YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2017

A reassessment of a Critique of Pure Tolerance 42 years later

repressive tolerance.I posted the following thought on Facebook, and got a few adverse comments.

“This A.M. [April 7. 2017] I found Herbert Marcuse’s notorious essay on repressive tolerance, which I read years ago. I can see why it is so controversial because it advocates [partly 2-10] restricting speech on the Right in favor of the Left. But OTOH, it praises the liberal innovation of tolerance in its context of the overthrow of the feudal restrictions on free speech and human rights in general. I can see where I got my critique of Fox’s alleged fair and balanced approach, my defense of individualism, and my disgust with phony pluralism/identity politics. But would Marcuse, if still alive today, not separate out political Islam from his roster of victims on similar grounds to my own?”

One or two friends suggested that Marcuse had always been a Stalinist. This is a grave misunderstanding of the critical theorists (mostly Jews), so I am writing a commentary on the politics of Marcuse et al, and especially noting the time of publication at the height of oppositional social movements that some conservatives associated with communism in its most Stalinist and repressive manifestations. Youth seemed out of control.

First, the three essays in A Critique of Pure Tolerance were published in 1965 as the New Left was taking off, inspired by the civil rights movement.

Second, it is widely misunderstood that Marcuse, the most notorious of the three academics, was advocating the repression of all speech. He took care to emphasize the media indoctrination that had undermined the early liberalism he took care to defend. It was beyond question that mass media had squelched Marxist-Leninist fantasies that the working class would deliver utopia in the form of socialist revolution. But New Dealers (the ultimate resting place of 1960s radicalism) had prevailed after a few decades of stimulating upheaval.

The moderate men had prevailed as token radicals assumed academic positions, hired by the same social democrats who victoriously carried forth the programs of the Roosevelt administration. So the revolutionary feminists settled into separatist programs, and took their places with other members of the New Deal coalition: minorities and labor; ex-slaves were buttressed later by Latinos and other “people of color.”

Though they talk a good game, the campus radicals were likely to follow postmodernism, with the latter’s rejection of objectivity, science, facts, and the search for truth. This too fit in with the New Deal—that had favored cultural history and multiculturalism over science.

Enter the three essayists, Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr. and the rowdier and more infamous Herbert Marcuse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Marcuse. All three men, however they may have differed in emphases, pushed the same modern line: a disgust with indoctrination of every type. Wolff deplored electoral politics as promoting “style, image, and faith,” Moore wanted a “rational and secular” society, and Marcuse, the most militant of the bunch, wanted to restrict some (he never says all) right wing speech. This latter point has been widely misunderstood by many conservatives who associate the critical theorists with the most censorious leftists in history.

In my own view, Wolff, Moore, and Marcuse were more radical liberals than any type of Stalinist or other bogey resuscitated by some conservatives. https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/. Not unlike Milton Friedman, the radical liberal critics of a phony liberalism wanted a full marketplace of ideas; that would have to reserve a place for fully rational assessments of the past record of all socialist and capitalist societies. Such imprecations were the very opposite of the irrationalism that passes today for “liberalism.”

April 17, 2014


totalitarianism_01I started out today thinking about chastising the careless use of the term “tolitarianism” by both Left and Right—who generally accuse their opponents of the T word. It is rather like a Nazi sign or a Hitler moustache painted on the Enemy du jour. (For a fuller account, see https://clarespark.com/2014/04/19/totalitarianism-2/)

I was also going to mention that the T word, when picked at long enough, probably refers to the rule of money, which for Marx signified “Jewish” “hucksterism” from which communism would rescue the brainwashed masses. (see Mad Men, that plays on this latently antisemitic hatred of advertising and public relations).

Then I was going to write that the presence of free speech, a free press, and the internet made the US (and the West?) free of the total control imputed to the Fascist powers and to Hitler’s Nazism.

BUT then I thought of Herbert Marcuse’s notion of “repressive tolerance”—a concept only partly understood by rightists who attack “cultural Marxism.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.) One thing that Marcuse claimed was that the notion of toleration of dissent was a ruse of authoritarian forces who insisted that their critics accept their ruling definitions of reality and of the meaning of words. Most right-wing descriptions of “repressive tolerance” correctly state that Marcuse wanted to suppress all but left-wing speech. Marcuse’s 1965 claim was a slap against the marketplace of ideas, but I do agree with this sentence: “It is the people who tolerate the government, which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities.”

THEN I watched POTUS’s press conference, in which he inflicted the usual liberal double bind: the Affordable Care Act was a smashing success, if only the Republicans would stop bad mouthing it, and yet the President called for bipartisanship. Somewhere in there, he used the word “forcefully” and my adrenalin started flowing again, especially since the yearly meeting of the Organization of American Historians allied itself unambiguously with the police powers of the State (Leviathan). See https://clarespark.com/2014/04/12/the-organization-of-american-historians-taking-sides/.)

As if I were not anxious enough, I learned from Facebook that there is a little-publicized law afoot that would eliminate the Electoral College, institutionalizing a popular democracy and waving goodbye to the constitutional republic that our Founders established. Nine states have already said yes to our mass suicide, imposed by a tiny minority in charge of Leviathan. (See http://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/andrew-cuomo-electoral-college-compact/2014/04/16/id/566097/.)

