The Clare Spark Blog

December 19, 2015

Still Looking for Mr. Goodbar: the fear of individual liberty and self-direction

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:44 pm
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Mr_GoodbarI was much influenced by Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom (1941). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Freedom. Wiki leaves out Fromm’s theory of working class authoritarianism to account for Nazism and makes him a typical social democrat, critical of experts and advertising whose origin and targets are “the mobocracy.”) This blog is about the nostalgia for monarchism providing definite authority and the novelty of free market economics. It is not about Fromm’s notion of the authoritarian personality, a preoccupation understandable in the face of Nazism and related isms.

Like most of my readers and FB friends, I have been trying to situate myself somewhere in the current political campaign for president. I am particularly interested in the Frank Luntz focus groups, for a variety of ordinary people seem to be seeking a manly, stable “leader,” whatever the flaws or evasions in his social policy views.

This last week, I read Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962), which is a systematic defense of free markets and untrammeled cultural freedom, an outcome that Friedman finds inseparable from capitalism in its most laissez-faire mode. (I agree with most of what he writes, but wonder if “choice” is invariably wise, given the fatal possibilities of succumbing to quacks and other “professional” frauds.)

At the same time, I have been studying very old fights among historians about the major turning points in the history of our sorry species. My most vivid recollection is that of Louis XIV and the prestige of his absolute despotism as the embodiment of the State. It occurred to me that we have, in spite of our Constitution, not progressed very far from Louis’s [vulgarity], using the magnificence of Versailles-like splendor, for instance, to wow the masses and the King’s underlings, rather like the glitterati, “traditional” mansions, and “special effects” in film celebrated especially during the holiday season to induce spending, notwithstanding the solemnity of religious observance.

individual

Back to Luntz’s focus group regarding Trump and his competition (broadcast on Fox 12-18-15, on The Kelly File). Numerous persons in the Luntz focus group referred to “the people” as the preferred source of authority. But through the centuries, “the people” have been acted upon by elites, and the efforts of individuals to assert liberty have been criminalized as demonic and sneaky. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.) Moreover, there is no such animal as “the people”: that is a construction by “traditional” organic conservatives seeking a compact mass to dominate. Friedman, like Charles Sumner before him, favored small government, and saw “society” as a collection of individuals.

Is it not the case that we are, more often than not, scared to death of asserting our individual rights, in what Fromm correctly called an escape from freedom?

davidbogbig-picture-300dpi

David Bog Big Picture

 

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February 27, 2013

“American exceptionalism” retold

american-progress-ideation2I have already compiled a list of turning points for the ascent/decline of “the West” here: https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/. But the purpose of this blog is to suggest a counter-narrative for American history, warts and all. The goal is to find an approach to US history that will not leave students or your home-schooled child adrift with lifeboats offering only tendentious accounts of US history, and offering either idealized or demonized versions of the American past. (For a patriotic account by “America’s greatest writer” see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or try this more recent one: https://clarespark.com/2014/02/07/herman-melville-on-the-materialist-solitary-backwoodsman/.)

In a short blog, I can outline only some major points.

First, to present a corrected version of US history, it cannot be rooted solely in America, with non-whites the hapless victims of murderous European-born whites. During the age of expansion, conflicts between France, England, Spain and the Netherlands were critical. Had Americans not expanded West, say by hugging the Atlantic coast, there might subsequently have been a jigsaw of European colonies like the map of Africa in the late 19th century and onward.

Second, westward expansion also exacerbated conflict between the industrializing North and slaveholding South. Without an economic history of these regions, US history and the politics of expansion remain incomprehensible.

Third, although ethnocentrism can be found in many cultures, racism in the U.S. directed against non-whites was a by-product* of American (and world) economic development (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism). But anti-imperialists deny that racism has been partly corrected, insisting that “institutional racism” persists despite the civil rights movement and its achievements. (I do not mean to minimize the effects of racism: see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.) Nor would the anti-Americans examine the obliteration of high Western and American culture, substituting a popular culture that is mostly primitivist. Going native is a major cause of mass psychological regression to a stage of life where “adults” are over-influenced by parental surrogates and other ideologically tainted authority. Such primitivist regression is rarely criticized by hipster democrats; by contrast, communists accept a notion of Progress that ineluctably leads to Leninist bureaucratic centralism and that demonizes ‘capitalism’/market society as an imposition by filthy lucre and their “commercial” mass media.

Fourth, infuriated by leftist critics of US imperialism (often concentrated in the blue states), some “red state” patriots argue that the warts are removed, that American self-criticism has lifted us out of the Slough of Despond, and that the concept of American exceptionalism should be rehabilitated. This is a shallow judgment, though I partly agree. Urban decay and a rotting public school system for inner city kids remains an unsolved problem, one of many, including massive waste and fraud at every level of government.

Fifth, not enough weight is given to the bounty of Nature that greeted the first European settlers, an abundance preserved by mostly hunter-gatherer Indian tribes that famously refused “development.” Much of American economic success battened off the virgin land, and we are evading real environmental problems if we imagine that the Green movement is nothing but a communist plot in all its manifestations. (See Bob Ennis’s comment below, with which I concur.)

Sixth, though some “traditionalists” on the Right prefer a view of the Constitution as divinely inspired,  we do better by our children and ourselves to celebrate cultural and political pluralism. The secular state does not signify atheism, communism, and the end of pluralism, but rather secularism is the guarantee of personal freedom and the unmatched luxury of individuality. It is in our Bill of  Rights, along with the relatively free markets that are responsible for unprecedented upward mobility and wealth creation, that “American exceptionalism” really exists.

*There used to be a debate among historians whether racism caused slavery, or whether slavery caused racism, but it is now the case that major scholars treat “racism” as an independent variable, and indeed they claim that racism is the engine of U.S. history, a flaw so terrible and omnipresent that reparations are demanded. Do not underestimate the determination and penetration of non-white cultural nationalists. See https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/, also the illustration above, which takes its cue from Diego Rivera’s Stalinist murals, with a strong dose of the Fantastic and Surrealism.

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