YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 17, 2013

Rehabilitating the Weathermen

The_Company_You_Keep_posterhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Company_You_Keep_(Robert Redford film) (no Jews)


From what I read of the Wikipedia description of the movie based on Neil Gordon’s novel  THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, it seems that Jews as red-diaper babies have been purged from the screenplay. Hence Counterpunch can safely allege that the movie is about Love, and [uncontaminated Christian love] at that. This blog dissents: the original novel is really about the rehabilitation of William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, whose names are mentioned frequently in the novel, along with other outlaw celebrities who have allegedly gone straight, and who are associated with POTUS. (I don’t know if these names appear in the movie, which I have not seen, but which was received well overseas.)

Neil Gordon’s thesis (in the novel) is stated by one of his characters, an FBI agent and Viet Nam vet whose genitals have been destroyed in Nam. Obviously a mouthpiece for the author, “John Osborne” views the Weatherman faction that grew out of Students for a Democratic Society, as motivated less by ideology or any thought out political strategy than by loving attachments, by “the company you keep.” Hence the intense value placed on loyalty to one another as the various characters live as fugitives from the law after a bank robbery where a guard was murdered by one of their hotheaded associates .

In the novel, there are several “Jewish” characters, whose names are anglicized in the Redford movie (for instance, the nosy reporter Ben Schulberg becomes Ben Shepard). Moreover, in the novel they are the children of “Jewish” communists, one a suicide after being harassed by McCarthyism. And from the outset, Israel is mentioned as irretrievably lost to the ethics of Amor Vincit Omnia: love and community solidarity are the theme of the novel.

It is odd that Gordon’s characters are identified in any way with the Left or New Left, unless you take into account that the prewar British Right also contained within its many factions, equally anticapitalist, antistatist types, such as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and T. S. Eliot. [I learned this through reading G. C. Webber’s The Ideology of the British Right 1918-1939 (London: Croom Helm, 1986), who deemed this type to be “aristocratic backwoodsmen.” All three (the Distributists Chesterton and Belloc, and Eliot) were elevated by Seward Collins’s American Review, a publication of the mid-1930s that was explicitly pro-fascist, agrarian, and even pro-Nazi. Readers might be surprised to see FDR’s New Deal State grouped by Webber with right-wing movements, along with Mosley’s fascists, the aristocratic backwoodsmen, and Tories.]
For much of the novel takes place in woodland settings: the Hudson Valley near Woodstock, and the woods of Michigan—Ernest Hemingway country.

Make no mistake: this novel rehabilitates the Weathermen as well as weed. We learn that the characters are essentially monogamous (despite much late adolescent free love alluded to), are knightly rescuers (they got Timothy Leary out of jail and safely to Algiers), and are willing to sacrifice themselves for their children. And of course their political opinions coincide with the politics of this administration and with the most anti-American propaganda as churned out by New Left anti-imperialists who view Amerikkka as dominated by murderers and warmongers.

In a prior blog (https://clarespark.com/2010/11/13/the-porgy-controversy/) I claimed that Nature was a character in DuBose Heyward’s popular novel. The same could be said of Gordon’s ingenious characters, whose knowledge of woodland lore, maps, and survivalism, enables their hairbreadth escape from the law and the FBI until the semi-happy ending.  Were we to compare Gordon’s heroes and heroines with prior individuals and movements, I would be inclined to include in that company, the “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the upper Midwest, with Frederick Jackson Turner, with Ernest  Hemingway’s early stories that were located in the same region and that were equally primitivist and tribal, and with the often anarchistic OWS movement. (My dissertation director advised me to watch out for those writers who wrote romantically about Nature, for it was a sign of upper-class identity that they not only appreciated “Nature” but sought to preserve it.)

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Gordon’s novel is the emphasis he places on the cooperation of ordinary Americans as the Weatherman fugitives attempt to evade capture by the authorities. Gordon imagines that these young people, born to privilege and educated in the best universities, had the support of the locals wherever they might flee.

And of course there is a happy ending, for Amor Vincit Omnia. Just ask the ferociously anti-Israel publication Counterpunch.



September 10, 2012

“Populist demagoguery” and its respectable lineage

Lyonel Feininger Emeute

One way to look at the New Left ascendancy in the media and throughout educational institutions is to note that while separatist ethnic or women’s studies affirmed very old mindsets of victimology, thus promoting an antidote to, and  insurgency against, “the Man” or against “white male supremacy”, history and other humanities professors and political scientists promoted anti-imperialism, depicting the U.S. as a hateful sham democracy. Some of the leading professors admired by New Leftists were Walter La Feber (Cornell), and William Appleman Williams (U. of Wisconsin-Madison), but these were preceded by such progressives as Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles Beard, and Richard Hofstadter.

It was Turner (1893, 1921) who warned that the closing of the frontier and its free lands would force the issue of socialism onto the stage of history; while Charles Beard attacked the money-mad founders (Hamilton), and Hofstadter suggested that the moderate men needed to tone down the conflict between labor and capital through co-option of movements from below; i.e., selective concessions. (See especially https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/ and  https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/ Some may dispute my characterization of Hofstadter, who did criticize populism and antisemitism in The Age of Reform and The Paranoid Style but his first book on Social Darwinism would support progressivism as remedy for laissez-faire capitalism, understood as nature red in tooth and claw. That stereotype persists today in pro-Democratic Party propaganda.)

Thus we find ourselves in a situation where mass media and the humanities are heavily weighted against the “vile” Republican Party, which is not only evil in itself, but which could force a communist revolution in reaction to its supposed repression of working class and middle class aspirations that progressives have so far successfully prevented.

Not one of the academic programs or anti-imperialist historians mentioned above lobbied for the study of antisemitism, not even after WW2. “The International Jew”, a.k.a. “the money power” occupies all of their imaginations, however hidden by monikers such as “Wall Street” or “Corporate greed”.  We ignore the power of their pervasive and largely undetected propaganda at our peril.



https://clarespark.com/2011/02/02/the-legitimate-aspirations-of-the-___-people/ (the original Populist movement in the US with comment on Michael Kazin’s book)










https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/ (Phillip Smyth’s guest blog on right-wing populism)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/ (on James H. Cone and other black supremacists)


https://clarespark.com/2015/05/02/multiculturalism-and-the-persistence-of-feudalism/ (inspired by Mosby and the Baltimore events)

June 18, 2010

Whaleness (2)

Mortimer Adler, co-founder Great Books Foundation

[Alfred C. Neal writing about the achievements of The Committee For Economic Development in Business Power and Public Policy, 1981, p.10.]  I cannot conclude these introductory observations without disclosing why a policy-making process that combines academic, professional, and government expertise with business acumen is likely to be better than others that do not employ that combination.  Academic and professional people are highly skilled in formulating policy alternatives in a kind of game that employs the symbols, relationships, and intellectual constraints of their disciplines.  The number of possible policy alternatives for resolving problems in social science is limited only by the imaginations of the scientists, which is high, or by the condition and assumptions that they impose to reduce the almost endless proliferation of possibilities in a world of uncertainty.  Assumptions and conditions are the security blankets of the social scientist’s mind.  Policy-making executives are similarly constrained in their choices by considerations of goal-acceptability and costs and benefits, as well as by considerations of organizational capability, public acceptance, and effective leadership needed to initiate and carry out policy decisions.  The interplay of all these inputs to the policy-making process is seldom explicit, but the interaction of good minds employing their intellectual capabilities is, I am convinced, the basis for much better policy making than we have had.  It is the description and analysis of such interactions over many years and the consequences of the policies resulting from that process, that constitute the main stuff of this book.

[Cultural historian Sander L. Gilman maps and hops with the Other, Difference and Pathology, 1985, 129:]  Certainly no stereotypes have had more horrifying translations into social policy than those of “race.”  Tied to the prestige of nineteenth-century science, the idea of racial difference in the twentieth century became the means for manipulating and eventually destroying entire groups.  The following essays document how easily racial stereotypes have been linked with images of pathology, especially psychopathology.  In this case the need to create the sense of difference between the self and the Other builds upon the xenophobia inherent in all groups.  That which defines one’s group is “good,” everything else is frighteningly “bad.” The cohesiveness of any group depends on a mutually defined sense of identity, usually articulated in categories that reflect the group’s history….We cannot eradicate images of difference, but we can make ourselves aware of the patterns inherent in these images.

The goal of studying stereotypes is not to stop the production of images of the Other, images that demean and, by demeaning, control.  This would be the task of Sisyphus.  We need these stereotypes to structure the world.  We need crude representations of difference to localize our anxiety, to prove to ourselves that what we fear does not lie within….The stereotypical categories that we use are rarely without some point of tangency with reality (biological, social, medical) but their interpretation is colored by the ideology that motivates us. [S. Gilman, 240].

[E. L. Doctorow,”A Gangsterdom of the Spirit,” Nation, Oct. 2, 1989, 352-353.  Commencement address to Brandeis University, May 21, 1989, suppressed by The New Republic, printed as another blow for freedom of speech by Nation.]…I will venture to say that insofar as Mr. Reagan inserted his particular truth into the national American mind he made it the lobotomizing pin of conservative philosophy that has governed us and is continuing to govern us to this very moment.

…A decade ago you did not have college students scrawling racial epithets or anti-Semitic graffiti on the room doors of their fellow students.  You did not have cops strangling teen-age boys to death or shooting elderly deranged women in their own homes.  You did not have scientists falsifying the results of experiments, or preachers committing the sins against which they so thunderously preached.  A generation or so back, you didn’t have every class of society, and every occupation, widely, ruggedly practicing its own characteristic form of crime.

So something poisonous has been set loose in the last several years…To speak of a loss of cohesion in society, a loss of moral acuity, is tiresome.  It is the tiresome talk of liberalism.  In fact, part of this poisonous thing that I’m trying to describe is its characteristic way of dealing with criticism: It used to be enough to brand a critic as a radical or a leftist to make people turn away.  Now we need only to call him a liberal.  Soon “moderate” will be the M word, “conservative” will be the C word and only fascists will be in the mainstream.  And that degradation of discourse, that, too, is part of this something that is really rotten in America right now….As an unacknowledged legislator, I am giving you not a State of the Union Address but a State of the Mind of the Union Address.


