YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 18, 2015

Is antisemitism ‘rational’ or ‘irrational?’

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 8:12 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,
The Big Sleep: Bacall and Bogie

The Big Sleep: Bacall and Bogie

This blog continues the theme of my last blog: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/15/antisemitism-vs-anti-zionism-is-there-a-difference/.

There is a hot debate among academics over whether antisemitism is rational or irrational. My own position is that antisemitism is both “rational” and “irrational.” Above all, it is the intellectual combativeness of “the Jews” that makes us eternal wanderers, moderns avant la lettre, hence threatened with extinction. https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/.

The rational position: Historian Alfred S. Lindemann, author of Esau’s Tears: Modern Antisemitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge UP, 2000), comes perilously close to antisemitism when he demonstrates through statistics that newly emancipated Jews were over-represented in the European professions and businesses. I have seen this over-representation argument before, as if meritocracy rather than bean-counting was a Bad Thing. But Lindemann, now emeritus, taught at UC Santa Barbara, and the UC system is not noted for its Jew-friendly atmosphere, unless its “Jewish” professors are on the Left.

Lindemann’s book is not that different from Hannah Arendt’s linking of European Jewry with the Rothschild family, whose grossness presumably rubbed off on them—a detail in The Origins of Totalitarianism that I have not seen challenged, even among Arendt’s critics.


A somewhat less obnoxious position would be found in Christian antisemitism: that Biblical Jews remained guilty of deicide; while after the Reformation, those unwilling to convert were a constant threat to the credibility of Christianity in Europe. Uriel Tal pointed this out in Christians and Jews in Germany (Ithaca and London: Cornell U.P., 1975): 16 on post-Reformation class anxieties. Tal describes two strategies to deal with the corroding skepticism fostered by persistence of the obdurate Jew: one should either convert them or humiliate them so that their “abject state” testified to “the triumphant religion of Christianity.” (It was not until after WW2 that “the Judeo-Christian heritage” was devised to reconcile Judaism with Christianity: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Christian. By emphasizing the Ten Commandments, the drastic differences between the two religions were erased, and a measure of organic unity was achieved, notwithstanding some differences over immortality and worldliness.)

II. Irrationalist explanations:
In British press coverage of The Wandering Jew exhibition in Germany (der ewige Jude, linked above), journalists frequently described Goebbels as the gentlemanly “moderate”, relegating Streicher to the extremist pile. It is most peculiar that the Western press could have separated Goebbels from Streicher; in the spring of 1937, Goebbels propaganda department distributed a pamphlet to students and party leaders, calling for the recapture of “a lost identity” (to overcome the skepticism and despair of an industrialized world). Uriel Tal wrote, “political faith needs an anti-hero,” a scapegoat, a devil. Indeed it was the Jew who “having been a degraded sufferer for ages” was supposed to make the myth somewhat tangible and acceptable. Through the “universal conspiracy of the Jew” as well as the “defilement of his blood” the Jew brings about “the systematic decomposition of the Aryan race and the Germanic Folk.” In “Political Faith” of Nazism Prior to the Holocaust” (Annual Lecture of the Schreiber Chair of Contemporary Jewish History, Tel Aviv University, 1978): 19. But would such appeals have had any impact unless they benefited individuals and social classes in material ways?


Finally, George Orwell, to my dismay, knew little about antisemitism in his wartime essays, but considered antisemitism to be a “neurosis,” hence irrational. To this day I wonder why he gave his Trotsky character the name of “Emmanuel Goldstein” in his masterwork Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949). Perhaps Orwell, the anti-“totalitarian” par excellence, was unaware that his politics were populist, hence opposed to the evil “money power.” I can’t account for his hostility to Jesus (a.k.a. Emmanuel), however, for he lamented the modern loss of faith in immortality, which vitiated the distinction between good and evil, encouraging the search for power as an end in itself.



All scapegoating explanations for antisemitism are irrationalist, assuming mass political emotions to be instigated by demagogues and the mass media who facilitate them. I have written about “projective identification” here: https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/. The illustration for this blog emphasizes the seductive mother, who has too much power in the modern world. Both men and women may be troubled by this usually unexamined ambivalent bond. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?

