YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 30, 2013

Railroading Captain Ahab

Everett Henry's Map of the Pequod's Voyage

Everett Henry’s Map of the Pequod’s Voyage

[What follows is an excerpt from my book Hunting Captain Ahab; it sums up my argument that progressives are incapable of describing this “great book” with accuracy, for they would have to admit their overweening statism as embodied in the White Whale (Leviathan).

Rockwell Kent's Starbuck shielding his eyes

Rockwell Kent’s Starbuck shielding his eyes

[Clare:] One feature of the (reinstated) organic society favored by many progressives is central to the Melville problem. Before the age of science, discovery, and increasing lower-class demands for a fully-realized popular sovereignty, Church and State conducted their affairs in secrecy. Their subordinates, ordinary people, were free to confess their sins to their betters, but without reciprocity; when Ahab fleeced double-talking “liberals,” from one point of view the gesture was tantamount to deicide and fratricide. For many of the corporatist thinkers who shaped the Melville Revival, Captain Ahab was the classic American type: a frontiersman, a “nosey Hebrew” (as D.H. Lawrence would say) whose curiosity must be moderated; similarly Melville’s dubious “character” as husband and father would preoccupy numerous Melville critics in the twentieth century. Much of the history I shall present is derived from published or archival materials long available but hitherto undescribed to students of American literature; literary scholars and curators have examined the astonishing archives of Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda and biographies of Murray and Olson have been published by the most reputable presses. Many questions still remain tantalizingly unanswered and invite further research, but it is clear to me, if not to previous investigators, that in the unmonitored autodidact Herman Melville, Murray, Olson, and Leyda had an able instructor, a mirror, and an irresistible adversary who, insofar as he was Captain Ahab, must have been nervously deranged, twisted by hate. The isolato Ahab was the paradigm of social irresponsibility and his own worst enemy, while sociable Ishmael was the scholars’ antecedent doctor to society. Here is Ishmael’s ominous blood and soil account of Ahab’s origins in his native habitat: Nantucket was originally settled by peaceful Quakers, but they have been invaded by outside influences, they were “variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous.” (As Melville’s antebellum readers would have known, “…Nantucket Quakers [were] members of a sect notorious for its literally visionary beginnings and its subsequent antislavery zeal.” [i])

[Ishmael as narrator:]”…For some of these Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.

” So there are instances among them Nantucket Quakers of men, who, named with Scriptural names—a singularly common fashion on the island—and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately thee and thou of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with their unoutworn peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters and beneath constellations never seen here in the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature’s sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language—that man makes one in a whole nation’s census—a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.” (73-74).

[Clare:] In Moby-Dick’s pivotal chapter “The Quarter-Deck,” Starbuck, echoing Ishmael’s earlier diagnosis, reproaches Captain Ahab for abandoning his proper search for profits; the quest for vengeance against a “dumb brute” is blasphemous and mad. Ahab reproaches the imperceptive first mate, suggesting twice that he adopt the ways of geology and dig: “Hark ye…the little lower layer.” Then, lest Starbuck or other dense readers remain in the dark, Melville spills it: “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”[ii] Starbuck is briefly won over, but protests in a chapter that directly follows Ahab’s railroading speech:

[Chapter 37, “Sunset,” Ahab:] “Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”

[Chapter 38, “Dusk,” Starbuck:] “My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! …he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me. I think I see his impious end; but feel I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who’s over him, he cries;-aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he lords it over all below!…Oh, life! ‘tis in an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge,–as wild, untutored things are forced to feed–Oh, life! ‘tis now that I do feel the latent horror in thee! but ‘tis not me! that horror’s out of me! and with the soft feeling of the human in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim phantom futures! Stand by me, hold me, bind me, O ye blessed influences!”

[Clare:] Standing by Starbuck, one Melville scholar has construed these pages as evidence of Ahab’s protofascism:

[Christopher Durer:] “Like Adolph Hitler, Captain Ahab reaches for the “folksoul” of the crew, and manipulates their minds with the sinister skill of Joseph Goebbels. As in Nazi Germany, so on board the Pequod, the excesses of the will play a major role, as is illustrated in the various speeches of Ahab, and her fated course is, in effect, another triumph of the will. Again, paralleling the transformation of the German nation under the Nazis, the crew of the Pequod becomes “a folk organism and not an economic organization,” since Ahab deliberately rejects the commercial advantages of whaling for a collective psychological fulfillment, resulting from the revengeful pursuit of one whale, seen as the enemy of the state…Ahab is in reality a prototype of a twentieth-century fascist dictator.”[iii]

Ahab and Starbuck as imagined by John Huston and Ray Bradbury

Ahab and Starbuck as imagined by John Huston and Ray Bradbury

[Clare:]For many Melvilleans, ineffably tied to their tormentor, the most unassimilable element of Melville’s psyche has been Ahab’s materialism yoked to universal standards of ethical conduct. To the extent that Melville is Ahab, he is mad, self- and socially destructive, tyrannical, and an arch-villain. Such views conform to the terror-gothic scenario, amplified by conservatives since the Radical Reformation, the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the American and French Revolutions, then the intertwined reform movements of the 1830s-1850s, especially abolitionism. In the “tale of terror” brains and mobs are indissolubly merged; the pregnant bourgeoisie, swollen with a new class and its chimerical socialist utopias, has delivered catastrophes from the French Revolution to Bolshevism and Nazism. In two-dimensional artworks, this aristocratic narrative of the drowning Narcissus/crashing Icarus is frozen as the apocalyptic sublime, the style attributed to mass politics and America. Harold Lasswell, political science consultant to the influential postwar Committee For Economic Development, transmitted such neo-classical diagnoses of “romantic Fascism” and urged the adoption of Murray’s projective testing to implement a program of personnel screening and preventive politics, sighting latent radicalism in prospective leaders in government, industry, labor, and education before they succumbed to the blandishments of Ahab, thereby obviating sleazy witch hunts. Threatened or dispossessed elites continue to flood popular culture with identical antidemocratic propaganda, shaping academic disciplines and mental health treatments to blunt the tools of fiery artisans and their radical descendants.

Defining Melville’s mental states, then, was not simply grist for variously voyeuristic or discreet literary historians, but part of ongoing “Cold Wars” to diagnose and delimit normality and deviance. For some Melvilleans, the divisive apostate Melville, like his characters Ahab, Pierre, Isabel, the “Hegelised” German-Jewish geologist Margoth, and other Bad Jews, has been cast out; ‘Melville’ and other Good Jews have been taken in and ‘tolerated’ by ‘the nation.’[iv] The national bedrock is the sanctity of (upper-class) property (i.e., overweening state power: Leviathan), not the republican principle of equality before the law. Melville has been selectively embraced by a reconstructed lovely family–an erasure of conflict evident in the letters of Melville’s mother and wife. In my study of the Melville Revival, I challenge Starbuck’s view of Ahab as totalitarian dictator along with the concomitant argument followed by some Old and New Leftists that the voyage of the Pequod is an unambiguous allegory of capitalist technology and exploitation, Manifest Destiny, and mind-management in its harshest aspects.[v]

Labor Vincit Omnia

[i] 22. Carolyn Karcher, Shadow Over The Promised Land: Slavery, Race, and Violence in Melville’s America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980), 172.

[ii] 23. Neither statement was included in the dialogue of the movie Moby-Dick (1956); thus there is no way to link Ahab’s quest to Mapple’s Sermon (which in the film does include the imperative to seek and preach the truth in the face of worldly opposition); moreover the interchange takes place in Ahab’s cabin and Starbuck challenges his authority immediately. The director was John Huston; the script writer Ray Bradbury.

[iii] 24. Christopher S. Durer, “Moby-Dick and Nazi Germany,”Melville Society Extracts 66 (May 1986): 8. Constructions of Ahab as Hitler invariably depend upon irrationalist explanations for the appeal of fascism and Nazism; rational political and economic interests have been erased.

[iv] 25. See William Braswell, Melville’s Religious Thought: An Essay in Interpretation (Durham, North Carolina: Duke Univ. Press, 1943). “Melville was aware of the deification of science in some quarters. Henry Kalloch Rowe, in his History of Religion in the United States, writes: ‘Many scientists were so enamored of their facts and hypotheses that they claimed too much. They seemed to take pleasure in the destruction of that which was old. They inclined toward a materialistic explanation of all phenomena to the exclusion of spiritual reality altogether.’ It is scientists of this type that Melville derides in Clarel in the character of Margoth, a Jewish geologist who says that ‘all’s geology,’ and who would do away with the ‘old theologic myth.’ Because of Margoth’s insensibility to spiritual things, the pilgrims condemn him severely, and Melville adds an extra touch by causing an ass to bray after certain of Margoth’s speeches” (111, my emph.). Even more crudely put, see Vincent Kenny on Margoth: “…a geologist, a ‘Hegelised–/Convert to science.’ He calls the Bible a tissue of lies and insists that the so-called Holy Land must be made over in the name of progress. Unlike the Syrian monk with his gentle appeal, Margoth repels everyone within sound of his loud voice.” In Companion to Melville Studies, ed. John Bryant (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), 382-383. Insofar as Melville is seen to espouse these classically Christian antisemitic views, he would be a positive figure to organic conservatives discussed in this book.

[v] 26. D. H. Lawrence (1923) is cited by Ronald Mason, The Spirit Above The Dust (London: John Lehmann, 1951), as characterizing the Pequod as a sign for American industry. (Indeed,  Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature demonized America as a mongrel country that would, aided by the machine, destroy Europe and the white psyche. Ahab was destroying phallic power as epitomized in the White Whale, hence for Lawrence, Moby-Dick was a warning to true aristocrats.) With the exception of the try-pot, however, the technology of whaling ships had not changed for three hundred years when Melville wrote Moby-Dick. The mechanics of whaling partook of craft in hunter-gatherer societies, not the increasingly divided labor and mastery of nature characteristic of industrial processes. The few exceptions to the bad Ahab reading include Raymond M. Weaver, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic (New York: Doran, 1921); Granville Hicks, The Great Tradition (New York: Macmillan, 1935), 7; Henry Alonzo Myers, Are Men Equal? An Inquiry into the Meaning of American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell Univ.Press, 1955, c.1945), 51-55; Cecil M. Brown, “Through a Looking Glass: The White Whale,”Partisan Review (1969): 453-459; and Toni Morrison,“Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature,”Michigan Quarterly (Winter 1989): 16-17. Hicks and Myers see Ahab as reformer; Myers, a pluralist, recognizes Ahab’s driving (but misplaced) intensity; he is the romantic “earnest reformer” (like those 19th C. crusaders assaulting “ignorance, clericalism, slavery, alcohol, capitalism, war”); whereas Cecil Brown sees a heroic revolutionary (contrasted with the “jew-bastard” surviving liberal, Ishmael); for Toni Morrison (a cultural nationalist), Ahab is a great foe to racism: “the only white male American heroic enough to try to slay the monster that was devouring the world as he knew it.” Most recently, Richard C. Doenges presented a paper “Ahab Redux: or Playing the Devil’s Advocate,”at the “Melville and the Sea” Conference, June 19, 1999, Mystic Connecticut. Doenges sees Ahab as both mad and a tragic hero with the whale a representation of Nature in its hostile mode; I view this as a moderated reading, not one entirely favorable to Ahab, who, unlike Ishmael, as the author argues, was blinded by the fire.

Readings by liberals and leftists hostile to Ahab include Charles H. Foster, “Something in Emblems: A Reinterpretation of Moby-Dick,” New England Quarterly (Mar. 1961): 3-35, who views Father Mapple as an ultra-abolitionist the likes of Garrison, Richard Hildreth, and Gilbert Haven, but Ahab as Daniel Webster, an apologist for slavery and a demagogue. Some see Melville, or Ahab (or both) as ineffectual bohemian, consummate narcissist or world-destroying arch-capitalist; or anticipator of Hitler and Stalin: see V.F. Calverton, The Liberation of American Literature (New York: Scribner’s, 1932), 272-273; Henry Bamford Parkes, “Poe, Hawthorne, Melville: An Essay in Sociological Criticism,” Partisan Review 16 (Feb.1949): 157-166; Richard Chase, Herman Melville: A Critical Study (N.Y., Macmillan, 1949), 101; John Howard Lawson, The Hidden Heritage (New York: Citadel Press, 1950): 428; James B. Hall, “Moby Dick: Parable of a Dying System,” Western Review (Spring 1950): 223-226; C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (self-publ.1953), its last chapter (suppressed in a later edition) linked Ahab to a duplicitous Jewish communist named “M.” See also Leo Marx,”The Machine in the Garden,” New England Quarterly 29 (Mar. 1956): 27-42; and H. Bruce Franklin, The Victim As Criminal And Artist: Literature from the prison (New York:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1978): Chapter Two.

January 8, 2013

Is Ahab, Ahab? The Free Will Debate

Royal Doulton Ahab Jug

Royal Doulton Ahab Jug

I take it for granted that readers know that Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and some Jews believe, to various degrees, in free will, while atheists, Freudians, other Jews, and the Left lean toward determinism, turning our “choices” into problems to be solved, perhaps never. This blog discloses the evasiveness of the Melville industry in confronting Herman Melville’s most painful quandary.

There are two competing narratives in academic studies of Herman Melville:

1. The Narcissis/Icarus myth.  In this narrative, Melville, identified too closely with his romantic characters Ahab and Pierre, crashed or drowned after completing Moby-Dick (1851) and its sequel  Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852). The short stories of the 1850s begin what Melville’s first 20th century biographer, Raymond M. Weaver, named “the long quietus.” This narrative was taken up by Lewis Mumford, Henry Murray, and some New Leftists who would read “Billy Budd” as an ironic text, a work of protest not to be taken literally, notwithstanding Billy’s blessing of Captain Vere. But what these critics ignore is the unresolved character of the issue that most exercised Melville: the competing claims of science and religion that, unlike, say, cultural historian Peter Gay or the philosopher William James, he could not reconcile in some form of cultural pluralism. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/07/some-backstory-for-hunting-captain-ahab/.)

Here is an example of the author’s quandary: In “The Symphony” one of the final chapters of Moby-Dick, Starbuck has urged Ahab to give up the hunt for the White Whale and to return to the (ordered) family. Ahab replies, putting on the table the question that tormented Melville through life: Is it Fate (pagan), free will (Christian), or determinism (Spinoza style modernity) that informs “his” decisions. To leave this question unresolved, links Melville/Ahab with the demonic Fedallah (and perhaps the Wandering Jew).

[Melville quote:] “What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new- mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year’s scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swaths – Starbuck!”

But blanched to a corpse’s hue with despair, the Mate had stolen away.

Ahab crossed the deck to gaze over the other side; but started at two reflected, fixed eyes in the water there. Fedallah* was motionlessly leaning over the same rail. [Moby-Dick, Chapter 132, my emph.]


*One internet source links Fedallah with Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book One: “Wandering o’re the earth, Through God’s high sufferance, for the trial of man, By falsities and lies the greatest part Of mankind they corrupted to forsake God their Creator, and the invisible Glory of Him that made them to transform Oft to the image of a brute, adorned With gay religions full of pomp and gold, And devils to adore for deities.” Another “deviant” painting suggests an affinity with the Wandering Jew, who is seen as daemonic, like Nature herself.