In the past I have railed against the careless equation of fascism and communism. No more. It is not that I am wrong, but that we have a national emergency on our hands. The ongoing bad-mouthing of that non-observant person of Jewish descent, Herbert Marcuse, should stop. Start thinking of the meaning of words and who defines reality: citizens, POTUS, humanities professors, or mainstream media, including National Public Radio?


July 31, 2013

The nefarious “cultural Marxists”

CulturalMarxism[Update 1-5-16: progressive jurist Felix Frankfurter was already praising balanced expertise and lamenting the effects of mass media on the people in 1930, long before the Frankfurt Institute refugees came to the US.]

There is a Facebook page “Smash Cultural Marxism.” One must wonder why a handful of German refugees, some with Jewish ancestry, are getting blamed for the sharp turn toward statism in the Democratic Party.

I have written before about this terrifying cohort.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.  Also https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/.

Even if you are a fashionable behaviorist and loathe Freudian ideas, the Adorno blog establishes that his idea of the ever-so-balanced (pseudo)Freud suited the Harvard social psychologists who were proponents of psychological warfare in the interests of “civilian morale.”  Such as Adorno and Horkheimer achieved fame because they blamed the Enlightenment and bureaucratic rationality for Nazism and the Holocaust. How convenient for the Harvard cohort that also called a halt to the Enlightenment (see  https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).

As refugees from Nazism, the critical theorists were vocal about the causes of Hitler’s rise to power, and their indictment of mass culture and by extension, technological society, were understandable. For instance, Erich Fromm blamed working class authoritarianism for the failure of the German working class to deliver a socialist revolution. In the end, all the Frankfurters had explanations for the rise of Hitler, and to a man (whoops! I forgot Hannah Arendt), they blamed “mass culture.” Adorno, that elitist, went so far as to condemn American jazz.

I don’t know of a German refugee whose ancestors were Jewish who identified in any way with Judaism. They were first and foremost philosophers in the German Idealist tradition. Still, some of the ideas of Herbert Marcuse remain useful today in decoding authoritarianism in our political culture. I refer to “repressive tolerance” and “repressive desublimation.”

Repressive tolerance simply states that the social critic loses when s/he allows the opposition to define the terms of debate. Thus, the analysis of propaganda and/or the “rules” of combat allow us to see through authoritarian statists of every stripe, but especially the tricks of the pseudo-moderate men–as delineated in the mass-circulated materials written by Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray, that were nationally circulated to other progressives, ca. 1941. (See link above.) [Update 12-27-13: It is true that Marcuse was writing from the Left, but such libertarians as Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate in The Shadow University (1998), ignore the collectivist, top-down discourse of the moderate conservatives who shaped current conceptions such as the neutral state and ethnicity/’race’ in the early years of the 20th century. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, for the gentlemanly approach to social control of subversive elements. No analysis of academic freedom and the origins of political correctness can proceed without those actions of “moderates” who imposed an organic conservative vocabulary on American institutions–all of them.]

Repressive desublimation argues that the loosening of sexual morals benefits consumerism, in which self-worth is defined with respect to mass media definitions of sexual attractiveness and glamour. One would think that conservatives critical of hyper-sexuality in pop culture would welcome such a critique.

Or take Norbert Guterman’s and Leo Lowenthal’s manual for identifying right-wing agitators, Prophets of Deceit (1949). I read it twice and modified my own self-presentation on the radio accordingly. Some of their guideposts that stick in my mind are as follows: 1. The agitator confides personal “secrets” to the target audience to bind them more closely; and 2. The agitator exaggerates the hurdles that were necessary to overcome in finding the audience: he or she is in physical danger for revealing the secrets s/he is confiding to the target audience; and 3. The agitator wants your money.

While I reject the German Idealism of the Frankfurters, the study of propaganda, of images, and of deceptive language that they favored, are indispensable tools for historians, journalists and all others who would protect liberty and freedom of speech.

I have no doubt that antisemitism accounts for the continued blaming of “cultural Marxism” for “political correctness” and anti-Americanism in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ including the internal links. Look to the pseudo-moderate men for the threat to “American culture,” not to the “secular progressives” who represent emancipation from the dead hand of illegitimate authority. (For instance, Henry A. Murray of Harvard, one of their affinity group, argued for the return of the moderate father, for an authoritarian father would drive the children into radicalism. Such a perfectly moderate father (like the Good King or Platonic Guardian) was of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)

Bill Donahue

July 4, 2013

‘Independence’ and the marketplace of ideas

areop_15I try not to repeat myself, so here is something I have not already said in so many words:

Individuality is not something we are born with; rather becoming an independent individual is something to be achieved through the most terrific effort.  We may become “relatively autonomous” or “independent” only  through serious engagement with others in the marketplace of ideas.

Otherwise, we are no more advanced than the “savages” or “barbarians” we claim to have transcended with “civilization.” Yet we find ourselves mired in a globalized world where many other peoples remain  tribal or under the thumb of various forms of dictatorship. Or we may believe that “multiculturalism” is not covertly racist.