December 27, 2014

George Orwell pitied Hitler but hated the money power

Orwell passport photo, undated

Orwell passport photo, undated

I have already posted blogs on George Orwell (https://clarespark.com/2012/11/17/index-to-orwell-blogs/), but had not yet read his essays from the early 1940s. I now have a clearer and bleaker idea of his politics, which are more clearly expressed in such essays as The Lion and the Unicorn, which dismayed me as the meandering thoughts of an anti-modern populist than that of the democratic socialist portrayed by recent leftist intellectuals. (For my most recent essay see https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/.)

First, there is his pity for Hitler, published in his review of Mein Kampf in New English Weekly, 21 March, 1940. [Orwell:] “I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power—till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not really matter—I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs—and I recommend especially the photograph at the beginning of Hurst and Blackett’s edition, which shows Hitler in his early Brownshirt days. It is a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself. The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is there. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds.

“…Also he has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life…. However they may be as theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their people….” [End, Orwell excerpt]

Second, there is the strongly embedded populist antisemitism in his declaration of his own English brand of Socialism in The Lion and the Unicorn, published in December 1940. For he not only wants a distinctively English Socialism (think of IngSoc in 1984), he is adamant about the outrageous role of usury, the domination of the money power, and the resultant income inequality derived from the English class system. He means to expropriate the English aristocracy and their unearned wealth, all along believing that his statist plan is part of the English tradition that spreads itself uniquely into past, present, and future. I.e., he believes in English national character, defined as vaguely Christian, but not observant.

And his view of Jews is often characteristically European. Nowhere, though he believes himself to be an anti-antisemite, he fails to understand that Jews represent modernity and its endless intellectual combativeness. Indeed, he professes great admiration for the admittedly reactionary poets whose anti-Semitism is too little noticed by literary historians: Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Yeats, even Kipling (on the latter see http://www.heretical.com/miscella/kipling2.html).

Finally, there is the homoerotic and misogynistic poem of his own that he quotes in Looking Back on the Spanish War, published in 1943. I quote only the first two verses of a longer poem written to an Italian militiaman “two years after the war was visibly lost.”

[Orwell:] “The Italian soldier shook my hand/ Beside the guard-room table;/ The strong hand and the subtle hand/ Whose palms are only able/ To meet within the sound of guns,/ But oh! What peace I knew then/ In gazing on his battered face/Purer than any woman’s!….”

What may we infer about these excerpts? Putting them together, we must ask, given Orwell’s ambivalence about Trotsky, what should we make of “Emmanuel Goldstein”? “Emmanuel” is a synonym for Christ, while the populist animus to gold is all too apparent. In combining these names, is Orwell rejecting Jesus as Jew? Is Eric Blair (Orwell’s birth name), perhaps, the crucified Christ he projected into Hitler?


And yet conservatives frequently cite Orwell in their general critique of “totalitarianism”—a term that I have criticized as outdated and historically incorrect, as the various fascisms and communism have nothing in common but their use of terror as a method of disciplining the masses. Still it should be kept in mind that some of the essays I read (1940-43) were written during the shocking Nazi-Soviet Pact; moreover Orwell predicted that if Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the Russians would not resist. So his initial views on “totalitarianism” are not so surprising. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.)

I continue to find George Orwell as problematic as in my earlier blogs, and am disgusted with the British Left’s failure to cite these obvious motes in the great man’s eye. Might it be his own sadism that is most salient in the Orwell biography?

Eric Blair with Mother, 1903

Eric Blair with Mother, 1903

December 21, 2014

Origins of free speech and the Cuba question

War Production Board, 1942-43, NARA

War Production Board, 1942-43, NARA

There is an impression, widely disseminated by supporters of the Obama administration, that renewing “diplomatic relations” and/or freer trade with Cuba (i.e., the lifting of the embargo) will lead to an improvement in the human rights situation there. This blog explores the origins of free speech, and it had nothing to do with free trade or capitalism, though one leftist newspaper thinks it does, perhaps because Marx supported free trade in the hopes of accelerating the socialist revolution: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/jul/01/in-praise-of-william-cobbett, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cobbett.