Fedallah as Wandering Jew: Behnone

Fedallah as Wandering Jew: Behnone

2. The Conversion Narrative. The second wave of Melville studies wrote a far different story of Melville’s rise and fall (and rise). Narcissus and Icarus were abandoned in favor of a Christian-neoclassical narrative, one that returned Melville/Ahab to the conservative family, by returning doubting Herman to conservative religion. It chief accomplishment was in rehabilitating “Billy Budd” through defending Captain Vere’s judgment in condemning Billy to death, and in declaring the Civil War as the turning point in Melville’s biography. No longer the whacko Romantic, the bloody catharsis of North versus South sobered up crazy Ahab; Melville was now a proper believer, as his long poem Clarel, a poem and pilgrimage to the Holy Land (1876) “proved.”  The chief perpetrators of this narrative have been the Yale graduate students of Stanley Williams, curiously led by autodidact Jay Leyda, an unabashed, unreconstructed Stalinist and lover of Sergei Eisenstein (who had made his own journey from early romanticism to neoclassicism at Stalin’s behest).

Implications for teachers and readers of Herman Melville’s oeuvre. Except for the primitivist early books that made Melville famous and that offer few problems of interpretation once the reader identifies the appealing primitivism in Typee and Omoo, teachers are at the mercy of their teaching guides and prominent academics, many of them blatantly on the Left. Andrew Delbanco & Co. are out to get Captain Ahab as the image of war-mongering Amerikkka, personified in George W. Bush, while other leftists praise Melville’s noble savages as premature anti-racism.

Sadly, if this tirade against American “identity” is all there is to Herman Melville, we might as well watch Oliver Stone‘s revisionist Showtime series on post-WW2 history, or read Howard Zinn, rather than wading through the sometimes difficult prose of an author who was coming to grips with a confusing family and confusing culture that was pulled in sharply different directions. Melville’s family, no less than our own polity, pretended to serene unity and provided its [prisoners? Bartlebys?] with road maps to achieve the almost painless resolution of conflict, i.e. the conflict between science and religion, with the unresolved question of personal identity and motivation for every “rational choice.”

Is Ahab, Ahab? Am I who I think I am, and how did I get this way? Ask your students or family members that one in class or at a family gathering and see how far you get. (For some related blogs that explain why I wrote this one, see  https://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/,  or https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, or https://clarespark.com/2013/02/23/peter-gays-freud/.)

January 7, 2013

Some backstory for Hunting Captain Ahab

MDcomicFirst take a look at this:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reception_theory. Reader-response theory was a postmodern move that contributed to the death of the author, and to the notion that there was no right or wrong way to read a text. Indeed, as publishers circulated my ms. to readers, some accused me of being another Ahab, bossy and doctrinaire, sniffing out miscreants in the profession, though there was little evidence for such a slur.

It was no miracle, but dumb luck that I came to write my big book on the twentieth century reception of a semi-forgotten Herman Melville, who was strenuously and controversially “revived” during the interwar period, then the Cold War, then again in the 1960s-70s.  This blog recounts the fortuitous conjunction of personalities and events that led to the unlikely publication of my weird and predictably unpublishable study of the Melville industry.

I begin by declaring how utterly boring most works inspired by “reception theory” are. Although the Wikipedia article starts the critical method with a gallery of leftists, historians had long been writing about the reception of major figures, for instance Goethe as received in England and America. I have always consulted such works and found them unreadable, disorganized, and boring. I had the same reaction to Peter Gay’s two volumes on The Enlightenment, which I have just mowed through, most of it unread owing to its lack of any visible method or thesis, though at the very end of Vol.2 (p.567), he brings up the Enlightenment-inspired American “experiment” and advises that the horrors that followed the generally anti-clerical 18th century (unprecedented wars and irrationalism, including class and racial discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries) might have been averted had “the secular social conscience” (p.39) he believes join his subjects, been adopted in the supposedly progressive and exceptional USA.  Surprise, the famous Peter Gay is a liberal and advocate of the welfare state, as his discussion of Adam Smith makes clear.

What follows is a brief account of my good luck in being allowed to write about a major figure (Herman Melville), and then the peculiarities of the most important Melville revivers that led them to hoard scraps of paper that most scholars would never save, thus giving me access to their inner thoughts at the time they were reading and writing about Herman Melville. I.e., reception theory is useless without probing the inner thoughts and emotions of the critics/readers studied.

First there was my good fortune in knowing historian Alexander Saxton (who had written about Jacksonian Blackface Minstrelsy), who would be my dissertation director upon my return to graduate school after the Pacifica Radio purge of myself as Program Director for KPFK-FM (Los Angeles).  I told Saxton that I was quarreling with Berkeley professor of Political Science  Michael Rogin over Melville’s intentions in “Billy Budd,” and (perhaps) since Saxton was getting criticized by Rogin in a left-wing journal, he agreed to let me write about Melville as a history dissertation. (I was told by a Berkeley professor of English that they would never have let a graduate student tackle a major figure! From that conversation, I concluded that I had made the right decision in sticking with history over an English Ph.D.)

Second, the major Melvilleans, many of them young men at the time, complained bitterly to each other in private regarding their distressing physical symptoms while reading and writing about Herman Melville: they blamed Melville for their symptoms and accidents and were often sick of him. Normally, no researcher would have access to such private feelings, but one of my revivers, (the Stalinist) Jay Leyda, was a squirrel and hoarder of literally every letter and note paper (some written on the back of envelopes and library receipts) during his research on a chronology for HM (the Leyda Log), which could have started in 1939, though most scholars would say 1944. Lucky for me, his papers were opened after his death, and most of his Melville work was at UCLA Special Collections, twenty minutes from my house. (Leyda literally dumped his Melville materials on UCLA English professor Leon Howard, who was advised to trash most of it. But Howard too was squirrelish. Most scholars do not have protracted access to an archive, but I did, so could go through every box, and it took months and months, but the pickings were astonishing. Then I found even more material at NYU’s Tamiment Library, where a helpful archivist dug out yet more material of the kind that most scholars would kill for.)

Third, my years on the radio covering censorship in the art world had alerted me to the ways in which institutions ignored the wishes of artists (if they were shown at all), contextualizing their production to fit either the reigning ideology of the moment, or the wishes of wealthy directors and patrons. So I was diligent in reading and rereading Melville and in getting a grip on the total literary/historical output of his revivers, not just the ones who kvetched about HM to Jay Leyda (who had his own feuds and confusions).  I started reading Melville in 1976 and my book was not published until 2001.

Almost no one puts that much time into a single book, but I was obsessed with the “Melville problem” for it illuminated what had been murky about why individual writers were either in or out of the canon. At the same time, I came to see that the double binds and mixed messages that Melville plainly laid out in his fiction were duplicated in supposedly liberal institutions.  That is, there was allegedly no conflict between Truth and Order (i.e., the individual and society), between Science and Religion, between Nationalism and Internationalism. Supposedly, academics in the humanities were free to write what the evidence suggested, without interference from colleagues or superiors. That turned out to be grossly false, but since academic freedom was widely advertised, one could not talk about the backstabbing, departmental politics, hazing of graduate students, and other conspiracies. Unless one chose fiction to tell the tales, and the more avid readers of confessional novels located in the academy will know what I mean.

Finally, it was not until I had been into many archives and secondary sources that a pattern emerged: Melville was an autodidact, and the animus directed against him was directed against all readers who looked askance at authority since the invention of the printing press and the gradual improvement in mass literacy and numeracy.  Once I saw that, everything fell into place, and I could write a book that was logical, organized, and I hoped, readable.

What do I wish to be the takeaway from this short blog? Do not trust historians or any other experts who lack an abundance of footnotes and/or fail to demonstrate humility. It is likely that most professionals have an axe to grind, and are scared. Skepticism in the reader is the appropriate state of mind. Toward the end of my book, I warn the reader that I may be biased in favor of Captain Ahab, and that I ask myself everyday if I am not projecting my own mishegas onto Herman Melville in my insistence that Captain Ahab is speaking in the voice of the Romantic HM (sometimes blending his views with the more cautious Ishmael). The book is hefty because I included long quotes from my primary sources so that the reader could check ME.


For a summary of my startling research, see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/, https://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/, https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/. The third blog explains why everyone should read my book, not just literary scholars. As to how I organized my thoughts on the Melville pseudo-revival, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.

January 5, 2013

The (Gentlemanly) Rochester Synod: 1984 in 1948

ZolamovieWhat follows is an excerpt from chapter 8 of Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001, 2006 rev.ed.). It is meant to demonstrate the ideological character of the teaching of literature, and how consensus as to the teaching of the canon is often brought about in academic conferences. The writing is sardonic and takes no prisoners. I am not a gentleman, but I defend artists from their appropriators by proof of conspiracies, or to put it more politely, the building of consensus.

[From chapter 8, HCA:] In 1900, during the period of Melville’s alleged obscurity, some passages from Moby-Dick were excerpted in The International Library of Famous Literature, edited by Richard Garnett. Volume 12 of the series included “On The Track of the White Whale”; the volume was prefaced with a work of criticism by Emile Zola, “The Naturalist School of Fiction in France.” For Zola, the lineage of naturalism included Diderot, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, and the brothers Goncourt; the antithesis to naturalism was mystical Romanticism. The author of “J’ accuse,” later rumored to be assassinated by the Right, had no difficulty reconciling the cultures of science and the arts through naturalism and realism.


[Clare’s comments:]… Half-a-century later, two Melvilleans, Leon Howard of Northwestern University and William Gilman of the University of Rochester, staged a four-part conference at Gilman’s university during the winter of 1948-49, adjusting and cleansing the all-too-naturalistic literary canon for the benefit of graduate students, “guests from the community” and “the general reader.”[i] The leading lights of American literature were there, including Stanley Williams, Willard Thorp, Leon Howard, Henry Nash Smith, Norman Holmes Pearson, Robert Spiller, Alfred Kazin, Harry Levin, and Lionel Trilling. A selection of twelve lectures was published and republished as The American Writer and the European Tradition.[ii] Now that America had become the most powerful nation on earth, the editors explained, it seemed appropriate that America

“produce a literature which will nourish and refresh European readers; at the same time it needs to perceive more clearly the source and nature of formative influences, both past and present, upon its literature…[“Cultural” responsibilities should be met through] the extension of commendable American influences abroad…discarding the mere violence which now is his forte but not the natural virtue which is his real strength…to cultivate the fertile ground that lies somewhere between our native Americanism and the European tradition (v, xi, x).[iii].”

Since nine of the twelve scholars had participated in the Melville Revival, and since the editors assure us of the “underlying unity and the dynamic unity [the essays] bear to each other” (x), I shall attempt a synthesis, framed with an excerpt from the correspondence of Van Wyck Brooks and Lewis Mumford. They were both active in the 1920s Melville Revival, were repeatedly mentioned in the Martin Dies (HUAC) report of 1944, and are still admired by 1960s radicals. Jubilating over a returning trend in American culture, Brooks told his friend:

“…I have a clear strong feeling that things are coming our way, that another generation is coming along that is much more congenial with you and me than the minds that have been dominant in the last twenty years. I gather that you are encountering them in your Southern lectures, as I find them in several writers who are going to have something to say in the future (among them, Peter Viereck).” [iv]

Brooks was correct. Uncongenial, domineering [Jewish?] “minds” were out; romantic conservatives (like Viereck, an ardent Melville fan) were in. At Rochester, only a few months earlier, Louis Booker Wright and Theodore Hornberger (prolific scholars specializing in the English Renaissance and Anglo-American culture whose papers launch Denny’s and Gilman’s book) clarified the agenda for postwar humanism: they must claim the Enlightenment and the American Dream for themselves, which meant transfiguring the radical bourgeoisie and the dogmatic democrats it had spawned.[v] Hornberger emphasized stability, order, and balance found in the Constitution, eighteenth-century political theory and its conservative but progressive antecedents (Greece and Rome, “British parliamentary procedures” and Calvinist New England), praising Montesquieu, John Adams and Benjamin Rush, and ending with an affirmation of American cultural freedom defined against fascist mind-control:

“We have learned recently that under the Fascist regime John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was permitted to circulate on the theory that it would convince Italians of the degeneracy of the United States. Instead, the young men, or some of them, concluded that a government which would permit such a novel to appear must have something admirable about it. The moral is, it seems to me, is that Americans appear at their best to the rest of the world when they are self-critical. The charming thing about the Enlightenment and the American Dream is their dissatisfaction with what is and what has been. No one who reads Candide will ever again think that this is the best of all possible worlds. No one, I think, who reads widely in American literature will be either smug or chauvinistic (27). “

In the talks that followed, irrationalism as practiced by antebellum romantic conservatives was redefined as the rational antidote to complacency and excessive nationalism. Although Hornberger’s Steinbeck story was repeated by Harry Levin (182), Steinbeck’s fiction was deemed defective and romantic (170); the documentarians of the 1930s were attacked throughout the conference, directly or indirectly. As Hornberger had hinted, there were competing contenders for critical “social realism” (Thorp) in America: the spirit of Thomas Carlyle was in the saddle. Traditional writers like Melville (as Ishmael and Vere) who were “didactic, allegorical, romantic” veterans of the abyss (Levin, 180, 174), should be plainly distinguished from other romantics: Jacksonian Ahabs with their “lying spirit” and monomania (Howard, 84). Also discredited were “dyspeptic” pessimists expecting too much from America: the “sour liberals” of Partisan Review, presaged by the later work of Mark Twain (Thorp, 105, 104), and French-inspired naturalism (Levin, 174) catering to the “idolatry of the mechanical and of ‘facts’ ” (Pearson, 161, Kazin, 121). Trilling attacked “the extreme rationalist position” (148), while (pre-conversion) Dos Passos was hit hard in Kazin’s essay.