Since I have been posting about the [phony liberal] origins of “political correctness” I got into a debate with one Facebook friend who thinks I don’t understand the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. One of their number, Herbert Marcuse, wrote controversially about “repressive tolerance.” All hell broke loose when this little volume was published, for he banished anticommunist speech. But what was rarely understood at the time seems obvious to me right now. Marcuse rightly complained that the constituted authorities determine the terms of debate (as in identity politics).  He was largely correct: that we lose when the enemy controls language. Perhaps the need for close reading and the study of institutional discourses makes some conservatives, even “constitutionalists” very nervous.  Perhaps Marcuse’s critique is why some rightists have slammed “cultural Marxism” and/or post-structuralism for inventing PC.  In their heart of hearts, free speech and close readings are anathema and lead to frightening differences with beloved family members, parents, and other authority figures.

PC notion of national unity

PC notion of national unity

They are wrong. It was our libertarian forebears, enabled by Bibles written in English, who celebrated the “priesthood of all believers”: i.e., those who could read texts for themselves and then compare their own understandings of texts with the interpretations of their “betters” (the priestly class) who wished to monopolize what those sacred texts actually said (for the benefit of autocrats).

This notion: that ordinary people had the right to challenge “authoritative” readings with their own interpretations led to what we now call “the marketplace of ideas.” Part of those readings entailed the study of “officials” of every type: religious or secular, government bureaucrats and union bosses alike, even parents, spouses, sisters and brothers.  Such studies can lead to alienation and anxiety.

The United States of America, “conceived in liberty” remains unique and frazzled. “E pluribus unum” does not mean that the search for truth is called off for purposes of national or “racial” or other forms of “family” solidarity. The agreement to disagree is the very foundation of national unity in this city on a hill. Long may this keystone element of the social contract prevail.

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/04/index-to-fourth-of-july-blogs/ (Prior blogs that address the unfinished revolutions of our time.)

November 15, 2012

Female genitals as Red Flag

militant Judy Chicago

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the great gesture of defiance for Winston Smith is his sexual liaison with the promiscuous Julia. It was the same for Herbert Marcuse, writing to the Sixties’ generation in his Eros and Civilization (1955).  And before that publication, Harvard social psychologist Henry A. Murray and his colleague Gordon Allport suggested that an American “Leader” like FDR, the antithesis of Hitler, should embody the Eros of democracy (https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).  A few years earlier, Wilhelm Reich, a refugee from Nazis, first published his seminal work arguing that Nazism was anchored in the German psyche through repression of the orgasm (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Reich).

So when Judy Chicago and other feminist artists took on the Woman Question in the 1960s and 70s, it is not surprising that in-your-face sexual emancipation, focused on a populist critique of “white male modernist supremacy” in the art world, would be their Red Flag. There were sturdy precedents in 20th century culture, and soon Marcuse would be warning about “repressive de-sublimation”—a move that would only impel more consumerism and false consciousness in the working class as the Frankfurt School refugees liked to argue as Marxists and pseudo-Freudians.

I have been studying the sumptuous catalog published by the University of California Press in 1996, Feminist Politics: Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’ in Feminist Art History, edited by Amelia Jones, a post-structuralist art historian, attuned to queer studies, performance art, and Da Da (!).  Jones’s Wikipedia page lauds her for her anti-elitist stance, while the catalog rehabilitates kitsch and popular culture– an accurate reflection of the populist politics she brings to her ambivalent study of the work that made Judy Chicago and feminist art a topic of heated debate within the art world and elsewhere.

Frida with cat

Frida Kahlo with cat in classic come hither position

A review of the major claims of the pseudo-revolutionary character of this populist art world move seems timely, now that the Democratic Party has highlighted the supposed War on Women launched by their ostensibly uptight, hyper-puritan adversaries on the Right.

Amelia Jones’s major essay in the catalog is a treat for those readers who define liberation as focus on female genitals.  In guilty liberal fashion, she does complain that a feminist movement that ignored women of color is problematic, but her main point is that Chicago’s representation of great women through the ages is not “essentialist” (“biological determinism” is off the table), but female identity is, rather, “socially constructed,” hence it follows that the “patriarchy” can be demolished by feminist art and criticism.

Since Chicago’s Great Genitals are a colorful and shiny mish-mash, mixing up artists, writers, and an assortment of antique heroines of various religions (many pagan), the entire conception of her mammoth piece is necessarily mystical, perhaps barbaric, which fits in with the Woman as Goddess motif that is the most lasting legacy of the Sexual Revolution. I wonder if Chicago’s fame/notoriety is as original a move as her fans imagine.

Hannah Wilke

Keith Thomas, the late British historian, argued that modernity and puritanism elevated the status of women in marriage. So-called feminist art betrays its critical promise by reducing women to their sex organs.  Men got there first. [On how the Democratic Party has co-opted feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/]

(For a related blog that documents misogyny in some famous poets and critics, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. For a partial index to all my blogs on feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/.) Historian Ruth Bloch has traced the “rise of the moral mother”, whose status was improved by Lockean tabula rasa psychology and the decline of paternal authority in the family. Mothers, now the decisive instructors in religious sentiments,  could be seen as malevolently usurping the male role, as father left his castle/home for offices and factories; father was no longer the supreme authority and distributor of material resources within the household economy.