      Ralph Bunche once said, “Democracy, to be lived at all, must be lived broadly.” The organicism that I analyze throughout this YDS series is not just a tic, more or less regrettable, but a consciously constructed strategy to delimit political aspiration by circumscribing political possibilities; it represents itself as acting in the interests of peace, science and democracy, meanwhile attacking the critical tools (materialism, empiricism, critical reason) that would make science and democracy realizable.  Organicism tries to blunt the critical tools that empowered lower-class autodidacts in a century whose central trope (they say, following Freud) was sexuality, not modernity as science and an excellent popular education.  For Sander Gilman there is no radical Enlightenment, no rational mind that could peer at irrational behavior, then imagine social arrangements that might reduce the “anxiety” Gilman finds natural.  Rather we are told (without self-criticism, even though we are all irrational) that there is an eternally given and inevitable “xenophobia” that would make talk of Rousseauvian solidarity (social bonds as contractual, not given) psychologically naive.  Finally we are left with the contradictory message that stereotypes are constructed, but also, in some unstated way, reflective of historical experience; although stereotypes are tangentially related to “biological, social, medical” reality, we should strive to understand that stereotypes are, in some unspecified way, bogus.

These thinkers are not allies of the labor movement as it once existed: their agenda was made clear in Gordon Allport’s influential and constantly reprinted post-war Freedom Pamphlet, The ABC’s of Scapegoating.[1]  Denouncing “prejudice,” Allport, a colleague and ally of Henry A. Murray at Harvard, advised Americans to learn to live with pluralism: whites should stop scapegoating blacks, Christians should stop scapegoating Jews, “labor” should stop scapegoating “the spokesmen for ‘business,’ and conservatives should stop confusing liberals with communists by scapegoating F.D.R.[2]  A Harvard psychologist has asked us to look inside and check our “moral cancer” (p.7), our projections or archetypes, as Jung and Murray would say.  But we do not look inside to probe physiological facts and relationships that link all humanity beneath the skin; we do not look outside to see the objective structures (class societies—and I include women as a class) that impede cooperation and development for all by constructing an unyielding “subjectivity” and a propensity to evil as the human condition.  Instead we fix our attention on “boundaries” and “roots” that may not be leveled or exposed as fiction by “Jewish” science and “Jewish” (because deracinating) internationalism.  Now that Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies have been institutionalized within academe as a conservative accommodation to potentially unifying social movements, blood and soil pluralism may be with us for the duration, as will therefore the contradictory and vague adjurations from “progressive” radical subjectivists who say that stereotypes are both rational and irrational.[3]

Not that the organicists are willing to allow contending pluralities to slug it out: that could eventuate in “the tragedy of the Civil War” as Frederick Jackson Turner warned Woodrow Wilson [AHR, 1942, 548].  William Diamond thought that “distinguished and stimulating” historians like Turner, armed with knowledge, must intervene; Turner knew best how to apply “American sectional and party history to world organization,” so as to keep the Bolsheviki serpent from creeping under the fence.  Alfred C. Neal of the Committee For Economic Development, told Americans that businessmen enlightened by academic experts knew best.  Doctorow told Brandeis students that poets knew best.  Turner, Neal and Doctorow, unacknowledged legislators all, advised their readers and listeners to go shopping for (or bring back) the moderate man who abides in the neutral state: the good father, a paragon of self-control and disinterestedness capable of harmonizing the conflicting and extremist demands of sections and biologically/culturally differentiated “groups,” tucking all his children into bed without favoritism.  The formula is plain: DO NOT try to merge your interests with those of your fellow-creatures, promiscuously defined; DO join the group in which you are naturally rooted; purge the system of venomous false promises and infantilizing utopian demands: evacuate these poetically-yet-scientifically designated poisons and heal the National Mind, then you will be ready for those very high levels of interaction and interplay that permit conciliation and compromise. And if all conflicts were susceptible to mediation, who could disagree?

Gentlemen prefer pre-modern societies (or do they?) because they are judenrein, free of complicating facts and dubious speculation: patriarchal, pastoral, holistic, communitarian, stable, healing, virtuous, and soulful.  There is a continuity between Burkean concepts of natural sublimity and terror and Carlylean romantic conservatism; the Anglo-American culture promoted by Melville’s closet American Tory monarchist in Mardi, the Oxford historian Edward Augustus Freeman (another source of Turner-type theories of expansionism mentioned in Mood, 1943) and James Thomson (“B.V.”); the Weltanschauung disseminated by the Macmillan family (publishers of The English Men of Letters Series, edited by the Fabian/Tory/Mussolini enthusiast J.C. Squire, which brought out the Tory John Freeman’s Melville biography in 1926, and publisher of the Journal of American History quoted above); Frederick Jackson Turner’s “American sectionalism and the geography of political parties”; the belief in “national character” promoted by Jungian psychologists, hereditarian racism in the eugenics of Lothrop Stoddard and William McDougall, the nativist radicalism of Van Wyck Brooks, Lewis Mumford, and Henry A. Murray, some nativist assumptions in the American Studies movement, and the “anticapitalism” of the New Left.  Gentlemen and sectors of the New Left speak with the accents of Jeffersonian agrarianism; gentlemen and some New Leftists prefer “Melville” and the delicious specter of whaleness that does him in.  In spite of family quarrels between bohemians and crypto-bohemians in the Melville industry, these men, along with “Melville,” occupy the vital center of the political spectrum, not the subversive margins as some critics might imagine.  In the vital center, it is not elites and non-elites that confront each other, but the Anglo-Saxon countryside and the Jewified city: the latter naughty and finally off-limits.  Using the oft-proscribed tool of comparative historical analysis, I have surmised that veterans of authoritarian families are not perversely blind to impersonal and abstract social processes, but have projected their forbidden resentment at being “moulded” onto bad Jews and modern women, the perverse manufacturers of modernity.  For romantic conservative Jungians (not many Freudians) “individuation” signified separation from the moral mother, Jew of the Home.  By contrast, the radical bourgeois Freud sought treatments that fostered autonomy and separation from idealized authority.  Perhaps Gilman and other semioticians are so merged with authority, so invaded by recoiling and alien Ishmaels (“fierce and irresistible” “English Tartars”), and so helpless and confused that they must constantly “beat the boundaries”[4] to differentiate themselves from the “m(other)” from whom they have never separated, and whose mixed-messages forced them to retreat from the task of autonomy [5] into an armored corporatism, [6] into an ironic acquiescence with the “narcissistic disorder” their analyses of stereotypes and “splitting” is supposed to alleviate.

“Modernism” (a misnomer) may be understood as a repository for genteel anti-Semitism insofar as artists are in “primitivist” revolt against the modern world that has nourished and elevated the critical spirit identified with “the corrosive Jewish intellect,”[7] the witch who unmasks the happy family and identifies incompatible expectations thus inciting “civil wars.” As a representation of the impersonal capitalist market, the Jewish principle destroys the warm, face-to-face interactions  that supposedly moderated relations between master and man, substituting the remote and faceless stock exchange for paternalistic bosses, balefully introducing “political class cleavage” [Mein Kampf, 1940, 432].  As a representation of modernity (gestating liberalism and its feared offspring, socialism), the Jewish principle destroys family and sectional unity (T. S. Eliot’s “native culture”), the shared blood and rootedness in the common soil that links the best of past and present. The Jewish principle would substitute a levelling, polluting internationalist identity thus confiscating a man’s wife, children, dogs, cats, cows and chickens, leaving him prey to “six-lane motorways,” Big Brother’s centralized machinery, and other rats. [8]

We are not accustomed to seeing such connections because official American culture since 1917 has drawn sharp distinctions between Western “democracy” and German or Soviet “autocracy.”[Gruber, 1975]  Since Melville’s death in 1891, “critical thought” has been increasingly on the defensive.  After 1945, the victorious West did not hold a conference to examine the economic, social, political, and cultural sources of fascism and genocide.  Rather, propagandists declared the German nation collectively insane, while covertly admiring Hitler’s methods of mind-control and pretended the Western powers knew nothing of the Holocaust until 1945.[9]  While some psychologists joined Theodore Adorno, inventing the F-Scale to measure the nuances of “the authoritarian personality” [10] (a spectrum of prefascist “types” who would be contrasted with the Genuine Liberal, [11] other conservatives claiming to be sane liberals [12] purged crazy and destructive (“Jewish”) leftists and left-liberals, spreading a miasma of fear that has never dissipated.  American Jews could read the handwriting on the wall: the noisy, abrasive culture of cities and class politics would have to be jettisoned as a condition of economic survival.  American Jews who wanted jobs in academia or in the media had better embrace the tradition of “honest Anglo-Saxon democracy” and shadow-dappled country lanes that had defined itself against both Jewish materialism and against fascism and Nazism. [13]  The marching bands and country airs, the discourse of organicism that had been recognized as imperialist and protofascist before the war,[14] was acceptable to such esteemed postwar Jewish intellectuals as Lionel Trilling, Harry Levin, and Alfred Kazin.  What the postwar intellectuals did was miraculous though not original: like earlier reactionaries, the protofascist material world was off limits, while the Christian-Platonic order became the sanely (s)mothered democracy.  There was no place for modern women or radical Jews in the protocols of the moderate men.


[1] Gordon Allport, ABC’s of Scapegoating (Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, 1983, ninth rev. ed., first publ. 1948).

[2] Allport, p.26 and passim.

[3] Robert Miles, Racism (London and New York: Routledge, 1989) is a summary and critique of scholarly literature, with a useful bibliography. Miles is writing from the Left and using semiotic analysis; he does not look at narratives and metamorphoses, but mechanically reifies Self/Other; such static formulations do not explain connections between the variables of class, gender, “race” and ethnicity.

[4] A ritual in rural England, in which the earth is flogged to delimit the land owned by the parish, a declaration of boundaries.

[5] Cf. Erich Fromm, Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 135-136. “…Freud thought as a child of his time.  He was a member of a class society in which a small minority monopolized most of the riches and defended its supremacy by the use of power and thought control over those it ruled.  Freud, taking this type of society for granted, constructed a model of man’s mind along the same lines.  The “id,” symbolizing the undeducated masses, had to be controlled by the ego, the rational élite.  If Freud could have imagined a classless and free society he would have dispensed with the ego and the id as universal categories of the human mind.  In my opinion the danger of a reactionary function of psychoanalysis can only be overcome by uncovering the unconscious factors in political and religious ideologies.  Marx in his interpretation of bourgeois ideology did essentially for society what Freud did for the individual.  But it has been widely neglected that Marx outlined a psychology of his own that avoided Freud’s errors and is the basis of a socially oriented psychoanalysis.  He distinguished between instincts which are innate, such as sex and hunger, and those passions like ambition, hate, hoarding, exploitativeness, et cetera, which are produced by the practice of life and in the last analysis by the productive forces existing in a certain society, and hence can be subject to change in the historical process.”  I was impressed with this essay when I first read it, but now I think Fromm was unfair to Freud and to the radical liberals. What makes Marx different from his class conscious predecessors is his view of the inevitability of revolution at the hands of the working-class. Marxists have taken this prediction to mean that they should separate themselves from liberal reformers, designated as worse enemies to the toiling masses than the traditional Right.  I am arguing here that such positions are grounded in irrational institutional and psychological processes that Freud helped us to uncover; for purposes of this essay I am emphasizing the double-bind and the identification of liberal reform with the moral mother, seen as a hypocrite and crazy-making.