After the weeding out of the progressive bourgeoisie who would be (moderately) Left? Captain Vere! who had been blessed in the last breath of Billy Budd, (but not Billy Budd), and in the last words of Lewis Mumford’s biography (1929). Melville had his problems with Vere, but not the conferees at Rochester. Willard Thorp talked of him as an historic figure, joining Vere to Emerson, Thoreau and other classically educated intellectuals of the pre-Civil War U.S. Captain Vere, like veritas itself, was rooted in the Renaissance ideal of the Christian gentleman, “ready and eager to serve the state in the most intelligent fashion,” and promoting “the cultivation of man’s full powers under the restraint of law (Wright, 9).” The “proletarianizing” all-American [soil] growing materialists whose Faustian science had now created the Bomb (Wright, 4) and erased “personality” (Pearson, 166), must be shoveled out and replaced by the Euro-American compost that yielded the greatest inheritor of the English Renaissance, Thomas Jefferson (Wright, 14) and the poetically scientific (Pearson) writers of the 1850s, Mumford’s Golden Day. The search for a usable past had won these gentle but forceful flowers of “the saving remnant” (Wright, 51), who, like Emerson “believed that the tension between Conservative and Radical would be fruitful in the end” (Thorp, 95); who would be ready to spring to action, averting the confiscations of the “extreme Reformer” who “uses outward and vulgar means. [Who] precipitates revolution when other means would have done” (Thorp, 92). And who would disagree with that? [vi]

Several participants advocated temporary despair as healthy and broadening, somewhat like the Grand Tour, the evidence of spiritual capacity and deep-diving: unflagging optimists lacked a soul. Melville and Whitman were exemplary, for Christian gentlemen/American artists do not yield to permanent depression. Perforce, Melville’s work after the nadir of the nihilistic 1850s would be annexed to the cause of Christian affirmation and acceptance of an imperfect world. If Melville had been in pain, yanked between “America” and “Europe,” ultimately it was good for his originality. “Melville” was cured; Progressive uplift and social hygiene had evacuated mechanical materialists, amplifying the message of Thorp’s essay in Literary History of the United States (1948), canonizing “Melville” defined as Ahab’s repudiator. Like other corporatist enactments, however, this ritual conversion of stony-hearted Jewish healers was a subversion of radical Enlightenment, claiming, of course, to uphold gentlemanly or true science, complete with stringent self-criticism. One might infer that cultural freedom was safe in their hands, that their unity was both a buffer against, and a solution to “war and economic chaos and the new fears aroused by atomic power” that had worried Thorp in Literary History. [vii]

The three Jewish participants, Kazin, Trilling, and Levin, affirmed their American identity, loyalty, and virtue by dumping the “naturalists,” agents of desolation to a peculiar people. As the final contribution, Harry Levin, Irving Babbitt Professor at Harvard, clinically probed iniquitous American mass culture (the Face that plagued Weaver?), then praised the redemptive power of the typically “American anguish” (evoked twice), for this “ambivalence of anguish” gives us pause; properly guided it could lead to an elevating new direction; “Melville,” original as the bearer of “tradition” in a chaotic trash culture, was the good seed:

“There is an American anguish in the face of Americanism,” Jean Paul Sartre has written. “There is an ambivalence of anguish which simultaneously asks ‘Am I American enough?’ and ‘How can I escape from Americanism?’” If anything can redeem us, it is this hesitation between our optimists and our pessimists, our frontiersmen and our expatriates. On the one hand, we have a unique background, which would be quite barren if it remained unique. On the other hand we are strengthened by a hybrid strain, the cross-fertilization of many cultures. What is commonly regarded as peculiarly American is blatant and standardized: Ford, Luce, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. What is most original is most traditional: Melville. Moving in T. S. Eliot’s phrase, “Between two worlds become much like each other,” these opposites are neutralized. As Andre Siegfried predicted, Europe is Americanized and America is Europeanized. Organization conquers the Old World, chaos is rediscovered in the New. Beyond the clamor, beneath the surfaces of the present, the past continues, and our brightest lights are those that keep burning underground…(183, Cf. Leon Howard’s idea that Melville’s ambivalence reflects cultural conflict between Europe and America.)

In other words–given the proclivities of mass culture for “totalitarian realism,” as suggested by Levin with regard to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in a sentence immediately preceding the segment quoted above–the apparently conservative or reactionary traditionalist turns into his opposite: he becomes an invigorating innovator, a “critical realist.” Such were the cool assessments that have defeated seditious naturalist novelists–mystical yet bound to Benjamin Franklin’s independent science “and…the higher learning that we have built upon it” (Spiller, 40). Robert Spiller suggested we study Franklin to find a key to the problem of our present concern: “the growth of American culture from its first roots in American soil to a flowering after three centuries as a dominant world culture…If we can understand what happened to Franklin [1740-1750], we may appreciate more keenly the cyclic process by which a transplanted civilization developed from dependence to independence to dominance (32).”

Free will and personal responsibility were now ghosts in the machine of organicist discourse, caught by the determinism of biological cycles. A manufactured but heavenly pastoral of flowers, trees, seeds, and soil had drifted gently onto the grimy, bristling political science of the empiricists, a game anyone could play.[viii] People were no longer self-moving participants in describable social movements or class formations: they were either sour apples and weedy “extremists” (bad) or “moderates” (good) stoically enduring the fructifying tension associated with “self-criticism” and “social realism.” Who could resist the call of dreamy, peace-loving moderate men: dominant and yet attractive to European readers fed up with fascism, only starved by the revolt of the masses?[ix]

On Columbus Day, 1950, Yale professor Norman Holmes Pearson, another ex-Stanley Williams student and now a leader in the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, responded to comrade Leyda’s complaint that he was not permitted access to Emily Dickinson’s papers:

Norman Holmes Pearson of Yale, spy

Norman Holmes Pearson of Yale, spy

“I am annoyed, though not deeply surprised at the block in the Dickinson exploration. I only wish something could come of it, for if anyone needs your diligent scalpel, Emily Dickinson does. If it doesn’t go through eventually and you are left without a project, why don’t you do a calendar for Hawthorne, though I dare say the iconoclastic value would not be so startling in this case as for either HM or ED. At any rate if there is an impasse consider, with Leon’s help, shifting the subject to something else. Now that he and Louis Wright are the wheels with Guggenheim, they could fix the other end easily.[x]

Jay Leyda, the pathetic outsider with powerful friends, did gain access to the papers of Emily Dickinson to produce another calendar, assisted by the Guggenheim grant. Pearson was a veteran of the OSS, and, like Leyda, an expert propagandist. But we must not leap into dark conclusions: was the “iconoclastic value” of Leyda’s Log directed against Melville himself or the alleged excesses and deficiencies of earlier scholarship?


[i]               68. William H. Gilman to Leyda, 11 Dec. 1948: “Leon was here for a talk in an American literature conference we cooked up.” Box 23, Leyda Papers, UCLA.

[ii]               69. Margaret Denny and William H. Gilman, eds., The American Writer and the European Tradition (Minneapolis: Published for the University of Rochester by the Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1950). My page citations are from the Haskell House edition, 1968. Leyda told Gilman he liked these papers.

[iii]              70. Cf. Matthiessen, From The Heart of Europe, 54-55 on the deplorable European taste for Gone With The Wind and other trashy novels.

[iv]              71. Brooks to Mumford, 18 Mar. 1949, The Van Wyck Brooks-Lewis Mumford Letters, ed. Robert Spiller (New York: Dutton, 1970), 343.

[v]               72. Cf. Harry Hayden Clark, Thomas Paine, v, xxi. “Since it was customary, before the rise of Fascism, for those devoted to American history to represent the Federalists and the Jeffersonians (with whom Paine was associated) as in sharp conflict, it is perhaps well to remind ourselves that they were both loyally American and, like brothers in one family, differed mainly as to the extent to which the people could be trusted to govern themselves and the extent to which the national government should take precedence over the state governments. Toward tyranny, monarchy, the idea of one politically established church, and the kind of ideas now associated with Fascism, they presented a common front… [quoting Paine] ‘[W]e see unerring order and universal harmony reigning throughout the whole… Here is the standard to which everything must be brought that pretends to be the work…of God’ (Clark’s emph.). Having interpreted Paine’s mind in the light of contemporary philosophic definitions and their relative emphasis given by men whom Paine acknowledged as his teachers, we have now arrived at the very core of his thought, ‘the standard to which everything must be brought,’ which is a divinely revealed and sanctioned law and order, in harmonious conformity to which society finds its happiness. Thus Newtonian deism, as interpreted by Paine, involved discipline and order just did Calvinistic Federalism in America, or Anglican Toryism in England, although the difference in background and terminology has prevented many critics from recognizing it, at least in the case of Paine.” Throughout, Clark presents the autodidact Paine as a neo-classical advocate of balance, opposed to mobs, favoring a welfare state, Federalism, free trade and internationalism, less of a Quaker than a Deist; Paine is a Freethinker likened to Alexander Pope; i.e. he is the reforming capitalist of the New Deal.

Clark’s research was funded by the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. He was general editor of the American Writers Series for the American Book Company, publishers of the Willard Thorp Melville study discussed above, as well as The American Mind.

[vi]              73. Cf. John Stafford, The Literary Criticism of “Young America”: A Study in the Relationship of Politics and Literature 1837-1850 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, Univ. of California Press, 1952),1, 128. Stafford thanks Theodore Hornberger and Henry Nash Smith for inspiring his studies; his organizing tool for distinguishing conservatives and radicals is Emerson’s famous distinction between “Establishment and Movement.” The exemplary democrat Whitman is the culmination of Young America in literature. It is worth noting that Wilbert Snow, Olson’s advisor, was sent on an international tour by the US State Department to promote the poetry and ideas of Whitman immediately following the end of World War II. (See Snow’s memoirs.)

Leon Howard’s remark about “lying spirit” was clarified in his Melville biography, p.194. Howard was criticizing the transcendentalists’ search for “absolute, rather than relative justice”, and claiming that Melville understood the foolishness of Goethe’s (transcendentalist) statement “Live in the all.”

[vii]             74. Willard Thorp, “Herman Melville,” Literary History of the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 468.

[viii]             75. I do not claim that materialism was hegemonic or unchallenged by moderate conservatives prior to the Rochester conference; the modern promotion of blood and soil theories of group identity would probably start with J.G. Herder, a leading figure of the German Enlightenment, continue with the racist geographers and social theorists of the nineteenth century, and bloom in the völkisch pseudo-materialist historical methods of Frederick Jackson Turner and other “social historians” including the founders of American Studies and “the new labor history” associated with the New Left that privileges “culture” over repression and corrupt leadership. Lockean environmentalism was simply co-opted and turned against workers; “race” and nativity became determining factors as concrete as the physical conditions with which persons coped, while Locke’s emphasis on experience and achieved understanding was tainted by association with unspiritual “materialism.” See for instance The Nation, 17 Sept. 1918, review of Joseph Kinmont Hart’s Democracy in Education: “The author feels that the crucial question of the time is whether our civilization shall conform to schemes handed down from the past, everything to be fitted into the old patterns, or whether education should be free to use the new energies which have been released, the new patterns suggested by new conditions. He strongly emphasizes the fact that thinking, only, does not lead to truth; what one feels and believes, his spiritual possession, is more fundamental to life and growth than what one reasons out and proves. The book…is an organism; it is concrete, yet always suggestive of the general, and at times of the universal; it is free from masses of detail; and while it is sufficiently technical for the author’s purpose, it has exceptional literary value.”

The positions I have outlined were frequently criticized by Stalinists and Trotskyists alike during the late 1930s in Science and Society. See Lancelot Hogben, “Our Social Heritage,” S & S (Winter 1937): 150-151, for remarks on right-wing slanders against quantitative materialism. Also William Phillips and Philip Rahv, “Some Aspects of Literary Criticism,” S & S (Winter 1937): 216, for a comment on genteel New Humanist condemnations of the “‘sordid’ naturalism of modern literature.” Samuel Sillen discussed blood and soil ideology in Carlyle, Ruskin, and Van Wyck Brooks; see his review of The Flowering of New England, S & S (Winter 1937): 262-265. Muddled liberalism (which glorified vacillations and eschewed simplicity) was noted by Edgar Johnson, “Henry Adams, The Last Liberal,” S & S (Spring 1937): 376-377; Carlyle was cited as a protofascist and Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke was criticized by Granville Hicks, “The Literary Opposition to Utilitarianism,” S & S (Summer 1937): 454-472.

[ix]              76. See the title page illustration to Louis B. Wright’s textbook The American Tradition: National Characteristics, Past and Present (New York: F.S. Crofts, 1941). A great oak occupies the foreground; gently rolling hills nestle a Protestant church and a few other small dwellings; farm lands lie between.

[x]               77. Robin W. Winks, Cloak and Gown, 319, 317.

April 9, 2011

Jean-Francois Revel and Father Mapple

This blog is about Jean-François Revel’s How Democracies Perish (1983), and how recent “anti-imperialist” scholarship as conducted in the most elevated reaches of academe has added to the demoralization of “the West” as it faces the threat of Islamic jihadism.

Revel (1924-2006) was a prolific French author, whose political background had put him in a favorable position to evaluate the weak response to Soviet aggression. He was a member of the French resistance during WWII, and later worked for President Mitterand as a speechwriter. One Facebook friend complained that Revel was a right-wing social democrat, implying that he was untrustworthy, but I find the liberal anticommunist position to be of great interest, since Revel seems to be a giant among public intellectuals. Compare his love of freedom to those in the current liberal academic elite who are leaders in condemning America and the civilized world as “white racists” and which, to this day, illicitly profit from “white skin privilege.” The latter academic opinion leaders have succeeded in ratifying the old Soviet line that the “free world” was in fact a slave world, undeserving of its defense against the peace-loving Soviet empire or Communist China and their client states in the Third World. The writing of U.S. history is almost entirely controlled by this cohort of Stalinoids. I do not refer solely to ethnic studies departments that are known to be separatist and bogus.

Such a claim that the West remains essentially racist takes the focus off of the foreign policy blunders of all American Presidents (up to Reagan) and most of the West after WWII. Revel’s major claim is that there was no Cold War at all, for that would assume that both superpowers acted in their own interest. Pas du tout, wrote Revel: The West was entirely submissive as the Soviets expanded without opposition, breaking their treaties, most of all the Yalta agreement, that had not “carved up the world” (as I was taught) but rather promised free elections in Poland, to give one stunning example of public ignorance of the facts. Stupidly and self-destructively, he wrote, the Allied armies abandoned Europe to the Soviets, allowed the Soviets to take and hold all of Eastern Europe and East Germany, were toothless when the Berlin Wall went up, and then the Soviet-directed Western peace movement imagined that the U.S. was not militarily weak and inferior to Soviet arms. In short, a failure of nerve and reluctance to use the traditional tools of diplomacy (i.e., you don’t make concessions before you begin negotiations), consigned the West to a foreign policy that was at best, flaccid. I have not begun to exhaust the claims of Revel’s classic work, all of which ring true to me.

I could have titled this blog “Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that.” That was a quote from the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and was written in the voice of Ishmael, the narrator. Most academic Melville critics pass over that remark as if it had merit as a statement of the human condition. But in the text itself, Ishmael has just rationalized his (unmanly) submission to an abusive ship’s captain. Ishmael’s passivity is contrasted to the abolitionist Father Mapple’s subsequent fiery and defiant sermon in seeking out the truth, no matter how apparently powerful the adversary.  Revel reminds us how weak the Soviet Union was immediately after the war, and moreover, that Stalin would have remained allied to Hitler had the latter not invaded the Soviet Union. What were our leaders thinking? (See my book Hunting Captain Ahab for a portrait of one Stalinist Melville biographer and critic, Jay Leyda, who remains untainted to this day in legitimate Melville circles, though he was a wily subverter of literary history and obviously a convinced communist and anti-American.)

We were chumps then, and the question remains, are we similarly toothless in resisting internal subversion and the threat from foreign terrorists alike? Will even liberal anticommunists such as Revel be dismissed as “rightists” who are paranoid and/or superpatriots?

[My thanks to political scientist Tom Nichols for recommending this book to me. Diane Ravitch even placed it in a recommended reading list, before she switched sides.]

March 11, 2011

Review excerpts re Hunting Captain Ahab

Eaton portrait of HM, hung in Houghton Library, Harvard

Someone has been searching for reviews of my book on the Melville Revival, so I dug up a summary of review excerpts prepared for the second edition, along with my letter to the editor of The Journal of Cold War Studies. My letter precedes the review excerpts.

