YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 2, 2013

“Totalitarianism,” polarization, and single-issue politics

Leninism-picturePolarization. Pundits and politicians today often complain about “polarization” as an obstacle to “compromise,” without acknowledging that there may be irreconcilable conflicts that cannot be mediated, no matter how skillful or flexible the warring parties. However, it is acknowledged that the two major political parties are at odds over the best way to achieve economic growth: Democrats  want Keynesian demand-stimulus and government spending, while conservative Republicans and libertarians want free markets and limited government as the road to prosperity, for it is the private sector that holds their attention, though some of their admired forbears advocated a government safety net (the Friedmans, Hayek). Perhaps we should calm down a bit: there are two capitalist parties, and no one is ideologically inclined to eliminate the other Party, at least not yet.

Single-issue politics. Social movements of the 1960s that piggy-backed off the civil rights movement  (antiwar, feminism, gay rights, animal rights, environmentalism, now Latino/Hispanic rights) are generally supported by liberals, but tend to dismay conservatives, who see such issues as feminism and gay rights as destructive to the family and even causes of cultural decline and coarsening): hence the “culture wars.” And no one is giving an inch, so that single-issue politics tend to polarize us even further, with each side in the various struggles accusing their opponents of authoritarianism, narrow-mindedness or even “totalitarian” tendencies.

Leftists would have to view single-issue politics as mostly disruptive and even a bourgeois distraction to the class struggle, which will, after the revolution, remove all obstacles to the development of the human personality under the new dispensation. Whereas I see these various movements as incommensurate, that is, they should be treated as separate entities with different histories and implications for how we manage the economy. They should not be jumbled together or even compared to the struggle of black Americans to achieve equality of opportunity.

Totalitarianism. I asked some of my Facebook friends to explain what they meant by “totalitarianism.” They agreed that it signified a kind of statism that would go beyond anything we have now in the West, eliminating all civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc. Nearly all read Orwell, and already feel the heat of Big Brother in some tendencies of the Obama administration, or even in the social movements mentioned above insofar as they impose PC or are alarmingly “secular.” Orwell was unenthused over “secularism” too: see https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/. Meanwhile, pundits of the Right and even the middle, tend to use “totalitarianism” in a manner that equates Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany as functional equivalents, which Orwell did not, hoping for an English “Socialism.” (Orwell did see Socialism as an ongoing theme in Nazi Germany, but he was mistaken. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/12/10/were-nazis-socialists/.) For other writers, the Holocaust is viewed as terrible, but a distraction from the millions of victims under the Soviet Union and Communist China.

In his conclusions to The Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution: Ideological Polarization in the Twentieth Century (UC Press, 1981, Transaction Press paperback ed., 1991) Jacob Talmon does not equate the terror states of Nazis and the Soviets, reducing each to a kind of ultra–statism, though both regimes had to resort to terror in order to discipline their constituencies. They had different historical trajectories as I have constantly argued here before. Nazis regressed to the brutalities of the archaic and to feudal social relations, while Reds believed they were emancipating the lower orders from the modern world as directed by the imperialist bourgeoisie. Reds would complete the unfulfilled bourgeois project, while Nazism was a counter-revolution. (Irving Louis Horowitz appropriates Talmon to paper over the polarities that Talmon emphasizes between Nazis and Soviets, in my view, because Horowitz is allied with such as Hannah Arendt. Page numbers below are from the Transaction Press version.)

Several years ago, I vehemently criticized Jonah Goldberg’s best seller Liberal Fascism as misleading and wrong-headed. (See  https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.) Since reading the Goldberg  book, one that was much admired on the Right, I have read Eric Hobsbawm’s  tetralogy on modernity that does find communism to be an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and of the bourgeois revolution that the French mounted in 1789, but certainly not Fascism or Nazism. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/11/23/historians-vs-pundits-the-eric-hobsbawm-synthesis/, https://clarespark.com/2013/01/15/golden-globes-lincoln-clinton-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/) .

The redoubtable historian Jacob Talmon covered the same period as Eric Hobsbawm, but from a liberal anti-communist point of view. He faults both Leninism and the various fascisms for erasing the conception of humanity and the value of the individual, but would never agree with Jonah Goldberg that progressivism was a precursor to a kind of “liberal fascism”, i.e. to the excessive statism that alarms the Republican Party, libertarians, and some of the writers for National Review.

Jacob Talmon Stamps

Jonah Goldberg, a popular writer, was in over his head.