As I have tried to show, all conflations of social/historical processes with processes of natural history (catastrophic or gentle) is a mystification that may contribute to immobility in the face of objective dangers to our species and to the earth.  Classes are not strata, revolutions are not volcanic eruptions or avalanches, either “gradualism” or “revolution” may be unnecessarily cruel and violent to the living who suffer (the latter a point made by Mark Twain).  There can be no archetypal rule for radical conduct, no cast of characters that retain their auras, no escape from analysis grounded in the specific and unique matter at hand.

[6] Turner did not advocate ethnic separatism; rather he, like Thomson, imagined a welding together of various (white) European stocks into one nationality, but discreetly guided by a class unmistakably English in its imputed administrative skills.

[7] Jung, quoted in Webb, Occult Establishment.

[8] Cf. Hitler, Mein Kampf on “filth and fire” spawned by parliamentary democracy; the credulous, swindled masses: the Big Liars were the Jewish press: 66-84,99,328, 379.

[9] See Deborah Lipstadt, Beyond Belief, 1986. Also NYT Book Review, April 4, 1948, p.7.  J.R. Rees, The Case of Rudolph Hess was described as “but one more page in the history of mentally ill people who governed a continent.”  A photograph of Hess emphasizes his crazed and staring eyes; both Hess and Hitler are described as romantics and mystics, not as bearers of conservative Enlightenment.  Murray report (Hitler was a combination of Byron and a thug); and Langer report, for FDR and the OSS, 1943 (see below).

[10] Here is Horkheimer’s formulation in the Preface to the influential work of 1950, The Authoritarian Personality:  “This is a book about social discrimination.  But its purpose is not simply to add a few more empirical findings to an already extensive body of information.  The central theme of the work is a relatively new concept–the rise of an “anthropological” species we call the authoritarian type of man.  In contrast to the bigot of the older style he seems to combine the ideas and skills which are typical of a highly industrialized society with irrational or anti-rational beliefs.  He is at the same time enlightened and superstitious, proud to be an individualist and in constant fear of not being like all the others, jealous of his independence and inclined to submit blindly to power and authority.  The character structure which comprises these conflicting trends has already attracted the attention of modern philosophers and political thinkers.  This book approaches the problem with the means of socio-psychological research.  Max Horkheimer, Preface, The Authoritarian Personality, 1950, ix.  Cf. Meinecke on the technocrat/monomaniac as base for Nazism, below.

[11] T.W. Adorno, et al, The Authoritarian Personality, 1950; Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit, 1949.

[12] T.W. Adorno, et al., Authoritarian Personality, 975.  This is the prescription pessimistically bequeathed by the Adorno group as it advocates revolutionary changes in child-rearing, understanding that without structural economic change, no adjustment is possible; here they conservative reformers defending the embattled New Deal. (Both Henry Murray’s and Harold Lasswell’s works are listed in recommended reading): “It would not be difficult, on the basis of the clinical and genetic studies reported in this volume, to propose a program which, even in the present cultural pattern, could produce nonethnocentric personalities.  All that is really essential is that children be genuinely loved and treated as individual humans…For ethnocentric parents, acting by themselves, the prescribed measures would probably be impossible.  We should expect them to exhibit in their relations with their children much the same moralistically punitive attitudes that they express toward minority groups–and toward their own impulses…[Many other] parents…are thwarted by the need to mould the child so that he will find a place in the world as it is.  Few parents can be expected to persist for long in educating their children for a society that does not exist, or even in orienting themselves toward goals which they share only with a minority.”

[13] Villard, 1919, Frederick Jackson Turner, 1921, Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here, 1935.  In a group of essays written in 1893-1918, and fearing the “recoil” now that free lands were used up, Turner called for a class-conscious social history to compete with un-American Marxist historical materialism; the state university would dig deep into the earth to extract the golden nuggets of the talented lowly, who would then mediate the antagonisms between capital and labor: “By training in science, law, politics, economics and history the universities may supply from the ranks of democracy administrators, legislators, judges and experts for commissions who shall disinterestedly and intelligently mediate between contending interests.  When the words “capitalistic classes” and “the proletariate” can be used and understood in America it is surely time to develop such men, with the ideal of service to the State, who may help to break the force of these collisions, to find common grounds between the contestants and to possess the respect and confidence of all parties which are genuinely loyal to the best American ideals” (“Pioneer Ideals,” 1910, Frontier, 1921, 285).  George Rawick commented to me upon Turner’s ugly anti-Semitism that surfaces in his papers. I have not yet examined Turner’s unpublished works, but Turner, no less than T.S. Eliot, would say that “freethinking Jews” could not be an American “type;” perhaps they were the “European type” into which freedom-loving Americans were apparently evolving in the early twentieth century.

[14] See Ellis Freeman on proto-Nazi propaganda in Western culture and in America, Conquering The Man in the Street (N.Y.: Vanguard Press, 1940).

June 17, 2010


American Progress

This blog continues a series in which I show how the post-Civil War Progressives appropriated Herman Melville’s fiction and poetry: one could describe their project as the taming of a rugged individualist, of a frontiersman. Their project was first designed to attenuate sectional loyalties in the American Leviathan: the moderate men will weigh in with their “materialist” history to monitor and ambivalently celebrate the frontiersman. In their construction of a national literature they intended to overcome post-Civil War sectional bitterness, while using that bad example to support the new Progressive reading of American history, as exemplified by Frederick Jackson Turner (an ex-student of Woodrow Wilson). Hence, Ahab (surfacing in 1851) would have to be a negative model for the moderate men of the following century, who attempted unsuccessfully to both defend national interests while simultaneously cooperating with an “international community” as embodied in the United Nations. If Ahab stands for a brutally expanding Amerika, then Melville as the converted Ishmael could be seen as the moderate corrective to a young country fatally dedicated to WASP supremacy and hyper-individualism, or worse, especially after two world wars, with recent immigrant masses frighteningly susceptible to the siren call of Bolshevism.

First read https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/ (retitled Manifest Destiny and Political Liberty), and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.

I begin with two views of Anglo-American culture and its expansionist frontiersmen as defined by Herman Melville in his allegorical work Mardi (1849).  Vivenza[1] stands for America, Bello is England, Dominora is Europe, Oro is God, Mardi is the world.  The first speaker is Taji the narrator who expects the Jacksonian expansionists to moderate their behavior in time; the second is Babbalanja, the philosopher who calls for all youthful minds in the West to join the Anglo-American project of intellectual emancipation, associating oppressive domination with the English upper classes, who have suppressed their libertarian tradition; the third speaker is a fiery youth antagonistic to free thought, associating it with the tyranny of the newly empowered democratic polity, some of whom, at the time of Melville’s writing, were promoting the extension of slavery to the Western territories.  The dialogue between democrat and aristocrat runs throughout Melville’s writing; but it is the third speaker, the fiery Tory youth, whose fear and anger pervade the humanities throughout its whispering sacred groves. Have they transmuted the boundless expansion of our moral and intellectual development (arguably Ahab’s project) into the illicit penetration and appropriation of Mother Earth, so that the act of discovery itself becomes criminal, tantamount to endorsing slavery?

Materials from my research into the Melville Revival along with the history of “Progressive” history-writing are presented chronologically, in order of publication.

[Taji:]    This chieftain, it seems, was from a distant western valley, called Hio-Hio, one of the largest and most fertile in Vivenza, though but recently settled.  Its inhabitants, and those of the vales adjoining,–a right sturdy set of fellows,–were accounted the most dogmatically democratic and ultra of all the tribes in Vivenza; ever seeking to push on their brethren to the uttermost; and especially were they bitter against Bello.[2] But they were a fine young tribe, nevertheless.  Like strong new wine they worked violently in becoming clear.  Time, perhaps, would make them all right….

[Babbalanja:] “…my lord, King Bello should never forget, that whatever be glorious in Vivenza, redounds to himself…My lord, behold these two states!  Of all nations in the Archipelago, they alone are one in blood.  Dominora is the last and greatest Anak of Old Times; Vivenza, the foremost and goodliest stripling of the Present.  One is full of the past; the other brims with the future.  Ah! did this sire’s old heart but beat to free thoughts, and back his bold son, all Mardi would go down before them.  And high Oro may have ordained for them a career, little divined by the mass.  Methinks, that as Vivenza will never cause old Bello to weep for his son; so, Vivenza will not…be called to weep over the grave of its sire.  And though King Bello may yet lay aside his old-fashioned cocked hat of a crown, and comply with the plain costume of the times; yet will his frame remain sturdy as of yore, and equally grace any habiliments he may don.  And those who say, Dominora is old and worn out, may very possibly err.  For if, as a nation, Dominora be old–her present generation is full as young as the youths in any land under the sun.  Then, Ho! worthy twain!  Each worthy the other, join hands on the instant, and weld them together.  Lo! the past is a prophet.  Be the future, its prophecy fulfilled.”

[Fiery Tory youth:]   “Sovereign-kings of Vivenza! it is fit you should hearken to wisdom.  But well aware, that you give ear to little wisdom except of your own; and that as freemen, you are free to hunt down him who dissents from your majesties; I deem it proper to address you anonymously.