Letter to the editor, Journal of Cold War Studies:

In his review of my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001), Brian Etheridge advised diplomatic historians or others interested in the Cold War, i.e., your readership, not to read my book, supposedly a study of interest primarily to Melville scholars like myself. This was a surprising judgment as it ignored my reporting of such weighty matters as the Harvard course on civilian morale (1941), the 1942 yearbook of the American Psychological Associations’s Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the inception of the Committee for Economic Development, and how the Harvard functionalists and their cohort (including Henry Murray, Gordon Allport, Talcott Parsons, and Harold Lasswell) defined the base of fascism and formulated their programs of social relations and “preventive politics” with an unapologetic irrationalist approach (see especially my chapters 2 and 9).  Since I made constant connections between the (mis)handling of evidence in Melville studies and the efforts to maintain “social equilibrium” by the political scientists and social theorists mentioned above, one might think that I had justified my sub-title of “psychological warfare and the Melville Revival,” especially as one of my chief subjects was the career of Jay Leyda, a Stalinist intellectual and authority on propaganda, who helped to write the film Mission to Moscow, and whose leading role in postwar Melville studies contributed to an Orwellian inversion confusing freedom and slavery and, hence, vindicated double-talking “moderate men” who were the targets of Melville’s more daring characters. And yet the Etheridge review did not note the existence of such materials in my book.

I believe that the ideological tendency that I tracked over five centuries forms the substrate for revisionist views of the Cold War and even the assumptions of the United Nations and the “peace studies” that have proliferated since the second world war. Briefly, the practices of  the men and institutions that I studied operated on the assumption that all conflict could be resolved through the mediation of skilled individuals, noted for their objectivity, superior self-control and adroitness at manipulation of quarreling groups or individuals. In other words, there are no irreconcilable conflicts, and prejudice and hatred are simply projections of aggression onto “the Other” by the malleable masses who have been whipped up by autodidacts/demagogues like Captain Ahab. And of course, for the revisionists, the Soviet Union was “the Other” whose military threat had been wildly exaggerated by extremist anticommunists, held to be extreme individualists (narcissists) resisting the humanitarianism of the welfare state.

An example: Andrew Delbanco, a prominent figure in American Studies and director of the Columbia University program, has just published a widely publicized popular book on Herman Melville, in which he makes the claim that “some eighty years before it emerged as the central political fact of the twentieth century, Melville had described in Moby-Dick the reciprocal love between a demagogue and his adoring followers.” (173). This justifies Delbanco’s ahistoric linking of Ahab, Hitler and George W. Bush, now a pervasive gesture in left-wing journalism. Revealingly, the Soviet Union and its anti-American propaganda are invisible in Delbanco’s book. Similar appropriations of Melville’s writings for present-day partisan purposes (including the construction of the “multicultural” curriculum) are the chief subject of my book, page after page. And yet Etheridge claims that I failed to connect Henry A. Murray’s and Charles Olson’s propaganda services to the Roosevelt administration with Melville scholarship.

It is stressed throughout Hunting Captain Ahab, and most explicitly in chapter 7, that readings transforming Ahab into a totalitarian dictator occurred in tandem with a major growth in state power under the New Deal during the late 1930s, while during the same period Hitler turned decisively against the West. Before that turning point, Ahab was seen as either Melville the Promethean romantic artist on the side of “the people,” or as a democratic reformer reminiscent of Chartism, or as a symbol of indomitable humanity, doomed to failure but noble and tragic. It is Henry A. Murray’s confidential report to FDR on Hitler’s mind (filed in 1943, but begun in 1938) that explicitly links Ahab, romantic artists, Melville and Hitler himself. And Charles Olson worshipped Murray, following his lead as their correspondence strongly demonstrates. The outcome was a shift in Olson’s criticism away from his youthful admiration of the Ahab character, and dramatically displayed in his Call Me Ishmael (1947), that could have been dictated by Murray himself. In other words, Leviathan was increasingly acceptable in the late New Deal, displacing earlier Wilsonian localism; thus Ahab as Leviathan’s opponent had to be discredited, while Hitler became simply the tool of laissez-faire fascist Republicans.

Etheridge also implies that I have left the reader stranded in the 1940s; hence recent developments in Melville scholarship, like my Ahab-self, are muddled, which brings us to the matter of macro-history and scale. Prior to my book, the shift to an “anti-imperialist” reading of Moby-Dick (the ruthless demagogue Ahab as an “anticipation” of  Hitler, and the voyage of the Pequod as a representation of capitalist exploitation and doomed American imperialism) was assumed to be a New Left post-60s phenomenon. Such periodization glosses over not only the contested growth of a benevolent “progressive” Leviathan throughout the twentieth-century Melville revival, but ongoing “sykewar” against autodidacts and “Hebraic” radical puritans, initiated by the Tory party in England from its inception. By not transmitting the major theme of my book, i.e., persistent elite resistance to the popular decoding of antidemocratic propaganda, even in the progressive movement, Etheridge suggests that I have jumped willy-nilly across the centuries, abandoning historicism. Chapter 5 on the radical puritan as red specter, as well as quotations from David Hume throughout, should have justified my insistence on continuities in upper-class psychological warfare against the lower orders, from the Reformation to the present.

Surely it cannot be the case that “psychological warfare” refers solely to propaganda efforts by such agencies as the 1950s Psychological Strategy Board, or the Voice of America, or the USIA, etc. as Etheridge states. If diplomatic historians are not considering the intertwined issues of foreign policy and institutional control of domestic populations through mind-management within the humanities and social science curricula (either in the U.S. or in other countries), then I must ask for a reconsideration of their position. [End, letter to the editor, accepted but not yet published.]


[From Brian Etheridge’s review in Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2005, the first historian to review HCA:] “…a bold and challenging work that seeks to illuminate the role that scholarship has played in competing discourses on the relationship between individual and  society in the modern world. …Without question, Spark knows and is passionate about her scholarship. She ranges widely across the landscape of Melvillian scholarship, expertly addressing the various contexts in which Melville’s work has been appropriated. To this end, she has done an admirable job of unearthing unpublished commentaries and correspondence…. She also has a firm grasp of the larger cultural milieu in which M’s works circulated, and she ably charts the changing contexts in which these works have been debated.  …For those interested in learning about Melville’s life, his work, and his scholars, this is the book for you.” [I include these excerpts because he importantly validates my skills as an historian charting change, but curiously does not recommend my book to diplomatic historians. C.S.]

[Roy Porter (deceased):] “…light-years ahead of most academic monographs.” [in a letter of evaluation to Bucknell UP. Roy wrote to me that I could use anything he ever wrote to me personally or on my behalf for promoting my work.  See also his final letter to Kent State UP, using the word “superb” which I had never seen.]

[Kris Lackey, Southern Humanities Review, Spring 2002:] “Spark pursues two principle objectives: first, to liberate Ahab from his dictator’s reputation and to restore his radical birthright as a figure of the defiant artist; second, to liberate Melville from static and reductive identities that have served academics across the political spectrum. …Embedded in this vast prickly montage…are eloquent, moving passages that show us why Spark has fought this long battle to win him back from his revivers…. Insights like [hers] belong in the hornbook of Melville criticism.”

[Jason G. Horn, Christianity and Literature (Summer 2002):] “More is at stake than just another analysis of Herman Melville in this hefty, detailed, and wide-ranging study….And getting the facts to the public, whose own critical range of thinking is partially formed by institutional and intellectual debates, is all important for Spark.”

[Sharon L. Dean: American Literature :] “Spark puts the brow of Melville scholarship before us. Read it if you can.”

[Jeremy Harding, London Review of Books, Oct.31, 2002:] “Clare Spark is a devotee of Ahab the fallen angel. She believes that Ishmael has been puffed at the expense of Ahab, largely because Ahab’s free spirit is too anti-social. She objects especially to the idea that he is a one-legged Fuehrer hobbling up and down the bunker of the quarterdeck…which she considers a misrepresentation for socially proscriptive, leftish-centrist ends. …[Ishmael is] a ‘corporatist’–a non-revolutionary, consensual figure–whose star has risen as Ahab’s has declined; and, of course, he is a ‘multiculturalist’ (another form of conformism) who condescends, like Melville, to all races, as to most species, more or less impartially. He is also given to hair-splitting and the patient telling of like from like, while basking, too, in the reconciliation of opposites. He is the dialectician of the piece, and the great procastinator. [it goes on….]

[Guy Davenport, Harper’s Magazine, June 2002:] “It is [her] diagnosis…that the Melville Revival was a conspiracy to bring Melville in line with the kind of Orwellian liberalism that is teleologically indistinguishable from totalitarianism. …[it is] intricately argued and documented, requiring as patient a reading as Parker’s biography. And it delivers the goods.”

[S. I. Bellman, CHOICE, Nov. 2001:] “Spark’s meticulous study should appeal both to Melville scholars and to academic and general readers not primarily concerned with Melville’s career and hard times. …the book deserves consideration for a major literary award.”

[Robert E. Abrams, Modern Language Quarterly, June 2003:] “Yet Ahab exerts…a powerful pull on the very critics and scholars who demonize him. No doubt Hunting Captain Ahab itself is a valuable, highly unusual study because of how it gathers all sorts of academic marginalia to challenge and supplement a legacy of official scholarship. On the one hand, the ways in which such scholarship remains historically embedded in a matrix of political and institutional pressures are revealed; on the other hand, in the movement beyond officially published writing into a nether world of notes, remembered conversations, drafts, recorded interviews, and even crossed-out phraseology, we come upon confessions and lines of speculation that tell a considerably less straitjacketed story than the one told simply by scholarship cleansed of its messy origins.”

[The Year’s Work in English Studies, 2002:] “…a thought-provoking detailed analysis…She focuses on the political, institutional agendas of each site of Melville scholarship, locating a history of critical thinking on one of America’s most fought over writers, offering essential and compelling reading for Melville scholars.”

[Peter Thorpe, Bloomsbury Review, Jan-Feb, 2003:] “…an engaging work of scholarship by Clare Spark, an old-time, no-nonsense scholar who knows how to entertain us and keep our interest as she goes about the serious business of finding Captain Ahab…She writes about life itself and the perilous balancing act between things Ahabian and things Ishmaelian. …[She writes with] verve…hard-nosed joy and force. She brings Herman Melville alive again and helps us to understand what’s going on in our own American minds.”

June 12, 2010

Preface to second edition of Hunting Captain Ahab

Posa's creator, Friedrich Schiller

His bosom glows with some new-fangled virtue,

Which, proud and self-sufficient, scorns to rest

For strength on any creed. He dares to think!

His brain is all on fire with wild chimeras;

He reverences the people! And is this

A man to be our king?

           — Schiller, Don Carlos, Father Domingo speaking


     I admit it. This is a passionately-written study of censorship and self-censorship that is also more detailed than most academic monographs. As a multi-voiced modernist collage, mining and organizing nuggets of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary thought spanning five centuries, it is unusually presented. I am preoccupied with vindicating Ahab as the explorer-creator who resides within Melville’s nervous imagination, reading and protesting the mixed-messages dispensed by the family and other confusing institutions insisting  that there is no conflict between the post-Enlightenment search for Truth and the maintenance of traditional Order. And why not? Captain Ahab, a stand-in for bemused autodidacts everywhere, is now routinely caricatured as a crusading madman, whose mistaken imputation of evil in his enemy and determination to “strike through the mask” of duplicitous authority is simply a ruse that covers up his own unquenchable and uncontrollable thirst for power and domination. Television writers and newsmen drop Ahab’s name and can expect a self-congratulatory nod from the reader, who would not be caught dead indulging in such narcissistic delusions and misguided rage. Given this apparent consensus of sobered-up Ishmaels, who would dream, say, of scanning the orations of Charles Sumner, the Senator from Massachusetts and Melville’s contemporary, whose antislavery resolve finds resonance in Ahab’s determination to grapple with Leviathan?

[Charles Sumner, 1848:] “This [new coalition of antislavery men] will be the Freedom Power whose single object will be to resist the Slave Power. We will put them face to face, and let them grapple. Who can doubt the result?”

 [Ahab, chapter 135:] “…Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee….”

       Before this book appeared, who has objected, with appropriately extensive evidence, to the misappropriation of this fictional character, this pre-Hitlerian Ahab and synecdoche for America ? And who has traced the shift by politically-motivated Melvilleans away from Ahab as Promethean artist/antebellum reformer, and toward Melville as prophet of totalitarian dictatorship in that subsequent blood-soaked black century doomed through unleashed mass politics?  I refer to those scholars and their followers who have been most responsible for the Ahab-tyrant connection: reacting to Raymond Weaver’s artist-Ahab, they were Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda, whose intellectual biographies are attempted in chapters 6 through 9. Can a scholar care too much about the welfare of students and of other readers where Ahab-ish demystifications of hitherto idealized authority are concerned? Promethean readers would like to make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate authority so that their own capacities for creativity and innovation are not warped, or their curiosity misdirected. Could it be that Melville’s alleged wife-beating (notwithstanding the lack of material evidence for such conduct) reflects discomfort with Melville as fist-shaking Ahab, avatar of radical Enlightenment (that forbidden rupture with the past suggested in Hawthorne’s “blood-incrusted pen of steel” that the latter associated with the Wandering Jew)? As a creature of  Enlightenment, should I tamp down my indignation that reforms in the humanities curriculum during the early 1940s that are specified here were constructed by ultra-conservatives intent on propagating “the tragedy of mind?” William Ellery Sedgwick (1899-1942), knew that he had found the key to Melville’s psyche as expressed in his art: Thinking can only take us from youthful utopianism and joy to mature and realistic desolation as we discover the foulness of human nature, or so he said posthumously, for he had suffered a heart attack in early 1942 under mysterious conditions, perhaps not the suicide that was rumored, and that I had reported as fact in the first edition. Harvard published his Herman Melville: Tragedy of Mind in 1944, and Jay Leyda sent this book (along with Matthiessen’s American Renaissance) to Sergei Eisenstein in 1946; it is still cited approvingly by Melvilleans. But Sedgwick’s stoicism could only depress and immobilize students trying out an adult identity with new-fangled virtues and intellectual skills that might alarm their families of origin.  Similarly “progressive” advocates of “organic unity” between generations and between ancients and moderns (like Sedgwick), had published with supporters of fascism and Nazism in the mid-1930s (pp.631-33, n.44), or were, like Leyda and Matthiessen, uncritical supporters of Stalin’s Soviet Union (chapter 8).

   So much for my closing/opening argument to the jury of readers, new and old. In response to helpful feedback from other Melville readers, there have been corrections or other refinements in some previous assertions about the personalities and politics of the Melville revival; I believe they strengthen the chief argument of my book: that Melville was ambivalently attracted to a positive view of the human capacity to uncover the secrets of the self, of nature, and of society’s mechanisms of control; that he was obliged, even driven, to resist inquisitorial internal and external voices, and that his (underground, partially erased) optimistic opinions continue to be repressed or marginalized by “moderate” Melvilleans; and that most established academic critics, defenders of the New Deal corporatist liberal state, aver that such radical protestant heresies as had existed in his pre-Civil War stage were mercifully transcended in Ahab-Melville’s conversion to Captain Vere. The irrepressible conflict engendered by Sedgwick’s fanatical abolitionist New England forebears turns out to have been repressible after all.