October 9, 2012

Big Bird, Prostrate

http://tinyurl.com/9roa6er (Read this first)

Henry Geldzahler of the NEA

 Several questions are raised by Governor Romney’s suggestion that he might cut federal funding for PBS, with the example of a prostrate Big Bird subsequently pounced upon by even bigger birds on the Left. This blog considers the vexed question of government funding of the arts and humanities, a subject that interests me, for I have not only been the recipient of small grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, I served on the radio panel of the NEA from 1978-1980, so saw at least one bureaucracy in action.

Here are my major arguments on behalf of cutting subsidies to CPB, PBS, NEA, NEH, Pacifica, and public radio in general:

  1. The history of the arts and humanities in Europe demonstrates that patronage determined the content of “high culture” artworks created by authors, composers, painters, sculptors, and architects. Patronage was supplied by the Church, by aristocrats, and by the new merchant princes in places such as the Netherlands and the city-states of what would become Italy. Iconoclasts such as Spinoza worked at an occupation to support himself, while his writings were often circulated anonymously and in subversive bookshops that also handled pornography.  Censorship in Europe was fierce and effective. The lower orders meanwhile created their own, usually traditional, folk forms, often co-opted by artists seeking reinvigoration for their own productions. That process continues today in popular music and in the fashion industry.

Artists in America, from its founding on, depended upon commercial success, for the U.S. lacked a hereditary aristocracy accustomed to providing sinecures for its pet artists and intellectuals. In spite of initial difficulties over copyright enforcement (Britain frequently pirated books by American authors, to the chagrin of Herman Melville, for example), artists in the New World (especially in theater and in the burgeoning mass culture that was managed by recent immigrants in the 20th century) became successful, mostly through publishing and performance. Such “commercial art” became objects of derision by a vanguard supported by bohemian, wealthy individuals such as Peggy Guggenheim or the modern museums that sprang up after WW1. But American artists were comparatively neglected, as the colorful and highly educated Europeans were favored over the native born. For many decades, American artists and authors expatriated, turning their backs on an American public they saw as philistine and unworthy of their attention.

Enter the Depression and burgeoning Fascism in Europe. Communists and progressives  were interested in celebrating the Common Man, often at the expense of the big capitalists/businessmen who were viewed as their exploiters. There was a major market for such Americana, and WASP elites supported their efforts to show their devotion to ordinary Americans. But the anti-Stalinist Left had its own contingent of writers, authors, and publishers. The arts worlds of the late 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s were roiled with conflict and it is exciting to study their productions, which have not been surpassed in a later period as government stepped in under the administrations of Democrats (see the NEA as founded in 1965, preceded by the WPA in the 1930s), to encourage both established and budding authors, etc.

Big Blue Eagle

Lost in the cultural histories of the twentieth century is the record of social psychologists affiliated with the Roosevelt administration, who viewed the national government as an appropriate locale for a national morale service (see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/). Keep this in mind as we move into the cultural work of the 1960s and 1970s New Left and counter-culture, many of whom, it seems, have parented children who want to live the “cool” life of the artist, without the degradation of waiting tables or some other menial job to support themselves. (On the Blue Eagle see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Recovery_Act.)

II. Enter now my own active participation in government granting agencies. This is what I found out as both grant recipient and as participant in the NEA radio panel . First, the grants are so tiny as to fund at most one project, and the amounts awarded are rarely sufficient to support even that one (vetted) endeavor. Second, multiculturalism as a strategy for containing and co-opting the civil rights and feminist movements, determined what organizations and individuals received government sponsorship. Third, the NEA radio panel was rife with corruption and cronyism. Moreover, the staff of the NEA had the power to overrule the panel’s recommendations, so that our contributions could be ignored safely, if the aims of the NEA were in any way thwarted.  In many cases, NPR, I noticed, did not even bother describing the programming content for which they applied; apparently it was taken for granted that they would be subsidized.

It was frequently the practice to award small grants as a lure to attract matching grants from corporations and foundations. Such matching grants were tax-deductible, so it can be argued that the taxpaying public is now the primary patron of the arts, replacing the European elites of old. This diffuse patronage system contained individuals objecting to the [anticapitalist, anti-urban, anti-American, in your face] offerings by government grantees, who were exhibited, performed, and published, then presented to a broad public, some of whom were offended that they were paying for materials that undermined or mocked their religions and values.

On the other hand, some grantees enjoyed such popular success (Sesame Street, Prairie Home Companion) that it was obvious to all that they could survive on the market, without government support. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. Apart from considerations of the proper role of government in funding the arts (on  Constitutional grounds), there is the disputed question of government direction of creative work, especially given the heterogeneous makeup of the American electorate. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were remarkably alike in their sponsorship of State-approved icons of heroic workers along with those arts that were comprehensible to “the People.”

Conclusions. An education in the arts and humanities should be made available to every American child. But along with these life-affirming activities should be offered, at appropriate ages, instruction as to the social and political conditions that brought the arts into being: patronage, censorship in the period under discussion (what can and cannot be said at any given period), the message of the artwork (closely observed as to both form and content). I have been harshly critical of populism on this website, but it is in the interest of all the people to understand both the form and content of high culture, mass culture/pop culture, and folk arts. I don’t expect this outcome to be realized in my lifetime. Meanwhile, the government should get out of the business of funding the arts, for such powers will always be politicized on behalf of some faction or another. The European governments that subsidize grand arts projects do so because social democratic governments have taken over the responsibilities of the old aristocracies, and are as hostile to a fully-realized modernity as their forebears. “Excellence” to them, entails rule by a self-perpetuating oligarchy of Platonic guardians. pleased, unlike Plato, to permit a sprinkling of subversion to demonstrate how ‘really’ pluralistic and open these societies are to criticism, innovation and freedom of expression. Marcuse called such strategies “repressive tolerance.”