“And if it please you, you may ascribe this voice to the gods; for never will you trace it to man….” [Mardi, 1849; 518, 519, 520, 524]

[Victorian poet and radical journalist (“B.V.”) James Thomson to Bertram Dobell, from the U.S., ca. 1872.  An admirer of Melville and Whitman, Thomson ambivalently contemplates the American melting pot and offers an interpretation of the sublime (“vastitude”) similar to Taji’s and Babbalanja’s; cf. Charles Olson’s emphasis on “scale” in his Melville criticism, along with the anti-expansionism he picked up from Frederick Merk at Harvard:]  I think we must forgive the Americans a good deal of vulgarity and arrogance for some generations yet.  They are intoxicated with their vast country and its vaster prospects.  Besides, we of the old country have sent them for years past, and are still sending them, our half-starved and ignorant millions.  The Americans of the War of Independence were really a British race, and related to the old country as a Greek colony to its mother city or state.  But the Americans of today are only a nation in that they instinctively adore their union.  All the heterogeneous ingredients are seething in the cauldron with plenty of scum and air bubbles atop.  In a century or two they may get stewed down into homogeneity–a really wholesome and dainty dish, not to be set before a king though, I fancy.  I resisted the impression of the mere material vastitude as long as possible, but found its influence growing on me week by week: for it implies such vast possibilities of moral and intellectual expansion.  They are starting over here with all our experience and culture at their command, without any of the obsolete burdens and impediments which in the course of a thousand years have become inseparable from our institutions, and with a country which will want still more labour and more people for many generations to come. [3]

[William F. Allen, Frederick Jackson Turner’s teacher, 1885:]  The solid and substantial character which the Federalism of Hamilton during the years 1789-97, gave to the national edifice secured by the Constitution; the sudden list to individualism, equally unexpected and undesired by the “fathers of the republic,” which was given by the Democracy of Jefferson during years 1793-1800; the territorial expansion of 1803, with its inevitable and far-reaching consequences–here were three fundamental and discordant forces, whose reduction to harmony would alone make this a period of vital importance in American history.  As the ship, sliding from the ways, lurching first to one side then to the other, settles down into her natural position, American history not only then but thereafter, was made during those fourteen years.[4]

[From the Preface to Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1885, the crucial and unappreciated influence on Turner’s sociological method of writing history, Fulmer Mood, 1943, 309.  “Race” and “nativity” are given the same objective status as “physical features” and economic statistics.]  It is the aim of this work to bring together and to present by graphic methods, all the leading statistical facts regarding the physical, social, industrial, commercial and political conditions of the United States.  It portrays the physical features of the country which more or less determine its development, the political history of the nation, the succession of parties and the ideas for which they existed; and the progress of settlement, throughout the valley of the Mississippi, and beyond the barriers of the Cordilleras.  It treats of the population, its varieties of race and nativity, its educational and religious condition, its occupations and its mortality.  Passing to the industries, it exhibits the great leading branches, agriculture, manufactures, mining, trade and transportation.  Under the head of Finance and Commerce, it pictures the wealth of the country, and its public debt and taxation, its foreign commerce and carrying trade, its expenditure and its force of revenue–thus presenting to the comprehension of all, the balance sheet of the General Government.  The work closes fittingly with a series of diagrams which summarize and bring together for comparison, the leading facts previously developed.

[F. J. Turner,“The Significance of the Frontier,” The Frontier in American History, 1921, 2, 3, 33, 34, 38, 39. A scientific warning about conditions favoring the recurrence of populist agitation delivered in 1893 to the American Historical Association:]  Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area.  American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier.  This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character….A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a developed society.  The continual recurrence of these areas of paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highest importance.

The East has always feared the result of an unregulated advance of the frontier and has tried to check and guide it.  The English authorities would have checked settlement at the headwaters of the Atlantic tributaries and allowed the “savages to enjoy their deserts in quiet lest the peltry trade should decrease.”  This called out Burke’s splendid protest: “If you stopped your grants, what would be the consequence?  The people would occupy without grants.  They have already so occupied in many places.  You cannot station garrisons in every part of these deserts.  If you drive the people from one place, they will carry on their annual tillage and remove with their flocks and herds to another. Many of the people in the back settlements are already little attached to particular situations.  Already they have topped the Appalachian mountains.  From thence they behold before them an immense plain, one vast, rich, level meadow; a square of five hundred miles.  Over this they would wander without a possibility of restraint; they would change their manners with their habits of life; would soon forget a government by which they were disowned; would become hordes of English Tartars; and pouring down upon your unfortified frontiers a fierce and irresistible cavalry, become masters of your governors and your counselors, your collectors and comptrollers, and of all the slaves that adhered to them.  Such would, and in no long time must, be the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime and to suppress as an evil the command and blessing of Providence, ‘Increase and multiply.’  Such would be the happy result of an endeavor to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express charter, has given to the children of men.” [end Burke quote]

[Turner, cont..:] …[T]o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics.  That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; the masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance that comes with freedom–these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier….And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

[Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. The Review, August 9, August 16, 1919:]…no ordinary person loves Melville….Upon the reader’s slant towards this sort of parable [Ishmael and the try-works, as Ishmael separates his persona from Ahab’s] will very much depend his estimate of “Moby Dick.” [5]

[H.M. Tomlinson, The Literary Review of the New York Evening Post, Nov. 5, 1921:]  “Moby Dick” is a supreme test. If it captures you, then you are unafraid of great art.  You may dwell in safety with fiends or angels and rest poised with a quiet mind between the stars and the bottomless pit.

[John Freeman to John Haines, April 23, 1926:]…Melville is out, and I wait to see if two continents are aware of his greatness.  Or will the brave sprats gore this Whale anew?  God forbid that the traducers of Swinburne’s genius should perceive Melville’s, with their little viper eyes all of rancour and squint….

[Lewis Mumford to Raymond Weaver, May 21, 1928:]  Melville is a very whale to handle, isn’t he?  My task waxes as my energies wane.

[Raymond Weaver, 1931, p.190:]  The man who had created Moby Dick had in early manhood prayed that if his soul missed its haven it might at least end in utter wreck. “All Fame is patronage,” he had once in long past written to Hawthorne; “let me be infamous.”  But as if in contempt even for this preference, he had, during the last half of his life, cruised off and away upon boundless and uncharted waters, and in the end he sank down into death without a ripple of renown.

[Poet and editor of the London Mercury, J.C. Squire (former Fabian Socialist, during this period, interested in adapting Italian Fascism for England) delivers a lecture series on American poetry at Cambridge University, his alma mater; this excerpt on Whitman, Nov. 11, 1933.  Squire quietly  warns old fogeys about the stultifying American practice of writing only about the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius, Acropolis, Pompeii, etc. which had been rejected by Walt Whitman, father of modern poetry]: “…all that went on while Whitman was writing that revolutionary stuff.  Can you blame the man for being so spasmodic and violent?  He simply could not bear these cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated country but when you have got a new one, as Whitman found when he was a young man and a middle-aged man, a thing that was not deeply rooted but just existed because it was supposed to be good form to be cultivated, an extremely violent reaction is sure to be expected.  Had he been born in Europe he no doubt would have been an original, eccentric and rather violent revolutionary, but being born in America with that hot, fiery temper and modulation it was only natural that he should go to the extremes to which he did.  We must forgive him his eccentricities, his endless undigested catalogues geographical and geological…facts which make no music and always any sense even: we must forgive him all this because of the havoc he made of things being too crustified, that music seldom came out in rhyme….[Box 5, J.C. Squire papers, UCLA]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, The Course of American Democratic Thought, 1940, 74:]  Melville sensed that the concept of the moral law which dominated the Middle Period was a utopian ethics.  The doctrines of progress was [sic] an affirmation that men, through apprehending the moral law and through making it effective in society can advance toward some paradise from which sin and baseness have vanished.  Melville looked upon such a goal as a Never-Never Land.  To found, as Emerson did, a philosophy of individualism upon such a dream of utopia seemed to Melville to be an attempt to transform men into children.

What then is the fundamental moral law?  Melville could only answer that the essence of the world is a dualism between good and evil.  He saw it everywhere: the beautiful English countryside and the rotting tenements of Liverpool where he had seen a mother and her babes starving; Fayaway and the sweating bones left from the cannibal feast; the law of love proclaimed by the Man of Nazareth and the world [“] a den/Worse for Christ’s coming, since His love/ (Perverted) did but venom prove.”….

[From a document first published in 1942: Frederick Jackson Turner’s proposal for “International Political Parties in a Durable League of Nations” (for Woodrow Wilson, 1918):]

[F. J. Turner is saying below that national political parties in America overcame sectional loyalties; that this precedent would be effective in stopping Bolshevism internationally, indeed would respond to the pacifist democratic masses. Note the double bind: the elastic bond makes it possible to cater to local interests without destroying international unity. Remember that Wilson was a Southerner who opposed the sectional bitterness that followed the Civil War, hence his delight with The Birth of a Nation. By following his ex-student Turner’s formulation of wild West in contrast to conservative East, he could displace the North-South polarization—indeed as did Thomas Dixon in his novels.]

[Turner:] The following is an abstract of suggestions (derived from the study of the history of American sectionalism and the geography of American political parties) upon the bearing of American experience on the problems of the League of Nations.  The conclusion is reached that in such a League there should be a Legislative body, with substantial, but at first limited, functions, as well as a Court, or Council of Nations, and particularly that the operation of international political parties in connection with such a Legislature would promote the permanence of the League….

…American ideals as so nobly set forth by the President, have found a quicker response among the European laboring classes than elsewhere, and in the passion for democratic peace among the masses lies the hope of the peace of the World internationally.  What light does American experience cast upon the possibility of so using the masses as to promote international unity?…We have given evidence that immigrants from all nations of the world can live together peacefully under a single government that does justice….In a region as diversified in some respects as Europe itself, and as large, the national political parties ran across all sections, evoked intersectional or nonsectional party loyalty, checked the exclusive claim of the section to a vote in the interest of the section, furnished the dissenting minority within the section an organic connection with party associates in other sections, at the same time that this connection was dependent upon just recognition of the special section in which the minority lived.  It was an elastic bond, but one that was strong.  It ran horizontal cross-sections of party ties across the vertical lines of sectional division.  It enabled the voter to act continentally, and it compelled the statesman to act on lines of policy that transcended his section, if he would secure a continental following strong enough to bring him success.

6. There is a distinct advantage in utilizing this party system in a League of Nations…In essence it means the utilization of that body of internationalism already in evidence not only in such organizations as radical political parties, such as the International, the I.W.W., Socialists generally, etc. but also the opposite tendencies seen in international business combinations, scientific and educational international organizations, and conservative forces generally.  The class struggle, so called, is in fact not a national but an international struggle.  If party organization of the radical element alone exists, and if this organization is also dominated and shaped by some one or two nations, as Germany or Russia, it will be extended, as it has been, to other countries in the form of secret, or intriguing societies, proceeding by revolutionary methods, with little or no regard for the separate interests of the nation into which it is introduced as an alien, and with the helmsman operating from the outside, and steering a course which almost necessarily involves adhesion to the primary interest of the country in which such a party is recognized as a powerful interest in the determination of the policy.

Is it better to try to exclude these international political forces from the organization of the new order, or to utilize their internationalizing tendencies by enabling them to operate upon an international legislative body, responsive to play of parties?  Is it worth while to use the fact of class consciousness to diminish the violence of national consciousness?

There can be little doubt that the common people, whether of the extreme radical wing of socialists, or of the conservative party groups, were reluctant to enter the war, and are now in Germany and Austria-Hungary the severest critics of the autocratic group which deceived them and misled them….