    The most fruitful corrections and additions to the hardcover book are these: two of Melville’s lengthiest Bible markings ( p.164), previously either unattributed or misattributed to St. Evremond), were actually extracted from major works by Goethe as translated by Carlyle: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and Wilhelm Meister’s Travels. As Goethe scholar Jane K. Brown tells us, the confessional Wilhelm Meister novels encompass Goethe’s Faustian drive to boldly expand his creative powers and the equally urgent call for renunciation of such individualistic self-absorption to protect traditional  hierarchies and social cohesion, a need made more forceful in the wake of the French Revolution. Goethe’s movement from the boundlessly expanded and developed art-making self to the austere and contracted social self can be seen in the contrast between Ahab and Ishmael/Vere. But had Ahab been discarded?

[Schiller’s Marquis Posa:] “…grant us liberty of thought… Tell him in manhood, he must still revere/ The dreams of early youth….”

 [Evert Duyckinck, 1851:] “[Ahab is] the Faust of the quarter-deck.”

      I found in Carlyle’s The Life of Friedrich Schiller, and in Schiller’s play Don Carlos, suggestions that Melville’s “heretic” “irruption” never ceased: he was writing “Billy Budd” with a synopsis of Schiller’s motif  (“Keep true to the dreams of thy youth”) pasted to the interior of his writing desk, perhaps to warn against lapsing into conformity with Vere’s mob-managing “measured forms.” What were those youthful dreams about? Glory, fame, or the uncircumscribed freedom to describe his inner and outer worlds, like other romantics, creating forms that had never been admitted to art as patronized by neo-classicizing elites?  In his Schiller biography, Carlyle likens Goethe to Shakespeare, and Schiller to Milton, invidiously contrasting Shakespeare’s “catholic”  “quiet eye” with the “sectarian” passions of Milton, who is “earnest, devoted; struggling with a thousand mighty projects of improvement; feeling more intensely as he feels more narrowly; rejecting vehemently, choosing vehemently; at war with the one half of things, in love with the other half; hence dissatisfied, impetuous, without internal rest, and scarcely conceiving the possibility of such a state.” (Should we think of Daniel Orme’s “vital glance” or  Margoth’s “brave vitality” as a Melvillean riposte to the Carlyle “quiet eye” quietism he attributed to Faust’s creator?)

     One of the chief themes of my book is the persistence of such Carlylean put-downs,  whether applied to Milton and other radical puritans of the seventeenth century or to left-wing romantics, including Byron or the pacing insomniac Melville in his earnest, enthusiast mood. I have argued throughout that the suppression of Melville’s annotations to Paradise Lost is one of the worst examples of censorship in Melville studies; but since the hardback edition of HCA appeared, happily, the annotations to Milton’s poetry have been published.  Critical commentary, however, tends to render Milton and Melville alike as moderates, while no one has teased out the implication of Melville’s partially erased ratification of Satan’s seduction of Eve (p. 147): “This is one of the profound atheistical hits of Milton. A greater than Lucretius, since he always teaches under a masque, and makes the Devil himself a Teacher & Messiah” ). When I saw this annotation in 1990, I began to wonder if Melville was not simply ambivalent or vacillating (as many Melvilleans, including Hayford, Leyda, and Parker had agreed), but ever masked, his most heartfelt Posa-type sentiments voiced only through his “dark” or Promethean characters–Ahab, Pierre, Isabel, Pitch, and Margoth. We may never know.

    My last thoughts in this preface are directed to political scientists, historians of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, and scholars in cultural studies who remain dubious about “science” and its claims for objectivity, or who doubt that empiricist historians, limited by “point of view,” can reconstruct prior institutions. Too often the history of mind-management has been written by “moderates” or leftists, who attribute antidemocratic propaganda to the protofascist bourgeoisie, to a monolithic and savage right-wing America, wrongly exemplified, I believe, by the hallucinating map-maker and mad scientist Captain Ahab. Melville’s “dark” characters were inadmissible to scholars of “the vital center”; as their private notes and letters have shown, many nevertheless suffered depression and other extreme mental distress while evacuating Melville’s modernists. Similarly “progressive” scholars may be snatching from their students’ hands those critical intellectual and emotional tools essential to Progress, most particularly an educated reverence for the potential of “the people” in analyzing and overcoming the less attractive impulses of our common humanity. I speak of “the people” not as a compact mass or “jacobin” mob, but as the great liberal Charles Sumner envisioned his uniquely blessed countrymen: a collection of striving individuals “created in the image of God,” critical and self-critical, but never succumbing to Bartleby’s existentialist despair. It is to the everlasting credit of Kent State University Press that they have brought this paperback edition and its innovations in style and content to the attention of a wider audience. My gratitude for their support lies beyond words.

June 10, 2010

Herman Melville: Dead White Male


[This short article summarizes my chief arguments in Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. It is slightly revised since publication on HNN: www.hnn.us/articles/665html.]

Since the Melville Revival of the 1920s, Moby Dick has become an undisputed classic of world literature and continues to grow in interest, especially this year and last with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Melville’s masterpiece in late 1851. Historians, however, are probably unaware that Herman Melville (1819-1891) and his pathbreaking modernist novels, always the targets of cultural conservatives in both his time and ours, are now the objects of fierce disputes in “the canon wars” that have heated up since the mid-1980s. The literature created by “dead white males” has been challenged by some “multiculturalist” non-whites, feminists, and their allies. Moby Dick has been cited as chief offender, ostensibly crowding out worthy contenders for the attention of undergraduates. Melville himself has been described by such as Elizabeth Renker, Laurie Robertson-Lorant, Elizabeth Hardwick, Andrew Delbanco, and others as an abusive husband and father (i.e. as Ahab), though, as my research has shown, there is not a shred of documentary evidence that would justify such attacks on his character. How is this possible?

It is clear that Melville has become a symbol for an essentially imperialist, capitalist, patriarchal, ecocidal America, and his hero Captain Ahab a model of sorts for twentieth-century totalitarian dictators. Such readings by postmodernists have displaced earlier interpretations, some of which viewed Melville as a radical democrat and anti-racist, and Ahab as a nineteenth-century reformer. Other (more conservative) readings hitherto interpreted Ahab as tragic hero, symbol of indomitable humanity, yet doomed to failure in either the search for truth or for amelioration of the human condition. (In my book, I make a case for Ahab as both abolitionist, e.g., Charles Sumner, and modern artist, Melville himself, with the proviso that Ahab and Ishmael are sometimes at odds, sometimes confusingly blended.)

For seventeen years I pursued Melville’s pursuers by consulting the papers of leading Melville critics, some of whose archives were only recently opened. What I found was a tortured record of ambivalent Melville critics, who alternately hugged and repudiated their homme fatale. Institutional affiliations and class allegiance had a decisive effect on their analysis, with the result that Melville, in all his complexity, was not “revived” at all; rather he was diagnosed by jittery scholars as an extremist who wreaked havoc upon his family until he converted to moderation after the instructive blood-letting of the Civil War. Such diagnoses were the inevitable result of 1930s Popular Front culture and the objectives of the upper-class peace movement that followed World War II.

For instance, three of the key Melville critics, Dr. Henry A. Murray (leader in academic psychology and personnel assessment for the Office of Strategic Services, who came to be admired as a father of the New Left), Charles Olson (“father” of cultural pluralism and postmodernism), and Jay Leyda (photographer, film historian, and technical advisor to the film, Mission to Moscow), were skilled propagandists allied with the Roosevelt administration. All three men strongly influenced subsequent Melville scholarship and biography, and they and/or others suppressed primary source materials that conflicted with their political allegiances and recipes for conservative reform. The result was (an ambivalent) witch-hunt directed against “crazy” Melville and his monomaniacal character, Captain Ahab; both of whom were seen as overly skeptical of traditional authority.

The suppressed materials include the following items:

1. Melville’s annotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, which strongly suggest that Melville identified with Milton’s Satan in his seduction of Eve (Book IX). Like the radical puritan, Milton himself in Melville’s reading, poked his nose into the affairs of his betters. When the annotations surfaced in the early 1980s, these materials were confined to a very few Melvilleans, and when finally published, leading scholars construed their message as evidence for the construction of a sobered-up moderate Melville (see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/).

2. Letters from Melville’s descendants in Henry Murray’s papers at Harvard, which were never published. I was the first Melville scholar to see these letters (in 1995), and am persuaded that they would have scotched the rumors, circulated by Murray, Olson and others, that Melville was a wife-beater and a drunk.

3. A family letter (discovered by Olson in 1934, handed over to Murray, and finally published by Amy Puett Emmers in 1978), that suggested Melville had a real-life natural half-sister corresponding to the character Isabel in his quasi-autobiographical novel Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852). The significance of the letter remains extremely controversial but is important because the New Deal social psychologists, in both their social democratic propaganda, and in their attempt to boost public morale as world war loomed, were rehabilitating and idealizing good fathers (conflating Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt)while reinterpreting the libertarianism of  Hamilton, Jefferson and Paine and generally circumscribing dissent. Melville’s “Hebraic” ethical universalism and constant interrogation of illegitimate authority (for instance the apparent exposure of his own father’s abandonment of an illegitimate daughter) were threats to their objective: the good father, as “focus of veneration” was the source of group cohesion in a pluralist society (Murray).

Melville criticism shifted dramatically after the first phase of the Melville Revival in the 1920s. Raymond Weaver, Melville’s first biographer (1921) had identified the Miltonic author with Ahab, and both were viewed as romantic rebels protesting Victorian philistinism and imperialist activity as represented by hypocritical missionaries in such early works as Typee. But between the wars, Melville, though born a Protestant and generally a freethinker, was frequently characterized as a Jew, the archetypal confidence-man, the “Hebraic” character only pretending to be a principled moralist (Murray, Olson, and others). During the postwar phase of the Melville Revival, it was necessary to reconstruct Melville as a “moderate man,” preacher of “virtuous expediency”–precisely the figure who was the target of his most trenchant satire. This shift responded to the perceived need for a centrist ruling coalition that could unite elements of both the prewar Left and Right. Accordingly, leading Melvilleans decisively separated the author from Ahab’s feisty empiricism/romantic individualism and identified him with aristocratic Captain Vere (in Billy Budd), a tendency that had already begun in the late 1930s.

The late 1930s turning point in Ahab readings is traced in my book and seems intertwined with several concurrent developments: an increasing acceptance of the big state (Leviathan: the White Whale) by socially responsible capitalists in the latter phase of the New Deal; the growing antagonism to Hitler as he turned against the West; and a shift from “scientific history” to “cultural history.” The story of the Melville Revival is less obviously intertwined with the history of ongoing antimodern influence on the humanities curriculum. Many of the scholars and critics who were supporting Mussolini and even Hitler during the mid-1930s (e.g. Southern Agrarians), entered the literary establishment as New Critics during and after the war. Definitions of fascism were adjusted accordingly. For some moderates, Hitler was switched from antibourgeois, neoclassical defender of community, to home-wrecking romantic, the autodidact as assassin, as Ahab, as Melville himself. Ex-fascist sympathizers were covering their tracks. This was news to me, and will be so to many historians.

Critics are eager to classify him, to annex a domesticated and pacified artist to their own political projects, not to understand his unresolved ambivalence about the possibilities of a freethinking democratic polity that could lead to mob rule. Hence nervous critics have frequently insisted on making him either an ultraconservative, a centrist, or a left-wing radical, and have managed his biography accordingly. But these categories are too static to describe an unresolved ambivalence or ambiguity that, in my view, continues to characterize politics in this and other industrial democracies. If Melville was worried about the destructive potential of an undereducated and misinformed mob society, so should we all be: in the first edition of Moby-Dick (publ. in England), the novel ends with the Extracts and the Whale Song, confronting the reader with the unresolved question “does Might make Right”? Quite the Brechtian/modernist move.


Cain, William E. and Gerald Graff. “Peace Plan for the Canon Wars.” Nation, March 6, 1989, 310-13.

Foerster, Norman, et al. Literary Scholarship: Its Aims and Methods. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

Lauter, Paul. “Melville Climbs The Canon.” American Literature (March 1994): 1-24.

Lorant, Laurie Robertson. Melville: A Biography. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1996.

Renker, Elizabeth. “Melville, Wife-Beating, and the Written Page.” American Literature (March 1994): 123-50.

Spanos, Jr., William V. The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995.

Spark, Clare. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2001. Paperback revised edition 2006.

Stone, Geoffrey. “Left Wings Over Europe.” American Review 7 (Oct. 1936): 564-85.

Ware, Carolyn F. Introduction. The Cultural Approach to History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.

Weiss, Philip. “Herman-Neutics.” New York Times Magazine, Dec. 15, 1996, 60-65, 70-72.

December 13, 2009

Klara Hitler’s Son and Jewish “Blood”

Hitler, Pierrot, Captain Ahab, Daumier’s man of the crowd

Cite: Clare Spark, “Klara Hitler’s Son: The Langer Report on Hitler’s Mind,” Social Thought and Research, Vol.22, No. 1/2 (1999): 113-37.  …No precedents can be cited of a poet choosing a people he considers wronged in history as his symbol of Evil in a work devoted to that history.  Can one conceive of this parallel situation–that a creative writer appalled at the fate of the Jews under the Nazis should choose the Jew as his symbol of Evil in a work dealing with that genocide?  The theory that Melville did the equivalent of this has no real basis.[1]

[This essay is a spin-off from my book on psychological warfare in the Melville Revival, 1919-1999.  Unbelievably, leading scholars in the twentieth-century “revival” of Herman Melville (1819-1891) read their subject as a Jew; bad because, like the abolitionists and other radical puritans, he thought Judeo-Christian morality ought to be lived out in everyday life and could not be compromised in the interests of “expediency.” Such rigorous and consistent moralism was viewed as wild-eyed zealotry or monomania by the pragmatic moderate men who intervened between readers and Melville’s texts, annexing Melville’s art and the lessons of his bumpy career to their own left-wing agendas.  The same scholars (Dr. Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda) who frowned upon Melville/Ahab the Hebraic moralist were simultaneously involved in the creation of propaganda during the Roosevelt administration. Neither antisemitism in the Melville Revival nor Murray’s Jungian reading of Hitler’s soma and psyche can be understood without reference to the Tory response to Hebraic radical puritanism as it surfaced in the English Civil War. With Herman Melville and Captain Ahab on his mind, Dr. Henry A. Murray and his Harvard colleague Walter Langer suggested to FDR that Nazi evil was drawn from Jewish blood, applying racial theory to the long-distance psychoanalysis of Hitler.  Of course, Murray and Langer did not profess antisemitism; quite the contrary.  Such a deficit in self-understanding was the inevitable outcome of conservative (i.e., “moderate”) Enlightenment.]

Lockean constitutionalism, “leveling” republicanism, and species-unity composed the elements of Enlightenment that were denounced as sentimental bourgeois culture by displaced aristocratic elites.  Nietzschean romantic conservatives have argued that popular sovereignty–jacobin fanaticism, bad taste, a bad smell, history as written by the plebs, a.k.a. “mass culture”–accounted for the rise of Hitler and the decline of the West.[2]  The Harvard psychologists and their humanist collaborators were assiduous adherents to conservatively enlightened progress and expertise; they and the class whose interests they serve (while proclaiming their “autonomy”), routinely make decisions affecting the state of our planet. [3]  Such immense authority is justified because as moderate men, they are held to be more rational and intelligent, more independent, ecologically aware and socially responsible than “the people” or “the masses” they represent, overawe, instruct, and control.  As philosophical idealists and cultural relativists, their friendliness to “multiplicity” and “pluralism” is displayed in their hostility to the history written by their competition, the radical liberals.  In this article, I will draw out the consequences for public policy when materialism (the epistemology of the radical Enlightenment) is erased in favor of Jungian psychohistory (the servant of conservative Enlightenment).