Here are some other societies thought to be outposts of cultural freedom: ancient Greece (although Plato wanted to banish poets from the Republic, and Aristotle wrote that some men were born to be slaves); England, both in the Magna Carta and in the time of the English Civil War (Milton’s Areopagitica and/or Paradise Lost its most famous examples); the seventeenth century scientific revolution, mostly British, but also the short-lived Dutch Republic, with Spinoza leading the way; and most famously the American Revolution with its Constitution, particularly the First Amendment, soon to be followed by the French Revolution and its Declaration of Human Rights; and finally the invention of social media and the no-holds-barred free-wheeling internet. But free speech was a privilege of elites and did not extend to ordinary persons, who were either slaves, serfs, landless, or under-educated and irrational. (New England Puritans were ever in the vanguard of free public education.)

I prefer to periodize the onset of free speech with the invention of the printing press, enabling the progress of mass literacy over many centuries. In prior blogs, I have suggested that although we technically enjoy freedom of expression, various elites have placed road blocks to the “liberty” we imagine that we possess. Moreover, I have more than hinted that the chief target of anti-Semitism is intellectual combativeness, a habit of mind that led one Melville scholar (Princeton’s Lawrance Thompson) to entitle his study of Herman Melville, “Melville’s Quarrel With God”(1952). In other words, HM was all too ‘Hebraic’, luring readers to perdition. Such consistent double-talking, self-erasing texts, and unequivocal assaults on authority, even his own (Ahab! See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/). “Such a Jew” (Charles Olson’s notes) could not be tolerated in “free Ameriky” as one character mocked in The Confidence-Man and again in his post-Civil War poem Clarel.


I will end this blog with a quote from George Orwell, who has been taken up by conservatives as a fierce critic of “totalitarianism,” ignoring his strong attachment to working class men, to materialism, and to the Left:

[Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War, 1942:] “I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, of they struggled after the truth, knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that “the facts” existed and were more or less discoverable. …Nazi theory…specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as “science.” There is only “German science”, “Jewish science” etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future, but the past….”


We are living in this nightmare world today, and until we all rouse ourselves to address the “postmodern” “multicultural” education that is hegemonic and that supports only “group facts” indecipherable to other “races” or “genders” we will continue to wither, or at best, to sell out inside Nineteen Eighty-Four.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2014/10/08/index-to-blogs-on-totalitarianism/. “Totalitarianism” is a term that Orwell used frequently, but is now out of date. Equating Nazis and Soviets was a tool in the Cold War, tarring the “progressive” brush with Soviet communism.

August 27, 2014

The imagination going dark

cannibalferoxBefore I left for a summer jaunt, I reread George Fitzhugh’s CANNIBALS ALL! (1857), a defense of slavery as a benign institution, especially as compared to the voracious capitalism and radical politics he claims to have witnessed in the industrial revolution.  What makes this work important is hardly its timeless wisdom or exhaustive research into the historical record, but the stunning fact that C. Vann Woodward, the foremost (liberal) historian of the South, wrote a lengthy preface for its republication in 1960.

Why would a liberal resuscitate such a relic in the mid-20th century? Woodward doesn’t tell us, but it is a good bet that Fitzhugh’s enemies and his were cut from the same cloth; that Fitzhugh’s reactionary cooking the history books to make all slaveholders throughout the West and the American South the best of patriarchs: religious, classically educated, family oriented, agrarian, and never, never turning slaves into throwaway commodities as the materialistic, science driven Northern laissez-faire capitalists were allegedly doing. Woodward undoubtedly saw Fitzhugh as the model New Deal liberal, paternalistic, agrarian, and statist, avant la lettre.

On the airplane that took me back and forth from the East I saw three movies, one older, two recent: Brazil, Divergent, and Transcendence. Before that, I had leafed through a large art history book, heavily illustrated, entitled Symbolism at my son’s house. I feel that I am drowning in postmodernist negativity regarding science, technology, “positivism,” and the modern world, for all these works were retreats into the Dark Ages, mysticism, and even postmodernism (even Christopher Nolan, who has a conservative following,  is awash in ambiguity and subjectivity–not all of which is bad.)