Here is an example of what Talmon means by “totalitarianism” in the drive toward Soviet bureaucratic centralism or “totalitarian democracy” : “Lenin experienced that sense of movement, of the eternal tug of war, of unbridgeable contradictions, of the approaching crisis, with an intensity and urgency unmatched by anyone in his circle….movement, contradiction, conflict, breakthrough, change were to him encased in an evolving totality held together by the iron-cast law of historical inevitability. The irresistible march of history could neither be affected nor could be allowed to be interfered with by human arbitrariness, caprice, preferences, feelings, sentiments, residual inhibitions.” (p.339) In Lenin’s historical imagination, the bourgeoisie (finance capital) was the oppressor standing in the way of the development of “personality.” A dictatorship of the proletariat” would destroy the bourgeoisie, thus going all the way to fulfilling the promise of Enlightenment and its liberation of thought.

For these authors, “totalitarianism” is less about total control, but rather a “breakthrough,” a “vision of revolution” that seeks to overturn the world as it exists in its totality. Totality is the essence of the world “totalitarian.”  Nazism overthrows the German Right and the Weimar social democrats, while celebrating neo-feudal social relations, with the Leader directing the organic racially purified “people’s community” (the integral Nation). By contrast, communism imagines an international working class proletarian brotherhood, who have abolished nationalism, imperialism, and capitalism. Without these evil “isms” all people would be able to develop a full individuality. But the fascisms deter anything smacking of the individual, glorifying instead the State/Party/as the embodiment of the people’s community. For Mussolini there was nothing outside the State, and the State would work its coercive magic on the sindicati (He had once been a revolutionary Syndicalist, influenced by George Sorel, and his masculinist cult of violence and war.)

(Hitler’s volkischness would be enlarged globally so that each state, under German leadership, would be its own racially pure polity, but his war aims were mostly directed to stopping the  Soviets and expanding into the Slavic areas that were bread  baskets; that would entail enslaving the inferior Slavs.)

Populism. But everyone, Populist-Progressives, anarchists, George Sorel, and all the anticapitalists in Europe, including Nazis and Leninists alike, hated the rule of money, going so far as to stigmatize “economic determinism” as a Jewish imposition. For  Lenin. insofar as he was influenced by J. A.  Hobson,  finance capital was seen as a Jewish plot to take over the world (see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/, and Talmon pp. 204, 439, 473-74 and passim); for Hitler, “Jewish Bolshevism” was a front for finance capital (also “Jewish”) and worse, the Jews were the “anti-race,” for they valued, from antiquity onward, humanity as one species: Talmon insists on this.

We should get our history straightened out, recognizing the stunted political imagination that the careless use of political language imposes. Now that defiled brain is a species of terror. And it feels “totalitarian” to me.

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August 30, 2012

Political hate speech in the media

The theme of this blog is that  Communism is not interchangeable with Nazism, or with Fascism, or with Social Democracy. Nor is the Republican Party to be labeled “Nazi.”

Our understanding is conducted solely by means of the word: anyone who falsifies it betrays public society. It is the only tool by which we communicate our wishes and our thoughts; it is our soul’s interpreter: if we lack that, we can no longer hold together; we can no longer know each other. When words deceive us, it breaks all intercourse and loosens the bonds of our polity.”Montaigne

A word on context.  I have noticed among comments posted by various segments of “the Right” or “liberal Left” alike that all too often their anger is expressed in imprecise comparisons with forms of government that were specific to the interwar period. These political types cannot be transferred to current-day American politics willy-nilly. It is a crime against the truth.

Nazism was specific to Germany and its ambiguous, humiliating defeat after the Great War. Hitler appealed to a broad constituency, arguing that the German Volk or “people’s community” was supreme. To attain that long-lost glory supposedly limned by Tacitus in his Germania, Jews would have to be removed and Slavs enslaved in the Nazi drive for Lebensraum.  The result was a “modernizing” racial state, with some continuities with the welfare statism of Bismarck and with the social democratic Weimar Republic. The Nazi  turn toward the archaic and the medieval was a blow against the Enlightenment as practiced by Western Europeans and America. The uses of “science” for military purposes or for “racial hygiene” should not be marshaled as proof that Nazism was the non plus ultra of modernity. Nazism was reactionary and anti-modern. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest.)  Nazism was distinct from either Mussolini’s Fascism or Franco’s Clerical-fascism, though all three authoritarian governments were directed against the labor movement or any other form of lower-class radicalism. (I have not mentioned anarcho-syndicalism, a target both of Franco and the Soviet Union during the Spanish Civil War.)

Adolph Wissel’s farm family

Communism was not supposed to happen in a backward country (Russia), but the Bolshevik coup, taking advantage of the military situation on the Eastern Front in 1917 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Brest-Litovsk, especially “Background”), amazed the world as 1/6 of the land mass of planet Earth would now advertise itself as a “workers’ state.” Its early phase celebrated modernity and was believed by its adherents to be the fulfillment of the Enlightenment and the liberation of the individual. As a result American writers and intellectuals were excited by the Soviet vanguard, and many were won over to some form of radicalism, especially after the Great Depression hit the U.S., in spite of the socialist realist protocols administered to Soviet artists and fellow travelers in the 1930s.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Realism, also  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhdanov_Doctrine.) Socialist realism and Nazi art both idealized the People.