My subject is the 1972 best-seller published by Basic Books in response to the perceived protofascism of 1960s Romantics: Dr. Walter Langer’s The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report, ostensibly the replica of his 1943 report for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  Nowhere are the strange, wandering and broken spirits of the moderate men more evident to the naked scanner of events than in the Langer report, yet it has been praised for its prescience in the popular press, even by the sophisticated British New Statesman.  Langer actually leaned heavily on Dr. Henry A. Murray’s already existent views on Hitler’s psyche as stated both in his Harvard seminar worksheets for “civilian morale” (1941) and in his classified report to FDR (October 1943); this indebtedness was concealed by Langer.[4]  Langer, Murray and other theorists of psychological warfare may have been swept away by the apocalyptic sublime–the conservative vision that constitutes the terror-gothic style in art, in life, and in the writing of modern history.

In 1972 Basic Books touted the Langer report with Barnum-esque hyperbole:

“Here is the secret psychological report written in 1943 for “Wild Bill” Donovan of the OSS, which correctly predicted Adolf Hitler’s degeneration and eventual suicide.  This fascinating work, the most remarkable attempt ever made by a government intelligence agency to apply psychoanalytic insight to warfare, was classified as a secret for almost a quarter of a century.  Yet among those few historians and scholars who have ever seen it, it is regarded as a masterpiece of “psychohistorical reconstruction,” whose judgments concerning the personality and probable behavior of the Third Reich’s Evil Genius are, in the light of what we know today, uncanny in their accuracy.

By combining a careful study of documents and other writings available at the time with personal interviews arranged by the OSS with informants who had known Hitler before the war, Dr. Walter Langer inquired into Hitler’s troubled family background, his sexual pathologies, death fears, Messiah complex, vegetarianism, and other characteristics.  Drawing on his clinical knowledge of psychiatric patients with similar traits, Dr. Langer was able to foretell Hitler’s increasing isolation, his frequent rages, and the general deterioration of his mental condition.

What effect did this astounding secret document have on Allied war policy?  That is not yet known.  But in the words of Robert G.L. Waite, the distinguished historian, Dr. Langer’s The Mind of Adolf Hitler is, in itself, “fascinating…a significant and suggestive interpretation which no serious student of Hitler will ignore.” [end quote]

The jacket blurb was followed by a photo of elderly Dr. Langer, seated in an inexpensive lawn chair, dressed informally, relaxed, gazing at the viewer with an attentive smile.  He looks composed, but forthright and open to whatever life may have in store: the knees are spread, his clasped hands rest mostly on his right thigh.  Hans Gatzke has shown, however, that the claim to have published the original OSS report was a misrepresentation.  Even without Professor Gatzke’s comparison of the two publications, the alert reader might have suspected that broad strokes of docudrama had replaced high fidelity to primary sources, for instance in this folksy rendition of a conversation between Donovan and Langer:

“What we need,” the General said, “is a realistic appraisal of the German situation.  If Hitler is running the show, what kind of person is he?  What are his ambitions?  How does he appear to the German people?  What is he like with his associates?  What is his background?  And most of all, we want to know as much as possible about his psychological makeup–the things that make him tick.  In addition, we ought to know what he might do if things begin to go against him.  Do you suppose you could come up with something along these lines?” (10).

If we are to believe our eyes as we read the book jacket to The Mind of Adolf Hitler, and then the text and sub-text beneath the covers, Walter Langer and his unnamed collaborators (Henry A. Murray, Bertram Lewin and Ernst Kris) had, at best, an attenuated relationship to the real fact of “the final solution” to “the Jewish problem,” although Hitler had always advertised himself as the saviour of “nature” (i.e., aristocratic culture), the good father (or, better, the good peasant son) doing the work of the Lord/Master (Herren) to save the planet from Jewishly instigated degeneration. In 1939, Hitler had threatened revenge against all of European Jewry, the real agents of war, in his warning to the Western democracies.  Millions of Jews had been killed by the time the Langer report was filed with the OSS in the late summer of 1943, yet only in the context of predicting Hitler’s responses to military defeat did the idea of a “complete extermination” even come up:

…4. Hitler may be assassinated. Although Hitler is extremely well protected there is a possibility that someone may assassinate him.  Hitler is afraid of this possibility and has expressed the opinion that: “His own friends would one day stab him mortally in the back…And it would be just before the last and greatest victory, at the moment of supreme tension.  Once more Hagen would slay Siegried.  Once more Hermann[5] the Liberator would be murdered by his own kinsmen.  The eternal destiny of the German nation must be fulfilled yet again, for the last time.”  This possibility too, would be undesirable from our point of view inasmuch it would make a martyr of him and strengthen the legend.

It would be even more undesirable if the assassin were a Jew, for this would convince the German people of Hitler’s infallibility and strengthen the fanaticism of the German troops and people.  Needless to say, it would be followed by the complete extermination of all Jews in Germany and the occupied countries (210, my emphasis).

Even if the word “complete” indicates that the writers were aware that two million Jews were known to have been killed by 1943, since the subject of genocide had not been mentioned elsewhere in the book, the sentence suggests that only an assassination by a Jew would provoke such revenge. Perhaps the Langer team did not mention the Holocaust already in progress because it was more interested in another issue: Hitler’s uncanny insight into the psychology of other little men, as these parallel passages indicate:

[Murray and Allport, 1941:] What are the strengths and weaknesses of Nazi ideology as an instrument for world conquest?

[Murray, 1943:] Hitler has a number of unusual abilities of which his opponents should not be ignorant.  Not only is it important to justly appraise the strength of an enemy but it is well to know whether or not he possesses capacities and techniques which can be appropriated to good advantage.  Hitler’s chief abilities, realizations, and principles of action as a political figure, all of which involve an uncanny knowledge of the average man, are briefly these:…. [6]

[Langer:]…It can scarcely be denied that [Hitler] has some extraordinary abilities where the psychology of the average man is concerned.  He has been able, in some manner or other, to unearth and apply successfully many factors pertaining to group psychology, the importance of which has not been generally recognized and some of which we might adopt to good advantage.  [63].

Twenty-seven “factors” follow; those which “we might adopt” are not specified. These passages become even more gripping in light of the Langer report’s conclusions: “It is Hitler’s ability to play upon the unconscious tendencies of the German people and to act as their spokesman that has enabled him to mobilize their energies and direct them into the same channels through which he believed he had found a solution to his own personal conflicts.  The result has been an extraordinary similarity in thinking, feeling, and acting in the German people.  It is as though Hitler had paralyzed the critical functions of the individual Germans and had assumed the role for himself.  As such he has been incorporated as a part of the personalities of his individual supporters and is able to dominate their mental processes.  This phenomenon lies at the very root of the peculiar bond that exists between Hitler as a person, and the German people and places it beyond the control of any purely rational, logical, or intellectual appeal.  In fighting for Hitler these persons are now unconsciously fighting for what appears to them to be their own psychological integrity (206).”

The Murray-Allport worksheets (1941) had directed a national constituency concerned with “civilian morale” to “Quote passages from the original unexpurgated edition of Mein Kampf, in which Hitler expresses his cynical contempt of the masses, and the necessity of deceiving them.  Quote him in order to prove that he planned the war and devised the tactics.  Ridicule Mein Kampf as a Bible, contrasting paragraphs from the two sources.”

Jewish blood was the source of brilliant insights, emotional disturbance, and the Big Lie.[7]  Internalized antisemitic stereotypes of switching Jews subverted Langer’s attempt at “a realistic appraisal of the German situation.”  The witch-hunters, to a man, will extrude unpredictably dirty materialism [8] for the limpid regularity of crystals.  A fragment from the 1930s provides the bridge to the Langer report; it marks Sergei Eisenstein’s flight from romanticism and montage to the cult of personality, from the sensibility associated with popular revolution to neo-classicism, from endless agitation to the final solution.  In 1936, the year that future Melville scholar Jay Leyda left the Soviet Union, rejected by his mentor, Eisenstein repudiated the extremes of cold, dry didacticism and ravings of the insane:

[Eisenstein:] It is not accidental that precisely at this period, for the first time in cinematography, there begin to appear the first finished images of personalities, not just any personalities, but of the finest personalities: the leading figures of leading Communists and Bolsheviks.  Just as from the revolutionary movement of the masses emerged the sole revolutionary party, that of the Bolsheviks, which heads the unconscious elements of revolution and leads them toward conscious revolutionary aims, so the film images of the leading men of our times begin during the present period to crystallise out of the general-revolutionary-mass-quality of the earlier type of film.  And the clarity of the Communist slogan rings more definitely, replacing the more general-revolutionary slogan…(New Theatre, April 1936, p.13).

I think that now, with the approach of the sixteenth year of our cinematography, we are entering a special period.  These signs, to be traced today also in parallel arts as well as found in the cinema, are harbingers of the news that Soviet cinematography, after many periods of divergence of opinion and argument, is entering its classical period, because the characteristics of its interests, the particular approach to its series of problems, this hunger for synthesis, this postulation and demand for complete harmony of all the elements from the subject matter to composition within the frame, this demand for fullness of quality and all the features on which our cinematography has set its heart–these are the signs of the highest flowering of an art… (New Theatre, June 1936, p.29). [9]

In Dr. Henry A. Murray’s publications as in his correspondence with Melville scholars, a Nietzschean amor fati slipped out to contradict Progressive social optimism and faith in the power of the will.  Although Murray rebelled against his horoscope in 1927, perhaps he, along with the more conservative Melville critics, did not believe in the possibility of human amelioration, other than through “management” of conflicts generated by unruly archetypes, or in the eternal combat between good and evil or the (laissez-faire) individual and (corporatist liberal) society.  This is one strategy to absolve the self of responsibility for having expelled the bad Jewish-androgyne-Indian within, the troublesome presence demanding a reconfiguration of social life and human possibility, activating compassion by connecting self-awareness to social awareness.  Such self-cleansing is advocated and performed by conservatives, in the interest, they say, of human solidarity and a functional non-Jewish Anglo-American identity: [10] a je ne sais quoi achieved through pluralism-without-dissenting individuals and anthropology-without-history.

Langer’s 1972 Introduction to the “secret wartime report” matched the manipulative approach to treatment promoted by Murray in his 1935 unveiling of the Thematic Apperception Test.[11]  Through free association, Langer explained, the neurotic patient exposes and spews forth his unconscious fears and fantasies.  The analyst then interprets for the patient, penetrating and weakening his defense mechanisms, bringing up ever earlier memories “to throw light on the unsound premises or misconceptions that are the basis of his subsequent adjustments” (14,15).  For these chiropractors of the psyche there is nothing structurally weak or contradictory about institutions that would lead to emotional difficulties; neither need they fear irrationality within themselves: they have stared the devil down.

The disordered family with its flawed or glistening genetic inheritance is the sole source of Hitler’s behavior.  The brutal father, the masochistic mother, the weak child are common enough; they are not peculiar to Hitler’s childhood.  In such environments the child is spoiled by over-indulgent mothers who have engaged in sex-play with the boy, as Hitler’s mother is supposed to have done (150).  Hence the asocial impulses are not conquered in early childhood.  Like Vienna, with its lower class and oversexed dirty Jews (185), these families are houses of incest, manufacturing revolting children, stirring the cauldron of war.  Peaceful, well-ordered families with humane gentleman at the head (kindly and consistent role-models like FDR), deflecting their wives’ libido away from the sons, will prevent disastrous social movements in the future. Here is a good king masquerading as a western hero: “Wild Bill” Donovan (Columbia, class of 1912), OSS chief, introduced to us as brilliant, broadly imaginative, independent in judgment, and foresighted.  In tandem with psychoanalysts, other Donovans will use their expertise to study the irrational processes that dominate society, the better to psych out the adversary and anticipate resistance to the draft, hence to build morale: to stomp out “smouldering” “sentiments” that ignite antiwar movements (5).  Indeed, at the urging of fellow-scholars (24,25), and in the interest of preventive politics, Langer explained, the report had been declassified to point the way toward further collaborations between psychologists and historians:

[Langer:] I may be naive in diplomatic matters, but I like to believe that if such a study of Hitler had been made earlier, under less tension, there might not have been a Munich; a similar study of Stalin might have produced a different Yalta; one of Castro might have prevented the Cuban situation; and one of President Diem might have avoided our deep involvement in Vietnam.  Studies of this type cannot solve our international problems.  That would be too much to expect.  They might, however, help to avoid some of the serious blunders we seem to have made because we were ignorant of the psychological factors involved and the nature of the leaders with whom we were negotiating.  I am not naive enough, however, to believe that even a well-documented study would completely offset the tendency of many policy makers to set their course on the basis of what they want to believe, rather than on what is known (23). [12]

One wonders if Langer was proposing other studies relying on theories of national and ethnic character to predict the behavior of antagonistic elites.  At times Langer adheres to Lockean environmentalism, patiently reconstructing interactions between individuals and their culture (as in a reference to “the formative years of [Hitler’s] life,” 18), but hereditarian thinking pops out to overwhelm his analysis.  For instance, in the view of Hitler as a poor physical specimen, “Professor Max von Gruber of the University of Munich, the most eminent eugenist in Germany” is quoted: ” It was the first time I had seen Hitler close at hand.  Face and head of inferior type, cross-breed; low receding forehead, ugly nose, broad cheekbones, little eyes, dark hair.  Expression not of a man exercising authority in perfect self-command, but of raving excitement.  At the end an expression of satisfied egotism (44).”

Hitler’s genetic inheritance was brought up several times.  Langer mentions the mental and physical weakness of Hitler’s siblings and other relatives, mentioning a hunchback, a child with a speech impediment, an imbecile, a high-grade moron, and a predisposition to cancer.  All are attributed to Klara Hitler’s “constitutional weakness,” a possible “syphilitic taint…One has grounds to question the purity of the blood” (105, 106). But worse, these investigators took seriously Hitler’s fantasy that he was one quarter Jewish.[13]  They would like to verify the rumors that Hitler’s father’s mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber, was impregnated by the Baron Rothschild or another Rothschild in the household in which she was a maid (101-102).  Some informants argued that the Jewish [genes] would account for Alois Schicklgruber’s “intelligence,” “ambitiousness and extraordinary political intuition” that was atypical of “Austrian peasant families,” but “in harmony with the Rothschild tradition.”  More: “…it would be peculiar for Alois Hitler, while working as a customs official in Braunau, to choose a Jew named Prinz, of Vienna, to act as Adolf’s godfather unless he felt some kinship with the Jews himself.”[14]  Langer left the door open to the possibility of Hitler’s Jewishness and underlined its potential explanatory character, while asserting the superior rigor and discretion of his methodology:

[Langer:]  This is certainly a very intriguing hypothesis, and much of Adolf’s later behavior could be explained in rather easy terms on this basis.  However, it is not absolutely necessary to assume that he has Jewish blood in his veins in order to make a comprehensive picture of his character with its manifold traits and sentiments.  From a purely scientific point of view, therefore, it is sounder not to base our reconstruction on such slim evidence but to seek firmer foundations.  Nevertheless, we can leave it as a possibility that requires further verification (102-103).

