YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 2, 2015

Are secular societies devoid of “virtue”?

Rationalism defended by Nirmukta

Rationalism defended by Nirmukta

(This is the second of two blogs on the gay rights decision by SCOTUS this week.https://clarespark.com/2015/06/27/gay-marriage-and-what-liberty-signifies/)

I was stunned to read these lines in Dan Henninger’s weekly op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, July2, 2015: “In the North, on campuses and in sophisticated circles, we are rapidly becoming unchurched, secularized. Which raises a question: Where will a predominantly secularized society learn virtue?”

I should not have been shocked, for I am aware that WSJ, like Fox News, is run by the moderate men, whose ersatz moderation masks their organic conservatism. That is, they are not embarked on a search for truth, let alone virtue; rather, they want national unity (no matter how illusory): political stability and social cohesion above human rights and facts. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

The moderate men are thus aligned with the “ethical state,” a state that is antagonistic to the Enlightenment and its materialism and preference for individual human rights over group-think. According to these organic conservatives, mystical bonds unite warring factions, with the management of opinion-elites who scaled the Olympian heights by their discreet and mostly unseen, or deliberately hidden, stratagems.

There is no contradiction between secularism and virtue except in the minds of various hysterics. Secularism as understood by the US Constitution guarantees that there is to be no established religion.(I recall from my reading of the Federalist papers that God is mentioned only once.) This disturbs ultramontane Catholics and communists alike, for pluralism and individuality, like scientific evidence,* is damnable and a threat to aristocratic or bureaucratic leadership and their version of social control. Meanwhile, a few cranks fulfill the worst fantasies of ultraconservatives by Romantic identification with Satan, or by seeking to banish all religious artifacts from public spaces.

Such militant atheists are then deployed as weapons in the culture wars, distracting the public from pressing issues such as education reform, health reform, a high divorce rate, the real or imagined threat of climate change (a controversy that only science can solve), and foreign policy.

Here is how one Orthodox Rabbi suggested that we move on toward more pressing issues: https://www.facebook.com/RabbiShmuleyBoteach/videos/10153022077966089/.

It is my own view that the gay rights decision raises the dread specter of blurred gender identity, but that horse has already been beaten to death on this website. Artists will know what I mean.

*It is objectively true that we are interdependent with each other and with Nature.

Newton imagined by William Blake

Newton imagined by William Blake


June 19, 2015

Multiculturalism and the Charleston Massacre

RoofcapturedThe Wall Street Journal completed an editorial on June 19th, 2015 with “…the reality that evil still stalks the land.”

The notion that racism can be overcome by moralistic arguments is grotesque and misguided. What ever happened to clashes of economic interest, for instance, labor competition? Oh, I forgot, we don’t do materialism any longer. That would be too “modern.”

Instead the event has been interpreted through a medieval religious framework: Human nature is evil; this world belongs to the Devil. “Reality” is too mysterious or deceptive to penetrate—again the (lying) Devil’s work, and he is out to get us.

Entirely missing from this discourse is the assumption that “multiculturalism” (MC) is an effective remedy against “racism.” (I will use the abbreviation MC for multiculturalism in the rest of the blog.)

This entire website has been devoted to the insight that MC was a product of German Romanticism, aka German Idealism in the late eighteenth century (Loren Goldner, a leftist, warned me about it years ago, then I read the intellectual history of the concept in English translations for years, noting how the liberal establishment institutionalized MC as a weapon against “racism.” For links to prior blogs on the subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/).

H. Strickland Constable, Harper's Weekly 1899

H. Strickland Constable, Harper’s Weekly 1899

Briefly, the collectivist notion that racially or ethnically defined groups can peacefully co-exist is an evasion of all the material considerations that actually divide groups. 19th C. “scientific racism,” supposedly transcended in the new dispensation, persists when we imagine that all whites, all Jews, all blacks, all Latinos, etc. each share a common, indivisible rootedness and world-view, incomprehensible to other groups. Nostrums such as “tolerance” or “diversity” supposedly avert conflicts that are only understood (by enlightened persons) through analyses of clashing material interests within the “collective” entity. Marxists and advocates of free market societies disagree about how to resolve such clashes, but no materialist would deny that they exist..