The Symbolist painters of the 19th century were lyrical and visually extravagant, carrying forth many of the themes developed on this website—escapism into a re-enchanted world: primitive, pagan, nature-loving, risqué, often Catholic. But the movies I watched on the airplane were typical film noir: As the Erudite want to take over the world (Divergent) choosing their version of “human nature” as justification for their oppressive and divisive leadership (compare to Fitzhugh’s hated abolitionists and utopians), the Abnegation faction that currently rules is under threat but ably defended by young misfits who see through the traps set by the (Űbermenschen). The symbolism is obvious to the audience: the rationalists have carved up the human personality according to the division of labor that Fitzhugh too criticized as dehumanizing.

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

It is this division of labor that has turned the lights out all over Europe and America, de-skilling honest craftsmen, and corrupting the new industrial working class, once the projected saviors of humanity, with cheap and abundant consumer goods.

Is it any wonder that nearly all our sci-fi movies are set in murderous, visually degraded, crazy-making cities, and that popular entertainment has gone dark and mobbish? For in olden times, there were heroes capable of slaying the monsters who stalked the land. Those days are gone forever, except in the imaginations of the younger filmmakers who, like Nolan, has his characters (apparently) join forces with eco-terrorists who confuse science with The Bomb. (Were Orwell alive today, he would see himself as a prophet, for the social democrats have inverted freedom and slavery. Don’t confuse the tenets of social democracy with communism, for the communists viewed technology and science as emancipating for toiling humanity.)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Nowadays, we have the dubious choice of eating or being eaten, dreaming in our pop culture of unpolluted Nature, meditating upon “whole foods.”

August 31, 2013

June 15, 2013

Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero

les_miserables_ver11One of the first distinctions taught me by Alexander Saxton, my adviser at UCLA (and confirmed by other scholars) was that a drastic transformation had taken place between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the wake of the American and French Revolutions: that the politics of family and deference to one’s “betters” had given way to “mass politics,” symbolized most famously by the log cabin campaigns of Andrew Jackson and his successors in the Jeffersonian agrarian tradition. Federalists (like Washington and Hamilton) were out and democrats were in, even if they held slaves and adored Sir Walter Scott’s romances.

This point is lost on those who blame mass politics and mass culture (both supposedly appealing to the irrational mob) for all the dictatorships of the 20th century. Among these was George Orwell, whose Nineteen Eighty Four is unintelligible without taking into account the new technology that enabled the successful snooping of Big Brother. Similarly, the Frankfurt School critical theorists blame technology and bureaucratic rationality (i.e., modernity as controlled by irreligious mass culture) for the Holocaust.

Nor without “traditional” fear of the undeferential masses can we understand the turn toward the classic tradition advanced by Robert Maynard Hutchins and his ‘moderate’ colleagues, who, as early as 1939, hoped to reinstate deference to a natural aristocracy to defeat the atheistic reds, as well as the latter’s despised campaigns against racism and antisemitism,  and their glorification of the common man. Today these [red or pink] villains are called “secular progressives”–perhaps a code word for “the Jews.”  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/.)

I have spent the last several weeks plowing through Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), a melodrama so appealing that it was adapted for both stage and film. What I most strongly take away from this monstrosity of a tale/sermon/philosophical treatise/military history is Hugo’s attempt to make himself, the reactionary Romantic, the true superhero of the tome. It is he who kills off his rival in fatherly strength and determination, Jean Valjean at the end, leaving himself, the author, as the major survivor. On display throughout are Hugo’s ostentatious learning, deference to God as the prime mover of human events, the efficacy of a change of heart in redeeming criminals, ingenious plotting, and detailed descriptions of the Paris poor, their furniture, rags, songs, and schemes including early nineteenth century French insurrections/émeutes. The epic novel is a reproach to Prometheus and his Enlightenment offspring, though many of its images are poetic and memorable. [For more on Hugo and the Prometheans see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/13/victor-hugos-93-and-condorcet/.]

