impotence which makes their hate so violent and sinister, so cerebral and poisonous. The greatest haters in history—but also the most intelligent haters—have been priests. Beside the brilliance of priestly vengeance all other brilliance fades. Human history would be a dull and stupid thing without the intelligence furnished by its impotents. Let us begin with the most striking example. Whatever else has been done to damage the powerful and great of this earth seems trivial compared with what the Jews have done, that priestly people who succeeded in avenging themselves on their enemies and oppressors by radically inverting all their values, that is, by an act of the most spiritual vengeance. This was a strategy entirely appropriate to a priestly people in whom vindictiveness had gone most deeply underground. It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that “only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed. But you noble ones will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and damned!”…it was the Jews who started the slave revolt in morals; a revolt with two millennia of history behind it, which we have lost sight of today simply because it is has triumphed so completely. [end, Nietzsche quote]

This was the translation ordered by professors who taught my daughter while she was in graduate school, studying with leftist superstars Samuel Weber and Jacques Derrida.

It is but a short step from Nietzsche’s verdict on “the Jews” to social democracy and the aristocratic principle that seems to reign in the elitism of (anticommunist) social democracy, in the celebrity-worship of mass culture, and in sectors of the far Right that blame “commie Jews” for all their woes. Such is the persistent influence of the Aryan Christ. Indeed, an Eric Gill sculpture of the Christ with his whip graces one of the reading rooms in the William Andrews Clark Jr. library in Los Angeles–the same library that houses a sizeable Gill collection.

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library

May 25, 2014

Links to blogs on mass murder/pop culture

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

(Image from populist website: painting by Herbert James Draper (1909) attacks “vampire bankers” who send Sirens to destroy Ulysses—an image of The People beset by finance capital. By using this painting, I am not endorsing populist demagoguery. See comments below.) (Ulysses) (“Christian” love as antidote to “Jewish” hate) (Jared Lee Loughner) (James Eagan Holmes) (Adam Lanza) (retitled “The Godfather….) (How the punkish Foucauldians discourage mental health interventions.)

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

May 8, 2014

Index to blogs on postmodernism and its spawn

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 6:20 pm
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Frank Gehry's Stata Center, MIT

Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, MIT

The following was just distributed by a discussion group involving art historians in academe. It is the latest startling move from the academic counter-culture. Apparently, postmodernism is out. The author seems to conflate postmodernism with “interdisciplinary” cultural studies/multiculturalism, preferring the [sacrificial?] gestures of mystical minimalism, a refutation of all Romantic tendencies in favor of neoclassical Order/simplicity/reductiveness– a value system that George Mosse associated with fascism.
Here is the confused (?) and anonymous call for papers:

“Neomodernism is a term in philosophy that describes the critique of modernism as promoting both universalism and human rights; the relativism of the one is said to contradict the universality assumed in the other. Neomodernism is also a term used by architects to describe sleek, contemporary skyscrapers and office complexes. In sound art, Neomodernism names an emerging generation of musicians committed to “sound-in-itself,” to abstraction, reduction, and self-reference; it makes perceptual links to the visual arts and particularly the minimalism of Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell. Literary criticism—which has long recognized the NeoVictorian in contemporary fiction as a nostalgic return to the nineteenth century, its aesthetic principles, and moral sensibilities,—has no complementary understanding of a current fictional return to the early twentieth century. Neomodernism offers a conceptual alternative to the postmodern designation and indicates continuity in aesthetic principles across the twentieth century and into the present. This panel will explore the aesthetic, philosophical, historical, or ethical principles the Neomodern might express.”

The notion that modernists promoted “both universalism and human rights” is peculiar, and refutes Western civilization entirely. I saw modernists as mostly irrationalist, antiwar and primitivist, as theorists of decadence brought about by the feminization of culture as men left the traditional peasant households for white collar or industrial jobs during and after the Industrial Revolution. As for human rights, they are the West’s proudest achievement but the subversiveness of “rights” as a quality inhering in individuals (against arbitrary and tyrannical States), is not acknowledged by these pseudo-radicals.

To be sure, postmodernism rejected the 19th century turn toward realism and naturalism—creations of the despised hypocritical bourgeoisie and their science or technology that had ostensibly mechanized the world. The art historians who wrote this call for papers got the critique of Neo-Victorianism right.

But as for postmodernism promoting universalism, that is just plain wrong. The pomos are radical subjectivists, and insist that all knowledge is local and “historically contingent”—that means we are entirely prisoners of our context and that the past is unknowable. To be anti-bourgeois and anti-intellectual at the same time, is to be populist and entirely petit-bourgeois.

Nicolai Soren Goodich, "Anamnesis & Aporia"

Nicolai Soren Goodich, “Anamnesis & Aporia”

Here are a few of my prior blogs explicating the very hip, yet reactionary, ideas promoted by Michel Foucault and his voluble followers (including Judith Butler): (retitled “Reading between the lines”)

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

April 10, 2014

Women and power in the modern world

equalpay2Nothing in this blog is intended to diminish the suffering of males at the hands of more powerful males. Still, the silencing of many women propels me to comment at some length.

The Obama administration has raised the issue of wage inequality between women and men, some aver, to change the subject from ACA, which has met widespread opposition. This blog addresses why many women are blocked from high level jobs in business, technology, engineering, and other male-dominated fields.

First, there are power trade-offs. “Domestic feminists” argue that puritanism (and Protestantism in general) raised the status of women in the home. As medieval agrarian societies were replaced by capitalist industrial societies, men were no longer commanding labor and resources in the home; rather they were now absent fathers and husbands, busy with offices and factories. At the same time, Lockean psychology elevated the role of women, whose maternal duties now included the inculcation of ethics in the infant or growing child, born Locke claimed, with a tabula rasa. The historian Ruth Bloch calls this phenomenon “the rise of the moral mother.”

Understandably, males, faced with the complaint of undeserved subordination raised by both the first and second waves of feminism, were outraged: for them, women already had too much power. Her recently enhanced domestic role, plus her enthusiasm “to make the whole world homelike” in the progressive movement, combined to make the middle-class woman resented by displaced patriarchs or overly-attached “momma’s boys”. “What [more] do women want?” cried Freud, and many agreed with him, and still do.

[Added 4/16/14: a FB comment from Helen Logan Tackett: I work in a profession where my salary based on specific academic achievements, if a man in my profession makes more than me, it is due to him working more hours than me. Here is the truth; most women work two jobs. The real gender inequality is women now struggle to balance career demands and housework, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, nurse to sick children, primary caregiver for aging parents. When my son got sick at school, the school called me,mom, before they called my husband, his father. Where is government’s quick fix for the exhausted working woman due to holding down two jobs? Instead of government painting women as victims of sexist capitalism why doesn’t government provide tax deduction for work performed in the home? Paving the way for Hillary Clinton, in typical fashion, the Democrats use the victim ploy to convince women that if they don’t vote for Hillary, then GOP men will make them second class members of society by impoverishing them. In sum, vote for Hillary if you want money. Pathetic.]

Second, aside from gender differences in physical strength and longevity, heterosexual women are socialized to crave husbands; even many lesbian couples want children. In 1974, Lynda Benglis defined herself in Artforum against the vaginally-oriented feminist art movement with a tough and controversial nude self-portrait, holding what appeared to be an oversized erect penis attached to her body, asserting both androgyny and the cry that women were socialized to please men.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

It is still a shocking image. [I showed her current work in my 1970s slide show on feminist art, and I recall lots of glitter and non-representational pieces: Here is one that I did not see from 1973, suggesting what might emerge in the advertisement.]


As I have written ad nauseum, second wave feminists defined politically correct feminist art as the empowered vagina, confronting [war-making] men and the presumably all-powerful Western patriarchy with aggressive, shocking images. Having emerged from the male left-dominated antiwar and civil rights movements, their feminism was easily co-opted. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, semiotics ruled the day, and feminists were now Foucauldians and postmodernists, railing against the industrializing bourgeoisie that had once raised the status of all women. (See, partly about Judith Butler, their superstar.)

Today, there are token women in positions of power in government, business, and in our dominant cultural institutions. In academe, they have often settled for low-status Women’s Studies programs that are laughing stocks. And heavies in educational psychology like Howard Gardner may see females as inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed, keeping their journals [and their ageless skin?]. (See

Yet the token successful women complain of a glass ceiling, wage differentials, and segregation in such maternal occupations as nursing and primary school education. It remains to be seen if today’s feminists can bury their differences with conservative women in order to formulate a new feminist program that allows all women and girls to develop their minds and talents, not only their learned masochism of pandering to the male of the species.

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

September 8, 2013

Reading between the lines

Humpty-DumptyIn an often contentious thread on my Facebook page yesterday, I responded to a critic who suggested that I view my website as if it had the legitimacy of Biblical texts and rabbinic commentary. As part of my response, I argued that Biblical texts and associated commentary were “texts” susceptible to criticism and analysis (just as my blogs are meant to be by readers who fault my reasoning and/or facts).

Mine was postmodern talk (i.e., that all communications are “texts” susceptible to deconstruction) so this blog is about where I stand regarding postmodernism, which I do use selectively as part of my critical toolbox, along with “historicism” (See

I.First, wherefore the term “postmodernism”? Here is the Wikipedia definition of the movement: Its critics are vehemently opposed to this movement in criticism because of its “nihilism,” its denial of “truth,” its challenge to the authority of “science,” its tendency to “anarchism,” and its “moral relativism.” In practice, the postmodernists often point to bureaucratic rationality (Max Weber, not Karl Marx!) and mechanistic thinking as the cause of such catastrophic phenomena as the Holocaust. Since the general tendency of cultural studies follows the postmodern/poststructuralist agenda, I will explain why I find much of it useful, if not all.

While in graduate school at UCLA, many postmodernists saw me as sympathetic to their cause, perhaps because I was doing “reader-reception theory” (exploring the drastically changing meanings assigned to Herman Melville’s texts since the 19thcentury). I.e., I was looking competing narratives that explained Melville’s sometimes difficult texts . There was a similar interest in my finding that many of the key Melville revivers were practicing psychological warfare, while in some cases, caving to academic pressures that conflicted with their spontaneous responses to Melville’s often ambiguous, even mysterious life and art.

The key word is “ambiguity” along with “indeterminacy,” terms espoused by “pomos.”  Being an introspective person, I do find my own life to be ambiguous in the sense that I cannot relate a personal history with a definite cause and effect sequence. Where I depart from postmodernism is in its insistence that all of science is “a swindle”, or that “mechanical materialism” is a philistine element of the Enlightenment that caused “the Holocaust,”  or that all attempts at reconstructing the past are fool’s errands.

II. Second, a few words about cultural pluralism as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is undoubtedly offensive to some readers that I view the Bible as a text, rather than seeing it as God-originated revelation; I imagine that my Orthodox Jewish son-in-law would see my position as Talmudic and typically Jewish. One reason for the duration of our representative republic is the notion of tolerance and relatively free exchange of ideas. Whereas Europe was engulfed in war following the Reformation, the Founders very wisely insisted in a separation of Church and State: there would be no established state religion. The culture wars are fought over this point, and they have polarized the country around competing readings of the Constitution, with “secular progressives” read out of the polity by some pundits on the Right.