A few pages later, Langer accepted Reinhold Hanisch’s description of Hitler in Vienna in 1910, a time when he was “not a Jew-hater,” because some of his best friends were Jews.  In fact, “…During this time Hitler himself looked very Jewish.  Hanisch writes:  “Hitler at that time looked very Jewish, so that I often joked with him that he must be of Jewish blood, since such a large beard rarely grows on a Christian chin.  Also he had big feet, as a desert wanderer must have (119. In the Afterword, 232, Robert Waite says Hitler never looked like that).”

Langer has given us two nearly identical sentences that state Hitler looked very Jewish.  Should there be any doubt in our minds that Langer believed Hitler carried Jewish blood, and that his Jewishness accounted for astonishing feats of statesmanship and duplicity?  Perhaps this was the source of his Jewish perversion, which he then had to disown and destroy in others.  But first, Langer established his own attitude toward dirt, laziness, and homosexuality:  “Hitler’s life in Vienna was one of extreme passivity in which activity was held at the lowest level consistent with survival.  He seemed to enjoy being dirty and even filthy in his appearance and personal cleanliness.  This can mean only one thing from a psychological point of view, namely that his perversion was in the process of maturation and was finding gratification in a more or less symbolic form.  His attitude during this period could be summarized in the following terms: “I enjoy nothing more than to lie around while the world defecates on me.”  And he probably delighted in being covered with dirt, which was tangible proof of the fact [His probable delight proves what fact?].  Even in these days he lived in a flophouse that was known to be inhabited by men who lent themselves to homosexual practices, and it was probably for this reason that he was listed on the Vienna police record as a ‘sexual pervert’ (182).”

On the next page, Langer seemed to lose his temper.  First he offered his explanation for the onset and growth of Hitler’s anti-Semitism: Hitler’s disgusting perversion (the desire to have women defecate and urinate upon him) was projected onto the Jews, and “the Jew became a symbol of everything that Hitler hated in himself.  Again, his own personal problems and conflicts were transferred from within himself to the external world where they assumed the proportions of racial and national conflicts.”  With words that leap off the page, Langer scolded Hitler:  “Forgetting entirely that for years he not only looked like a lower class Jew but was as dirty as the dirtiest and as great a social outcast, he now began to see the Jew as a [sic] source of all evil.”

Even were Langer to be arguing for a little Christian charity, he was admitting that “lower class” Jews are as bad as Hitler says they are.  Therefore, it was rational for Hitler to blame them for soiling society, but he should have blamed himself, too, for copying.  Next, Langer continued to ignore the role played by the European Right in the formation and transmission of anti-Semitic attitudes; Christian Socialism must be the sole cultural source of Jew hatred:  “The teachings of [Christian Socialists] Schoenerer and Lueger helped to solidify and rationalize his feelings and inner convictions.  More and more he became convinced that the Jew was a great parasite on humanity who sucked its lifeblood and if a nation was to become great it must rid itself of this pestilence…The greater the demands of his perversion became, the more he hated the Jews and the more he talked against them (183-184).”

The projection of the perversion was formative: “Here was his political career in an embryo state.”  This in turn stimulated selective reading habits:

[Langer:] He read only in order to find additional justification for his own inner feelings and convictions and to rationalize his projections…he never forms a rational opinion in the light of the information but only pays attention to those parts that convince him he was right to begin with. [184. Cf. Langer’s brother William: in the 1930s “the world was threatened by irrational and demonic forces,” vi].

Curiously, Hitler’s method resembled the Langer team approach in selecting their data: “A survey of the raw material [just described as not “first hand,” as “superficial and fragmentary”], in conjunction with our knowledge of Hitler’s actions as reported in the news, was sufficient to convince us that he was, in all probability, a neurotic psychopath.  With this diagnosis as a point of orientation, we were able to evaluate the data in terms of probability.  Those fragments that could most easily be fitted into this general clinical category were tentatively regarded as possessing a higher degree of probability–as far as reliability and relevance were concerned–than those which seemed alien [Jewish facts?] to the clinical picture.  Each of the collaborators screened the raw material from this point of view, and there was considerable agreement on what was probably pertinent to our study and what was not (16,17). [15]

One wonders if the common identification of the Jew with Bolshevism/finance capital got screened out, along with other more rational interests, but these are absent. For the Langer team, “Jew” connoted either sex and disease (lower-class Jew-type) or “ambitiousness and extraordinary political intuition” (Rothschild-type).

Bereft of history and politics, Langer attempted to explain the total transformation of Hitler’s character from lazy pervert to imperial genius.  The defeat of Germany in 1918 caused a crisis and a revolution in his psyche: the scourging of Germany by the Allies tested himself and the German people.  Hitler somehow realizes that, as Klara Hitler’s son, he has mistakenly identified with his mother’s passive and masochistic humanity, which he boots out: “In their place we find what Hitler’s warped mind conceived the supermasculine to be: ‘…if a people is to become free it needs pride and will-power, defiance, hate, hate, and once again hate’ (193).”

Hitler hears voices assuring him he is the chosen one, and leader of the chosen people (190-191).  Perhaps Langer believed that the cunning, commanding Rothschild genes have asserted themselves over the fawning and coprophageous ghetto hippie Jewish ones displayed in the meek, defeated, forgiving, ignoble, feminized Christ (193).  Hitler, at the nadir of his career, suddenly Identifies with the Aggressor, and treats others the way he fantasizes “the victors” (the Jews?) would like to treat him (193-196).

[Langer:]  In his treatment of the Jews we see the “Identification with the Aggressor” mechanism at work.  He is now practicing on the Jews in reality the things he feared the victors might do to him in fantasy.  From this he derives a manifold satisfaction.  First, it affords him an opportunity of appearing before the world as the pitiless brute he imagines himself to be; second, it affords him an opportunity of proving to himself that he is as heartless and brutal as he wants to be (that he can really take it); third, in eliminating the Jews he unconsciously feels that he is ridding himself, and Germany, of the poison that is responsible for all his difficulties; fourth as the masochist he really is, he derives a vicarious pleasure from the suffering of others in whom he can see himself; fifth, he can give vent to his bitter hatred and contempt of the world in general by using the Jew as a scapegoat; and sixth, it pays heavy material and propagandistic dividends (195, 196).

Surely the mention (almost a “by the way”) of the rational core of Hitler’s behavior, the “material and propagandistic dividends” should not have been the last item in Langer’s description of, and explanation for, the dynamics of Hitler’s psyche.  He should have examined the antidemocratic discourse of Western conservatives: the deicidal, legalistic, carnal, crazy, hypercritical Jew had been its Other for nearly two thousand years. [16]  Besides the obvious benefits to professional rivals and looters of Jewish property, antisemitism provided an indispensable vocabulary to ruling classes in an age of mass politics and burgeoning socialist aspirations.  Langer should have started with the class interest that the purges protected and enhanced; he would have seen the pervasiveness of “sadism” and “masochism” (perhaps structured responses to the class tasks of middle management) that Langer applies to the “neurotic psychopath” Hitler and his dragon crew, the German people.  But of course that would have undermined the sharp distinctions that Langer must protect to please his clients: light vs. dark, rational vs. irrational, good geniuses vs. evil geniuses, democracy vs. autocracy: distinctions that may not be blurred by comparisons between the institutions, ideologies, and social practices of capitalist societies with societies held to be antithetical.[17]

Walter Langer’s portrait of Hitler’s personality and its achievements framed his published study.  It is patently a warning to the 1972 reading public to beware of the flower children in their midst, who, like Hitler, may suddenly expel their long-suffering feminine/Jewish components, with similar effects:  “Hitler, clearly, was more than the crazy paperhanger depicted in popular prints.  Up until the age of twenty-five he manifested many of the characteristics that we now associate with the “hippies” of the 1960s.  He was shiftless, seemed to lack any sense of identity, appeared to have no real sense of direction or ambition, was content to live in filth and squalor, worked only when he had to, and then sporadically, spent most of his time in romantic dreams of being a great artist, was anti-Establishment and vocal on the shortcomings of society, but was short on deeds.  Even his war record bears testimony to a certain incompetence.  After spending four years in a regiment that had suffered heavy losses, he had never been promoted to a rank above Lance Corporal.  Nevertheless, this apparently insignificant and incompetent ne’er-do-well was later able, in the course of a relatively few years, to talk his way into the highest political offices, hoodwink the experienced leaders of the major powers, turn millions of highly civilized people into barbarians, order the extermination of a large segment of the population, build and control the mightiest war machine ever known, and plunge the world into history’s most devastating war (10, 11).”

In Langer’s characterizations of Hitler and his followers, we have glimpsed typical conservative images: Dionysus sneaked in through the ear: talking, hoodwinking, turning, ordering, controlling, plunging.  Stealthily ousting Apollonian fathers and only apparently civilized, the possessed Nazis were bloodthirstily reverting to type, surpassing all previous tyrannies in destruction and cruelty.  How did they do it?  Better than we aristocratically educated American consultants to the OSS, Hitler, himself immersed in Americanized mass culture,[18] Jewishly psyched out the hidden feminine and masochistic character of the German masses.  Through mass hypnosis achieved through his eroticized flashing phallic eyes (father’s) and falsetto voice (mother’s), then mutual engorgement at the speeches and rallies, Hitler and the audience re-enacted the transformation from feminized and depressed Jekyll to brutal and excited Hyde.  Hitler’s gimlet eye bore its way into the German psyche, subliminally persuading it to act out his drama of purification and vicarious masochistic identification with the Jewish victims of Nazism.  But the false self created in these erotic transactions could not be maintained: every defeat would require more and more brutal action to maintain the aura of invincibility.  The German people, in short, would behave as Ahab and his mesmerized crew in the ecstatic final chapters of Moby-Dick [my leap, not Langer’s].

Langer’s exasperation was understandable: Hitler, the uppity Austrian peasant and crypto-Jew, should not have tried to pass himself off as a world leader, rational and respectable like the rest.  If he had been as rational as Langer et al, he would have seen that his politics were determined by his inner life: specifically that he had been behaving like a Jewish victim turned Jewish upstart.  If Langer had treated him, perhaps Hitler could have been persuaded that he was overindulged by his mother, that his family failed in not motivating him to conquer the asocial impulses that led him to sexual perversion.  He would have known that brutal, selfish and distracted fathers (defined against FDR the gentleman, 148-149) abandoning their sons to mysterious mothers (who are either too clean or too dirty, cf. Horace Walpole’s play “The Mysterious Mother”: who either pray or love too much) are at the root of his evil behavior.  And therefore, freed from responsibility for his perversion, Hitler could have blamed mother and father for transmitting their unsound premises, hence he would have been immune to the appeals of the Christian Socialists of Vienna (whose anti-Semitism was brand new to him).  And he would have understood that there are no real irreconcilable class and national conflicts in the world, only projections.  So, even in the modern world where ambitious and extraordinarily talented Jewish politicos are at large, there are happy endings when families are reformed in the interests of a strong “sense of [rooted] identity.”

The crypto-Catholic good father cure persists in popular culture: it resolves the double bind that Melville identified in his sarcastic description of  “virtuous expediency.”[19] In the 1956 movie, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, the tycoon Ralph Hopkins (played by Fredric March), founder of the gigantic United Broadcasting Corporation, discovers too late that his self-regarding obsessive ambition, his lust for power and money, has forced him to neglect his family; catastrophically, his wife has raised the children by herself, explaining perhaps why his only son was killed in World War II (because his womanish idealism required that he sign up as an enlisted man?), and father’s neglect has made his eighteen-year old daughter a ne’er-do-well and a nihilist: a spoiled brat, positively bored by her responsibilities as the steward of great wealth and preferring marriage to a parasite suggestively named Byron.

Hopkins is the tragic foil to his new employee Thomas J. Rath (played by Gregory Peck), a World War II veteran (a captain) who has had an idyllic but adulterous affair in Italy with a saintly young girl Maria.  Rath, still traumatized by his experiences in the war, comes to understand through the indignant prodding of his wife Betsy (played by Jennifer Jones) and the example of Hopkins’ sluttish daughter that he (Rath) must not compromise his integrity or his paternal duties for the sake of personal advancement.  In fact, Hopkins’ belated epiphany makes it possible for Rath to satisfy the demands of his long-suffering wife for both rectitude and career: Rath speaks his mind (criticizing the deficiencies of Hopkins’ proposed speech to physicians designed to promote community mental health with “preventive”measures!) and his boss loves it; Hopkins has lost his taste for sycophants (an outcome that would have made Melville snort in disbelief), but Rath will never sell out; he refuses to play the substitute son for Hopkins if that means sacrificing his stabilizing presence at the helm of the family–one with three children rapidly succumbing to the hypnotic qualities of violence in early television westerns.

The same day that Rath makes his stand for integrity, he is informed by his former sergeant that Maria and Rath’s love child are now destitute, indeed are being supported by the sergeant on his elevator operator’s salary. Stricken by the revelation, Rath figuratively lobs a grenade at his wife (as he did so in the Pacific, accidentally killing his “best friend”and leaving himself in crazy denial). But Betsy, though furious and briefly floored on their front lawn after learning of the affair in Italy, is strong enough to adjust; after a brief runaway in the family car, she agrees (off screen) that they must both support the love-child, filling the local Connecticut judge (a very principled, very stable man named Bernstein–always disturbed when he must choose between competing claims for justice– with awe and gratification: “As the poet said, ‘God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.’ ” Judge Bernstein will assume the responsibility for sending $100 per month to Maria and Child so that the father will not have to correspond directly with his Italian family.  As the reconciled married pair drive off having survived two crises, Rath’s last words to Betsy are “I worship you.”

Tension is maintained throughout in a sustained color scheme, the colors of night-time combat: tigerish orange and red explosions contrast brilliantly with the dark blue-green foliage and rust-colored earth of the Pacific island where Rath was traumatized. Hence we feel the persistence of the horrible wartime incident that begins the movie, whether in Rath’s drab suburban home, in Rath’s inherited nineteenth-century mansion, during R&R in Italy, in the offices of United Broadcasting Corporation, Hopkins’ apartment, or the elevator where Rath meets his former subordinate.

The décor of the judge’s office carries through the same colors but they are now cooler in tone; suffused with the blessing of authority, in this case, the smile of a Jewish judge, the terror-gothic has lightened up. [20]

[Added 1-18-10: There is something obscene about the filmmaker’s vision continuing the colors of traumatic combat into the postwar civilian life of the Gregory Peck character, assuming that this was a deliberate choice. But given the animus shown toward middle-class suburban life in the 20th century, it should be no surprise.]


[1] Joyce Sparer Adler, War in Melville’s Imagination (N.Y.U. Press, 1981): 127, defending Melville’s Indian-hater episode in The Confidence-Man from charges of racism.

[2] See George Allen Morgan, What Nietzsche Means (Cambridge: Harvard U.P.: 1941); Morgan, a philosophy professor at Duke (the same Morgan as the consultant to the Psychological Strategy Board of the NSC, 1951-53?) masterfully decoded Nietzsche, showing that the ethical antinomy for the nineteenth century was not good Christian versus bad Jew, but austerely ascetic (impassible?) Heraclitean Greek versus (feminized) Christian/Jew; (the latter were of course, originators of the slave rebellions that had toppled towering geniuses).