"Victor Hugo en mage"

“Victor Hugo en mage”

Hugo, no less than Jean Valjean threading his way through the treacherous Paris sewers with the wounded lawyer Marius on his back, is navigating his way between monarchism and republicanism, taking us back to the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church advanced the higher law that invariably trumped earthly “pettifoggers.”  Amor Vincit Omnia. Ask Robert Maynard Hutchins and the other pseudo-moderate men.

British production

British production

It is so ironic that during last year’s Tony Awards (referring to 2011 productions), members of the Broadway musical adaptation of Hugo’s novel, presented themselves as revolutionaries and republicans singing “One Day More” (http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/lesmiserables/onedaymore.htm)  as if the author, without ambivalence,  favored republican principles and the mass politics that enabled them in Europe and America.  Hugo was no Marat, no ami du peuple. Rather, the escape artist (like both Valjean and Thenardier) was torn between his parents whose politics were opposed to one another. Hugo chose absolutism, not the stern Hebraic demand to choose inside a dualistic world.*

But don’t tell that to the post 1960s back-to-nature generation, like Victor Hugo, those stalwart enemies to “jewified” modernity, held to be masked, ambiguous, and unintelligible (with the exception of geniuses like himself). For many, Les Misérables is the Communist Manifesto of social democracy, but with a variation. It appears that God and the State have merged. The State, assuming the status of a deity, is the author of human events. The Good King is back, and the Good King is a superhero. (For a related recent blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.)

*I am indebted to Steve Chocron for this point about Judaism and the necessity constantly to choose the right path when all choices are fraught with ambiguity.

November 17, 2012

Index to Orwell blogs

The administrative State?










Eric Blair's family 1916

Eric Blair’s family 1916

Compare Orwell’s pessimism to his admirer John Dos Passos’s sunnier views, who wrote of Orwell in his later years, and once voiced this more optimistic assessment of humanity’s future:

[Responding to German students as to what is admirable about USA:] “I told them they should admire the United States not for what we were but for what we might become. Selfgoverning democracy was not an established creed, but a program for growth. I reminded them that industrial society was a new thing in the world and that although we Americans had gone further than any people in spreading out its material benefits we were just beginning, amid crimes, illusions, mistakes and false starts, to get to work on how to spread out what people needed much more: the sense of belonging, the faith in human dignity, the confidence of each man in the greatness of his own soul without which life is a meaningless servitude….Faith in self-government, when all is said and done, is faith in the eventual goodness of man.” (p.508, Virginia Spencer Carr’s bio of John Dos Passos, whose USA trilogy, written in his younger years, was one of the most radical and brilliant of all the left-wing literature. After his quarrel with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, he gradually turned away from the Left, but his optimism and defense of the dissenting individual are the legacy of the Enlightenment.)

November 13, 2012

Orwell, superpatriots, and the election

(The Revised Orwell, p.204)”If one thinks of the artist as…an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped the patron and had not yet been captured by the bureaucrat…. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and to the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilisation perishes. I have not yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.” (George Orwell, in TRIBUNE, 1944). Quoted by Arthur M. Eckstein, “George Orwell’s Second Thoughts on Capitalism.”

The last month or so I have been surveying the wildly divergent postmortems on the life and writings of George Orwell, particularly those books that I have studied, Homage to Catalonia (1938), Animal Farm (1946) and his last novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The three books are inseparable, for they reflect Orwell’s disgust, not only with Soviet Communism, but with dishonest journalists and others in the mass media, including those who produced Hollywood trash. Keep in mind that this media-centered diagnosis of capitalism run amok was very popular during the 1940s, after the Holocaust was finally publicized. That there could have been lurking antisemitism in the explanation that mass media was the demonic force allowing for the rise of Hitler was not broadly recognized.

Leftists (especially “the anti-Stalinist Left” and social democrats) read collectivist and workerist Orwell as one of them, while John Dos Passos, in his later years, lauded him as a force for individual free thought, flinging himself against crushing institutions that man himself had made. As the quote above suggests, Orwell had identified a structural conflict in capitalism that put him in a bind: the marketplace of ideas protected dissident artists like himself, but capitalism was, in his view, brutally imperialistic, fascistic and sadistic toward workers. The Orwell academic criticism is not as divergent in its politics as the Melville criticism, even though Melville, like Orwell, was a fierce opponent of what we now call “Doublethink,” hypocrisy, and lying in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/10/27/melville-orwell-doublethink/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/17/index-to-orwell-blogs/.)