III. Third, the notion of “the will to power” (the title of one of Nietzsche’s books).  I have seen many Facebook comments attributing “the will to power” as the driving purpose of their ideological opponents. Indeed, in a past field exam for the U.S. history graduate students, one question asked us to comment on feminism as “the will to power.” I took this to be a hostile response to such usurpers of male authority as Anne Hutchinson in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But in my dissertation research, I noticed that aristocrats threatened with dispossession by partly emancipated women, Jews, and workers after the French Revolution, attacked these rising groups as motivated solely by a demonic, hence illegitimate, desire to control them. It is my view that Foucault and his followers come out of this aristocratic reaction to the rise of the bourgeoisie with its all-engulfing “cash nexus.”

During the period that I was shopping my book manuscript, an occasional reader would accuse me of too closely identifying with the dastardly Captain Ahab, and imagining that I had the right answer to the Melville problem, notwithstanding that I refused to conclude anything in particular other than the suppression of key documents in Melville’s life and art that would have made his more influential critics look really bad. There are problems that are insoluble, particularly where the human psyche and a dearth of primary source documents are involved.

Some other Melvilleans claimed that I was vindictive owing to my firing as Program Director of KPFK in 1982! Obviously, I, a female with strong views about censorship, must be possessed by “the will to power” over authoritative male literary historians.  Whereas I should have backed off and admitted that there are a “multiplicity of readings” on all matters of fact. For these nay-sayers I perhaps invoked Hawthorne’s sketch of the uppity, puffed-up “Woman” : Hester Prynne was modeled on Anne Hutchinson as Michael Colacurcio once argued.

As the late Norman J. Levitt insisted in his takedown of the postmodernists among the academic Left, some science is “settled.”  But the “bourgeois apologist” Levitt is dead, and I hear rumors that 2+2=5.

will to power

December 9, 2012

Holiday blues, Unhappy families

norman-rockwell-coupleOne of Freud’s primary themes in treatment of his patients was the separation of (idiosyncratic) neurotic anxiety from objective anxiety. Since anxiety disorders (along with depression and post-traumatic stress disorders) are widely present in our culture, I thought that the general subject was worthy of focus and exploration.

Keep in mind that many of Freud’s original writings were published before the events of the 20th century, with horrors such as the Great War leading to innovations in his repertoire, for instance “the death wish” or a general pessimism regarding the human condition (“everyday unhappiness”), not to speak of his attack on all religion as infantile regression in The Future of An Illusion (1928). But the Freudians today are few and cater to an older, usually moneyed urban clientele, while it is the Jungians whose influence has penetrated into popular culture and even school curricula, owing perhaps to Jung’s postulation of a racially-specific unconscious that blends well with racialist theories of multiculturalism. (For my numerous blogs on Jung and Jungians, see

It is more often the case that Freud’s influence, if any, is filtered through the structural functionalism of Talcott Parsons and similar social theorists who are more interested in adjustment and functionality (stability in interpersonal and international relations), than in the tracking of personal traumas and intertwined social traumas that lead to troubling “symptoms” such as the anxiety disorders. Indeed, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  has been funded by liberals and their foundations and related organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation, U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, and the American Psychiatric Association. Their approach is managerial, as opposed to an orientation to cure, for that could lead to radicalization or other postures deemed destabilizing to social order imagined by the moderate men.

NPR recently interviewed a psychiatrist in the know about changes to DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used by physicians of every kind in labeling and prescribing treatment for their patients. This psychiatrist stated that it was likely that grief (a subject that has not been previously “medicalized” as abnormal) would be limited to two months, after which antidepressants might be indicated. (For a general summary of proposed changes in DSM-V see, posted December 6, 2012.)

Some passages from the Introduction to DSM-IV bear quoting, especially as they are not only as indecipherable as Parson’s own famously awful prose, but are careful to avoid positing dualisms between mind and body, or labeling suffering “individuals”:

“In DSM-IV, each of the mental disorders is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom. In addition, this syndrome or pattern must not be an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event, for example, the death of a loved one. Whatever its original cause, it must currently be considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual. Neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of dysfunction in the individual as described above.” [I have not yet found a definition of “the individual”; rather, progressives are careful to define the “individual-in-society.”  See CS]

[DSM-IV, cont.:]  “A common misconception is that a classification of mental disorders classifies people, when actually what are being classified are disorders that people have. For this reason, the text of DSM-IV (as did the text of DSM-III-R) avoids the use of such expressions as “a schizophrenic” or “an alcoholic” and instead uses the more accurate, but admittedly more cumbersome, “an individual with Schizophrenia” or “an individual with Alcohol Dependence.” ( my emphasis, pp. xxi-xxii)

This is the language of progressivism, pretending that these experts believe in the discrete, unique individual, while all along using quantification and statistics that attempt to describe disruptive (mal-adjusting) group behaviors: “disorders that people have.” Moreover, their language is so vague and abstract that I for one, can barely decode their language. But I suspect that “defiant” individuals (who have their own section in DSM-IV) are deemed dysfunctional no matter how rationally based their nonconformity may be. (I was considered to be “defiant” or excessively “experimental” in graduate school by leading professors, sometimes in private, sometimes in public. See

The language that I have quoted is so abstracted from the real life experience of classes, genders, or other groupings that one wonders if the suspicions of the anti-psychiatry theorists are not themselves more rational than the mental health practitioners who rely upon DSM’s diagnostic codes to prescribe pills and other remedies for symptoms that are imposed by the concrete life experiences of soldiers, abused and neglected children, or simply members of families that do not meet their individual emotional and biological needs.

But as I read the section in DSM-IV on post-traumatic stress disorders, I was struck by the usefulness of these causal situations to current day problems that are often global in nature: the direct experience of war and falsifying propaganda; the demoralizing teaching of history as non-stop atrocity; the hyper-sexualization of American culture that exposes children to sexual scenes at early ages; the crime shows on television or in the movies that are graphically violent and sexual in nature; the constant broadcasting of apocalyptic scenarios that blame industrialization for the imminent end of life on our planet; “rage against the machine” by rock bands and other counter-culture wannabe stars; gangsta rap; the barrage of images of the happy gift-giving, problem-solving family (especially from Thanksgiving on through Christmas)–families untroubled by generational conflict, misunderstanding, or sibling rivalry.

While I object to the introductory material that I have quoted, the many social-cultural-political sources of PTSD are useful to the understanding of “objective anxiety.”

How neurotic are we, or are most of us rationally reacting to an objectively terrifying world? (For a related blog see For a description of the controversy surrounding revisions of DSM-IV, see

Why does Norman Rockwell have a German helmet circa WW1 perched on top of his easel?

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell

January 4, 2011

Railroading Ayn Rand/Alissa Rosenbaum/Dagny Taggart

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:04 pm
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This blog is about my reaction to the essays in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, ed. Mimi Reisel Gladstein and Chris Matthew Sciabarra (Penn State UP, 1999). Here is an anthology that encapsulates everything I find discouraging about those feminists have become acceptable in journalism and academe. With the exception of Barbara Branden’s lead essay, I doubt that the other contributors were able to read Rand with the understanding her important and pathbreaking work deserves. But if the contributors were short on the major themes in her fiction, they were long (but boring and uninformative) on the subjects of sex and gender. They are not alone in this preoccupation.

Having lived through (and “acted out” in) the 1970s, and having publicized feminists in the art world on my radio program and in slide shows (on sex and violence in the art of women artists and photographers), and having known many of the radicals who later became academic celebrities, I can attest to the emphasis placed on sexual liberation during those years. It broke up marriages, belittled the psychological meanings and consequences of sexuality, and provoked a right-wing Christian backlash against the threat to the family and to the status of women. When I returned to school to get my doctorate in history (specifically the response of the humanities to Herman Melville between the wars), I noticed that the academic stars were frequently, either as Foucauldians or as pro-gay activists, writing about sex and pornography, and with a strong libertarian slant, even though they were either Marxists or social democrats, and one would think, would be rather preoccupied with the condition of the working class and labor in general.

Hence, it is not surprising that “feminists” would pounce on Ayn Rand’s depiction of sexuality in her major novels to the exclusion of other themes, conceivably of greater importance to the author—themes such as her assaults on fascism, communism, bureaucratic collectivism, irrationalism and all the mechanics of reaction that she observed since her arrival on U.S. soil in 1926. But more, why did none of the contributors notice that Atlas Shrugged took us deeply into the engineering feats and industrial expansion associated with the introduction of railroads? I would guess because 1. It doesn’t fit into the subject matter of “Women’s Studies” or “women’s issues” and 2. They were not aware of the railroad as chief symbol of ever-innovating modernity; the railroad as facilitator of rootless cosmopolitanism, industrial expansion, the stupendous improvement in the standard of living for all, and the broadening of the mind that travel made possible. The new steam engine and the discombobulating speediness (Rand’s shocking use of amphetamines!?) that trains introduced disturbed numerous artists and writers, from Turner to Hawthorne (see The House of the Seven Gables) to Magritte.

Turner’s “Rain, Steam, Speed”

Magritte’s steam locomotive

I am suggesting that Ayn Rand’s selection of the railroad as Dagny Taggart’s chief area of expertise and her leading preoccupation was no shot in the dark; rather, she continued an important Promethean line in the literature of the West. To illustrate that lineage, and some organic conservative opposition to the railroad, I offer a few paragraphs from my essay on Melville and his imagined Robert E. Lee (

[essay excerpt:] …Melville’s Captain Ahab was associated with railroads by “Ishmael” and numerous literary scholars, taking railroading Ahab to be the essential American type, spawned by self-fashioning Puritan New Englanders (the Chosen People), and mowing down everything “spiritual” in its path.[1] [Compare the uproar directed against Alissa Rosenbaum’s/Ayn Rand’s atheism, a refusal of Jesus so typical of secular Jews or, for many Christians, all Jews.]

Supporting the Iowa Railroad Bill of 1852, the fledgling Senator from Massachusetts had looked upon ever-enlarging democratic vistas: “It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of roads as means of civilization…where roads are not, civilization cannot be…Under God, the road and the schoolmaster are two chief agents of human improvement. The education begun by the schoolmaster is expanded, liberalized, and completed by intercourse with the world; and this intercourse finds new opportunities and inducements in every road that is built.”[2] Now, twenty-four years later, comes Melville’s most unbeloved character, the “geologic Jew” Margoth of Clarel, a hammer-swinging little man, and, like Sumner, another liberal avatar of capital, expanding markets, and common sense.[3] Margoth, like Ahab or Sumner, recalls Milton’s rebel angel Mammon, “the least erected spirit”; declining the reverential glance upward,[4] Margoth is “…earthward bent, [who] would pry and pore.” Addressing pilgrims touring the environs of Jerusalem, he obnoxiously desecrates the Holy Land:

The bread of wisdom here to break,

Margoth holds forth: the gossip tells

Of things the prophets left unsaid—

With master-key unlocks the spells

And mysteries of the world unmade;

Then mentions Salem: “Stale is she!

Lay flat the walls, let in the air,

That folk no more may sicken there!

Wake up the dead; and let there be

Rails, wires, from Olivet to the sea,

With station in Gethsemane.” (Clarel, 2.21, 84-94)

Margoth goes off to “explore a rift”–a worrisome idea for Melville as conciliator of unhappily riven natural families of upper-class white people, persons who were, as Margoth’s parting glance would imply, “in decline.” (2.21, 105-111) In his unfinished tome, “The Philosophy of Politics”, Woodrow Wilson too would be fretting over deracinating modern inventions: “What effect may railroads (all the instrumentalities which make populations movable and detach from local connections and attachments) be expected to have on local self-govt., and in producing nationality?” In the same projected work, he defined “Political Liberty” as “Obedience to the laws of the social organism.” As his biographer explained, the Whole, not rule of the many, constituted the Nation. (Quoting Wilson) “It is for this that we love democracy: for the emphasis it puts on character; for its tendencies to exalt the purposes of the average man to some high level of endeavor; for its principle of common assent in matters in which all are interested; for its ideals of duty and its sense of brotherhood.”