Banned in Berkeley?

September 1, 2012

Sex, sex, and less sex

Shulamith Firestone

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/.]

I have written before about the second wave of feminism, reminding my readers that it was civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s that generated the revolt of young movement women who wanted respect from the emerging male stars, particularly after such notorious remarks as “A woman’s place is on her back.” In other words, young women who insisted that “the personal is political” were already anti-imperialists, and had imbibed histories of the U.S. that painted their country as hopelessly opposed to Nature, to native Americans, to (racial) minorities, to gay men and lesbians, to all women, and to the labor movement. But it was sexuality that became the focus of much of their activism, for sex talk sells, and many a new feminist wrote best sellers cursing out men, including those in the white male canon of literary heroes.  Today their ideological offspring are tenured professors in Women’s Studies, in cultural anthropology, in film studies, in the history of science, and in related fields. I don’t know if any of them compares the 1960s-70s culture to the 1920s, when anticapitalism, primitivism and promiscuity were all the rage among expatriates and artists in general, all of whom were in revolt against “the genteel tradition” and their (“Hebraic”) puritan forebears.

Return to my life after I started the radio broadcasts on Pacifica. I did my best to publicize female artists, designers, and writers when I had my radio program. Thanks to the material collected at CalArts, I was able to mount a slide show on sex and violence in the imagery of women artists and photographers that was delivered in numerous prestigious venues during the 1970s. Thoroughly immersed in the writing of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in those days (e.g. Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization), I did not think of the large audiences I was drawing as an audience for pornography, but rather as a symptom of emancipation from old excessively prudish taboos that were better overthrown. I did notice, however, that the New Left men I had met were womanizers, or, if they were New York writers, had numerous failed marriages, and were not faithful to the wife of the moment.

In retrospect, this obliviousness to the value of traditional marriage was widespread among New Age liberals as well as leftists. I remember one psychologist telling me with great confidence that sexual jealously was unhealthy: that the jealous wife was “giving away her power” to the faithless husband and his consorts. That was Gestalt therapy in the late 1960s-early 1970s as practiced in West Los Angeles.

Alexandra Kollontai and comrade

The leftists and liberals mentioned above were no doubt exponents of Alexandra Kollontai’s famous claim that “sex was a drink of water.” I should have recalled Marcuse’s theory of “repressive desublimation”: that sexuality run amok would serve the aims of capitalists selling goods and services. Today, the cult of Beauty is dominant, and woman expend much of their time and resources defending themselves against bad hair, sartorial dowdiness and aging, at the expense of child-rearing, expanding their minds and their general socio-political-economic awareness.

But the second wave feminists were politically aware and media savvy, all right, and many of the artists I championed during my delayed adolescence were exhibitionists defining their “feminist sensibility” as a presentation of female genitalia.  Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party brought her fame, stimulating a cottage industry of feminist art historians who meditate upon her gestures and her contemporaries, some pro, some con. Personally, I rejected her mystical linking of famous women through the ages as pandering, ahistoric, and reactionary.

Dinner Party postcards

But then there were those New York women (Redstockings) influenced by Friedrich Engels and other materialists from the wild male Left. Here is one example from a book that became a must-read for hip women everywhere:

[An excerpt from Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex:]

“So that just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility – the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud’s ‘polymorphous perversity’ – would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.”

Sadly, Firestone’s body was found on August 28, 2012, possibly a week after her death in her book-lined East Village apartment in New York City. One report states that she owned many works of the Greek classics. Though she was born into a Canadian Orthodox Jewish family, her rebellion against a religion that supports strong families may have taken her into a paganism that was notoriously misogynistic and revolted by female genitals, despite its proliferation of goddesses. And her obituaries state that she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The latter is a mental illness that presents itself usually in the early 20s. Firestone was twenty-five when she wrote her famous book. R.I.P. Shulamith Firestone, dead at 67.

August 3, 2011

Jobs program for education reformers, or, the New Prometheus

Lawrence A. Cremin

It is a terrific shock to move away from a close reading of The Federalist (with its nod to popular sovereignty and the age of Reason in the service of human material betterment) to anything written by such education historians as Diane Ravitch or her distinguished colleague Lawrence A. Cremin (1925-1990). Here is how Professor Cremin ended his Inglis and Burton Lectures at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, March 1989:

[Cremin, Popular Education and its Discontents, p.123-25:] “More than ever before in our history, we need systematic, dependable knowledge about teaching and learning in school and non-school contexts, concerning elementary and advanced subject matter, and with respect to the extraordinary range of racial, religious, and ethnic groups that constitute the American people. We need basic research, applied research, and policy research from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives; we need to know much more than we now know about how to put the results of that research into the hands of practitioners during their initial training and throughout their careers; and we need to learn how to draw practitioners far more closely into the conduct of that research than we have in the past. In short, we can no longer proceed on the time-honored assumption that some youngsters will inevitably fail in school and that some adults will inevitably remain illiterate and ignorant.* Yet we face the stark fact that while the Department of Defense has a research budget that represents some 12% of its total budget, the Department of Education has a research budget that represents just under 2% of its total budget. Until this situation is changed markedly, it is sheer nonsense to talk about excellence in American education. Ultimately, I believe the sponsorship of educational research on a large-scale and enduring basis must become a prime responsibility of the federal government.