[3] Barbara Ehrenreich, a leading feminist and social democrat, deplored the lack of autonomy of the professional-managerial class under Reagan, comparing its relative freedom prior to 1980 (KPFK radio broadcast, 10/2/89).  This would be precisely the argument of the socially responsible liberals of the Committee For Economic Development and other corporatists discussed throughout my study.

[4] See American Historical Review, April, 1973, 394-401; Oct. 1973, 1155-1163, for the dispute between Hans Gatzke and Walter Langer regarding the participation of Murray in the OSS report.  Gatzke could have made a stronger case in his own defense.  But an even more obvious influence was the worksheet on Hitler’s personality devised by Murray and Gordon Allport for their Harvard seminar on Civilian Morale (1941), and designed for national distribution to private organizations concerned with consensus building before, during and after the looming conflict.  The Harvard University Archives register for the Murray Papers states that Murray started work on his psychological profile of Hitler in 1938, after a request from the Roosevelt administration.

Two subsequent books contain conflicting reports regarding the inception of the Langer report. According to one account, Dr. Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, a former intimate of Hitler, was interrogated for many weeks. “The results were of great value to a psychiatric profile of Hitler which Donovan had commissioned.” See Anthony Cave Brown, The Last Hero: Wild Bill Donovan (Random House Vintage Paperback, 1984): 211 (no sources given).  But according to another researcher (in an obscurely written  paragraph discussing German hopes for a separate peace), the Langer report was part of “a flood of rumors” concocted by the British and O.S.S. Morale Operations in 1944-45 “to spread the tale that the Nazis were trying to use atrocities to provoke the British and the Americans into retaining the policy of unconditional surrender so that the German people would continue to feel that there was no alternative but to fight on….It was the Chief of London M.O. Fred Oechsner who had the idea of preparing a psychological study of Hitler to guide his covert propaganda operations. The  resulting work by Walter Langer, which was known in the O.S.S. as the “spiced-up” version and cost the organization $2500 in Langer’s fees, was heralded after the war as an Allied intelligence project prepared to predict the course Hitler would follow as he approached his end. In fact, it was just another of M.O.’s wild schemes, using juicy tidbits from the Führer’s life to addle the brains of the population of Central Europe.” See Bradley F. Smith, The Shadow Warriors (N.Y.: Basic Books, 1983): 276-77.  Smith’s sources are the British Foreign Office and the James Donovan Papers at the Hoover Institution. One problem with this bizarre scenario is that the Langer report was supposedly filed in 1943. Smith makes no connection between the Murray and Langer reports, but in a footnote p. 447, n14, refers to the 1943 Murray study of Hitler as utilizing Hanfstaengl as an informant (though no such source is named in the actual report), and as black propaganda intended “to cause dissension in Nazi ranks” (205); all this as part of FDR’s private intelligence team headed by John Franklin Carter. (Note that Basic Books had also published what it said was the original 1943 Langer Report, the subject of my essay.) John D. Marks also mystified the connection of the Murray report to FDR and the Langer Report, perhaps taking Walter Langer’s word that he was initially resistant to the project because he had no direct access to Hitler; see Marks, The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control (N.Y.: Times Books, 1978): 15.

[5] Cf. Charles Olson’s name switch from Herman to Hermann Melville in his article for New Republic, 9/8/52 and 9/15/52.

[6] Dr. Henry A. Murray, “Analysis of The Personality of Adolph [sic] Hitler, With Predictions of His Future Behavior and Suggestions for Dealing With Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender,” October 1943, p.211, ff.  Murray’s list of Hitler’s skills are almost identical to those enumerated in the Langer report.  It is curious that Gatzke did not mention this in his refutation of Langer’s claim that Murray’s report was not even read by his team before it was filed with the O.S.S. in 1943!  However, there are important differences in interpretation between the two works; e.g. Murray, while giving credence to the Jewish blood, does not discuss Hitler’s sex life as a central determinant, but attempts a class analysis and gives weight to the Romantic Hitler’s reading and his life experience, the brutal lower-middle class father who opposed his son’s ambitions to become an artist, etc.  The Murray-Allport worksheets for their Harvard seminar on “Civilian Morale” (1941) do contain allusions to a deranged sexuality along with inferences drawn from Hitler’s physiognomy, but “social milieu” is deemed more important (“Hitler The Man…” p.11).

[7] Hitler believed that the masses were feminine and irrational, but he does not present himself as a cynical swindler in Mein Kampf.  He invariably paints himself as the good reliable father, protecting the gulllible people against switching Jews, the Fifth Column.  In both MK and Table Talk, he explains that Nazi propaganda must simplify, not falsify.

[8] Cf. Melville’s Dark Lady in Pierre, or the Ambiguities; Isabel is the bearer of a revised family history.

[9] Sergei Eisenstein, trans. Ivor Montagu, “Film Forms, New Problems,” New Theater, April-June 1936, pp. 13, 29; preserved in Leyda papers, UCLA. Leyda told his psychiatrist that his real father worked in the circus.

[10] Murray remarked to me that there were “differences between first, second and third-generation Jews.”

[11] See Henry A. Murray and Christiana Morgan, “A Method For Investigating Fantasies: The Thematic Apperception Test,” Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 34, 1935.  In the TAT, the subject is shown a drawing which he then interprets in written form.  The Progressive Murray of course believed he was rescuing the patient from such neuroses as the Icarus complex (social radicalism, itself irrationally motivated) when he concluded: “…the thematic apperception test is an effective means of disclosing a subject’s regnant preoccupations and some of the unconscious trends which underlie them.  The advantages of the test are that it is a simple procedure which may be completed in two hours or in an abbreviated form in half that time, and it may be performed in a casual and informal fashion.  Since the subject is led to believe that it is a test of creative imagination, even when it is given in a clinic, he is unaware of the fact that he is revealing his innermost thoughts.  The subject’s attention is not on himself, and so in many instances he indirectly confesses to things which he would not be willing to mention directly.  But more than this, he exposes latent tendencies of which he is entirely unconscious.  For the fantasties being projected may be inwardly disclaimed and thus avoid complete repression…At the present time a young person who shows a few mildly neurotic symptoms or, like all inwardly developing young persons, is temporarily overburdened by mental conflict generally has, if he wants expert assistance, but two choices.  He may be analyzed, or he may consult a psychiatrist with no experience in analysis…There are numberless young men and women who need the kind of help which perhaps only a trained therapeutist trained in psychoanalysis is in a position to give and yet who do not need, or want or cannot afford an analysis lasting a year or more.  They need to confess and discuss their problems, to attain insight, but in most cases it is better not to impede their progressive efforts by having to revive and relive their past.  It is in such cases that the thematic apperception test may provide the psychotherapeutist with the information necessary for the fulfillment of his function as a guide and healer of men.”

[12] In his review of the Langer report, Robert Jay Lifton was worried about such extrapolations, but Charles Rotunda in the New Republic agreed with Langer.

[13] The charge that Hitler had Jewish blood was given credence by the antifascist muckraker George Seldes in Facts and Fascism (N.Y.: In Fact, 1943), in a classic example of petit-bourgeois radicalism (populism: the enemy is filthy lucre, not all forms of illegitimate authority): “Factual evidence shows that bankers, international or what-not, are without exception on the side of money; they always invest to make profits, and they are without exception on the reactionary or fascist side, no matter what church, nation, “race” or “blood” they belong to.  When Wheeler, Coughlin, Hitler, Goebbels and others make statements to the contrary such statements are propaganda, if not plain falsehood.  Curiously enough, no less an authority than Fritz Thyssen, the man who bought and paid for the Nazi Party, believes the rumor that Hitler is partly Jewish.  Every official trace of evidence concerning Hitler’s ancestry has now disappeared.  It has been destroyed by order, just as were Mussolini’s police record in Italy and his record for forgery in Switzerland (as well as his political arrests).  However, Thyssen writes: “According to the published records, Hitler’s grandmother had an illegitimate son, and this son was to become the father of Germany’s present leader.”  An inquiry by Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria “disclosed that the Feuhrer’s [sic] grandmother became pregnant during her employment as a servant in a Viennese family…none other than that of Baron Rothschild.”  Thyssen insists that Hitler learned of this document and that it was one of the reason [sic] for the murder of Dollfuss.  Thyssen believes the British secret service has a copy.  The original, he says, Hitler got from Chancellor Schuschning and destroyed.  If Thyssen’s rumors turn out to be fact, it would appear that the world’s greatest anti-Semite, the greatest liar and the greatest propagandist of the “international bankers” myth, is himself a Rothschild” (156).

The irony of the last sentence is dependent on seeing that Hitler’s Jewish blood would make him, in fact, “a Rothschild” of the domineering banker-type he, Hitler, appears to hate. Seldes’ statement at first glance seems to be criticizing Hitler’s racism in attributing Jewishmess to all bankers instead of dealing with their class interests. By the time Seldes wrote his book, the myth of the Jewish banking conspiracy had been thoroughly exploded in the liberal press.  But what did Seldes think he was doing by summoning Thyssen as a witness lending plausibility to a rumor that he, as a Nazi supporter, had every interest in suppressing, unless he, Seldes, at some level wished to muddy the waters regarding the links between international Jews and finance capital?  And why does Seldes tell the reader that all bankers are evil profiteers, regardless of genetic inheritance, but then, in the third and fourth sentences, create a suggestive link between “Hitler’s [possible part-Jewish] ancestry” and Mussolini’s shameful crimes? Why mention Mussolini’s cover-up at all?  Don’t all illegitimate rulers clean up their records? Has Seldes reverted, unconsciously perhaps, to the stereotyping he so furiously criticizes by connecting in a rapid-fire barrage of unsupported assertions, money, class, dirt (the shameful suppressed rumor), and hypocrisy? When the muckrakers raked, was their muck latently Jewish in content?

[14] Cf. Murray on peasant stock vs. Hitler’s Jewish blood in the Harvard worksheet “Hitler, The Man–Notes For A Case History.”  There is a mystery as to the grandfather: “The ancestors on both sides of the family were peasant people of the district of Waldviertel, highly illiterate and very inbred.”  Father’s eyes were “small sharp, wicked”; he was a “harsh, stern, ambitious and punctilious man” (2).  What are his relations to his mother?  Hitler had “large melancholy thoughtful eyes” (2) and an “essentially feminine appearance.”  The eyes of “neutral grey tend to take on the colors of their surroundings” (4).  Mother took his side in the dispute over Hitler’s becoming an artist over father’s objections (3).  The brutal father caused him to be submissive, but he was boiling over.  He was enslaved to mother, an attachment he never outgrew, so he perhaps harbored a deep unconscious rage against her.  Failure added to other factors would unleash aggression (11).  Discussing the sources of Hitler’s antisemitism (consisting solely of a “morbid connection” between “Jews and disease, blood disease, syphilis, and filthy excrescences of all sorts”) Murray mentions that Hitler was a common Jewish name and he was teased about his Jewish appearance in Vienna (11).  Murray speculates: “Now it is known that syphilophobia often has its roots in the childhood discovery of the nature of sexual congress between the parents.  With a father who was illegitimate and possibly of Jewish origin [fn The name Hitler is Jewish as was pointed out] and a strong mother fixation, such a discovery by the child Adolf may well have laid the basis of a syphilophobia which some adventure with a Jewish prostitute in Vienna fanned to a full flame.  Terrified by the fear of his own infection, all the hatred in his being is then directed toward the Jews…Hitler’s personality structure, though falling within the normal range, may now be described as the paranoid type with delusions of persecution and of grandeur.  This stems from a sado-masochistic split in his personality.  Integral with these alternating and opposed elements in his personality are his fear of infection, the identification of the Jews as the source…and some derangement of the sexual function which make his relations with the opposite sex abnormal in nature.”  He has projected his inner conflicts onto the world.

Murray describes ambivalence: Hitler hates the Germans, so he uses “Jewish” tricks–”deceit, lying, violence and sudden attack both to subject the German people as well as their foes.”  International Jewish capital, etc. strangles and infects the mother.  Father partly possesses her so Hitler destroys the Austrian State.  But Hitler’s aggression arouses protest from the other side, causing anxiety, panic, insomnia, and nightmares.  Now he controls himself, because Fate controls his violence.  Success assuages fear.  When the limit of success is reached, “the personality may collapse under the weight of its own guilt feelings.  It is, therefore, quite possible that Hitler will do away with himself at whatever moment German defeat becomes sufficient enough to destroy the fiction of Fate which has shielded him from the violence of his own guilt….” (11-14).  The Murray Papers at Harvard University Archives contain materials relevant to his conflicted relations with Walter Langer, but they are closed to me as of this writing.

[15] Gatzke objected to this procedure, but did not compare it to Hitler’s.  Also, if there was so much discussion, then agreement, why did the OSS report resemble Murray’s earlier report for FDR, as Gatzke noted?  (Langer said Murray opted out of the team almost immediately.)

[16] See Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide (N.Y.: Seabury Press, 1973).  Ruether dates the onset of modern antisemitism with the writings of  Patristic church fathers.

[17] In an essay reviewing sixteen recent studies of the Holocaust (NYRB, 9/28/89), Istvan Deak, Professor of History at Columbia University, declared Marxist identifications of fascism with late capitalism passé; Deak, like other conservatives, apparently views the People, not the system, as the source of violence.  For Deak, the mass murder committed by the Nazis is unique, and probably incomprehensible (here quoting Arno Mayer).  Perhaps Nazi crimes would not be so inexplicable were they not encapsulated with the excuse of historicism.  For to insert Nazi violence into the continuum of permissible violence would reflect badly on the aristocratic paternalism which Deak and other elitists would like to protect; but worse, such comparisons (with child abuse, degradation of the environment, the cruelty of class education, the toleration of poverty and other unnecessary human suffering in an age of technology) would expose the fragility and novelty of the humanitarianism and science introduced during the Renaissance and Enlightenment–and their cooption and deformation by conservatives (another outdated ‘Marxist’ idea).

[18] Murray mentions Hitler’s reading of James Fenimore Cooper and Karl May  (a popular German writer on American Indians), worksheet on Hitler, p.3.

[19] See Plinlimmon’s pamphlet in Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852). Ultraconservatives have consistently identified Melville and his character Ishmael with Plinlimmon’s amorality in the service of social cohesion.

[20] This themes I have identified are suppressed in an H-Net Review (11-13-98) by Philip J. Landon of the History Channel’s series on the 1950s: “The small-town scandals of Peyton Place are balanced by interviews with Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963) and Sloan Wilson (in The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, 1955), writers who chronicled the suburban domestic life of young businessmen climbing the corporate ladder and their wives, whose horizons have narrowed to children and kitchen appliances. Their discontents are illustrated primarily with scenes from the Hollywood adaptation of Wilson’s novel, which focuses on the middle-class and upwardly mobile Rath family. While the Raths may exemplify the disappointments awaiting those who achieve the American Dream, they are more 1950s myth than 1950s reality. Very few families ever enjoyed the Rath’s material well-being. The discontents which haunted most families originated in their failure to share the Dream which advertising and the mass-media held up as the reward awaiting all deserving Americans. To many of us who grew up in the lower-middle and working-class families and came of age during the 1950s, the tribulations of the Rath family seemed both delicious and desirable.”

November 8, 2009

Leviathan Altered?

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Henry Murray's version of leviathan: smile added+ other relics

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