For most Anglo-American critics, Orwell is a good “Socialist,” a “decent” fellow who sympathized with the troubles of the victims of imperialism, the poor and the working class in general, especially lauding the nuclear family with its contented working class husband, traditional submissive wife, and (quietly) rollicking children. But there are exceptions: not only Norman Podhoretz lauded Orwell’s keen opposition to Soviet Communism, I have found an inflammatory essay by the late professor W. Warren Wagar, who thought that Orwell had a devastating effect on postwar world culture. Like a few other Orwellians, Wagar seems to have thought that crypto-Nazi Orwell’s “dystopia” or “satire” was as much directed at the ultramontane Roman Catholic Church as it was at the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or the mass media as managed by the still-capitalist British Labour Party. (Keep in mind that the Labour Party was not pure socialism/communism, but was a proponent of the mixed economy, and an outgrowth of 19th century liberal Protestant Christianity; it was most certainly not the “democratic socialism” or “ethical socialism” touted by Orwell scholars as the next big step in civilization. See https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/. )

Is the term “totalitarianism” old hat and imprecise? One feature of the “totalitarian” societies so reviled by 1940s and 1950s liberals or socialists like Orwell is hyper-nationalism and the cult of the Leader/Big Brother. The more alert historians have discarded the “totalitarian” label as a species of utopian perfectionism that was always unachievable; in my own writing I have stressed early childhood as the locus of “total control”, a conception that is misapplied to 20th century dictatorships. Similarly we might ask: Is nativism dead, as many Rightists claim? Or are there still numerous Americans who swallow the notion that America is not only the greatest, most perfect nation ever conceived, and is now happily relieved of the racism, antisemitism, and exclusionism that sullied the national past. And what do these words mean, in concrete reality?

I bring this up because I find authoritarian pronouncements in nearly all sectors of our political culture, but I would never call our country totalitarian, or even on its way to such an awful outcome. Rather, it is deeply fragmented, as it always was, often along sectional or regional lines. Some of us live within an ahistoric religious mentality (where the major conflict is between Good and Evil), while others live in the world of concrete institutions, that may be evaluated as fair, productive, and admirable, or, alternatively, deeply flawed and requiring reform. But whatever our current understanding, we take institutions one at a time, avoiding grandiose claims for the totality. My aim in this blog is to refine how we use political language. One of the bases of our authoritarian culture today is loose talk about prior regimes, including our own. There are persons among us who won’t do the labor of detailed history, but like to throw around big conceptions as part of their self-righteous ideologies; many believe in the devil and in the demonic as independent forces in history, apart from the actual structure and practices of specific institutions. It is they, I argue, who fail to criticize the notion of totalitarianism, a term that had clout in the 1940s and 1950s, but should be thrown out along with other outdated assessments of Germany, the  Soviet Union, Italy, and Spain between the wars. Peter Blume, The Eternal City

October 29, 2012

Index to blogs on Big Brother

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:16 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The Way We Live Now





October 27, 2012

Melville, Orwell, Doublethink

 This is my second major Orwell blog: see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/ for the first one.

During my recent forays into the changing interpretations of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949), I was surprised to learn that Orwell had read passages from Herman Melville’s White-Jacket (1850) while broadcasting on the BBC during the early years of WW2. Specifically, he excerpted a gory description of a naval doctor performing an unnecessary and fatal amputation on a wounded U.S. sailor. Elsewhere in White-Jacket, HM had sharply and vividly written about “flogging through the fleet,” a practice that he abhorred, possibly because he had been caned as a child by his own father. Indeed, Roy Porter sent me an ad from a British newspaper offering White-Jacket as sadomasochistic porn. (On the dynamics of sadomasochism see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/21/managerial-psychiatry-jung-murray-and-sadomasochism-2/.)