In the end, we must place our education programs on a sufficiently solid basis of tested knowledge so that educational opportunity for all people becomes a genuine opportunity to master the knowledge and skills and to learn the values, attitudes, and sensibilities that will enable them to live happily and productively in the modern world. What is at stake is our vision of the kinds of human beings we would hope Americans to be in the last years of the twentieth and the first years of the twenty-first centuries, and of the kinds of education that will help bring these human beings into existence. John Dewey liked to define the aim of education as growth, and when he was asked growth toward what, he liked to reply, growth leading to more growth. That was his way of saying that education is subordinate to no end beyond itself, that the aim of education is not merely to make parents, or citizens [!], or workers, or indeed to surpass the Russians or the Japanese, but ultimately to make human beings who will live life to the fullest, who will continue to add to the quality and meaning of their experience and to their ability to direct that experience, and who will participate actively with their fellow human beings in the building of a good society. To create such an education will be no small task in the years ahead, but there is no more important political contribution to be made to the health and vitality of the American democracy and of the world community of which the United States is part.” [end Cremin lecture]

[My comments:] Mind you, both Cremin and Ravitch continually complain that Americans have millennial expectations of their public schools, expecting them to compensate for problems not of their making, such as poverty, unequal housing, and racism:  he left that part out of his (millennial) concluding remarks. Note too how completely Cremin has discarded American Exceptionalism as understood in the debates over ratifying the Constitution, with their emphasis on a citizenry prepared to rationally deliberate upon the great questions facing the uniquely constituted republic. But in Cremin’s dream, we are to be both part of a “world community” and members of a racial, religious, or ethnic group—diverse in our groupiness, and yet pursuing happiness and meaning in our particular, if unspecified, individual ways. “Research” conducted with diverse methods and perspectives, yet mystically harmonized by the Department of Education-approved pioneers, can light the way to the great, enduring fulfillment.

For a more recent statement advancing the same agenda, see http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/08/01/ravitch-darling-hammond-why-we-protest/.

*This is a very odd statement coming from Cremin, as the notion of universal education had been promoted for centuries. Both he and Ravitch were heavily influenced by Robert M. Hutchins, an originator of socially responsible capitalism (see chapter 9 of Hunting Captain Ahab or this excerpt on the website: https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/), and who was in turn inspired by Comenius (1592-1670) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Amos_Comenius), the influential advocate of the universal education that would ‘perfect human nature.’ In Hutchins’s The Learning Society (1968), he defines the purpose of education in terms that Cremin and Ravitch would understand: “…education leads to understanding; it has no more ‘practical’ aim. It does not have as its object the ‘production’ of Christians, democrats, Communists, workers, citizens, Frenchmen, or businessmen. It is interested in the development of human beings through the development of their minds. Its aim is not manpower, but manhood.” (vii). And yet, further on, Hutchins suggests that the experiment with universal education in the Soviet Union should be applied to “Bantus of Africa or even among the Negroes of of Harlem or Mississippi.” Moreover, he has hopes for the Communist Chinese experiment. (14) [end, Hutchins excerpts] This is confusing, because Hutchins has in mind a liberal education that will free the mind of everyone from a modernity that is one-sidedly technical and obsessed with engineering, science, and  economics. He writes like a 1960s radical (he actually quotes Jacques Ellul, and echoes Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man), as a New Leftist or even a New Age mystic. Hence, the new Prometheans are the education reformers who free mankind from slavery to technique/technics! Imagine that. When you return the secret of fire to the gods, what have you got left in your new freedom? Certainly not the Enlightenment that inspired The Federalist.

It is but a short step from Hutchins’ spiritualized, defanged modernity to the ethical state favored by Italian Fascists and their progressive sympathizers in the U.S. Richard Crossman was correct in his Plato Today to propose that Platonic philosopher kings would be at home in the totalitarian societies of the 1930s.

May 12, 2011

Rappers, Primitivism, and Ritual Rebellion

Common, a man of the streets

A successful poet/rapper/artist named Common (formerly Common Sense, sic) was invited to perform at the White House May 11, 2011. This blog is about the general problem of hip hop culture, its practitioners, and its noxious appeal.

“Liberals” and “conservatives” were divided yesterday regarding the propriety of the invitation. Fox News Channel was in a snit all day, while Jon Stewart’s show took umbrage at this misplaced Foxian zeal, citing their prior adoration of Ted Nugent, and their ignoring the agressive and homicidal lyrics of Johnny Cash. Stewart did his own comical rap, directed against the “twits” at Fox. I personally objected to the invite on many grounds, including Jay Carney’s ludicrous attempt to explain Common’s legitimacy as a poet because he was making “socially conscious art.”  One Facebook thread on the subject elicited a flood of comments, many of them in defense of Common and the need for catharsis. No one attacked hip hop culture as such.