The better historians understand that ideology attempts to create consensus through scapegoating. Dylann Storm Roof, perhaps egged on by deteriorating “race” relations, blames blacks for “taking over the world.” This is racist ideology, pure and simple. Although family relationships should never be discounted, we don’t have to look only for mental illness specific to his family history as psychiatrist Keith Ablow declared on Hannity (March 18, 2015, the day that Fox News Channel mostly focused on the massacre made even more somber by its taking place in an historic black church). Ideologies provide the representations that feed into specific cases of mental illness.


There is blatant racism, acted out by the shooter, but there is the more subtle racism inherent in MC. We are one species, and MC, the moderate (Wilsonian) solution to war and conflict, has joined other völkisch movements, in confusing well-meaning progressives with a bogus solution to hateful aggression. When the arguably racist but “internationalist” Woodrow Wilson called for “self-determination” he didn’t refer to individuals, but to the group-think/collectivism inherent in cultural nationalism (http://www.e-ir.info/2014/04/17/what-is-self-determination-using-history-to-understand-international-relations/).

MC is a mental illness (i.e., it distorts reality), and it is hegemonic in America and in the United Nations too.

photo Keith Bacongco

photo Keith Bacongco

April 24, 2015

Multiculturalism vs. [Yid] Red spies: which agitates the Right?

atheist-logicThis blog was inspired by the failure of Fox’s Outnumbered 4-24-15 to explain cases of censorship of the popular movie American Sniper ( the topic was repeated on The Five). They became agitated over the threat to free speech, when they could have identified why college administrators were bowing to the will of a small cadre of Islamist protesters at the University of Maryland; these administrators defending multiculturalism at all costs. One wonders why this “moderate” but right-leaning network is so weak on political theory, for it is obvious that “tolerance” versus “Islamophobia” is crucial to job retention in the hipper universities, public or private. (To be sure, unfree speech is the outcome of censorship in the name of diversity, but multiculturalism deters free speech insofar as it encourages essentialist cultural nationalism: see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)

How to explain this failure of vision? Scholars, television writers, and journalists seeking right-wing readers and eyeballs know that it enhances their reputations to pretend that there remains an atheistic red menace threatening (Christian) America. Even the latest episode of Scandal played the KGB card, resuscitating the Cold War. One wonders why, given the declining membership in the CPUSA since the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939, carefully delineated by historians/political scientists Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev in Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Yale UP, 2009).

(Perhaps it is lingering antisemitism, for “the Jews” were ‘”disproportionately” represented in the Old Left, and “populism”—antagonistic to “finance capital,” remains popular on both left and right. Even Lenin may be seen as a populist, for he was notoriously influenced by the antisemitic journalist J. A. Hobson. See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.)


Whether or not my suspicions are correct, it is obvious that conservatives frequently confuse left-liberals and communists, frequently conflating them as “totalitarians” and, gulp, progressives—as if the US Constitution, despite its capitulations to Southern slaveholders, was not the vanguard of political thought at the time of its framing, with such as Hamilton and Jefferson not avatars of social and economic progress, despite their differences.

This entire website has been preoccupied with tracing the “roots” of multiculturalism to the German Romantic reaction to the “materialism” of science and Enlightenment as understood in 18th Century France. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/. The second link suggests Herder’s antisemitism, not noted in the historical commentary on his contribution to the notion of national character/groupiness.)

It is a grotesque misreading of history to think that the old Reds were not anti-racists, hot for “proletarian internationalism” as opposed to (proto-fascist) “nationalism,” and its associated (Gentile) “melting pot.” Indeed, that was the attraction that helped recruit working class immigrant Jews to the Communists, and family ties made a difference to their (liberal) descendants.