Deploying biological metaphors in his description of “industrial development,” Wilson invigorated his prose and his wilting class with the concept of an inexorable life process tending onward and upward; but liberty (including the right to dissent) as a human right had disappeared, along with the concept of the liberal nation: in its place, consensus instructed by the empathic leader, attuned to different points of view. [5]  [end, excerpt from “Margoth v. Robert E. Lee”]

I have suggested that the theme of Promethean man and woman, so evident in the oeuvre of Ayn Rand, is a missing element in the writings of feminists. Moreover, that she continues a crucial line in the history of the modern West. That academic feminists and journalist celebrities can look at her work without emphasizing the symbol of the railroad is a symptom of the decline of reading since the New Left entered Parnassus.

[Added 1-11-2011:] I am reading We The Living and the importance of railroads to Ayn Rand should be obvious. One can see her later work as not only prefigured in this first novel, but the devotion she lavishes on Dagny Taggart’s repairs of her family railroad can be seen as a repair for the trauma that Rand experienced as a dispossessed haute bourgeois and then the brutality of life in the Soviet Union before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. Every detail in this early novel brings me back to the Stalinist or Stalinoid  mentality I experienced at Pacifica and then later in graduate school. It was almost that repressive, and I can only be thankful that I finally escaped, as she did in 1925-26.

[1] The identification of Ahab with railroads occurs at the close of the chapter 37, “Sunset”: “Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!” That Ahab’s railroad image is tied to the civilizing process is borne out in Starbuck’s soliloquy in the following chapter, “Dusk.” “[Complaining about Ahab’s tyranny:] Oh, life! ‘tis an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge,–as wild, untutored things are forced to feed—“

Compare to Donald Davidson, “Expedients Versus Principles–Cross Purposes in the South,” Southern Review Vol.2 (1936-37), 651. Decrying the habit of South-bashing in Northern newspapers, Davidson complained, “Denunciations of the older Klan disguised the working alliance of Radical Republicans and the Robber Barons. ¼”Urban-industrialized society” demolishes “whatever stands in its path.” The claim of collusion between the radicals and crooked capitalists is challenged in Stanley Coben, “Northeastern Business and Radical Reconstruction: a Re-examination,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLVI (June 1959).

See also David Herbert Donald, Charles Sumner (New York: Da Capo Press, 1996), for epithets directed against Sumner, e.g. footnote, pp.4-5. Based on the belief that Sumner’s mother, Relief Jacob “’was probably of Jewish descent,’” Frank Preston Stearns (1905) attacked “’the Hebrew element in Sumner’s nature; the inflexibility of purpose, the absolute self-devotion, and even the prophetic forecast.’ Such a theory of inherited racial traits is, of course, highly unscientific. But in any case, the Jewish strain in Sumner’s ancestry is dubious. At no point in his career, when virtually every other possible weapon was used against him, were anti-Semitic charges raised.” On the same page, Donald reports that Esther Holmes, the mother of Sumner’s father (who had been born out of wedlock) was rumored to have had some “Indian or negro blood.” Donald presents Sumner as having covered up his genealogy. Having denied that antisemitic charges were made, on p. 239 (second volume), Donald, while comparing Sumner (who wished to bar all ex-Confederates from government) to the more flexible Thaddeus Stevens, states “He announced principles, as from on Mount Sinai, and deplored the compromises needed to transform ideals into legislative reality.” Opposite p.228 (second volume), in a chapter entitled “Very Like Robespierre,” a cartoon “Free Soil Her” (1864) is shown in which Sumner is kissing an ape-like black woman, with the rhyme: “In vain you’ve preached your precepts round,/ Throughout this whole great Yankee nation;/ I think that you should prove them first,/ And early try amalgamation.” See also caricature opposite p.197, “I’m Not to Blame for Being White, Sir!” Sumner gives alms to a black child, while turning away from a white urchin.

David Donald’s antipathy to Sumner is well known, but his criticisms were preceded, almost to the letter, in Anna Laurens Dawes, Charles Sumner (N.Y.: Dodd, Mead, 1892); Dawes viewed Sumner as archetypal Puritan/American, a prophet and our greatest orator, but not a statesman. Harold M. Hyman countered Donald’s statement that Sumner was “a man inflexibly committed to a set of moral ideas as basic principles,” observing that “in wartime matters Sumner was an immensely effective and intensely practical politician. As a combination, zeal and expertness are hard to beat.” In The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861-1870 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967): 103.

Also, on “bloody Jacobins,” see Patrick Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year Revisited (Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois UP, 1979): 225, for the Herald’s characterization of the Radical’s campaign in the elections of 1866. They were provoking another “reign of terror” in which Northerners would be fighting each other, were they to win.

The sub-text of the animus against Sumner is two-fold; first, as part of a historiographic trend claiming that extremists provoked the Civil War [see Hyman, “Introduction,” Radical Republicans]; and second, as an attack on laissez-faire by the progressive movement. The latter is summed up by Hardin Craig, Woodrow Wilson at Princeton (Norman, OK: U. of Oklahoma P., 1960): 14. “[Wilson believed] that universities should devote themselves always, regardless of other obligations, to the wise and proper service of the state, a belief that runs all through his university career.” Or, “’The chief end of life” is “to discipline men to serve the state, religiously, loyally.’” (10). “Order” for Wilson means “a sense of unity in human existence and in the universe itself.” (11) Leadership should make it clear that “Democracy is not a natural instinct of men–quite the contrary–and the doctrine of laissez-faire is its ruin.” (19). But the national government is not the chief focus of loyalty. Referring to Wilson’s article, “The Study of Administration,” (1887), Craig comments: “This article seems to suggest in education, as in all great social undertakings, a confederation of parts rather than a centralization of power, and a wide union of tolerated divisions of prerogatives in pursuit of common purposes ‘in honorable equality and honorable subordination.’ In other words, educational institutions should assume a form and operation not unlike his idea of the American system of government.” (22-23). Contrast this deified state and its “confederation of parts” to Sumner’s concept of the supreme central government as protector of individual development, and enforcer of “absolute equality before the law” in the states.

[2] Quoted in Jeremiah Chaplin and J.D. Chaplin, Life of Charles Sumner (Boston, 1874), 183-184.

[3] Herman Melville, Clarel, 2.22, 14; 1.24, 27-48. All references from Northwestern/Newberry edition.

[4] See Woodrow Wilson, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” below, p.  . For the explicit linking of Margoth to the rebel angels, see Clarel, 2.28, 9-10, 30-32. Margoth plucks a “fetid” fruit: “Pippins of Sodom? They’ve declined!” Then Margoth is viewed disapprovingly by the other pilgrims “raking their the land./ Some minerals of noisome kind/ He found and straight to the pouch consigned.”

[5] Henry Wilkinson Bragdon, Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years (Cambridge: Harvard Belknap Press, 1967), 257, 258, 259. The idealist intellectual tradition defended by relativists in cultural studies, etc. is plainly illustrated in the communitarian thought of Woodrow Wilson. Note the pseudo-materialism of his approach to history and the Burkean foundation of his approach to authority. See Mere Literature and other Essays, 1896, and republished in the Houghton, Mifflin Riverside Press edition of 1924. Except for his new piece on Edmund Burke, they had previously appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Century Magazine, and Forum. The Wilson essays follow to the letter the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner, and illustrate the post-Civil War blood-and-soil organic conservatives co-option of the idea of progress. Organic conservatives were now democrats; they contrasted the ostensibly atomized, hence selfish, individual (the “mad scientist,” a synecdoche for Jacobins, in the tory discourse) with the individual-in-community. [for mad scientist, read Margoth]

In “The Course of American History,” 213-247, Wilson adjusts the prior materialist formulation of American history as a (sectional) battle between [Hebraic] Puritans and Southern slaveholders to control the labor system in the Western territories. This domineering (i.e., Whiggish) narrative, Wilson claims, was a creation of New Englanders who dominate the writing of history. Following his former student, Fredrick Jackson Turner, he shifts the axis from North versus South to East versus West, with the ever- receding frontier shaping American character. And East and West are not in conflict, but interact upon each other, staving off both decadence and overly Jacksonian political styles and objectives (i.e., the negative State).

Wilson emphasizes the importance of the middle states, ostensibly neglected by the New Englanders (aka “the chosen people”). What makes Lincoln the greatest American President and “supreme American” is 1. his ability to synthesize the conservative East and vigorous West; and 2. to understand and appreciate the point of view of all Americans, including most importantly, the South; moreover Lincoln is the great autodidact, bringing harmony instead of endless conflict into his (unfinished) life (206-208). (Autodidacts had been the object of horrified scrutiny since the invention of the printing press, and as materialists had been characterized as archetypal assassins.) Lincoln is contrasted to Thomas Jefferson, an example of “mixed breed” (187) because he had imbibed the French revolutionary spirit, and was hence, in Wilson’s words, “un-American.” (198) Jefferson, like other troublemakers, was impractical and given to abstractions. (196-199). What was at stake here? Supporting Burke, Wilson eschewed “government by contract” in favor of “government by habit.” (155)

“The history of a nation is only the history of its villages writ large.” (214). Wilson’s advocacy of local history (the “vital” kind) is of a piece with his progressivism, also localist, in contrast to the big Leviathan state that increasingly characterized the New Deal in the late 1930s. Literary historians as well as historians of science should read the Wilson essays in tandem with the pro-fascist writers of American Review, edited by Seward Collins in the mid-1930s that attempted to unite the English Distributists, New Humanists, Southern Agrarians, and Neo-Thomists in a revolutionary conservative synthesis. The empiricism of St. Thomas Aquinas was constantly praised, along with the classical notion of the rooted individual as it had existed in the High Middle Ages. It is out of this intellectual tradition, I believe, that the cultural approach to history (to use Carolyn Ware’s phrase) was derived, setting itself against the dangers of “scientific” history that could lead the investigator, Ahabishly, god-knows-where. Such are the wondrous ways of the moderate men, and it seems to me to be the way of those who aspire to activism as historians; that is, their reforms entail non-structural adjustments (ethnopluralism and inter-racial understanding, for instance) that presume harmony as the outcome.

November 19, 2009

The Scary City: Lamprecht, Becker, Lynd

[Added 11-8-10: The prolific historian Karl Lamprecht is discussed below. It is helpful to know that he was a strong supporter of Pan-Germanism and expansionism as a way to buy off the working class, hence to counter the influence of Social Democrats (revolutionary socialists) in Germany. Like other imperialists, he emphasized the crucial role of the “leading personality.” See discussion in Rohan D’O. Butler, Roots of National Socialism (1941), pp 194-96 . ]

Some historians have complained about the influence of Michel Foucault on the programs of historical associations and periodicals. I agree about his enormous influence, but applaud him insofar as he focuses us on institutions and ideologies in the diagnosis of mental illness;  I also think it is an error to identify one particular intellectual with the near-hegemony of “cultural history” or cultural studies. The same error was committed in the book The Shadow University by Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate, which blames whacko speech codes and secretive kangaroo courts in academia to the baleful influence of Herbert Marcuse and especially his essay on repressive tolerance. The post1960s generation, however, did not initiate those tendencies in the teaching of history.