I am not any kind of specialist in the study of hip hop culture (though I am not unfamiliar with it either), partly because I find it at best primitivist* and suspect that it is a travesty insofar as middle-class kids who make its music, tee-shirts, and glitzy jewelry,  and purchase its other products are not concerned with the problems of ghetto youth, except as an outlet for their own frustrations with parents, schoolteachers, and other authority figures, or as an easy way to tap a market of angry young black males and their white allies in rage. It is a cheap pseudo-romantic form of adolescent revolt. Does Common care about those black adolescents stuck in ineffective schools, propagandized into antagonism to education as “a white thing”, and often beguiled by the drug culture and its profits?

There is no such thing as art as an expression outside of, and independent of society.  If “Common” aspires to social criticism, he should provide a better analysis of the sorry condition of American black ghettoes–for instance, the policies of the Democratic machines that have long controlled the big cities. He might want to look also at the separatism and thuggery of such figures as Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan, with whom he has been associated. He might want to look at the poetry and prose of all the memorable writers and poets who came before, and whose language did not descend to the gutter. Oh, but he can’t do that, for the white oppressor is the target of his spleen, and so even those significant black writers who preceded him must have been Uncle Toms. Look at his images on the internet. Is he a clean cut entrepreneur or a man of the streets, attuned to the miseries of his brothers and sisters?

[Added 3-18-14: A vigorous dispute broke out today on my FB page over Bill O’Reilly’s takedown of Jay Z, and here is how I answered many comments: “My problem with Jay Z and other hip hop moguls is not their success in a capitalist society. It is this: they had no choice, for powerful culture critics on the social democratic Left joined the New Left in rejecting anything and everything produced by Eurocentrism/white supremacy. There have been wonderful black entertainers and composers from an earlier period, before black nationalists resegregated a culture that was syncretic and hence original: to name a few: Scott Joplin, Bojangles, Bert Williams, all the black jazzmen, bluesmen, etc. Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin would have never become great composers without their predecessors with darker skin. Fred Astaire would have not existed, nor would Gene Kelly. I could go on and on. How many young people today even know what “syncretism” means?]

Cultural anthropologists are familiar with the form of social control known as “ritual rebellion.” In an autocratic society, run by unaccountable and arbitrary kings, periodic “carnivals” or similar releases allow the lower orders to let off steam. They are kings for day in this world turned upside down. But the rebellion, that is never allowed to name its true target (incompetent authority), is ineffectual in transforming the conditions it abhors. The new day dawns, and the ties that bind the lower classes to illegitimate authority are stronger than ever. So it is with hip hop. Our black population deserves better guidance.

*Primitivism is regressive and often racist: it imagines savages as free from “civilized” rules, a Golden Age of liberated instincts where anything goes. Much of modernism is primitivist and expressed a disgust with “civilization” after the Great War. But there were numerous precedents, for instance Diderot in his Voyage of Bougainville. Or see Marcuse’s critique of “repressive desublimation,” a vigorous refusal of 1960s counter-cultural tendencies in his Eros and Civilization.

November 8, 2009

Is the History of Psychiatry a Big Mess? (2)

Image (90)

Henry Fuseli, “Thor Battling Jormungander, the Midgard Dragon,” (1788)

Since I wrote part one of this blog, there have been several developments. First, a chasm has opened between those who see Nidal Hasan as a mental case, for instance, suffering from “harassment” directed against him as a Muslim, and those who see the Fort Hood event as an episode in radical Islamic jihadism. Second, I have attempted to find out more about “military psychiatry” and its philosophy.

Here is one article from 2002 that lays out its managerial philosophy: http://pb.rcpsych.org/cgi/reprint/26/6/227.pdf. Sociologists will recognize a classical structural-functionalist and behaviorist model. (For the still powerful Talcott Parsons cohort at Harvard and elsewhere see my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. As I understand “functionalism,” society is viewed as a well-oiled machine, all its moving parts integrated to form a harmonious whole: any disturbances will emanate from outside “the system”–“outside agitators” or “Jewish” troublemakers, for instance.) In the explanation of military psychiatry (cited above) I was taken especially by the inception of military psychiatry in Russia diagnosing “evacuation syndrome” following the revolutionary situation of 1905 (the date meant nothing to the authors, apparently; Russian soldiers were joining Soldier’s Councils), and the suggestion that research today (2002) is being conducted in “computer administered cognitive therapy for affective and anxiety disorder.” I may have gone way more libertarian in my latter years, but my mind-management antennae are quivering anew and my head is ringing with alarm bells, notwithstanding the supposed adherence of military psychiatry to the “evidence-based practice [of medicine].” We should all be more attentive to this peculiar medical “culture” as its own advocates describe it, and it promises to be a fine subject for historians of science and investigative journalists, especially those with an interest in robots and their construction.