It is pointless to go on fingering “the multicultural moderate men” for their covert racism disguised in their rooted (as opposed to rootless) cosmopolitanism, documented throughout my website. And Fox News Channel employees, no less than those of the Wall Street Journal, are above all, oblivious to the history of the Left, and only moderately opposed to the nearly pervasive (often latent) antisemitism that blinds them. For instance, after all the decades I spent around the Left, no one, repeat, no one ever mentioned Saul Alinsky (born a Jew). His significance and influence are figments of certain conservative imaginations.


July 4, 2014

How “independent” are we?

laba.ws_USA_Independence_DayIn defining myself both for and against the postmodernists or existentialists, I have stated that we are all prisoners of our context. Our choices are limited by the institutions we have made, and which either loosen our lips or force us to bite our tongues, lest we lose our jobs or break up “family” unity. Still, “Pierrot” tries to break out of jail.

While watching Fox News Channel as it boxes the compass of its on-air anchors and other sympathetic celebrities, I notice that most assert their vaunted freedom to say whatever they damn please along with their fulfillment of the American Dream despite humble beginnings. The overall tone was one of nationalist pride and complacency. I found this, at best, self-deceived, if not cynical.

Only Shepard Smith emphasized that this country remains in process, that the goals of human rights celebrated in the Declaration of Independence are incomplete and require attention. (Looking up the spelling of his name, I saw that he is rumored to have been demoted after he asked Roger Ailes to acknowledge that he was gay on the air.)

Shepard Smith seems to have a moral compass whereas not all his Fox colleagues celebrating Independence Day share his realism. I remember how passionately he covered Hurricane Katrina, literally shouting from a New Orleans bridge, when government at every level was not acting with appropriate dispatch in rescuing Katrina’s mostly black victims.

Back to the “independence” of Fox spokespeople yesterday and today as FNC observed the glorious Fourth. Though FNC claims to be “fair and balanced” its format and objectives are designed to get maximum eyeballs. It was brilliant in discerning that the many factions of “the Right” were shut out from MSM, including NPR, hence an underserved population would be easy pickings for advertisers. But having some social democrat voice talking points, while a conservative or libertarian contradicts him or her with other talking points, is not the same as the search for truth. (To be fair, not all Fox commentators are so predictable or conformist, but most are “moderates.”)

Whereas the Declaration of Independence, the precursor to the Bill of Rights, breathes the air of the Enlightenment. “American exceptionalism” (like “popular sovereignty”) is built on separating truth from error, hence the demand for checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the refusal of a monarch in favor of popular sovereignty. Yet today, we defer, often uncritically, to “leaders” whether these “good father figures” are politicians, clerics, celebrity academics, artists, or media personalities.

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Lipschitz: Pierrot escaping

Did anyone think that the Founders goals would be easily achieved? These men of the Enlightenment were educated in the classics, in economics, and in international relations. Were they lacking knowledge of history, or without self-interest or ambition? Were they in total agreement with each other? Only the naïve would make such a claim. Still, they took tremendous risks, as those of us who succeed in this wild and wooly experiment in self-government do every day, often with fear and trembling, for the more sentient among us acknowledge how much “American exceptionalism” rests on the bounty of Nature, a Nature that we, in our hubris, do not always study and protect with requisite attention and zeal.

Some of our children have noticed this flaw. But their voices are unheard on FNC. [For a related blog, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/.%5D


October 26, 2013

Krauthammer, Fox News Channel, and the search for Unity

Charles2I looked forward to Bret Baier’s documentary (Charles Krauthammer: A Life That Matters, 10-25-13) in honor of Charles Krauthammer’s just published book of collected essays, partly because I look up to Krauthammer as the wise man of FNC, but partly because I knew little of his family background, other than that he had suffered a terrible disabling accident when still a young man, yet had gone on to become a psychiatrist and a political pundit who famously switched from liberal to neoconservative (i.e., the very liberal anticommunist became a moderate man leaning toward the Right).