7. One recoils from any suggestion of adding a party loyalty international in its appeal to the loyalty of the individual nation.  But the very idea of a League of Nations involves some diminution of the national feeling, some cultivation of international loyalty.  If one could keep the Bolsheviki serpent out of the American Eden, he would hesitate to admit any international party organization which permitted such organization.

But in the reconstruction and ferment which will follow the return of peace, there will be doubts about the existence of Edens anywhere, and the Bolsheviki serpent will creep in under whatever fence be attempted.  May it not be safer to give him a job of international legislation rather than to leave him to strike from dark corners, and with no sense of responsibility?….

…It must…be admitted that the difference between section and nation are many and deep, and that there are some points in which international jealousy and controversy might be promoted rather than restrained by internationally organized parties operating on a legislature…There will be sectional jealousy and suspicion in any League, with whatever form of political organization.  It is inherent in its nature.  The problem is the introduction of checks and antidotes to this tendency.[6]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, “Thorp, Curti, Baker: American Issues,” American Historical Review, July 1942, 875-876:]  Dr. Thorp and Dr. Baker insist in the foreword [American Issues, 1941] that aesthetic considerations have controlled the choices for Volume II.  “American eagerness to have a national literature,” they affirm, “has too often led us to praise as creative writers men who produced social documentation rather than works of art.”  “We have aimed”, they add, “to include in the second volume only such writing as can honestly be said to show the artist’s hand at work, consciously shaping his material.”…The functional approach to intellectual history fails to take account of some of the forces that bring about the change from one climate of opinion to another….”

[Fulmer Mood on the molding of a great mind:  Frederick Jackson Turner descended from 17th century immigrants, born in the “native community” of Portage, Wisconsin to newspaperman father and ex-schoolteacher mother, no longer pioneers, hence: “Their home was thus one in which some concern was felt for things of the spirit, a space where limited and cramped views did not prevail.”  His insights into behind-the scenes management were gleaned from father, Chair of Board of Supervisors of Columbia County who had to harmonize the interests of Protestants and Catholics, rival nationalities and towns [284-287].  Turner’s democratic ideals were shaped by the character of his birthplace: “The world of Portage, which he had a chance to study thoroughly, taught him things not learned in books.  Portage was plain, a homespun community, democratic in spirit, neighborly.  Turner was of it, genuine; unassuming.  In after years he was to walk in stately academic processions, wearing the cap and gown, singled out for special distinction, for honorary degrees.  But he took the honors with the humility of spirit of one who knew that thereby American democracy complimented not the man Turner but Turner the scholar, the servant of a nation’s best ideals….The social ideals of this young man, early acquired, never disintegrated.  To the last he retained his loyalty to democracy” [285, 287, 293].  Turner’s conception of American history: “as the history of a group of sectionally different communities, each one established in a physiographic area of its own, each one devoted to its particular economy and social life, its own culture and politics.  In the large view of affairs that he upheld, it was the interplay and interdependence of these sections with one another that formed the stuff of American history.  The forward moving frontier was important because, in its westward progress it advanced with unique virgin physiographic areas and thus generated the beginning of still other sections” [337].  The achievement of (classically educated) Turner’s The Rise of the New West: “The grand topics of Congressional debate and legislation were considered in the light of sectional influences impinging on Congress in the persons of sectional champions, political figures in national life.  Federal policy was thus shown to be a resultant of compromise and conciliation which reduced the originally extreme claims of rival sections to a decent moderation.  Natural history, as studied in Congressional action and presidential policy, came thus to have coordinate interest and importance with the internal history of the sections.  And underneath all, the strong tide of nascent democracy was shown silently on the upsweep, moving toward the political victory of Andrew Jackson in 1828.” [Mood, Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker, 1943, 346].

[John Maurice Clark delivers a series of lectures at Columbia University, 1946] …when the world was ‘in the grip of a mighty struggle.  On one side are forces driving toward chaos and anarchy, political, social, economic, and moral.  On the other side are forces of centralized control.  Between them stand the forces and men who are trying desperately to salvage a workable basis for a humane and ordered community, in which some effective degree of freedom and democracy may be kept alive without wrecking society by their undisciplined exercise and disruptive excesses.’  [quoted in Schriftgiesser, Business and Social Policy: The Role of the Committee for Economic Development, 1967, 15-16.]

[Willard Thorp, “Herman Melville,” Literary History of the United States, 468. Fourth edition, revised.] The faith which Melville longed for while he was writing Clarel, and finally achieved in when he wrote Billy Budd was not the faith of his fathers.  He did not receive it in a moment of conversion to any inherited system of belief.  He had to construct it for himself. But it was complete and it was sufficient to satisfy him at last.  That he had to make the faith by which he could live–and that he succeeded in his long effort to do so–suggests why he has been so appealing a figure to many later writers whose struggles resemble his own.  War and economic chaos and the new fears aroused by atomic power have been as unsettling to men of sensibility as were the issues of Melville’s day to men of his kind.  Writers like Yeats and Auden, unable to rest in any traditional faith, had–even as Melville did–to construct their own.  Modern man must believe or he is lost.  That is the meaning of Clarel. “If Luther’s day expands to Darwin’s year,/Shall that exclude the hope–foreclose the fear?  The running battle of the star and clod/ Shall run for ever–if there be no God.” [7]

[William Gilman, Melville’s Early Life and Redburn, 1951, 216]…Like Taji and Ishmael, [Redburn] is another of the “isolatoes” whose social and spiritual predicaments became more and more the subject of American works, from Walden and Huckleberry Finn to “Gerontion,” “Prufrock,” and Look Homeward Angel.  Although Redburn does not realize it, it is the failure of the American dream that produces the sense of being an outcast with which he leaves home.  The emotional brutality of the sailors leaves him “a kind of Ishmael” on the ship.  And his isolation in Liverpool and the monstrous poverty of the place furnish glimpses of the growing conflict in the nineteenth century between man and the modern city.  In his love of historical tradition, Redburn is the civilized Westerner who seeks to assimilate and be assimilated by his own culture.  But in Liverpool Redburn finds a commercial and relatively new metropolis, blind to the past and interested only in profit, inhuman in itself and dehumanizing its swarming populace.  It allows widows and children to starve, and except for its churches it thrusts Redburn out of doors.  In Redburn’s awareness of the way a large city crushes both body and spirit in man, Melville makes one of the earliest statements of the cleavage between the individual and his environment in the modern world.

[H.M. Tomlinson, 1949, epigraph to Introduction, Eleanor Melville Metcalf’s Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, 1953]  Our peering curiosity is the measure of his mastership. His contribution to the fun of life, and his deepening of its mystery, only quicken interest in his person, and desire to examine his relics for traces of his secrets.

[Lewis Mumford prefers the moderate middle distance:]  As far as my general approach goes, I stand by my original treatment of Melville in those very features that least comport with the present style of academic biography and criticism.  Just because every aspect of Melville has by now been subjected to microscopic magnification and ex-ray [sic] analysis, there remains perhaps a special place for works that regard him with the naked eye, at a reasonable distance, bringing out the main features and deliberately suppressing the pores and the pockmarks.  Not the least use of careful documentation is the freedom it gives to abandon the methods that produce it, once the results are taken into account.  Otherwise the scholarly virtues of patience, scrupulousness, exactitude, exhaustiveness would come at too high a price.  Without sufficient will to generalize and select, present-day American scholars are perhaps too often tempted to bury by an overload of minute analysis, meant chiefly to impress other scholars working in the same territory, works that were once in danger of being smothered by indifference.

…Like high-fidelity zealots in sound reproduction, many scholars in this generation make no distinction of value between music and noise; and even cheerfully sacrifice music to noise if the latter can be more accurately recorded and reproduced.  Against such minds my revised study may volunteer, as a scarred veteran, to join an open counter-attack.

…Let the reader treat this book as a guidepost, or rather, a partly effaced milestone, on the original narrow country lane of Melville scholarship.  That road has now turned into a six-lane motorway, busy with traffic: dashing private cars, ponderous trucks, bus-loads of tourists on guided tours.  Those who like to linger on an old shadow-dappled lane will not go so fast or get so far: but they will have the freedom to collect their own thoughts, inhale fresh air, take in the landscape, and pluck a few roadside flowers for themselves.  Since I have drawn freely from Melville’s own words whenever they were available, frequently without quotation marks, the voice that will accompany them on this solitary stroll will often be that of Herman Melville.  My task as a critic will have been well done, according to my own lights, if henceforward they ask for no better guide than Herman Melville.  [Lewis Mumford takes on the supposedly fact-fetishizing Stanley Williams faction of Melville scholarship: “Preface to the New Edition,” Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962): xiii,xiv.  See my book on the Melville Revival for his suppression of pores and pockmarks in the 1920s.)

[U. of Pennsylvania Professor Hennig Cohen, “Why Melville Isn’t For the Masses,” 1969:]  Herman Melville is no doubt the most famous but least celebrated writer in the history of American literature and the evidence received up to now does not indicate that the 150th anniversary of his birth…was an occasion for popular commemoration.  The reasons are almost Melvillean in their ambiguities.  First, Melville is a writer who arouses intense but private responses.  It is not easy to share him because this means sharing one’s privacy, and the sum total of many intensely personal responses does not equal mass popularity.  Though he identified with the outcasts and wanderers, the Ishmaels, Melville himself was no escapist fleeing the drudgery and frustrations of civilization for high drama aboard whaling ships and exotic adventures on the South Sea islands.  He was deeply committed to the world in which he lived and in his fashion, a sociable man.  Moreover, he was involved in significant manifestations of American destiny as both sailor and writer–to such an extent that the subject matter, even the style of his life and books exemplify the national character, and the metaphysical themes that engrossed his thinking are expressions of the national mind….”

[This is the first of two blogs on the antics of the moderate men who tamed Herman Melville. For Part two see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/18/whaleness-2/. You will find yourself at the end of a journey smack in the middle of the Democratic Party and with progressive Republicans too.]

NOTES. [1] Cf. Vivia, the hero of Pierre’s failed attempt at a masterpiece, in Pierre (1852).

[2] This is clearly a reference to Senator William Allen of Ohio, 1803-1879, a Jacksonian expansionist and supporter of Lewis Cass, the latter implemented Indian removal for Jackson: both were advocates of “Popular Sovereignty,” which in practice would have allowed individual states to determine the legality of slavery.

[3] Quoted in A Voice From The Nile, 1886, marked by Melville (Walker Cowen, II, 699). Thomson, then secretary to an English company formed to operate an American silver mine, had just “discovered that the shareholders had been deluded into purchasing an utterly unsound concern, so that his mission and his situation as secretary came to an end together.” (Dobell, Thomson’s biographer.)

