The Clare Spark Blog

January 25, 2016

Is the US Constitution “godless”?

flag-cross-elephantI had always assumed that economist and social theorist Friedrich Hayek was interchangeable in his philosophy with Milton Friedman, until I reread Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (1969) in which he gave all honor to the English antecedents of the Founders, consigning the French philosophe input to the disreputable rationalist tradition and the horrid French Revolution that it spawned.

It was not until I read a trade book The Godless Revolution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State (by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, Norton, 2005) that I understood the longstanding gap between defenders of the Christian Commonwealth idea (exemplified by Hayek and his admired predecessors Edmund Burke and Lord Acton) and those Jeffersonians who defended religious pluralism/the secular state.

Kramnick and Moore’s book is a full throated attack on the “religious Right” from the New Deal left-liberal side of the political spectrum, and takes its place as a major tool in the culture wars. To be fair, the authors take care not to be confused with atheists; religion should take its place in public policy debates, as long as theocracy is not advocated, but it is clear where their morality lies: in Big Government programs, including environmentalism and other compassionate legislation, such as feminist abortion rights, and the single payer health plan. They acknowledge that Jefferson’s minimalist state was suited for an agrarian society, but assume that the Industrial Revolution initiated a new system of morality. (They might have mentioned those who transformed Jefferson’s negative state to a positive state, a.k.a. Big Government, historian Carl Becker’s input is MIA.)

Their book is a boilerplate left liberal argument: dropping the name of Milton Friedman, the advocate of free markets, but ignoring his theme of upward mobility made possible by laissez-faire economics. (See https://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/.)

Their heroes include John Locke, Jefferson, FDR, JFK, and the Clintons; their villains are such as James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Lyndon Johnson (!, who went too far? or was it Viet Nam?) and George W. Bush who ostensibly made his conversion from scapegrace to piety the major theme of his 2004 campaign. (Which is odd, because the authors clearly want to convert the readers from laissez-faire economics to the positive, hyper-moral state.)

As proper pluralists, they frown on public displays of the Ten Commandments, for the first four laws are too Jewish; i.e., not inclusive.

friedman

July 20, 2014

“National character”: does it exist?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:33 pm
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nationalcharacterOne of the worst habits of journalists and academics is to refer to countries or regions as if they were one individual, all virtuous or all evil, depending on the author: hence “America” or “Germany” or “the South” as opposed, say, to the real material and ideological divisions in a particular country or region, and to individual differences and variations within those divisions. The same goes for class stereotypes, such as “bourgeois” or “working class.”

The omnipresent “multiculturalists” try to correct this habit of personifying nations, by pointing to the need for “inclusiveness” in societies characterized by “diversity”. But they don’t mean that individuals count for anything, for their discourse is collectivist, whether applied to countries or classes. Thus American blacks, for instance, have group character that is incomprehensible to other groups (especially white people), unless they are “people of color” who know the White Man’s nasty habits. If the [dominant culture] is “good” (i.e., anti-racist) it will practice “toleration” and give a leg up to “people of color” through various state-imposed programs such as affirmative action or immigration reform. Since the multiculturalists control the dominant discourses, their opponents are ipso facto “racists.”

So don’t expect a revival of the [evil] melting pot, as that was a bourgeois, culture-crushing imposition on its victims. No, we will devolve into a society of grouplets, each with its own “group facts.”

This social theory we owe to German Romanticism, that was then revived in the 20th century, particularly by the “ethno-pluralists” of the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s, trying to explain Nazism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/. Hayek was up against this tradition in all his books: see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/09/david-riesman-v-friedrich-hayek/.

Ukrainian souvenirs

Ukrainian souvenirs

Is there anything, then, to this notion of “national character”? It comes down to this: either we have a collectivist discourse or we look at individual differences and deviations from imputed group character. There are numerous scholars who believe that “traditions” create national character. For instance, all native born Brits are stoic, all Frenchmen and other Latins are sensualists, while for many Marxist-Leninists, the working class has its own group character, which is pure and hell bent for revolution under the benign guidance of bureaucratic centralists and dialectical materialism.

In my view, we pursue such easy classification at our peril.