CK’s Wikipedia page has nothing about his family background (or his intellectual influences such as favorite reading), but we learned from the Baier doc that his father and mother were Jewish immigrants from Europe, that his father spoke 9 languages, and that his older brother (who died at 59 of cancer) was worshipped by his sibling, and that big brother had shown him the ropes, initiating him into manhood as something of an athlete. One could conclude that CK’s private life would remain very private. No mention of  the accomplishments or character of CK’s mother; only a brief appreciation of his artist wife; and an allusion to a baby son.  His private life remains private, and was perhaps the condition of his being interviewed. Given his career aspirations and chosen universities, I guessed that his family was haute bourgeois in Europe (it was briefly mentioned that father was a real estate developer).

Upon being questioned about  his education, I was surprised to learn that CK started out in “political theory” but finding it “too abstract” he switched to medicine (following his brother?), which he said was more reality oriented and more philosophically challenging. CK further insisted that he remained “in denial” regarding both his accident and his “interior life,” which seemed to amuse him and Baier alike, though I found it bizarre for a self-described “psychiatrist.”

Political science, like its materialist fellow-disciplines (sociology, history, economics, anthropology) is anything but boring to one who seeks to understand contemporary political affairs. It occurred to me that CK might be highly invested in personal power and influence, even if it costs him something in self-understanding. The rest of this blog is about what I gathered from the CK show.

Fox News Channel, like the Wall Street Journal, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a businessman who profits from maximum eyeballs and circulation, not unlike the rest of mass media. Hence the “moderate” direction of both enterprises. The search for truth takes back seat to the “fair and balanced” mantra. To CK (at least in the Baier show), the Tea Party is not like other social movements, an object of contemplation and analysis as to social base, tactics, objectives, organizational structure, numbers, etc., but rather fanatical and extreme (I am using my words, not quoting CK’s). And yet a few days ago, while promoting this show, the same CK assessed the GOP-Tea Party split as over, celebrating its “fusion.” (CK did the same on Greta’s show 10-31-13.)

This is what I mean by the search for unity at all costs; besides denying the family dynamics that may create lifelong ambivalence and other distortions, the search for unity implies an underlying belief in the neutral state and in the organic nation. Bret Baier’s panels of experts, like Chris Wallace’s, sometimes break out in vociferous disagreement, but we are reassured that beneath the high dudgeon, they and we are all friends.  (The same goes for the hit show The Five.)

Bret Baier panel_640

And yet, the Democratic Party loathes the GOP, ignoring the progressive origins of both modern capitalist parties. It was no big deal for the wise elder statesman of Fox News Channel to switch. (For material on the populist origins of the moderate men/progressives see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For some thoughts on how fast switches between topics can cause the loss of focus in the viewer, see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/. Not just tabloids, but all news media suffer from this structural problem. For two recent blogs that address the illusion of national or group unity see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/21/citizen-obama-political-pluralism-and-the-elusive-search-for-unity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

[Added 10-27-13: It seems that CK deferred to three men in his life: his father (to whom he gave his Pulitzer medal on his death bed) , the older brother Marcel, and the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, who predicted that any civilization advanced enough to figure out [atomic fission] would end up destroying itself. This strain of cultural pessimism is disturbing to me, and perhaps owes more than a little to CK’s life-transforming disastrous accident while still a very young man. In any case, having renounced “psychiatry” and the inner world of feelings,  he should not trot out his credentials as a psychiatrist while making political judgments. For more on his attachment to his older brother Marcel see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012601471.html.]

July 21, 2013

Minding antisemitism

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helen-thomas-sculpturejpg-0a917266978723d4_largeToday on Fox News Sunday (7-21-13), Chris Wallace, one of the “moderate” voices of the Fox News Channel, noted that just deceased Helen Thomas, who famously exclaimed that “the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine,” was remembered favorably as a gutsy journalist and path breaking [feminist] who put hard questions to American presidents, notwithstanding that outburst.  (See this news item indicating support from some “Arab Americans” : http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/08/detroit_links_holocause_surviv.html. )

It has been my view that antisemitism and/or hostility to the Jewish state have been consistently underestimated in its effects on politics and on human personalities. For instance, many blacks believe that George Zimmerman, the shooter of the young black man Trayvon Martin, is a Jew. Not much has been made of this astounding belief in the [misnamed] “African-American community,” with the exception of some entries on Facebook. See https://clarespark.com/2013/07/20/obamas-intervention-7-19-13/.