Third, one Facebook friend believes that Freudian and perhaps other approaches to depth psychology are obsolete and were always grievously mistaken anyway. He is not alone, and I have met few psychiatrists who do not distance themselves from psychoanalysts, even those analysts with medical degrees. Very briefly, I will sketch what contributions of Freud remain interesting, and how he was received in the early 20th century. The valuable part of Freud, for me at least, is that which asks us to piece together a narrative of our lives, first to identify patterned responses to difficult persons and situations, and second to examine our loves and hatreds toward the end of overcoming idealization or its opposite, demonization, of others; finally, to identify traumas and how to manage their lingering effects on psyche and soma, for instance, panic attacks on persistent anxiety. What Freud does not do is paint a rosy picture of life or any kind of “social engineering,” though as Nathan Hale has shown in his Freud and the Americans, he was deliberately turned into a Progressive in the USA. The real Freud would not have drawn a smile on Leviathan, but Henry Murray did (see “Leviathan Altered?” https://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/leviathan-altered/. Murray added a smile to the whale image).

“Where Id was, let Ego be!” As I have mentioned before on this website, Freud wrote a major essay during the Great War describing the difficulty in becoming a civilized person or society, “Thoughts for the Time of War and Death” (1915). Indeed, in his still deeply controversial anti-religion book, The Future of An Illusion (1927), he began by stating that any society that abused many of its less advantaged members deserved to be overthrown: he was ever the moralist. In sum, he demands that we remember every significant detail of our past, and how relationships in the family of origin could have affected later object choices as an adult. No one who attended this call to constructing an accurate narrative would be susceptible to demagoguery or mind-management by others, including those in the press or government.

Those who are anti-Freud should be interrogated as to whether or not they reject the relevance of early childhood experiences and family deficiencies to persistent adult distress or gullibility. Also, whether or not they believe that the artists and writers who inspired Freud are of no consequence today (I include Sophocles, Shakespeare, Milton, Schiller, Goethe, Nietzsche, and many more; certainly Melville, writing in the 1850s, was as interested as Freud in family relationships). But that is not how Freud as historian (and literary critic) was received by the bohemian upper class after the war. Rather, libertines seized upon his theory that sexual repression causes neurotic symptoms and behavior. Let the acting out begin! (See Herbert Marcuse in Eros and Civilization for one of many examples. In Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality (1966), they dismiss psychoanalyst as suitable only for (New York?) Jews, with the implication that only sex-obsessed Jews would benefit from Freud. I was assigned this book in graduate school. )

In the 1970s, radical feminists pounced upon Freud’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of minor girls by male relatives, claiming that he had sold out, contradicting the testimony of his hysterical patients by postulating sexual fantasies in his analysands; these young women were thus made the victims of patriarchy (by the feminists). In that hostile reading, the victim became the perpetrator, i.e., “she asked for it.” I could spend a lifetime studying Freud and his interpreters/misinterpreters (some of whom are blatant antisemites, blasting Freud-the-carnal-Jew, not to speak of his atheism), and all the reasons he remains controversial today, so I apologize for the brevity of this blog on such a momentous subject. My own view is that any psychological treatment 1. must be anchored in the materiality of the human brain; and 2.must respect the autonomy of the patient or client, rigorously opposing brainwashing, interpretations that make sense only to the therapist, or any other type of indoctrination, and 3. cannot ignore the institutional context in which mental illness arises. Idealist (mystical) formulations that fail this test are simply ideological, and deserve the suspicion of their harshest critics. Mystification has no place in an enlightened profession.

As for soldiers, they deserve to know exactly why they fight: as a tight unit, they will give up their individuality, but it should not be a permanent loss of self. It cannot be an easy task to integrate them back into a society (ours) that is viciously polarized, often deceptive in the utterances of its leaders, and divided into fragments defined more by the group-think of race and ethnicity than by loyalty to a set of common democratic principles.* The more honest and capable psychiatrists of the military may have an impossible task on their hands.

*Here, in an excerpt from my article on Bunche and Myrdal,  is what was promised to enlisted men during the second world war:

[From my article:] Louis Wirth’s insistence on wise progressive planning and foresight, including the sighting of threats to order, was reiterated in a Q. and A. booklet from the Office of War Information, “What Do Students Do In The War and After” (numbered M-3227,  slipped into the Ideologies volume in the Bunche Papers at UCLA, though not bound). On page 8 the Committee for Economic Development [business leaders adopting Keynesian economic policies, created in 1942, C.S.] is mentioned as promising “maximum employment and high productivity” after the war. Page 9 quotes Ambassador Winant in a speech to English miners: “Anti-Fascism is not a short term military job. It was bred in poverty and unemployment. To crush Fascism at its roots we must crush depression. We must solemnly resolve that in the future we will not tolerate the economic evils which breed poverty and war. This is not something that we solve for the duration. It is part of the war.”  Page 10 announces “There is a growing sense of social responsibility among business leaders and a wide-spread acceptance of the inescapable duty of business to maintain full production and continuous employment to maintain the purchasing power upon which prosperity depends.” Page 11 ff., states that the curricula for history, the social sciences and the liberal arts will be revised and adjusted accordingly: Education must stress science, interpersonal human relations, and international affairs, the “larger world of other peoples and other cultures with whom we must collaborate in establishing world order.” [end excerpt] In other words, multiculturalism and internationalism were not an imposition by the Left but an upper-class “progressive” response to heightened expectations among soldiers for more equality, peace, meaningful work and education after discharge from the armed services.

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