[4] William F. Allen, 1885, writing in The Nation, quoted in Fulmer Flood, “The Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker,” 1943.  Allen, Turner’s teacher, brought order to the field by producing the first Syllabus of American History, 1883.

[5] The Review was a new journal welcomed by The Nation, May 3, 1919, p.675, as another voice to brake the rapid drift toward the extreme left, joining them, New Republic,and Dial. Mather refers to the “parable” in which Ishmael, after nearly capsizing the ship, turns his gaze away from the hypnotic try-works that represent the primitive emotions unleashed in violent revolution, and that will sink the Pequod: this turning away (apparently) saves Ishmael.  It is conceivable that the Epilogue to Moby-Dick establishing Ishmael’s survival may have been tacked on after British critics complained that the narrator could not be dead; or, the change may have reflected a typically Melvillean oscillation, or a calculated move to please audiences with different politics.  The Whale, in its original Bentley English edition, clearly establishes the whale as amoral authority, the object of the artist as conquering hero, and locates the work in the tradition of the Miltonic Sublime.  On the title page, there is an epigraph from Paradise Lost omitted from the American first edition: “…There Leviathan,/ Hugest of living creatures, in the deep/ Stretch’d like a promontory sleeps or swims,/ And seems a moving land; and at his gills/ Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.” The Extracts (the montage of quotes from other authors concerning whales) does not begin the book, but ends it; the last verse is a “Whale Song”: “Oh the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale/ In his ocean home will be/ A giant in might, where might is right,/ And King of the boundless sea.” Thus the reader is left, not with an image of the pathetic orphaned Ishmael, transmitting the anti-pride message of Job, but a sea shanty glorifying the force and militarism that was deeply offensive to Christian pacifists; the grabbiness that Melville had repudiated in the chapter on Loose Fish and Fast Fish.  Here the key word is “boundless.” (Cf. Taji’s quest at the end of Mardi.)  He could be referring to the boundlessness of scientific inquiry that conservatives claimed was leading to unprecedented forms of tyranny, and for which Ahab had been punished with blindness.  The point is that no Melville scholar has proven that Melville’s original intention was to save Ishmael, and the issue has been neglected, given the weight accorded to Ishmael’s sudden illumination in teaching guides and other material directed at students.

[6] Turner Ms. in Wilson papers since 1918, published in American Historical Review, April 1942, 545-551; William Diamond of Johns Hopkins explained that Turner’s ms. was taken to Paris by Wilson in 1918, along with “a great staff of technical experts, several dossiers of material which he thought might be of use to him.”  Here was an example of the manner in which historians could put their knowledge to work for society, and one which suggested answers to questions that were current again in 1942.  Italics were added to the ms. by an unknown hand.

[7]Thorp distanced himself from Christian sectarianism and radical Protestantism throughout.  He seems to adhere to Christian Socialism (like Matthiessen); Margaret Farrand Thorp wrote a biography of Charles Kingsley, reviewed in London Mercury.  Thorp was a collaborator of Donald Drew Egbert in his survey of American socialism.

September 8, 2009

Making Political Love, Not War

infographia imagines elements of critical thought

infografia imagines elements of critical thought

Today, September 8, 2009, the President addressed a national audience of schoolchildren from kindergarten through K-12, reiterating the American Dream, a dream attained through “taking responsibility,” learning from failure, overcoming obstacles, and, he advised, almost in passing, learning to think critically. That critical thought remains a controversial and muddled value, or might be opposed by fundamentalists of either Left or Right, or might, as a concept, be simply incomprehensible to younger children was not addressed by either Nina Easton or William Kristol on Fox News Channel, both of whom praised the talk as reinforcing conservative values. Meanwhile, Joe Hicks told Pajamas Media viewers not to emulate Sean Penn’s tantrums by succumbing to Obama Derangement Syndrome before they even heard the speech; that Eric Holder’s hiring of numerous civil rights litigators to dig up rampant racial discrimination, notwithstanding his appointment by a black president, was worthier of attention.

Shortly after watching Obama’s speech, I opened my Facebook page and learned that Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism had been deemed by one reviewer as the most important book of the last decade (a book that, in my view, does not look at the resistance to informed political participation from a long enough time frame). I invite readers of today’s blog not only to consider what each of us means by appropriately critical thought in a would-be democratic republic, but to find out what attitudes, facts, and narratives teachers of history and social studies in the public schools are actually relating concerning the national biography. As my own contribution I resuscitate an essay written almost twenty years ago, while I still had hopes of reforming Pacifica from within.

And all that Jazz.    On 15 July 1990, I met with Pacifica listeners who had listened to my radio series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” and wanted to discuss its implications face-to-face.  It was valuable to me as a guide to future programming, and helped me to understand how my work differs from that of other social critics, both in its form and its content.   The listeners who attended our fund-raiser ranged in age from the twenties to the sixties.  Many were social activists, some were teachers and graduate students; they also included accountants, an air-conditioning repairman, a house painter, an artist, a TV editor, and a manicurist.  One listener was a Holocaust survivor.  We were all white people, neither very poor nor very rich.  Everyone was well informed and articulate: there were many expressions of anxiety about our society, disgust with mass culture, and despair for the future; one listener wants to leave the country.  After I had summarized my argument for the series and answered questions and criticisms, I got three interesting objections to my analysis.  One person felt that my emphasis on anti-Semitism was a furtive defense of Israel.  Another was frustrated with me; I talked too much about the past.  She seemed to want rules and recipes for action, as if she wanted to know whom to hate. Whereas I, hoping to counter the demoralizing effects of centuries of antidemocratic propaganda, had only offered the idea that we must always improvise and address the specific circumstances of the moment; finally we must rely on our own critical capacities to evaluate and judge competing interpretations of society and plans for social action; I was saying that such enlightened determinations would be the result of study, introspection, debate, and the testing of would-be-allies and leaders over time.  Another listener, a member of a Maoist group wanted me to say that America was already fascist because of our behavior in Central America. [It seems to me today that neither of these three understood that you can’t get to peace and love through hate. Not good for conflict-resolution, if that is your thing.]

Dirt: a problem of the transition.  Why should we compare the political culture of Nazi fascism to our own?  I continue to argue that “fascism” is not simply the brutality of counter-revolution and the suppression of a militant labor movement, but an attack on the Brain, on the critical spirit of the Enlightenment that alone could make democratic participation and self-management effective.  This critical spirit was represented by organic conservatives as the figure of the Romantic Wandering Jew, dirty, demonic, restless, and a transgressor: the practitioner of solitary vice, reading library books and doing archival research and investigative journalism.  He is ourselves in the Pacifica audience.

If we fail to make the distinction between Nazi fascism and authoritarian tendencies in our own culture, then we will not be able to understand contested institutions like the media, traditional families, and the school system: we will not know how and where to put our energies.  We will not be able to evaluate the analysis and tactics of “progressive” social movements or embattled artists and writers based in the petit-bourgeoisie, and which are clamoring for our support and which may be proto-fascist and therefore deluded and destructive.  We will not see the openings for effective social action and dialogue with those who do not agree with us, but may continue to feel desperate and immobilized.  Moreover, if we fail to understand the Holocaust, we may not be able to prevent mass death today; we may continue to do to ourselves and to our environment what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe.  Like them we will attempt to turn back the clock and recover the good father who alone, could and would restrain the predatory side of capitalism.

Three discussions of Nazism are of interest to me this week. In May, Saul Friedländer’s UCLA seminar showed Syberberg’s 7 1/2 hour film, Our Hitler, A Film From Germany; during our fund drive, Michael Parenti gave taped talks on the abuses of psychohistory and then Nazism; Elinor Langer’s article on Neo-Nazis was the centerpiece of last week’s Nation magazine. Though it did not advertise its Burkean antidemocratic commitments, the Syberberg film represented the conservative nationalist position, claiming that Hitler was elected democratically, that he was the inheritor of German Romanticism through Wagner: he was the little man who had seized the printing press and the film camera, aestheticizing violence and creating the corrupting spectacles of mass culture.  Like the Jungian psychoanalysts in America who worked for the OSS analyzing Hitler’s perverted psyche, Syberberg made Hitler archetypally Jewish.

Michael Parenti offered the Stalinist interpretation of Nazism: it was monopoly capital’s assault on the labor movement; anti-Semitism was a propaganda ploy to smear communists; he dismissed the question of fascism’s appeal as not terribly relevant.  The tactics of the KPD were not mentioned, nor did he attempt to explain the Holocaust.  Eleanor Langer’s article worried about Tom Metzgar, David Duke, and skinheads, collapsed Jew hatred into racism in general, and argued that racism, ostensibly at bay after World War II was alarmingly returning.  The issue was filled with advertisements from liberal anti-Nazi, anti-Klan organizations asking for support.  Langer did attempt to counter the ADL characterization of neo-Nazis as extremists; we should look at mainstream racism, she said finally (contradicting her earlier statement about the abated racism after the war?).  Because none of these social critics has delivered a satisfying account of antisemitism’s functioning in Nazi culture, they cannot help us identify it here or frame effective tactics to defeat fascism today.  For the remainder of this broadcast, I shall show that historical analysis helps us understand the present and gives us hope and courage, but also demands that we examine our attitudes toward America and the “right-wingers” we are certain are our sworn enemies, and who, we are certain, bear no resemblance to ourselves.

What was the threat of the Jews?  What was their connection with the rationalism, science, technology, and radical puritanism we associate with the word Enlightenment, and which accelerated in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries?  What was unique about modernity?  For the first time in history, the material conditions for global peace were developed.  The unfettered imagination created the technology that would one day eliminate toil and gross inequities of wealth; the preconditions for maximum personal development would finally be realized.  Mass communications made mass education (and therefore responsible political participation) plausible.  The psychology of John Locke proposed that experience, not our fallen state, determined one’s understanding of the world.  This Lockean tradition emphasized possibilities of cooperation and educability: Lockeans stressed the importance of institutions that could be modified and improved; twentieth century Behaviorism owes more to Locke than does conservative psychoanalysis, which may be viewed as counter-revolutionary, e.g., in its emphasis on the Death Instinct.

The English Civil War, the American and French Revolutions raised the specter of lower-class autodidacts whose nosiness and insatiable curiosity were questioning the virtue of ruling élites.  Customary “deference” was over.  The radical Protestant sects which emerged during the period of the English Civil War were identified with Old Testament Jews by their Royalist enemies.  Meanwhile, the new science was promoting the idea of species-unity, as all of nature seemed governed by knowable and universal laws: nature was our teacher and a text anyone could learn to read.  The procedures of science were implicitly anti-authoritarian.  The senses were no longer deceptive as the Church had argued, but a relatively reliable source of positive knowledge.  As a scientific explorer of the world, you were expected to prove your assertions with observable facts and replicable experiments, not intuition or inspiration.  Thus was the basis laid for legitimate, not coercive, authority.  This democratic science is at the heart of voluntarism and rationalism: it is our only protection against demagoguery and the exorcisms that must follow the sleep of reason.