Though at least one Orwell biographer (Jeffrey Meyers) has emphasized GO’s masochism, I have not found a source yet that relates where the conception of Doublethink originated. Did Orwell know about “cognitive dissonance” from experience, or reading, or had he read Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), where Melville not only describes his mother’s frequent mixed messages, but invents “Plinlimmon’s Pamphlet” that praises “virtuous expediency” as the best morality attainable on this deceptive earth. My book on the Melville Revival (Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival)  is nearly entirely devoted to this theme of the double bind/cognitive dissonance/virtuous expediency, all of which signify what Orwell chose to call Doublethink.

Here are the double binds that I suggest were made apparent in Melville’s novels, and then may have driven his academic revivers in the 20th century into all manner of psychogenic symptoms and illnesses. (It is my contention that Melville readers who wished to advance in academe had to suppress the evidence before them in order to please the reigning ideology in the universities that employed them, so many derided Melville/Ahab as crazy, while defending Plinlimmon’s sensible philosophy, that they attributed to their “moderate” Melville/Ishmael .) But first take Doublethink in Pierre.

  1. There is no conflict between “truth” and Order. Mary Glendinning, Pierre’s mother in the novel, wants her son “just emerging from his teens” to grow into a manly individual, but not such an individual that he disobeys her choice  in choosing his future wife, who will also be perfectly obedient to her wishes.
  2. Pierre is expected to revere his dear perfect (Christian) father, but he must not be so good a Christian as to rescue from near-beggary his “natural” half-sister Isabel.
  3. Pierre reads the double bind, jilts his mother-chosen fiancée, runs off with Isabel, and mother dies of insanity. This book will not end well. (See Pierre’s scolding mother in this hard to find set of illustrations by Maurice Sendak, for a truncated edition of Pierre. https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/pierre3.jpg.)

In the much quoted Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick, the abolitionist preacher speaks of snatching the truth even if it lies hidden under the skirts of judges and Senators. It is unclear here whether “truth” signifies the truth of Christ, or of the truth as defined by lawyers (or today, scientists). But it is a fact that during Captain Ahab’s speech on “the quarter-deck”, he declares that “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Since Ahab is widely described as a blasphemer, I suspect that it is empirical truth that the relatively powerless see, and which is denied by their superiors, that Melville meant to call out. Which links him now to Orwell’s famous “dystopia.”

For Winston Smith works in “the Ministry of Truth” where he rewrites history to suit the propaganda requirements of Big Brother and the Inner Party. Recall Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), where he denounces journalists for taking the Soviet line that all anarchists and Trotskyists were in league with Franco’s fascists. John Dos Passos, in Century’s Ebb, remembered Orwell as an individualist striking out at those man-made institutions that forced him to lie for the sake of Order. Compare Dos’s elevation of Orwell as truth-seeker to the trendier line that Orwell, like Melville, was a premature anti-imperialist, and for that alone we honor his life and work.

[Added 11-10-12 Dos quote: )“If one thinks of the artist as…an autonomous individual who owes nothing to society, then the golden age of the artist was the age of capitalism. He had then escaped the patron and had not yet been captured by the bureaucrat…. Yet it remains true that capitalism, which in many ways was kind to the artist and to the intellectual generally, is doomed and is not worth saving anyway. So you arrive at these two antithetical facts: (1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilisation perishes. I have not yet seen this dilemma solved (there must be a solution), and it is not often that it is honestly discussed.” (George Orwell, in TRIBUNE, 1944). Quoted by Arthur M. Eckstein, “George Orwell’s Second Thoughts on Capitalism,” The Revised Orwell, ed. Jonathan Rose (Michigan State UP, 1992), p.204.

Another double bind that is especially relevant today:  There is no conflict between national identity and international identity. Hence, the United Nations is our best bet to avoid wars of the catastrophic magnitude of the world wars of the 20th century, or to halt “voter suppression” on November 6, 2012. Such are the psychic requirements of political correctness, the term itself an example of Doublethink, for facts (correctness) are non-partisan. Melville’s takedown of “virtuous expediency” is more to the point.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/. For “political correctness” as decorum, an idea passed out by liberal elites, see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/, especially the suggestion by Christopher Edley, whose career has been remarkable.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.