This website has been reviewing the salvos directed at the “scientific historians” of the late nineteenth century by the German historicists (derived partly from the 18th C. theologist J.G. von Herder, the founder of comparative literature and cultural studies based on his concept of the Volksgeist) who created the field of “social psychology,” a field that simply swallowed up all of history in its capacious maw; it was the latter group of extreme subjectivists/relativists (oddly calling themselves “progressives”) who invented the policy of “multiculturalism” and the practices of “postmodernism.” Some historians reading my blogs will be aware of Carl Becker (a student of Frederick Jackson Turner). Becker was promoted by conservative liberals as a great historian and great artist (the linking is crucial) after his death in 1945. They might profit from a series of five lectures in English entitled What is History? by the German historian Karl Lamprecht (d.1915), an important influence on Becker (who seems to have simply appropriated his ideas), along with William James’s. These Burkean gradualists knew exactly who and what the enemy was and took accurate aim: cities (the site of urban disorder and revolution), working-class militancy, “the economic interpretation of history,” the philosophes of the Enlightenment, eighteenth-century  liberalism (Adam Smith), the machine, materialism, empiricism, the possibility of an objective history of the past as it occurred,  the overstimulation of the modern world that was causing mass neurasthenia and the exaggerated belief in the perceptiveness of the individual fact-gatherer (aka narcissism) as well as the susceptibility of the masses to hypnotic suggestion by demagogues.

Here is more detail about Lamprecht’s intervention in the campaign for the establishment of “culturally-oriented investigations” and the positing of “national identity.” See What Is History? Five Lectures on the Modern Science of History, by Karl Lamprecht, Professor of History in the University of Leipzig, translated from the German by  E. A. Andrews and published by Macmillan, 1905. William E. Dodd, Wilsonian historian and diplomat, had a hand in the revisions for the English-speaking reading public. Here is what the preface says about Lamprecht’s importance:

[William E. Dodd:]  “Like everything else in this world, this little book has its raison d’être and its special occasion. As to the former, the author felt that in his work on the “History of Germany” he had carried his investigations far enough into the different culture-epochs to justify him in formulating and presenting to the public his ideas as to the content of history and the true method of writing it. The immediate occasion came in the form of an invitation to take active part in the Congress of Arts and Sciences which met in St. Louis during the World’s Fair. There the first lecture was delivered. Being called on also to deliver some addresses on the occasion of the celebration of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Columbia University, New York, in October of the same year, it seemed proper to follow up there the same line of thought. In this way originated the last four chapters of the book. Another incentive was given in the literature of recent psychological science, particularly in von Lipps’ “Outlines of Psychology,” –a book which seemed to invite a further application of the laws of psychology to the science of history.” For more on William E. Dodd, see

Here are two excerpts from the Third Lecture (Transition to Present Conditions) that lay out the ideological program of Lamprecht (playing doctor to society) and his successors among Pragmatists and Progressives and New Left postmodernist critics of mass culture/modernity. First he diagnoses the primary symptom of decadence, Reizsamkeit. (Because of individualistic science, Romanticism and naturalism, the world was too much with us.):

[Lamprecht:]   “The first effect of the revolution is a complete dissociation of the former socio-psychic conditions. The social changes with the resulting increase of city activity, with its nervous haste and anxiety, its unscrupulous abuse of individual energy, progress of the technical arts, and the extraordinary multiplication of the means of communication throughout the world, the rapid development of all the sciences which deal directly with man, followed this enlargement of life: all these and a thousand other moments of modern development produced a great number of new stimuli, which neither the individual nor the community could escape; for they formed in their totality, so to speak, a new historical atmosphere.  But the individual as well as the soul of the people as a whole, being continually surrounded, besieged, and permeated by a flood of new impressions, soon lost the former self-mastery and weakly yielded to the new stimuli. This went on, in the beginning, under a strong repulsion of the higher moments of will; energy was absorbed in a high degree by the acceptation and augmentation of the new stimuli, and was thus limited to an energetic volition in economic life and to a marked receptiveness in the domains of the higher intellectual culture. Moral standards (Anschauung) and intellect were taxed to the utmost; they were subjected to the perpetual assault of the new stimuli.  This is the cause of the general nervous excitement, which now began and which often came to light in pathological investigations–it was now that neurasthenia was discovered as a special form of disease,–and which has not abated until today, but rather entered into the very psychic nature of the present and has become a constituent of the excitability or mental attitude of the age.

There appeared hand in hand with this increased irritability, according to the law of interaction, and as a sort of accompaniment, a condition of motor-psychic weakness: quick but shallow excitation of the will and a strong tendency to the enjoyment of excitation became general, because the much-desired compromise of excitations was never produced; excitations followed each other so rapidly that the even temper of mind, the oequitas animi of the ancients, was only seldom acquired.

These were, and partly still are, conditions which can be observed in all departments of life, but most distinctly among the entrepreneur class and in the new society. The entrepreneurs, the social and political leaders of the upper bourgeoisie, are above all typical representatives of this modern Reizsamkeit. How does this class of men despair during great economic crises, then how rash are they in periods of prosperity! And how irregular do these people appear in their pleasures, when, after the excitement of the day, they repair either to the exciting charms of color and form in a modern home or to the modern theater or concert-hall, where the mind is kept in constant tension!

Even the laboring classes created under the new conditions are subject to similar, though modified, psychic impressions; up to what degree is shown by the fact that special forms of psychosis, as e.g., the traumatic one, have appeared in that class as well as with their employers. Have the older classes remained untouched by the modern psychic state of excitability? We can hardly say positively that the peasants themselves, since they have exchanged their chalk accounts on the wall-door for the ledger and begin to read the market quotations, remain untouched, not to speak of the artisans, who have been seized by the rush of industrialism in the cities. What of the intellectual classes? The new nervosity is winning its way among them in various unobserved, and therefore most devastating, forms. (98-102)”

To counter the devastating effects of Reizsamkeit, a new science is taking shape, one with a definite political program:

[Lamprecht:]   “It is obvious…that, in a time of great psychic changes, the intellectual sciences would be thrust into the foreground. In this very domain a strong reaction set in against the unsystematic, individualistic investigation of the last decades; an analysis of the phenomena, to be made from new points of view, was required, and thus one came to the paramount methodical principle that, in the phenomena of intellectual life, the innermost, psychologic proceedings should be clearly understood, so that their reduction to general laws might be possible, be it laws of psychological mechanics or of evolution or biology. This is the impulse which is coming more and more to dominate the intellectual sciences, and the goal is a new synthesis rather than the detail work of the last few years.

When thus the imaginative and intellectual activities entered into the vast sea of modern stimuli, taxing their own lines of development toward new dominants, a general stimulus seems to have been applied. Men began to collect their forces again in the several lines of human endeavor; personal motives and aims were soon more clearly defined and often not quite so high-flown; the excessive demands of the so-called Übermensch gave place to the more simple and yet entirely modern postulates as well of individuals as of the state, and in society.  Ethical movements with high-set altruistic aims began to take form–a universal peace being one of the chief of these; a so-called aristocratic feeling or appearance became the first demand of cultivated society; piety was no longer considered a luxury; the former exchange of aesthetic and religious devotion disappeared, nobody regretting or perceiving its loss. The great unifying elements, society and the state, gain the first place in men’s minds, and that not because of the influence of a distinguished personality, like that of Prince Bismarck, but as a result of entirely new tendencies and motives in the lives of individuals. Unreasonable economic competition was first attacked; new legislation corresponding to recently developed social-moral ideals was enacted; men felt the old avenues of progress, opened by the laissez-faire policy of the years just passed, closed by the new ideals of a growing moral and clerical cosmopolitanism.” (113-115)

And Lamprecht means the rooted cosmopolitanism invented by his hero Herder, mentioned several times in the text: “…I must not fail to mention the honored name of Herder, the hundredth anniverary of whose death has just been fittingly observed by Germans throughout the world. In the realm of Germanic cultures, and even beyond it, Herder stands as the creator of the conception “Folk soul” (the psyche of the masses).  He was the first to admit the importance of the socio-psychic demands for the proper comprehension of the most important of all human communities,–nations,–and to draw from these the necessary conclusions…Science becomes a prophecy, philosophy turns to poetical metaphysics. That was the character of the great German period of subjectivity that began with Klopstock, and ended in the spreading branches of the philosophy of identity–the period to which Herder, as one of its first great phenomena, belongs….”(19-20, see also p.226 for Herder as rationalist).

His last lecture imagines the future of cultural history, a “scientific Weltgeschichte“. The new discipline of “World History” anyone? There is a brief discussion of Lamprecht and his influence on the American historian Becker in “Carl Becker: On History and the Climate of Opinion,” by Charlotte Watkins Smith, Cornell University  Press, 1956, pp. 66-68. The author somewhat evades or minimizes the influence of Lamprecht, in my opinion, but quotes Becker’s letter to a sociologist, A. J. Todd who was critical of Lamprecht’s subjectivism and abandonment of scientific procedure:

(Becker:)”It is quite possible to deal with the various sorts of particular activities in any period–the political, economic, religious, and intellectual activities–as illustrating, or as related to, certain mental or psychic characteristics common to the social group or nation. These common characteristics thus become a unifying principle round which facts or events, political or other, may be grouped.” (67)

What I found most interesting about Carl Becker’s last work is his volte-face with respect to the egoistic and self-deceived Enlightenment philosophes depicted in his The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, Yale UP, 1932) after the war started. In his address to The American Philosophic Society, April 22, 1943,”What Is Still Living in the Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson?” (published in Detachment and the Writing of History: Essays and Letters of Carl L. Becker, Cornell UP, 1958, a publication funded by the Ford Foundation), Becker reinterpreted the intellectual legacy of Thomas Jefferson, libertarian and agrarian advocate of small government, discarding Jefferson’s outmoded views to favor the social democratic state of the New Deal. Becker contrasted the Roosevelt administration and its regulatory measures with the selfish and ruthless laissez-faire policies of nineteenth-century liberalism that, he said, had led to global war and that he implied characterized Nazism! (234-235) Facts were now more separable from “the climate of opinion,” and the changing value biases of the participant-observer; apparently (in my view) historische Individualität could come and go as politically required.

Becker wrote: “…the incredible cynicism and brutality of Adolf Hitler’s way of regarding man and the life of man, made real by the servile and remorseless activities of his bleak-faced, humorless Nazi supporters, has forced men everywhere to reexamine the validity of half-forgotten ideas, and to entertain once more half-discarded convictions as to the substance of things not seen. One of these convictions is that “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” and “the inalienable rights of man” are generalities, whether glittering or not, that denote realities–the fundamental realities that men will always fight and die for rather than surrender.” (p.238)

Stating that Jefferson’s core values were timeless, Becker’s essay ends with his rewritten Declaration of Independence that he calls the “modern declaration of democratic faith”:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that the individual man has dignity and worth in his own right; that it is better to be governed by persuasion than by force; that fraternal good will is more worthy than a selfish and contentious spirit; that in the long run all values, both for the individual and for society, are inseparable from the love of truth and the disinterested search for it; that the truth can be discovered only in so far as the mind of man is free; that knowledge and the power it confers should be used for promoting the welfare and happiness of all men rather than for serving the selfish interests of those individuals and classes whom fortune and intelligence have endowed with a temporary advantage; and that to secure these high aims in the life of man no form of government yet devised is so well adapted as one which is designed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (240)

Of course Hitler and Nazism were also opposed to laissez-faire, but American diplomats and propagandists were intent on carving a clear channel between the two societies, indeed an antithesis. When historians quarrel over the question of relativism, it is often the case that there is a sub-text invisible to many readers: whether or not there are certain structural similarities between combatants in World War II as they had attempted to meet the crisis of capitalism in the interwar period.