In the English and German Terror-Gothic art that followed the French Revolution, the figures of the Wandering Jew and the femme-fatale represented the fearsome specter of revolution from below: revolutions were linked to sex, pantheism, curiosity, narcissism, androgyny, and reason (all were illicit passions).  Victorian Tory Radicals and Christian Socialists identified America as the nation of Bad Jews–we were revolutionary puritans, the bearers of the most radical Enlightenment ideas.  “The Hebrew Children” carried the critical spirit; they were the transgressors of the boundaries set by the old and apparently declining European élites.  For extreme conservatives in this country, the American frontiersman was the type of the dangerously egalitarian and ambitious bad Jew bringing death to the paternalism of the Old World.  D.H. Lawrence inspired the nativist radicals who followed when he characterized the typical American as hard, stoic, isolate, a killer: he was surely thinking of the nosy Hebrews and modern women he also complained about.

European élites did not sit idly by, then, gracefully bowing to the rising classes that would remove their privileges, but counter-attacked with all their Hearts.  Their strategy was to co-opt the materialism and environmentalism of the Enlightenment: their perverse productions haunt us today and may be an obstacle to coalition-building in the 1990s.  First there was scientific racism to justify expropriation of land and slavery: this countered the Judeo-Christian ideas of single creation, international brotherhood, equality, and ideas of species-unity popularized by science and commerce.  As an improvement, we got polygenesis and the Aryan myth.  By 1945, Franz Boas and his students in cultural anthropology had apparently made valiant progress in demolishing these vicious ideas.  But Boas, along with students of Frederick Jackson Turner and the other Progressives had simultaneously supported pseudo-scientific notions of national and regional character: the doctrine of blood and soil which we usually associate with Germany, or the Southern Agrarians of the 1920s and 1930s, not 1960s America.  For the ethnopluralists like Boas or Turner (both ideological descendants of the German Romantics), different racial stocks interacted with their material environments to produce unique qualities, rooted in local history, which was again, also natural history.  All events were now “rooted” in a specific incomparable moment; events were unique; the past was no guide to the present in this brand of historicism.  Turner’s pseudo-materialism created the intellectual foundations for much of the new social history and fashionable studies of “material culture” in academic cultural history and in museums.  It sounds Marxist, but is not. (Turner explicitly vowed to promote a pseudo-materialism in the public universities to counter the growing authority of Marxism in Europe and America; see his essays in The Frontier in History, 1921.)

Similarly, Social Darwinism undermined the materialist analysis that the Enlightenment made possible.  For the social Darwinists, national or regional struggle was the motor of history and was healthy and progressive, uplifting, weeding out the lower races, like the English imperialism that J.A. Hobson ambivalently criticized in 1902.  Racial unity was normal; if class warfare erupted, it was the fault of Jewish finance capital: its symbol the Stock Exchange.  The absentee ownership born of the Stock Exchange destroyed the warm personal relationships that were supposed to have moderated relations between master and man (Hitler’s fantasy).  Meanwhile, conspiratorial and always lying Jews had seized the technology of mass media to instill greed and dissatisfaction with things as they are (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).  In America, nativist reformers argued that immigrant Polish Jews had corrupted the native American working class, convincing them that they would be exploited under capitalism, no matter what the AFL said.  Antimodernists everywhere saw the Jewified city as the source of dissension; mixing races and nationalities, its bohemian inhabitants were going native to overthrow the authority of the fathers; these primitivist revolts, melting pots boiling over, were the first step in the descent to internationalism, chaos and decay.

As we know, science, technology and psychology were continually co-opted by “moderate” conservatives to control the labor force and forestall socialist transformation.  John Dos Passos loved exposing the new techniques of public relations (U.S.A. is his masterpiece).  From the 1920s to the present, the lower orders, as usual, were fed images of their ugliness, irrationality and incompetence.  But bad Jews in movies and television did not invent this practice.  Plato had insisted on the necessity of the noble lie to keep the masses in their place, but he didn’t have mass literacy and newspapers to contend with.[1]  Aristocratic radicals, writing in the tradition of Plato to stigmatize the lower-class brain, have attacked positivism and objectivity: (popular) science is but one of competing myths, they claim.  As with other philosopher-kings, their wisdom and rationality in making these judgments is not contested; as David Hume asserted, moderation was hard to come by; truth and certainty were to be found, if anywhere, in the moderate point of view.  And like other élite theorists in Europe and America, the moderate men have attacked all materialists pointing the way to emancipation from upper-class terrorism.  The moderns and their radical liberal followers must be purged to restore normal, natural (i.e., racial) harmony, the de-centered localism they, Herder, and T.S. Eliot admired.  Like earlier élite theorists and carriers of Conservative Enlightenment, then, the aristocratic radicals dismiss the possibility of excellence in democratic societies.  By attacking the revolutionary bourgeoisie from the p.o.v. of the higher moderation, they have lined up with the displaced European aristocracy and can see only darkness in their future.

How have other twentieth century social movements positioned themselves with regard to the Enlightenment?  First the Nazis (who have been incorrectly portrayed as romantic individualists and decadents by some conservatives): The Nazi movement, based in the ruined middle-class and longing for restoration, embraced the harmony, balance and repose of classicism and corporatism, including its supposed socialist and internationalist left-wing–the S.A. (cf. Elinor Langer).  For these pseudo-aristocrats, the lower orders could be inclusively integrated into the whole; class hatred and class war would be banished forever once the Jewish irritants of finance capital and phony class analysis were removed.  At long last, true love: the proletarianized German nation (abused by the Treaty of Versailles), finally united, would struggle against other racial entities for its place in the sun.  Hardness would replace bourgeois sentimentality, humanitarianism, parliamentary politics, and pacifism.  The steel helmet was the perfect object; the insensibility of judenrein racial purity was the key to national greatness and creativity.  In fact, Nazi Prometheans would rescue the world from the Jewish, romantic, deracinating Marxist night.  Albert Speer’s searchlights could have symbolized this nobly enlightened mission to pierce the mystifications of the revolutionary bourgeoisie and its upstart children.  Nazism then, was the offspring of Conservative Enlightenment, not the excrescence of Romanticism that Peter Viereck and other conservatives claimed; like other relics of feudalism Nazis carried the logic of Social Darwinism to its inevitable conclusion.  Jews, however, were not simply rival professionals to be beaten or expropriated, or one of many labor pools to be subjugated: they were the obstreperous, incorrigible individualists refusing to reconcile the irreconcilable; they were the sinister, softening forces of modernity making political love, not war.  As Sartre famously noticed, the warring pluralities of fascist Germany could find unity only in their common enmity to the mythical Jew they had constructed.

Upper-class American Progressives and the nativist radicals (including Lewis Mumford, Van Wyck Brooks, Richard Chase, the New Left following romantic anticapitalists like Blake, the pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, etc.) have also spurned the radical Enlightenment, embracing Frederick Jackson Turner-style doctrines of blood and soil pluralism, and eschewing the radical liberals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for theories of racial, gender, and national difference or character.  Elinor Langer is writing to this audience; since they believe they are not racists, but right-on radicals, antifascists, and anti-imperialists, they cannot analyze proto-fascism in themselves.  These thinkers are especially given to despair; they do not want fascism in America, but see no possibility of dialogue with the hopelessly racist white males of all classes, i.e., the frontiersmen.  In fact, their discourse celebrating diversity and the multi-cultural experience resembles that of the liberal imperialists of England (knights of the Round Table), who promoted the idea of the multi-racial Empire, headed of course by the English upper-classes: the same ideology permeated the upper-class peace movement that Progressives backed after World War II (with Pacifica one of its progeny).

And what of the Old Left?  For strategic reasons, Stalinists supported national liberation movements in the Third World and cultural nationalist movements in America, no matter how hierarchical and internally antidemocratic and exploitative.  At Pacifica, a similar policy is displayed in the block programming initiated in the 1970s and 1980s, institutionalizing racial and gender difference, and making it difficult to confront internal antagonisms or experiences that deviated from positive images promulgated by “the community.”  A heroic myth was wanted; meanwhile other white male programmers were off the hook; their sometimes sadistic humor would be balanced by fulminations from the spruced-up ghettoes sophisticated conservatives had provided for them.

And what of the Trotskyists?  The Partisan Review intellectuals seemed divided over materialism and organicism; for some, it was not peculiar to be publishing the anti-Semitic and Tory T.S. Eliot, or to support Ezra Pound in the controversy that erupted after he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949.  Insofar as Marxists go, I feel that Rosa Luxemberg’s left-liberal style of Marxism, not Leninist vanguardism, protects the democratic promise of the Enlightenment more persuasively than any other Left tendency.  (See Stephen Eric Bronner, Socialism Unbound.)

And what of the Frankfurt School: the Marxist-Freudians who emigrated to America from Germany ?  Many were as élitist and organicist as the nativist radicals whose work they cited and supported, figures such as Harold Lasswell and Henry A. Murray.  Adorno, Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Leo Lowenthal have devastatingly criticised mass media and American popular culture, seeing only thought-control and repressive tolerance (that is, Pacifica would be seen as impotent, existing only to make the system look good).  Not surprisingly, their followers have rarely bestirred themselves on behalf of our radio station; why bother?  And finally, there are the romantic Third-Worlders and deep ecologists.  These identify with the victimized Third World and Nature, and talk of them as if they are literally abused children or pets, not to be criticized for sexism, homophobia, or other counter-Enlightenment values, objectives, and tactics.

I have been describing obstacles to communication between Pacifica programmers and the audience; it is a dismal picture.  We are now the major repository of the critical spirit and mass education in America, such as it is.  We alone put up the good fight against “cold war culture,” it is said.  However, many of our listeners blame Western culture a.k.a. the phony liberalism of the Jews, for bringing all the ills of modernity, including fascism and ecocide to the world.  I am asking them to reconsider the upper-class ideologies that have contributed to their miseducation and thus their despair; I am asking them to contextualize the quietistic religions or peasant communities they believe are the antidote to Western desirousness and angst; I am asking them to renew their commitments to inter-group and interpersonal understanding in ‘our’ radio station.  This entails the continual retrieval of history, self-knowledge, the scrupulous search for truth, no-holds barred rational criticism, but always in the context of mutual respect, gentleness and patience.  If we shy away from this task, we will have missed a golden opportunity to intervene in the history of our time, to make political love and to leave behind the idealizations and monsters of the past.  Fascism and indiscriminate numbness are the problem: true liberalism and discriminating sensibility the solution.  In this ambiguous century, who else is going to know which is which witch?  [revised 10/96, 9-8-2000]

[1] Plato’s parable of the cave was featured in Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922), but not to attack materialism. Lippmann advocated the training of an intellectual class that would specialize in fact-finding to help the reading public evaluate competing claims from management and labor in an increasingly expert-controlled society; the fact-finding function was to be separated from policy-making, Cf. Emile Zola on naturalism.