To me, the airbrushing of Helen Thomas, plus the canard that George Zimmerman is a Jew (i.e., the enemy of young black males)  suggests that “whiteness studies” or “white skin privilege,” are frequently understood as the rule of the Jews, even though some “whites” deny that Jews are white people. Such are the wages of populism, an ideology that may inhabit every color in the political spectrum.

Here is my index on antisemitism. It has a paragraph at the end that summarizes my view of modern antisemitism. https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/. This is the closing paragraph:

It is a misconception to think that a person’s views toward individual Jews tests their antisemitic views one way or another. A-S is above all, a theory of history, most recently a reaction to the “disruptive” effects of modernity, and an identification of the source of Evil. Most or all antisemitism is racist, for no matter how assimilated a person of Jewish descent may be, that person retains mental, physical, and moral attributes attributed to “the Jews” considered as a collective entity. Of these, none is more pernicious than the notion that all “Jews” partake of the Old Testament God as read by non-Jews, most famously by Voltaire (whose admirers were possibly angrier at Christianity, the offshoot of Judaism). That deity is domineering, militaristic, and genocidal, looking out solely for his “Chosen People.” One would think that such a powerful set of misconceptions would be corrected in the schools and in the mass media, but no. For in a highly populated globe, the masses must be controlled, and there is no more potent poison, directing popular anger away from abusive elites, than antisemitism: our innermost desires for truth, for a relatively accurate inventory of our past, is stigmatized as disintegrating to “the family.” So despite occasional hand-wringing over “the Holocaust,” antisemitism is still poorly, even crudely, understood by most, if not all, trained intellectuals. (For a related blog that pits the middle ages against modernity see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/,)

Code Pink supports Helen Thomas

Code Pink supports Helen Thomas

July 20, 2013

Obama’s intervention 7-19-13

LBJ signs Voting Rights Act

LBJ signs Voting Rights Act

The day of the scheduled rallies protesting the not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case, the Wall Street Journal led with a news article by Coleen McCain Nelson entitled “Obama Speaks Frankly On Race.”

The word Race was devoid of inverted commas, signifying that there was nothing suspect about the concept of ‘race’.  Just as problematic, the news article described Trayvon Martin as an African-American, and we all are taught that “perspectivism” is the correct epistemology.  No need for inverted commas there either, for there is no truth, only points of view that are incomprehensible to other groups. Such are the wages of multiculturalism, the preferred liberal policy for dealing with group conflict as the acceptance of “diversity” based on race and gender.

On this website, nothing has been so frequently described as ‘race,’ racism, and how a covertly racialist discourse has dominated public debate since black supremacists hijacked the integrationist movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. For a sampling, see any of the following blogs:

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/, https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/, https://clarespark.com/2011/02/27/remembering-ralph-bunche-american/ https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/, and especially https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.

It appears that the most we can expect from Rupert Murdoch’s publications (The Wall Street Journal and “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel), is the namby-pamby pseudo-moderation of approved journalists and some sociologists.

On the jump page (A-5), WSJ quoted sociologist Abigail Thernstrom, who viewed the President’s intervention as inappropriate. Thernstrom is a brave voice in the wilderness, who puts the same priority on progress in the black population as I and my readers do (though her writings on that issue are not mentioned in the WSJ article. See her thoughts on progress here:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304723304577369913528826798.html ).

What about education for black children? I have yet to see a single discussion on Fox News Channel on the shocking neglect of inner-city public schools. Reform in that quarter has been blocked by the teachers unions and the NAACP that demonstrated against one of Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem.  The American Right, following the Daniel Moynihan Report  has put much emphasis on reconstructing the black family with fathers at the helm. It is time that they put comparable energy into rectifying the major institution outside the family that is socializing our black children. There are dozens of rallies in support of Trayvon Martin scheduled today. Will any of them put the word ‘race’ in inverted commas? Will anyone criticize “African-American” leadership for obliviousness to the education of young black males? See https://clarespark.com/2013/05/26/eva-moskowitz-and-the-charter-school-movement/.