Cf. Robert S. Lynd, Knowledge for What? The Place of Social Science in American Culture (Princeton U.P., 1939).  Like other slippery corporatist liberals, Lynd is transfixed by images of disintegration brought on by the excess of liberty and individualism transmitted by English high culture and spawned, he claimed (erasing the artisan radicals and scientists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), by aristocrats.  Freud, unlike Jung, is one of their (degenerate) band, pessimistically resigned to the eternal wars generated by innate aggression (240).  Lynd’s faux Marxist polemic (originally the Stafford Little lectures at Princeton, 1938) may be seen as a manifesto of the structural functionalism produced by Talcott Parsons and other ‘antifascist’ supporters of Italian Fascism at Harvard.  Reprinted six times by 1948, Knowledge For What? could stand as handbook for all the corporatist liberals/social interactionists discussed in my book on the Melville revival, including Lewis Mumford and the New Left Melvilleans.  For these radical critics, American society was made decadent by “the culture of cities” and the unfettered Ricardian economics that bred imperialism (personified in the hyper-individualist proto-fascists Ahab and Pierre).

As a masked Burkean conservative (239) Lynd, a Columbia University professor, presented himself as the defiantly open-minded objectivist, resolutely overcoming philistines commanding college boards of trustees who notoriously restrained Marxist insights and all independent research; Lynd will be satisfied with revolutionary transformation if that proves warranted by the collective of interdisciplinary social scientists, by training fit to examine the minutiae of human behavior in specific settings, the better to make us happy.  Lynd’s (German idealist) historicist philosopher-kings take some matters for granted: (English empiricist) history, social psychology and philosophy (hitherto associated with laissez-faire theories of government) are obsolete, but useful insofar as these tools are dragged away from the Ivory Tower and made handmaidens to social scientists dedicated to the problem-solving and relevance urgently needed by a society in crisis (175, passim).  Most crucially, as Lynd cautions near the end of his book, people are not only naturally unequal in endowments, they are decisively motivated by emotions, not by educated understanding based on experience; with the (unmourned) waning of Christianity and all religion, there can be no national cohesion without irrational appeals; anyway there are only different versions of the truth (cf. “intersubjectivity” in postmodern literary criticism) (166).

This passage says it all: “No large society can long exist which is careless of this element of community in feeling and purpose.  The tactics of a Hitler are profoundly right in so far as they recognize and seek to serve the need of human beings for the constant dramatization of the feeling of common purpose.  In our own culture, the roots of the earlier forms of common sentiment were in certain structuralized forms of authoritarian security: church, nation, local community, and family.  These latter, with the exception of nationalism, have weakened or disintegrated with the growth of historical criticism, science, and a mobile individualism.  The democratic right of the individual to think–or to think that he thinks–has played its part in the discrediting of some of these earlier authorities that were wont to focus man’s feelings.  And democracy, interpreted largely as the right to be free to take or leave the world about one and to acquire private property, has afforded little basis for deep common sentiment.  The heavy current reliance upon a man’s job (and the resulting offensive-defensive labor balance of property rights) to hold our culture together is due, not so much to the fact that people want only money, as to the fact that this is the clearest value that remains in a culture which has allowed other values to trickle away (85)…. American culture, if it is to be creative in the personalities of those who live it, needs to discover and to build prominently into its structure a core of richly evocative common purposes which have meaning in terms of the deep personality needs of the great mass of the people (230).”

(This is of course a paraphrase of Hitler’s populist analysis of Jewified modernity and its remedy, but Lynd does not seem to notice, having described Nazism/Fascism solely as racial theory run amok (159n), as “creeping” “leprosy” (221), or as “dictated…class-interest” 240.)  Lynd’s admired rooted cosmopolitans include (besides Mumford) Charles Horton Cooley, Frederick Jackson Turner, Carl Becker, Charles Beard, Vernon Parrington, Thorstein Veblen, George Santayana, John Dewey, Karen Horney, Harold Lasswell, Franz Boas, Carl Jung, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Gardner Murphy, and the newly formed Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (164fn).

Lynd’s book was a call for concerted action by antifascist, anticommunist social science intellectuals resolved to plan and deliver a totally analyzed, predictable, and controlled society where true love, spontaneity and mutuality could once again reign.  As an irrationalist, he did not have to adumbrate a rational theory of accountability in the organicist, harmonious utopia to be guided by the “blueprints” of rational and selflessly neutral planners–the social scientists who alone would determine what “cultural structures” needed change (237)–nor as a professed antifascist did he suggest a Fascist coup-type transition (213) to the benign and well-adjusted post-democratic but anti-authoritarian people’s community where everyone would get an education in the opera of everyday life. Where are the Foucauldians when you need them?

November 2, 2009

A Rough Ride Through The Culture Wars

Image (81)

Pierrot Escapes by Jaques Lipchitz (1927)

Materialists without materials

.  Within corporatist liberalism two varieties of “pluralism” (superficially similar either to Federalism or Jeffersonian republicanism) are deployed in fights over the curriculum.  Although they bitterly oppose each other neither faction questions organic formulations of society by positing the legitimacy and value of the dissenting, creative individual above their undefinable, indescribable, irreplaceable “group cohesion”; therefore neither can fully explain either antisemitism or fascism although they may be obsessed with issues of “control.”  For the culture warriors, “the Enlightenment,” like “the world community” or “the West” or “the spirit of an age” is an integrated whole, angelically pure and healthy, or diseased, depending upon its designated genealogy:

 [Aase:] Peer, you’re lying….

[Peer Gynt:]…Downward rushed we, ever downward.

But beneath us something shimmered,

Whitish, like a reindeer’s belly.–

Mother, ‘twas our own reflection

In the glass-smooth mountain tarn,

Shooting up towards the surface

With the same wild rush of speed

Wherewith we were shooting downwards…

[Aase:] Yes, a lie, turned topsy-turvy,

Can be prinked and tinselled out,

Decked in plumage new and fine,

Till none knows its lean old carcass.

That is just what you’ve been doing,

Vamping up things, wild and grand,

Garnishing with eagle’s backs

And with all the other horrors,

Lying right and lying left,

Filling me with speechless dread,

Till at last I recognised not

What of old I’d heard and known!

[Peer:] If another talked like that

I’d half kill him for his pains.

[Aase:] Oh, would God I lay a corpse;

Would the black earth held me sleeping.

Prayers and tears don’t bite upon him.–

Peer, you’re lost, and ever will be!

 [Peer:] Darling, pretty little mother,

You are right in every word;–

Don’t be cross, be happy—

[Aase:]                           Silence!

Could I, if I would be happy,

With a pig like you for son?…

[Peer Gynt:] Shall I write my life without dissimulation,–

A book for guidance and imitation?

Or, stay–! I have plenty of time at command;–

What if, as a travelling scientist,

I should study past ages and time’s voracity?

Ay, sure enough, that is the thing for me!

Legends I read e’en in childhood’s days,

And since then I’ve kept up that branch of learning.–

I will follow the path of the human race!

Like a feather I’ll float on the stream of history,

Make it all live again, as in a dream,–

See the heroes battling for truth and right,

As an onlooker only, in safety ensconced,–

See thinkers perish and martyrs bleed,

See empires founded and vanish away,–

See world-epochs grow from their trifling seeds;

In short, I will skim off the cream of history.–

I must try to get hold of a volume of Becker,

And travel as far as I can by chronology.–

It’s true–my grounding’s by no means thorough,

And history’s wheels within wheels are deceptive;–

But pooh; the wilder the starting point,

The result will oft be the more original.–

How exalting it is, now, to choose a goal,

And drive straight for it, like flint and steel!

                                        [With quiet emotion.

To break off all round one, on every side,

The bonds that bind one to home and friends,–

To blow into atoms one’s hoarded wealth,–

To bid one’s love and its joys good night,– 

All simply to find the arcana of truth,

                                    [Wiping a tear from his eye.]

That is the test of the true man of science!–

I feel myself happy beyond all measure.

Now I have fathomed my destiny’s riddle. 

Now ‘tis but persevering through thick and thin!

It’s excusable, sure, if I hold up my head,

And feel my worth, as the man, Peer Gynt,

Also called Human life’s Emperor.–

I will own the sum-total of bygone days;

I’ll nevermore tread in the paths of the living.

The present is not worth so much as a shoe-sole;

All faithless and marrowless the doings of men;

Their soul has no wings and their deeds no weight;–

                                   [Shrugs his shoulders.

And women,–ah, they are a worthless crew!

                                   [Goes off….

[Solveig:]…The boy has been sitting on his mother’s lap.

They two have been playing all the life-day long.

The boy has been resting at his mother’s breast

All the life-day long.  God’s blessing on my joy…

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee;

Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy! [Ibsen, 1867].[1]

 [Three Foucauldian feminist social theorists, 1992:] “…events in America and throughout the world have made the body a very contemporary issue.  New medical technologies have made state regulation of the body a pressing concern and raised serious ethical questions for scientists and humanists alike.  In many countries, politics has been reduced to a question of “image,” that is, the most “effective” presentation of a political figure’s body in the media.  In other countries, governmental policies (enforced sterilization, torture and genocide) attack the body and with it, individual freedom.  AIDS, overpopulation, and world hunger all raise difficult political issues involving the body and its protection.

      Such ethical and political issues all have their origins in the seventeenth or eighteenth century.  This period witnessed the creation and elaboration of a host of cultural and political practices which are still with us.  For example, the absolutist courts of the seventeenth century established new norms for bodily behavior, stressing restraint and civility over medieval impulsiveness and spontaneity.  At the same time, philosophers rethought the relationship between the mind and body and created a new epistemology based upon reason and bodily sensations, that is, observation.  With the scientific revolution, biology and psychology emerged as distinct disciplines, and thinking about the body had to be revised.  Twentieth-century discourses on race and gender find their roots in this critical period, and so too does modern political theory.  The emergence of more democratic forms of government opened up new questions about the appropriate extent and nature of the state’s control over the body.  As citizens replaced subjects, individuals wondered how they were to “embody” their new enfranchisement, how they were to act on the new-formed political stage.  The developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries–the scientific revolution, the emergence of the modern state, the birth of political democracy–created new ways of thinking about and experiencing the body.” [2]

      How do we know when we are not fascists?  Or pluralists?  It has been my contention that the scientific revolution bequeathed a method of investigation, not foreordained conclusions about the goodness and suitability of any particular economic system; moreover that the radical puritan (“Hebraic”) interpretation of the Old Testament insisted that each individual had worth and was a potentially rational, creative, and moral creature, capable of self-knowledge and self-management.  I have also argued that the German Romantics and their inheritors appropriated the scientific search for truth and turned it to the service of reaction with the propagation of ethnopluralism and the concept of “the-individual-in-society” seeking equilibrium (a return to the cradle or Momma’s lap?), not enlightenment.  Thus in speculating about reform it behooves the political dreamer  to start with the ideal of the freely developing, cherished individual, then to imagine alternative social structures capable of serving everyone without destroying excellence.  Meanwhile, Adam Smith or Hayek and the Progressives continue to confront one another. For today’s canon warriors the Enlightenment is part of their arsenal; you will find no racists among them, but neither are there many free-wheeling artists, the poet-type that Plato banished from his Republic and that Budd Schulberg evoked in his novel The Disenchanted (1950). 