September 6, 2009

The Hebraic American Landscape: Sublime or Despotic?

Daniel Boone and entourage

In one of my blogs tracing the impact of multiculturalism in the U.S. (https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/),  I argued that “progressives” in numerous disciplines have been writing history as a subset of a poetic natural history, taking their cues from German Romanticism. In today’s blog, written as millions of American children return to school after Labor Day to be taught the national biography by teachers influenced by  progressive historians, such as Frederick Jackson Turner, I contrast their negative assessments of the American Sublime with that of Herman Melville’s character White-Jacket in his most Hebraic pronouncement.

The BBC series American Visions, was written and presented by Australian-born Robert Hughes, played by PBS and sponsored by BMW.  The segments plainly linked Chosen People, Barnum-esque 19th century landscape painters of the sublime (distinguished from the quiet Luminists and the retiring celibate Winslow Homer), frontiersmen, nouveaux riches money and its offspring Hollywood. Together these sinister forces have raped the Indians and the environment and romanticized the short-lived Old West with malevolent nativist intent.  In Hughes’ rendering, the appropriation of the land was total and uncontested: “It’s ours” says a proud American, a woman on the rim of the Grand Canyon, remarking on the interest taken by foreign tourists in the sublimity of the American landscape.  Not atypically, Frederick Jackson Turner is cited as author of the frontier theory of American identity as if he approved of it.  In fact, Turner was appalled by the growth of monopoly that rendered Marx’s predictions plausible; it would be a small step to transfer social control of a few huge industries to popular control; the antimonopoly populist movement, active while Turner wrote his famous essay on the closing of the frontier (1893), was a warning to prescient conservatives.

The Hughes version of the nineteenth century is the narrative favored by the American Studies movement and many other cultural anthropologists/historians.  In my view, the discipline is a Tory leftover deployed against their enemies, the radical Whigs, also Turner’s target. Following their trajectory of Nature’s Nation and its popular landscape paintings, it is first and foremost the physiognomy of the wild West that has determined American kitsch taste, its vulgarity and arrogant claims to superior moral purity, the latter signified by the gorgeous light pervading these landscapes.  Here is their Master Narrative: The God revered by the Chosen People does not smile on the gift of the senses, reason, and cultural freedom in the service of social amelioration and intellectual and moral development of each and every individual; rather the light of the Hebrew God oversees Manifest Destiny in its most brutal projects of annihilation. In the opinion of one prominent literary historian, the  American Sublime is “the end of the line” for humanity (a notion reiterated in film noir, see https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/).

In a book that energized anti-Melville forces from the late 1920s on, “White-Jacket” gave a ringing meaning to youth revolt that was unmistakably Hebraic/radical Protestant. It was the sublimity of a visionary republic that brought melancholy to dispossessed aristocrats, energizing the measures taken in retribution:

“…in many things, we Americans are driven to a rejection of the maxims of the Past, seeing that, ere long, the van of the nationals must, of right, belong to ourselves. There are occasions when it is for America to make precedents, and not to obey them. We should, if possible, prove a teacher to posterity, instead of being the pupil of bygone generations. More shall come after us than have gone before; the world is not yet middle-aged.

Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel of old did not follow after the ways of the Egyptians. To her was given an express dispensation; to her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people–the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. Seventy years ago we escaped from thrall; and, besides our first birthright–embracing one continent of earth–God has given to us, for a future inheritance, the broad domains of the political pagans, that shall yet come and lie down under the shade of our ark, without bloody hands being lifted. God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours. In our youth is our strength; in our inexperience our wisdom. At a period when other nations have but lisped, our deep voice is heard afar. Long enough have we been skeptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us, if we would but give utterance to his promptings. And let us always remember that with ourselves, almost for the first time in the history of earth, national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy; for we cannot do a good to America, but we give alms to the world.” [White-Jacket (1850), Ch.36, my emph., quoted in Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 4]

Since the late 1930s, numerous scholars have claimed that Captain Ahab was an arch-imperialist, compared by many to Hitler and Stalin. Was White-Jacket’s statement made in the spirit of Jefferson and world republican revolution or in the spirit of James Polk’s defense of slavery and expansion at the expense of Indians and Mexicans? Given Melville’s constant references to abused South Sea islanders, Indians, sailors and factory workers, these words need not be taken as crypto-imperialist, unless one confuses political emancipation with slavery or self-assertion with self-sacrifice, which some anti-imperialist scholars may have done. [See a retitled blog “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty? https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/ . An extended endnote, updated here, followed this book excerpt and ends the blog:]

[Endnote:] Compare with White-Jacket’s approbation of a Hebraic America, Melville’s well-known comments in Israel Potter on America as “intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart” (Chapter XIX), but also the “essentially Western” Ethan Allen: “frank, bluff, companionable as a Pagan, convivial, a Roman, hearty as a harvest” (Chapter XXII). David Brion Davis has used the White-Jacket quote as an example of Manifest Destiny in Antebellum American Culture: An Interpretive Anthology (Lexington, Mass: Heath, 1979). Similarly, Eric Foner, in a talk “The Struggle For Freedom,” delivered at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, has cited the White-Jacket passage as an example of American forgetfulness of the past, its (selfish) future-orientation with respect to the notion of freedom, and its moralistic imposition of American values upon different societies; Foner thus makes Melville an imperialist (KPFK broadcast, 7/5/99). I am questioning these judgments.

American nationalism (as expressed in the American and French Revolutions, and constantly invoked by the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts Charles Sumner) had an ideological component that asserted the common good against privilege; it was not simply a claim for territory, language or ethnicity as conservative nationalism would be.  Compare the liberal nationalism defended by Charles Sumner* with that of Andrew Stark, “Adieu, Liberal Nationalism,” New York Times, 11/2/95. The author, a teacher of management at the University of Toronto, defines liberal nationalism in terms of primal differentiation from the mother, making it “even more irrational than chauvinistic nationalism. Bereft of any appeal to ‘mystical’ qualities like race, religion and culture, it relies on more primal, elusive entities like consciousness, existence, sense of self.” Stark’s definition reveals the depoliticizing inherent in any and all “identity” politics.

One standard reference in the field of American Studies is Ernest Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1965), 51. Tuveson first presents Marxism as counter-Enlightenment, then links it to millennial movements in Britain and the U.S. The mocking epigraph of the book is a statement by Woodrow Wilson: “America had the infinite privilege of fulfilling her destiny and saving the world.” Elsewhere he suggests a continuity of identity between “the young republic” (1), “the ancient Jewish tradition of apocalyptic” (2); the epic form and sublimity (5); and “the evil” of (naively hopeful) American participation in World War II (8). The passage from White-Jacket was quoted 156-57, without the analysis of context; Tuveson notes Melville’s apparent “profound disillusionment with these high expectations” in Clarel.

See also Edward Said, Culture And Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993). Said begins by defending anti-Western cultural nationalists from the charge of separatist chauvinism: “…far from invalidating the struggle to be free from empire, these reductions of cultural discourse actually prove the validity of a fundamental liberationist energy that animates the wish to be independent, to speak freely and without the burden of unfair domination (xx-xxi).” But this standard disappears when applied to Melville: “There is…a dense body of American writing, contemporary with the British and the French work, which shows a peculiarly acute imperial cast, even though paradoxically its ferocious anti-colonialism, directed at the Old World, is central to it. One thinks, for example, of the Puritan “errand into the wilderness” and, later, of that extraordinarily obsessive concern in Cooper, Twain, Melville and others with United States expansion westward, along with the wholesale colonization and destruction of native American life (as memorably studied by Richard Slotkin, Patricia Limerick, and Michael Paul Rogin); an anti-imperial motif emerges to rival the imperial one” (63). Puritans, Melville and Ahab now merge: (citing C.L.R. James and Victor Kiernan) “Captain Ahab is an allegorical representation of the American world quest; he is obsessed, compelling, unstoppable, completely wrapped up in his own rhetorical justification and his sense of cosmic symbolism” (288). Is Melville Ahab or not? Melville was critical of Ahab, Said notes, but follows his qualifier with the vehement scientistic statement, a non sequitur: “Yet the fact is that during the nineteenth century the U.S. did expand territorially.” Is Melville then a hypocrite? Commenting on the comparison between Saddam Hussein and Hitler during the Iraq war, Ahab is a cynical scapegoater: “Anyone who has read Moby-Dick may have found it irresistible to extrapolate from that great novel to the real world, to see the American empire preparing once again, like Ahab, to take after an imputed evil” (295).

Too much purity and stridency disturbs the pluralist peace: the “imputed evil” Americans profess to find in Third World dictatorships is a pretext for a more sinister domination. For a critique of the counter-Enlightenment “anti-imperialist” intellectuals, including Said, see Christopher Norris, Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1992), 127-130: “To imagine that truth might at length win out through a detailed, critical, investigative treatment of the relevant source materials is merely to demonstrate one’s lingering attachment to the old Enlightenment paradigm” (127). Richard Rorty and his cohort in ‘postmodern bourgeois liberal pragmatist’ culture are practicing a cynical Realpolitik imposed from above (128). Counter-narratives don’t solve problems: we need facts (130). It must be said that none of the scholars upon whom Edward Said relies has done the empirical investigation of Melville and Ahab that could justify Said’s characterization of Ahab the crazed imperialist.**

*For Sumner’s views on liberal nationalism, see archived blog “Margoth v. Robert E. Lee: Rival Visions of National Unity.”

**Cf. Hume’s distinction between Presbyterians and Independents, History of England, Vol. 7, 18-19 (year 1644): “The enthusiasm of the [comparatively moderate, C.S.] Presbyterians led them to reject the authority of prelates, to throw off the restraint of liturgy, to retrench ceremonies, to limit the riches and authority of the priestly office: the fanaticism of the Independents, exalted to a higher pitch, abolished ecclesiastical government, disdained creeds and systems, neglected every ceremony, and confounded all ranks and orders. The soldier, the merchant, the mechanic, indulging the fervours of zeal, and guided by the illapses of the spirit, resigned himself to an inward and superior direction, and was consecrated, in a manner, by an immediate intercourse and communication with Heaven.” Ahab, a “fighting Quaker,” would seem to be an example of the latter.

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