Namby-pamby pony

Namby-pamby pony

May 6, 2013

The New Left activist scholars

activist_scholarshipIt was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).

But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own.  I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).

Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For some estimates of the HBO treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/. I saw the movie as another bow to the Popular Front that formulated interwar and postwar conflicts as ‘the People’ vs. ‘Fascism.’ ).

But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.

Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much.  I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)

Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.

Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices.  I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.

As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars  down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.

Join us

I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)

Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

January 20, 2013

An awesome Inauguration

Nation_cover_journalismHere are two paragraphs from the late Jacob L. Talmon’s final book on political messianism (Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution):

“The general and increasing preoccupation with the nation’s rights, needs and grievances, the brooding over its identity and its past, its fate and its manifest destiny, the reflections on its moments of glory and its failures and defeats were every case a journey into bygone ages, a reckoning with ancestors, a communing with the myth of the nation. No wonder the [19th] century produced such a flowering of the historical sciences and of a literature and art that set out to serve as a mirror to the nation’s soul and a portrait of its modes of existence. National cults grew up and spread, replete with myths, symbols, rites, liturgy, commemoration, and heroes and saint’s days, parades and displays, artistic effects and hypnotic suggestiveness. [Compare to today’s pageantry and the invocation of the Nation, https://clarespark.com/2013/01/21/citizen-obama-political-pluralism-and-the-elusive-search-for-unity/. CS, 1-21-13]

“All these tendencies fed upon and in turn promoted the far-reaching change in the image of man from that bequeathed by the Enlightenment. Far from constituting the basic element and goal of society, from being his own autonomous lawgiver and free and equal partner to the social contract, as he was seen in the eighteenth century, man was made to appear more and more a function of collective forces, past traditions, the social setting, the organizational framework, the spirit of the nation, the Zeitgeist, the milieu, group mentality, finally the race. No longer a free agent in making choices, the individual was shown to be in the grip of compulsive urges and aversions, automatically re-enacting ingrained modes of behavior and reflexes. In brief, the individual was portrayed as the plaything of the unconscious and the hereditary, a mere abstraction when pitted against the collective forces deposited in the whole to which he belonged, above all, in the nation [Talmon is not referring to Freud here, but probably to Pareto, a great favorite of some Harvard professors in the 1930s, CS]. Not man, therefore, but the nation, was the measure of all things, and the dominion of the dead was depicted as infinitely more potent than the deliberate decisions of the living. Indeed, this state of affairs was made the condition of social cohesion, political stability and the health of the nation. …Every nation was a world of its own, a unique blend. Since it fashioned countless men and determined their fate and well-being, the nation’s interests, the imperatives of its particular situation, the conditions favoring its survival, cohesion, strength and influence contained its truth, morality and justice. The latter were perspectives, not objective data.” (my emphasis, pp. 544-545)

Talmon associates these counter-Enlightenment tendencies as culminating in “integral nationalism” a characteristic of both Fascism and Nazism. If Talmon’s analysis is correct, then multiculturalism and perspectivism, inventions of the rooted cosmopolitans of Germany (Herder  and his followers) who greatly influenced 20th century pedagogy in America, should be seen in the strategy of the “moderate” Right, not to either classical liberalism or to  libertarianism in either major political party, or in the scholarly search for truth.


How then should we see Fox News Channel’s coverage of the second Obama inauguration?  Is this supposed vindication of the eighteenth century Constitution awesome, as in remarkable and admirable, or should we return to the words original meaning: awe-inspiring as terrifying. As Charles Sumner awesomely asked in the nineteenth century “Are We A Nation?” And how do we know (e.g. this weekend) when we are not fascists?  See (https://clarespark.com/2012/01/28/popular-sovereignty-on-the-ropes/)

September 25, 2012

Thought police on Fox?

You can’t say “savage” on Fox News Channel.