     He’s not “our” Hitler. The cultural pluralists are class-conscious organic conservatives promoting  “diversity,” creatively coping with “mass society” and its kitsch-culture, and opposing nationalism and racism as obstacles to the global integration of money and markets.[3]  For this group there was one, unitary Enlightenment; it proved that capitalism was rational and politically correct, and they are its inheritors, whereas Hitler, a proto-New Leftist, is their antithesis: like other German Romantics (including Marx), Hitler simply opposed modernity and its intellectual tools.  For Alan Bloom, who assimilated Locke to the idealist tradition, the Enlightenment carried the rationalism ascribed to Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant and Goethe.[4]

      Other “anti-racists”–the “anti-pluralist” cultural relativists, New Left multiculturalists, critical theorists (followers of Adorno and Horkheimer), libertarian socialists and the Foucauldians–are the idealist descendants of Herder and other German Romantics.  For them there was one, unitary Enlightenment and bourgeois, materialist, “extraceptive” Hitler and other Western imperialists, similarly agents of state repression, genocide and ecocide, were its logical culmination.[5]  Thus pluralists and anti-pluralists alike would tend to see Nazi antisemitism as a form of irrational racism and hypernationalism/chauvinism produced by their rivals: for the neoliberals, German Romanticism, or, for some multiculturalists and even poststructuralists, a congeries of Enlightenment philosophers.[6]  For the corporatist liberal social educators/policy-makers I have studied, Nazi antisemitism functioned as “scapegoating”: a projection of exclusively inner conflicts upon the outside world by petit-bourgeois “respectable” authoritarian personalities.  Nazi antisemitism rarely was understood to function as outright robbery, as professional rivalry, or as a pseudo-classical response to fear of the mob. [7]

     Stalinist ideologues, whose vile authoritarian ways were ostensibly rejected by critical theorist “Western Marxists” and “libertarian socialists,” have equated “existing socialism” with its antithesis: “bourgeois society” run by sneaky Zionists/Jews/rootless cosmopolitans that were strangling “the peoples” with their octopus grip.  Zionists were perpetuating commercial fraud and consumerism, the illusion of American exceptionalism, and the Amerikan Big Lie of a Soviet military threat that had pointlessly militarized consciousness by advancing a cynical policy of thoroughgoing mind-control identical to Hitler’s.  For one powerful Soviet general and tactician, the late Dimitri Volkogonov, Nazi antisemitism was totally invisible: Hitler and his imperialist allies were hung up on anticommunism. There was one Enlightenment, and the peace-loving, tolerant Soviets and their anti-imperialist Third World allies were its sole legatees.  This could be Hitler talking; the Zionists control everything:

      [An example of official Soviet propaganda, written by Volkogonov before his conversion:] “The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support.

     The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good.

     This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them. ” [8]

 And yet, like poststructuralists or new historicists who reject “totalitarian” objectivists, Stalinists were appalled at the idea of an intelligentsia claiming authority while standing apart from state or faction: what middle-class conceit!  We may rest assured that Volkogonov was not a fascist because he says so.

 [At Martha’s Vineyard, 1968, Kenneth Boulding, Professor of Economics and Director, Program in Social and Economic Dynamics, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorador, Boulder, Colorado brainstorms racism and educational policy with other liberal leaders: [9]] “…I must confess that I am deeply, intensively bored with the subject of race.  I think it is the most boring subject in the world.  Unfortunately, we have to go on talking about it.

     My own hunch is that the main problem in this country is not race at all but class.  And we are extremely unwilling to admit this because our ideology says that ours is a classless society.  The brute fact is that we ain’t.  We are a society for the middle class, of the middle class, and by the middle class, and we don’t really care much for the lower class…Talking about attitudes, the main attitude I think we have to change is that of the good liberal white.  I must say that I have been observing with a little sadistic pleasure a number of white liberals exhibiting catatonic culture shock because of the black-power types and the brown-power types–the brown-power types in our part of the country are much more fun than the black-power types….(30,31).

 [Emerging from this conference, a concluding “Agenda for Action”:]”…we recommend…that college and university teaching and research in the social and behavioral sciences, history, the humanities and the arts, and research be made more vital in terms of contemporary social issues and problems, in terms of the need for effective social action and democratic social change.  The concern of the present generation of American college students that their education be made more relevant to society and to racial and social justice should be mobilized in behalf of such a strengthened program…[“Dangers” are noted:] 1. Racial segregation in schools may be temporarily or permanently increased through adoption of tactical and interim efforts to increase quality of education for minority-group children. 2. Compensatory and enrichment programs could obscure the basic issue of the incompatibility between high-quality education for all children and the existence of segregated schools. 3. Decentralization of schools could reinforce the neighborhood-school concept, which is related to the perpetuation of a segregated school system. 4. Remedial and special-admission programs could perpetuate double racial standards for judging academic performance of minority students, thereby reinforcing racial stereotyping and racism in education (158-159).”

 Gemeinschaft vs. Gemeinschaft?  Perhaps the culture wars are something of a tempest in a teapot, a generational conflict, a distinction without a difference, the younger generation acting out the primitivist holidays forbidden to their staid predecessors.  What they share is a view of the Enlightenment and the West as a unitary phenomenon transmitting “rationalism,” an organic entity to be either revered or toppled.  Neither side is capable of a materialist history, hence cannot and will not historicize “fascism,” and unlike some 1930s left-liberals or Trotskyists, neither side distinguishes between organicist and materialist intellectual traditions; instead they blame each other for autocratic behavior.  Modern artists, scientists, and other materialist intellectuals are unsafe in either camp.

      The older pluralists (defenders of The Great Tradition) want to protect their national culture from the assaults of New Left postmodernist crypto-fascist crazies.  The democratic pluralists do not ignore class conflict, do not mystify class with “race”; rather, following Aristotle, Montesquieu and Mosca, a plurality of economic interests are said fruitfully to clash, check and balance each other; its free-for-all unmasking operations leading to truth, rational compromise and thus “equilibrium.”  Democratic capitalism, paradise to the clear-eyed middle-class, offers equal opportunity.  Failures have no one to blame but themselves or utopian romantic rabble-rousers slandering an imperfect but solid system triumphally arched by the neutral state.  Thus revolt can only be diagnosed as an irrational “acting out” or “deviance” or “sentimentality,” the stubborn refusal of adjustment “essential to the maintenance of dynamic democracy imperative for humanity and national stability.”[10]  Of course this same generation of intellectuals (many of whose most articulate representatives are former 1930s Jewish Marxists) supported the war in Vietnam and other imperialist adventures; moreover to 1960s student radicals they seemed unmoved by urban squalor, the nuclear threat and a dangerously degraded environment.  Thus 1930s “scientific” Marxism, purging opposing voices on the Left, soft on the domination of nature and lacking respect for “traditional” cultures (flaws which are conflated in the imaginations of primitivist “deep ecologists”?) seemed part of this tainted “modern,” “Hebraic,” “Western” heritage to the children of 1930s radicals and 1950s conservatives alike.

      The maturing academics who entered the professoriate after their baptism in tumultuous 1960s social movements, movements without linkage to the disorganized and quiescent working class whose members were often understandably resentful of privileged “draft dodgers” and “anti-Americans,” responded indignantly to the claims of “equal opportunity,” the pride of upwardly mobile urban ethnics embracing the tradition of Jackson and Lincoln.  Since women and non-whites were so obviously underrepresented in university faculties and curricula, and since many 1960s veterans were sympathetic to black power and other national liberation movements (viewed as responding to internal colonialism and imperialism), some insurgents accounted for the absence of women and non-whites in leadership positions as symptoms of “white male” or “patriarchal” intolerance/hegemony.  The “multiculturalists” did not argue that the position of women/non-whites in the family and labor force precluded the lengthy period of leisure, privacy, travel and acculturation anyone (including working-class white males) needed to become a scholar; rather their “difference” made their cultures of “the Other” unfathomable to transparently obtuse white males.  The new pluralists settled into ghettoized ethnic studies and women’s studies programs which, by virtue of their particular institutionalization in response to the 1960s black power and radical feminist movements suggested ethnic and gender difference as the most relevant variables, the engines of history for non-whites and women (however often “class” might be dropped into the mix of “class, race, and gender”).  As was feared by the conservative liberals at Martha’s Vineyard promoting the coöptation of black nationalism, race (and gender) had virtually erased class as an objective category.  Not surprisingly the dissenting individual also went the way of all flesh, collapsed into a notion of “individuality” as a feature of groups (race or ethnicity).

      Fitting neatly into the idealist counter-Enlightenment which had promoted the concepts of racial, ethnic and national character, many theorizing young scholars, adopting a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Freudian rhetoric and, following the subjectivism, irrationalism, and group-think of Herder and Kant , defined themselves as revolutionary postmodernists, declaring that the categories of race, class, and gender, like literary taste, were all “socially constructed,” historically rooted, and thus “radically Other,” i.e., resistant to empathic readings or universal standards of truth and craft.  These anti-pluralist pluralists, champions of diversity and tolerance, have not been promulgating “hegemonic” Enlightenment or Victorian notions of species-unity (other than Herder’s international yet localist crazy quilt); they have mostly attempted to demolish the rationalism and universalist ethics spawned by the radical Reformation and scientific revolution then borne by the philosophes, “Old Jewry”–radicals like Price and Priestley as they were characterized by a hostile Edmund Burke–liberal feminists, and anti-slavery men or  “Black Republicans” like Charles Sumner.

      The underlying unity between generations is illustrated by their common periodization of Cold War-style repression of civil liberties in “McCarthyism.” Little attention is paid to centuries-old élite resistance to mass literacy and numeracy and the torrent of democratic ideas that followed.  After the brief hiatus of the Nazi-Stalin Pact (1939-1941), American Stalinists dropped that short-lived campaign against American warmongers, once more supporting corporatist New Deal policies against the assaults of “fascist Republicans” or “monopoly capital.”  The prolific Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation and foe to racism and censorship, was impressed by the methodology of Talcott Parsons and other “moderate” top-down planners who, after the war, opposed the arms race as an excessive drain on the welfare state.  Like many of the other corporatist thinkers described here, McWilliams was a regionalist and a populist; whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party as charged, he was certainly never a materialist.  His papers from the 1930s (at UCLA) suggest that he was following the Communist line, switching from a view of the New Deal as “social fascism” to best friend of the working class during the Popular Front (1935-1939).  Like other New Deal social democrats, he wanted to strengthen capitalism by bringing good labor unions and racial minorities into the system to stabilize the base.  After the war, “McCarthyism” was bad because it confused conservative reformers like himself with real communists.

      Writing in the late 1960s, political scientist Michael Rogin denied that populists were antisemites, as neoconservative Richard Hoftstadter had charged in his Age of Reform (1957).  McCarthy was not a populist, Rogin argued, but a spokesman for traditional conservative élites, the selfish laissez-faire crowd of materialists participating in the (bad) American Lockean consensus.  Denouncing white supremacy (hitherto an emblem for Wall Street and the power of Jewish money), proto-New Left radicals like McWilliams and Rogin internalized the Soviet-Tory terror-gothic scenario for the history of the last five centuries: Frankenstein monsters, the unique progeny of crazy scientists, Victorian prudery, and “the culture of narcissism” i.e., the ever unitary Jewish West, have produced genocide, exploitation of the Third World and the colonization of domestic minorities, mind-control by the mass media and CIA, urban snobbery, reification, commodification, luxury, and consumerism.  The radical scholars apparently hate money (commercialism) more than they love the creative, questing individual.  Do these populists resist the market as a coercive, brutal mechanism or, like displaced feudal clerics and aristocrats, would they ban the site of judgment by upstart “consumers” they cannot control?  Or, as anticapitalists and anti-imperialists, have they carved out their own super-moral niche on the market while apparently rejecting it?