John Bull

John Bull

October 9, 2010

David Riesman v. Friedrich Hayek

David Riesman, public intellectual

It is a revelation to compare David Riesman’s conception of American character in The Lonely Crowd (1950) and the possibility of individuality with that of Friedrich Hayek’s stubborn seeker after truth in The Road to Serfdom (1944).

Riesman’s book (co-written with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney) identifies three social character types, all of whom could be found in postwar America: the tradition-directed, the inner-directed, and the other-directed. Since I had used the last two terms in previous blogs, I checked his book to see if my memory was correct: whether or not the inner-directed type (with which I identify myself) was a desirable type, in Riesman’s view. It turns out that he doesn’t believe that this “Puritan ascetic” bourgeois is an independent thinker at all, but rather one who has internalized the goals injected by his parents. Oh, oh, I thought. So then I wondered, what was his father’s occupation?

But before I get to that remarkable fact, I was not surprised to see that Riesman’s affinity group included many of the names in the burgeoning social sciences that I had analyzed in my book on Melville as read between the wars: Harold Lasswell, Gardner Murphy, Henry A. Murray, T. W. Adorno, Erik Erikson, and others who did not appear in my work, such as refugees Erich Fromm and Leo Lowenthal. All of these figures saw [Hayek’s] “individual” as pathological in some way, especially when, as Lasswell put it, they caused crises of deference by questioning authority.

Friedrich Hayek had written one of the great books of the twentieth century (though it would not be in Robert Hutchins’s list of must-reads): in no uncertain terms, Hayek warned that the totalitarianisms of Europe had made huge collectivist inroads in the United States, and the project of his book was to save classical liberalism from the new misnamed “liberals” whose statism had almost erased the conception of the 19th century individual as understood by those influenced by Adam Smith: Macaulay, John Stuart Mill, and Gladstone, to name a few. What particularly endeared me to Hayek was his recognition that German culture had been pushing both Prussian militarism and volkisch notions of “community” in order to displace the Renaissance/Reformation notion of the peace-loving, innovating, self-reliant individual for several centuries, and that Hitler, Mussolini, and American progressives had not invented anything new in their statist remedies for the social problems of industrialization.

Back to David Riesman, whose achievements as a young man had already identified him as future member of an intellectual elite: his editorship of the Harvard Crimson, his making Harvard Law Review, his clerkship for (Progressive) Louis D. Brandeis, for instance. But since he denied that the inner-directed person was self-reliant, but rather the puppet of his parents and then the flotsam and jetsam of consumerism, I looked up his genealogy and could only get some material on his father, a noted physician and Professor of Clinical Medicine in Philadelphia (The University of Pennsylvania Medical School), where he had been raised. His father’s name was also David Riesman, and Wikipedia simply states that Riesman (fils) was a Jew. The name Riesman does not evoke the Eastern European recent immigrant, but rather the German Jews who came to America perhaps in the 19th century, where they rapidly achieved upper-class status (even though they were excluded from WASP playgrounds and much of corporate America). Moreover, Jews are not allowed to name their children for themselves, and Riesman fils did not even get the Junior appended. But he did go on to write a book claiming that in the new postwar consumer society, no one was free, nor were their ancestors.

According to Riesman fils what the now stigmatized inner-directed parent (along with female teachers) did wrong was to plunge their unknowing offspring into the anxiety-ridden, constantly shifting world of the fashion-driven “other-directed” society of consumerism. Recall now that the Frankfurt School refugees had blamed the rise of fascism on the revolt of the masses, unlike themselves, gullibly consuming Nazi propaganda and loving every minute of it. Whereas Hayek, deeply suspicious of these same recent refugees, warned his readers that they were communist/fascists of the most dire collectivist mentality.

In Riesman’s sad, lonesome world, no separation from illegitimate authority is possible (after all, he never did it): there are only masks and mutual manipulation. In Hayek’s world, such separation from authoritarian collectivism is the test of the civilized individual. And toward the end of his book he cites John Milton several times, who once wrote that “the mind is its own place.” Milton, Hayek noted, was being repudiated in the new collectivist America, shades of the turn against Melville’s Captain Ahab.

I finally stopped reading the Riesman book, for it seemed to me that he was painfully struggling with his own problems, and had no evidence to back up his frequently changing view of “the American social character.”

Hayek with students at London School of Economics, 1948

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