This morning, Jamie Colby, a Fox News anchor, explained to the audience that she could not bring herself to quote the ad, formulated by Pamela Geller, which, upon a judge’s orders, is now placed on subways in NYC and other venues.  For Ms. Colby, the words (later described as “fighting words” by her guests) were simply unmentionable in polite company. I gather from the ad that the word “savage” (along with “savages”?) takes its place with F-bombs and other evil expletives.

Here is the advertisement, part of which is a quotation from Ayn Rand:

Geller’s ad was responding to anti-Israel ads that had been placed in New York City subways for several years, and had to sue the MTA to get it posted. It was not that long ago that a Harvard professor as prestigious as F. O. Matthiessen could divide up humanity into the civilized and the savage, seeing this as a core conflict around which one could write literary history. But that was 1941, in his still read American Renaissance. And Matthiessen was no friend to American expansion.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/12/29/f-o-matthiessen-martyr-to-mccarthyism/).

What is at issue here is the ongoing victory of the forces of political correctness. The ad in contention nowhere says that all Muslims are enemies of Israel; rather it singles out jihadists, about whose intentions to wipe Israel off the map, no one should be in doubt.

I first found out that the adjective or noun “savage” or “savages” was forbidden to the politically progressive when I read Richard Slotkin’s book Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, at the recommendation of my friend Michael Rogin, author of Fathers and Children, a controversial book on Andrew Jackson’s policies as genocidal toward native Americans, and that further maintained that all American institutions shared  Jackson’s  paternalistic and hierarchical military model.  (Rogin told me himself that he was very wounded when his colleague, political scientist John Schaar, also a famous New Leftist, had criticized Rogin for placing Indian removal at the heart of American history; perhaps the anti-expansionist line was too simplistic.) Professor Slotkin has continued his theme through decades of books and novels dedicated to his thesis, identical with Rogin’s and with other celebrities in American Studies. (For a rundown on the anti-American celebrities in academe, including Edward Said, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.) Cultural relativism demands that we erase the notion of “savagery” from our memory banks, and we are ordered to understand alien cultures on their own terms. One society is not better than any other: this is what liberals mean by “diversity.” (This notion was sharply criticized by Ralph Bunche while he was assisting Gunnar Myrdal in the preparation of An American Dilemma. What the libertarian-leaning Bunche wanted was an America that would live up to its founding creed.)

Jackson swats Amerindian

Fast forward to my years in graduate school, and a visiting professor who specialized in the history of native American warfare and politics. A silence spread over the room when the professor declared that American Indians were highly various in their social organization and that they constantly fought with each other. This would seem to be common sense, but it cut into the narrative propagated by the U.S. field at UCLA that “civilized” Europeans had literally invaded America and [savagely] destroyed the indigenous peoples all by themselves. I.e., Michael Rogin’s anti-American narrative had been complicated, too complicated for persons who preferred to tell a simple story of American [savagery] at its core.

One might ask: what is civilization? To Walter Lippmann, writing in The Good Society, the idea of the individual’s equality with other individuals before God was a turning point in the rejection of barbarism. (An assimilated Jew, Lippmann awarded that honor to Christianity; he might have mentioned Judaism See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/.) Before that, the Massachusetts Senator who was notorious for his aggressive arguments against slavery, Charles Sumner, defined the liberal state as protecting individual rights through equality before the law, and his notion of law was limited mostly to national security and the protection of individual welfare, inseparable from liberty.  Here was no coward, bending the knee to those forces demanding unquestioning obedience to those supporting chattel slavery. For his efforts on behalf of equality before the law he was suspected of carrying Jewish blood through his mother by his most important biographer, a Southerner by birth. (For details on David Herbert Donald’s bio of Sumner see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.)

We now should have an idea of what “fair and balanced” means in the practice of Fox News Channel.  As I have argued previously, this cable news outlet, though it broadcasts some dissenting voices on the Right, is centrist, moderate, and progressive. Welcome to the world of 1984. The thought police are everywhere. The founders gave us a republic, and it is up in the air as to whether or not we can summon the will to keep it.

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