 [Kenneth Boulding:] “Suppose we do something like this: We go to a voucher plan.  You give every child $500 to $1000 a year, and he can spend it any way he wants.  And give every Negro child $1500.

[Jerome Wiesner:] But that’s racism.

[Kenneth Boulding:] But I mean I am in favor of racism.  I think racism is important.  Well, they call it discrimination–not the same thing as racism at all.  These are two quite different subjects.  If you want to introduce some kind of counterweight to discrimination, this is where the federal government comes in.  We may see the federal government, the whole taxing-and-subsidizing business, as a total picture weighted toward correcting some of these ills of society.  This seems to me to be its major function (32).

 [Christopher Edley, explaining that his support of black power in the 1950s and 60s did not entail a belief in racism:]  Now some excesses have come to the fore.  There is a danger of black nationalism, there is a danger of black separatism that goes beyond the temporary withdrawal to recoup our strength, to regroup and to seek out the powers that we want–the economic and social powers that seem to be attainable for us as a group only through the use of black identity.  Now I think there are roles that Negroes have to play.  It seems to me that the power structure has only responded to the excessive demands that have been made in the Negro community, and that there are certain Negroes who because they are bold and courageous, because they have little to lose, must demand things of the power structure which are excessive.  And I think that if we–the Ken Clarks and the Chris Edleys and perhaps the Lisle Carters–have a role to play, it is to capitalize on the softening up process that results from the excessive demands… [Black identity and race pride] will enable [students] to band together to overcome the obstacles.  I think that subconsciously they are seeking to get into the melting pot and the mainstream of American life.  I don’t believe that black nationalism will be the major thread…I don’t think that we need condemn [black-power studies], and I think many of us get caught in the situation where we have to think as Americans, as Negroes, and perhaps as something in between.  And I think it is possible to identify rationally the roles that people are playing and to realize that really in the long run they complement each other rather than being antagonistic to each other (71-72).”

    So much for checks and balances.  In all cases, the Romantic Wandering Jew (the Byronic hero, Ahab, Peer Gynt as historian, myself) and our critical apparatus curse the strange diagnostics of democratic pluralists and anti-pluralist multiculturalists alike; s/he totes “the melting pot”[11] that jams Durkheimian solidarities too close to bad Jews, the latter identified in the nineteenth century by one republican theorist with “the moral nature of Anglo-Saxondom, with its virile instincts of right, freedom, and humanity, defending our cause against all comers, with indomitable courage and constancy of faith.”[12] Such troubling figures were revising and reconfiguring the past and present to produce what the “pluralists” regard as protofascist anomie, the alarming switch from homey, heimlich Gemeinschaft to intrusive and alienating, unheimlich Gesellschaft. [13]

 [Untitled poem submitted to London Mercury by an Englishman, Lawrence Binyon (a William Blake reviver of the 1920s):] From the howl of the wind/ As I opened the door/ And entered, the firelight/ Was soft on the floor;/ And mute in their places/ Were table and chair/ The white wall, the shadows,/ Awaiting me there./ All was strange on a sudden!/ From the stillness a spell,/ A fear or a fancy,/ Across my heart fell./ Were they awaiting another/ To sit by the hearth?/ Was it I saw them newly/ A stranger on earth?    [14]

      My estranging romantic Lockean psychodynamics or history would achieve a provisional “balance” through  1. experience and achieved understanding, learned afresh in each generation, not through the inheritance/quick fix of acquired characteristics;  2. tracking the history of the imagination, not völkisch instincts or the stamp of “material culture”;  3. recognition of the historical specificity of “roles” and conflict while comparing analogous structures and processes in other societies;  4. application of universalist ethical criteria, like Freud in The Future of an Illusion, not site-specific opportunism in evaluations of protest movements and tactics;  5. affirmation of species-unity and interdependence with humanity and nature in the never-finished search for truth and justice (legitimate authority), not ethnic or gender “identity,” as the basis for solidarity;  6. comprehensive, detailed description of controversial individuals, societies and policies without the use of buzz words like “moderation,” “excess,” or “extremism” ; and  7. preservation of the achievements of the past without ancestor-worship.  Nor would our “Captain Ahab” admit to (fatal) “subjectivity” as a “participant-observer” or “new historicist” while conducting our sleuthing expeditions, as if “bourgeois” historians/artists had never thought about their biases, welcomed “diversity” or attempted to restore the context of the facts they discover in archives or in other societies and sub-cultures.

                [1] Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt, Theater Guild Edition, transl. William and Charles Archer (N.Y.: Scribner’s, 1923): 37, 41, 43, 44, 215216, 320-321.

                [2] Ann K. Mellor, Kathryn Norberg, Sara E. Melzer, “Constructing The Body,” Clark & Center Newsletter 22 (Fall 1992): 2.  A recent Clark Library conference on “Vitalism and the Enlightenment” (January 1994) continued the anti-empiricist tendency, attempting to rehabilitate German idealism by reversing the usual association of “mechanical materialism” with the Left and vitalism and organicism with the Right.

            [3] See Lewis Coser, “Europe’s Neurotic Nationalism,” Commentary, June 1946, 58-63: “Cultural pluralism–the right of each people to its own culture–is perfectly compatible with unification on the economic and political plane, and it is absurd to pretend that those who favor such unification call for the standardization of European culture.  On the contrary, a diversified European culture is no longer possible except through political and economic integration.  “Balkanization” will mean not only material, but cultural poverty.  The only political, economic, or cultural hope of the peoples of Europe lies in an over-all community that goes beyond the separate nation.”  Coser’s cultural pluralism was asserted against “totalitarianism” resulting from nationalism (gradually transformed from democratic revolution to racism and imperialism).  These thinkers are vigorously “anti-racist,” but have substituted ethnicity as the category to study “the problems of group adjustment” and “real group differences that are the soil and raw material of democratic society.”  See Melvin Tumin, “The Idea of “Race” Dies Hard,”Commentary, July 1949, 80-85.  Cf. the Progressive A.A. Berle, Jr., “The Rise and Fall of Liberal Democracy,” Democratic Pluralism and the Social Studies, ed. James P. Shaver and Harold Berlak (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968): Scorning the “Jeffersonian” sentiments of New Left framers of the Port Huron statement demanding participatory democracy, Berle explained to high school teachers that participation could not exist in a scientific, bureaucratic culture (143); however, “democracy” was time-tested: “Throughout history democracy has been the most effective device for complex societies to coordinate the action of masses of people performing a large variety of complex functions (142).”

     If constitutional checks and balances are obsolete, then there is no basis for unity in this country other than the organic solidarity promised in ethnicity; perhaps “multiculturalism” is a way for technocratic élites to micro-manage “group” (but really class and institutional) conflict.  Ritual obeisances to the Founding Fathers would be used then to create the illusion of popular sovereignty; i.e., both Federalism and Jeffersonian republicanism are obsolete for technocrats.

            [4] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1987).  Note the organicist title; however Bloom distances himself from “the progressives of the twenties and thirties” whom he blends with Stalinists (32) and New Leftists.  For an example of the tug-of-war for the Enlightenment, see Roger Kimball’s review of Todd Gitlin’s book (cited above), “Whose Enlightenment Is It?” New Criterion, April 1996, pp. 4-8.  Kant is favorably cited, suggesting that the neocons are closet German Romantics.  But see F.A. Hayek, Individualism: True and False (Blackwell, 1946).  Hayek places the German Romantics with jacobins, utilitarians, and Marxists in the category of totalitarian thinkers.  His preferred lineage for the true individualist includes Locke, Mandeville, Smith, Hume, Ferguson, Burke, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton.  Anyone who claims to grasp the big picture is arrogant and deceptive.  In a fragmented world, only experts can judge other experts.  The placement of Locke in this pantheon is curious since Hayek has rendered rationalism (Locke’s contribution to popular sovereignty) as hubris.

            [5] Cf. Milan Hauner, “The Professionals and Amateurs in National Socialist Foreign Policy: Revolution and Subversion in the Islamic and Indian World,” The Führer State: Myth and Reality, ed. Gerhard Hirschfeld and Lothar Kettenacker (Stuttgart:Klett-Cotta, 1981): 305-327, for a discussion of anti-imperialist proposals supported by aristocrats in the foreign service, with similar efforts (1914-18) predating Nazism and opposed by inexperienced Nazis.  (The targets were the imperialist West; Cf. Lukács, 1952).

     Should some of today’s postmodernists and New Leftists be seen as anticapitalist/ anti-statists similar in outlook to the prewar Right (for instance, the Catholic Distributists Belloc and Chesterton, or T.S. Eliot)?  G.C. Webber calls the type “the aristocratic backwoodsman”; his classification of the interwar British Right could be useful today.  Rejecting the Fascist vs. right-wing Conservative division as too crude and non-descriptive, Webber suggests four categories: anticapitalist antistatists, anticapitalist statists (reactionary Tories), capitalist statists (managing capitalism like FDR’s New Deal or Mosley’s BUF), and capitalist anti-statists (like today’s New Right); all were to the Right of the liberal conservatives and of course Liberals and socialists.  See G.C. Webber, The Ideology of the British Right 1918-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

      Frankfurt School theorists reject (bogus) pluralism (as in Marcuse’s theory of repressive tolerance):”pluralism” masks a totalitarian (but fragmented) U.S.; Fredric Jameson argues for an overarching Marxist dialectic as the umbrella to local Marxisms (as there are national variants in late capitalism); this seems to me to be “rooted” cultural relativism, an apology for cultural nationalism; similarly other “historical materialists”/”cultural materialists”/postmodernists are idealists.  See Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, Cornell U.P., 1981): 31-32, 54, 74, 86, 87; Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of “late capitalism”(Durham: Duke U.P., 1991): xx. Cf. Ralph Bischoff, Nazi Conquest Through German Culture (Harvard U.P., 1942): 3, who writes “[Following an argument for unconditional victory as prelude to peace:] It is the thesis of this book that the march of National Socialism to power was in part due to the inborn cultural and blood nationalism of the German people, and the ability of their leaders to reawaken, reemphasize, and re-form certain characteristic traditions and faiths already existent in Germany and other German communities.” (This book was part of the Harvard Political Studies series).  Are these irrationalist portraits veiled arguments for total victory (or defeat), not negotiated settlements?

            [6] See for instance Richard Popkin, “The Philosophical Basis of Eighteenth-Century Racism,” Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture, ed. Harold E. Pagliaro, Vol.3 (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve, 1973): 245-62.  Locke is mentioned 245, 254, without citation for racist statements (as opposed to affiliations). In any case, the racism charge is present-minded.  Locke is included with Berkeley, Hume, Voltaire, Franklin, Jefferson, and Kant.  Popkin’s standard for anti-racist philosophy seems to be “egalitarianism and relativism.” I read Locke as opposed to the identity politics I am criticizing here; see Christopher Fox, “Locke and the Scriblerians,” Eighteenth Century Studies, Vol. 16 (Fall, 1982): 1-25.  For Locke, identity was fluid and based on (learned) “consciousness,” not (inherited) “substance.”  The violence of rude and barbarous peoples is not inscribed, but learned.  Relativism is supported in recent research supported by the Clark Library (UCLA); see Mario Biagioli, “Civility, Court Society and Scientific Discourse,” Clark & Center Newsletter 21 (Fall, 1991): 2-3: “…what we see emerging from very recent historical work is that the acceptance of the new science rested largely on the ways in which the practitioners managed to present themselves, their theories, their discoveries, their arguments and disagreements, and their experimental practices as fitting the proper cultural (and behavioral) codes.  In short, to gain acceptance and credibility, the practitioners of the new science needed to present themselves as fitting the codes of those who had the social status and power to legitimize their knowledge–that is, princes, aristocrats, and gentlemen.”

      See also Michael Denning, “The Academic Left and the Rise of Cultural Studies,” Radical History Review 54 (Fall 1992): 21-47: “The roots of United States cultural studies lie in the pioneering work in the 1930s and 1940s of such figures as Kenneth Burke, Constance Rourke, F.O. Matthiessen, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and Carey McWilliams…they shared socialist or leftist social-democratic politics, an interest in the popular arts, a desire to rethink notions of race and ethnicity and nation and people, and a concern for social theory.”  But neither Matthiessen nor McWilliams was a materialist; Denning’s imprecision in describing what were many distinct and embattled left and liberal tendencies during this period is typical of the vagueness, organicism, and anti-intellectual populism of the “radical” scholars I am criticizing.  Denning even cites the attacks upon 1890s populist social scientists, etc.”…which grew into the postwar “McCarthyist” purge of the universities.” (33)  Cf. Stalinist accounts of fascism: there was no populist (petit-bourgeois) movement or working-class support, solely the big bourgeoisie, inevitably fascist in decadent late capitalism; both Matthiessen and McWilliams agreed with this formulation.

            [7] See Samuel Gringauz, “Anti-Semitism in Socialism,” Commentary, April 1950, 371-373, misleadingly titled since the author denies that antisemitism is intrinsically found in socialism or any other ideology; it is rather a flexible weapon to be opportunistically wielded against one’s political competitors.  Gringauz follows Hermann Rauschning in viewing Nazi antisemitism as “the product of cold calculation,” relying on Hitler’s alleged admission, “The Jews are a valuable hostage given to me by the democracies.  Anti-Semitic propaganda in all countries is an almost indispensable medium of the extension of our political campaign.”  My reading rests on the assumption that a coherent case for madness can be drawn from Hitler’s writings; however I cannot tell conclusively if Hitler was sincerely antisemitic or a complete cynic; perhaps he veered between these two positions.  The aristocratic Rauschning’s testimony should be viewed with a grain of salt.

            [8] See D. Volkogonov, The Psychological War (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986): 125.  Emphasis in original.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the late Volkogonov, suddenly a Yeltsin supporter, Bukharinite and Menshevik, exposed the horrendous careers of Stalin and Lenin.

            [9] Racism and American Education, A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Introduction by McGeorge Bundy, Foreward by Averell Harriman (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1970).  Excerpted also in my Pacifica memoir.

            [10] Racism and American Education, 159. Cf. Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees.  Mandevillle was an eighteenth-century freethinker who explained that the vices of human nature, eternally the same in all societies, could be switched to the cause of productivity, that the alternative to robust empire was an elusive Golden Age that would contain only material deprivation, that “eutopian” fantasies/self-denial/altruism were only covers for self-love.  The Mandeville was republished by London’s Wishart (publishers of Gorer’s De Sade, excerpted above) and annexed to the Left in 1934 by editor Douglas Garman.  As an influence upon Adam Smith and as a precursor to Freud, his contributions need to be reassessed.

     See Richard Bernstein, Dictatorship of Virtue (Knopf, 1992) for a typically anecdotal attack on multiculturalism.  Bernstein, a Harvard graduate and New York Times reporter, traces the intolerance of the revised curriculum to Jacobin terror, while not criticizing the fundamental assumptions of ethnic studies; i.e., he is writing in the pluralist tradition of the 1968 conference on racism and education: the strategy has gone sour and the revolution is eating its children.  The “Marxist” multicultural movement is said to emerge both from New England Puritanism and the degradation and disillusionment of the 1960s counter-culture.  Bernstein favorably cites Joseph Campbell and uses Jungian organicist categories throughout while appearing to defend liberalism and the Enlightenment; Washington, not the invisible Jefferson, is the exemplary Founding Father.  While arguing for accurate history, civil rights, individual freedom, individual responsibility and development Bernstein never differentiates between the libertarian political thought of Western Europe (England, France, and Holland) and the rest of the continent.  Others in this faction include Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Nathan Glazer.

            [11] The particular menace of the melting pot is made explicit by the Catholic, Irish Nationalist, pro-Nazi James Murphy, Adolf Hitler, The Drama of His Career (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934): 120-121.  Catholic Centre coalitions with godless Prussians and socialists promoting a secularising Jewish press were similarly disasters for the simple, insightful peasants Murphy defends throughout.  He cites and recommends Hans Ehrenberg, Deutschland im Schmelzhofen (“Germany in the Melting Pot”).

[12]See Charles Sumner: An Essay by Carl Schurz, ed. Arthur  Reed Hogue (U.of Illinois Press, 1951):97. Schurz was referring to the Englishman John Bright, linking his character to Sumner’s.

[13] See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, ed. Jose Harris, transl. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Originally published in 1887, Tönnies’s book is considered to be a classic work of sociology, but not until after the first world war (xxviii-xxviii) was it canonized. At first seen as a “communist tract,” it was taken up by German “ultra-nationalists,” and in America during the 1930s was read as “an essay in consensual structural functionalism.” The editor of this edition seems favorably disposed to this elusive and mysterious work. Tönnies was the son of a merchant banker, and given his hostility to modernity, one wonders how much of his disgust with the modern world was intertwined with his feelings about his father. In 1892 he “helped found Society for Ethical Culture, the vehicle for his life-long involvement in various co-operative, social reform, and self-improvement movements.” (xxxi-xxxii)

            [14] Lawrence Binyan was an English Blake scholar, and a key figure in the William Blake promotion that followed World War I; the poem is in the J.C. Squire Papers, UCLA Special Collections

October 22, 2009

“Identity” and “Race”

Image (66)Several comments on my Facebook page raise questions that require more space than is available there to answer. They refer to 1. Jews as “the Chosen People”; 2. whether or not there is a cohesive “Jewish” identity; and 3. a suggestion that Jews might share a common genetic inheritance.

Everyone who reads this website knows that I have written extensively about “multiculturalism” or “rooted cosmopolitanism” as a way of slipping the once discredited notion of “race” back into the discourse of politics. Multiculturalism, I have shown, is not the same as religious pluralism (the outcome of the separation of Church and State), but rather an administrative (bureaucratic) response to raucous riots and related developments in the urban politics of the mid- to late 1960s. As I argued in this article for History News Network,, multiculturalism, taken to be the higher tolerance and respect for “diversity,” is a strategy that resegregated individuals and groups who were on the road to integration, or to use the older terminology, multiculturalism smashed “the melting pot.”  The latter was a notion that America would create a new man, one that led the way for older societies in its solidarity as a democracy with contributions from all its immigrants (and later, freedmen: see Charles Sumner’s speeches on the brotherhood of humanity, elsewhere on this site). Multiculturalism, I have been arguing, is above all, collectivist and irrationalist, in that it not only collapses the unique individual into a “race” or “ethnicity,” but insists that what scientists deem to be “facts” are bogus impositions on “the Other,” that in fact  [!] there are group facts incomprehensible to those not sharing the same group identity. Or, as the Foucauldians claim, institutional power creates knowledge, and “science is a swindle.”

Out the window went all the “unfinished revolutions” that I have blogged about earlier this year: the radical Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution. (For how this played out at Pacifica Radio, see, also “Storming Pacifica” in the same month.) For co-existing with all these “revolutions” are the powerful reactions by elites threatened with dispossession or inconvenient regulation. Scientific racism and the related 19th C. theory of “polygenesis” were staples of the aristocratic Right, while the best the Left could do was to oppose “racism” as the creation of imperialism, and in a related move, to advance the “Lamarckian” idea that social engineering would create changes in the germ plasm of living things so that “perfectibility” was not just utopian, but a realizable possibility. (But to the Leninist Left, anti-imperialism was not racist, but rather the righteous protection of “communities” under threat from the West. See the Lenin/Stalin-Rosa Luxemberg debate on the national question. My summary is probably too crude to do justice to the debate, but I stand with Rosa L. on this point.)

I am reviewing these positions as a prelude to dealing with points one, two, and three above.

1. With wealth-creating innovations in finance (starting in the late 17th century), came a renewed hostility to the love of filthy lucre, long associated with “the Jews.” “The Chosen People” was interpreted by those who stood in the way of these financial innovations to connote the intent of “the Jews” to turn all Christians into their servants and slaves. Their imitators in the later period deployed the Old Testament to “prove” that Jews were inherently militaristic and bigoted toward all other religions, instructed by their terrifying God.  Erased was the dominant conception of  tikkun olam, the idea that chosenness was an obligation to repair injustices committed by oneself, thence to make reparations (atonement) to the victim of one’s wrongdoing. Michael Lerner and his “peacenik” followers have transformed this individualized interpretation of Judaism, collectivizing it, and insinuating in the process that their way is the God-mandated path toward peace in the Middle East. Whether Jews are religious or secular,  possibly more than any other factor, the ethical obligation of tikkun (as understood by liberals) tends to lead individual Jews upon a path where “society” is uplifted. Most American Jews find the statism of the Democratic Party to be their natural home, while others find Adam Smith and neoliberalism to serve their ethical aims more effectively. I have never personally encountered Jews who believed themselves to be God-Chosen to lord it over all other groups. Even Budd Schulberg’s cynical Sammy Glick was not a typical Jew, but rather, in the author’s analysis, the product of the impoverished, narrowly orthodox Jewry of the  Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Sammy was brutally knocked around by non-Jewish toughs.

Hitler adopted the Chosen People line for his Aryans, partaking of both definitions described above: The Aryans/Nordics would be top dogs, but their mission was essentially ethical, in that they were doing “the Lord’s work” in annihilating race-hating Jews from the planet. (“The Jews” were the “anti-race” par excellence; he must have been thinking of their rootless cosmopolitanism.) Quite the nature lover, that one. In his second “secret” book (1927?), he envisioned a global union of racially pure volkisch states, dominated of course by the master race.

2. Is there a cohesive Jewish identity? If one means that there is a sense of solidarity between all Jews, then the answer is obviously not. One need only look at the debates between Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists in the 1930s and  early 1940s, as the destruction of European Jewry was in progress, while the world looked on with mostly indifference or relief.  Look around and talk to observant Jews who view with contempt or pity the “assimilated” or “self-hating” Jews who, in turn, reject any but the slightest Jewish identification whatsoever. This point needs no further elaboration here, except to note that Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock comes to mind: curiously, both his chief Palestinian and Jewish characters share the same hostile narrative of Israel’s founding.

3. The non-Jewish perception of “the Jews” or of individual “Jews” is historically specific. There are no pure races; liberals and leftists in the 1930s mounted a campaign to demolish such notions. But there is a common theme among groups who feel that their solidarity (i.e. property)  is under attack–the fear of “miscegenation.” Of all the negative themes in American popular culture, this phobia seems the most potent. See for instance, the hysterical passages in Thomas Dixon’s novels, especially The Flaming Sword, that imagined educated blacks as THE danger to the white race (whites meaning specifically the Scots-Irish who, for Dixon, were the true American patriots and fighters who won the American Revolution). Indeed in Dixon’s fantasy, the Southern Negroes, formerly the grateful recipients of paternalism, who then migrated to the North (where presumably they were educated) comprised 50% of the Communist Party! This book is the most chilling example of a native American fascism that I have encountered.

[Illustrated: an advertisement from an upscale magazine I received in 1990: the caption reads “A rare and fine Continental biscuit bust of a Blackamoor. Circa 1840….” The price was not quoted. Besides the “primitive” love of luxury and decoration, the position of the lips is suggestive of a willing sexual availability.]

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