Notwithstanding the twists and turns of the Comintern line, the Soviet Union prided itself on its freedom from racialism and all forms of nationalism/imperialism, lauding in its place “proletarian internationalism.” There were supporters of both Lenin and Woodrow Wilson in the post-WW1 period.

Social Democracy was an aristocratic response to the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie and the Frankenstein monster Adam Smith & Co. had spawned. Its chief proponents in Europe were Disraeli, Christian Socialists, Bismarck, and Pope Leo XIII (author of Rerum Novarum). Together, they offered a competing notion of Enlightenment to the rabble-rousers of the anti-clerical French Enlightenment. Historians identify their ideology and its chief lights “the moderate men,” believers in the creed of “progressivism.” In America, the early progressives might be Mugwumps, then radical advocates of a “cooperative Commonwealth.”  As shown elsewhere on this website, social psychologists allied with the Roosevelt administration did not hesitate to deploy German or Nazi methods in managing the “masses” they held responsible for supporting Hitler.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

The progressives offered their own version of racism, while professing to be anti-racists. Multiculturalism was a defense by crypto-nativist Americans to the looming threat of “proletarian internationalism” and could be seen as early as 1916, in articles by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen. Ethnicity now trumped “class” as the preferred method for sorting out people and appealing to their political interests. The hyphenated-American made his entrance to the stage of U.S. history and is currently consigned to separatist ethnic studies programs, tilted to social democracy, now called “the Left.”

The Republican Party lopped off its radical branch during Reconstruction, thence to be the party of industry and finance. Because Popular Front Communists insisted that the Republican Party was composed of Nazis, in contrast to their ultra-democratic selves (the “true” anti-fascists, e.g. the Abraham Lincoln Battalion), Democrats and CP fellow travelers alike have fastened that hateful term (Nazis) on Republicans (and Trotskyists, the anti-Stalinist Left). Even so, Progressivism was bipartisan in nature, with many Republicans (e.g. the Theodore Roosevelt administration) supporting a “new nationalism” with a safety net, support for unions, and a “living Constitution.” But more pertinent to today’s Republicans is the move of “socially responsible capitalists” switching to Keynesian economics in 1942, as they formed the Committee For Economic Development and bolstered the ranks of progressivism (see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/). The Democratic Party thus became the party of a certain kind of rich person, who ostentatiously show their love for “the Common Man,”while simultaneously shopping with Saudi Royals and perusing luxury magazines such as Du Jour (illustrated above). The frugal housewife went out, while the revolt against “Puritanism” flourished in both mass culture and high culture.

A Big Mess. Because of the intellectual backwardness of American journalism we have a confusing political vocabulary, accompanied by ignorant slugfests. Books like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism gained a large following on the populist Right with its indictment of “the nanny state” seen as fascist or proto-fascist. Meanwhile, the field of American Studies, following the anti-American Soviet or even Nazi line to a “T” has taught millions of students that the U.S. is genocidal, imperialist, patriarchal, racist, and ecocidal. Above all, Communists and Nazis could agree that America is in the dirty paws of “finance capital” and hedge-fund managers, the generic JEW. (See praise of the new movie Arbitrage in the upscale magazine illustrated above.)

While in graduate school, I noted that graduate students in the U.S. field were fixated on American colonialism and “inequality.” We were a hopelessly class-ridden society given to narcissism and slaughter. The grad students in the U.S. field did not generally study European history, let alone the lead up to the world wars or the interwar period, while antisemitism was not a legitimate field of study.  It was not until David Wyman and Deborah Lipstadt gave a talk at UCLA in 1986 that I became aware that the Holocaust was known to the West before 1945 and the liberation of the death camps. (It is one of my contentions in this blog that the shameful neglect of the many forms in which antisemitism appears may explain the big mess in political taxonomy that we now face–a mess that announces itself in the furious comments that appear in any and all websites and newspapers across the political spectrum.)

What has happened to our political culture? Can we no longer inform the public that there is an entirely different strategy for wealth creation in  the Democratic and Republican parties as currently constituted; that Keynesian economics are different from supply-side economics, and should be calmly described without cursing out the opposition?

For a related essay by  Ron Radosh in dialogue with David Dreier, see http://hnn.us/articles/how-left-wing-look-americas-heroes-reveals-its-own-ignorance?utm_source=HNN+Newsletter&utm_campaign=39c2ec2f9b-Roundup_Top_10_8_31_128_30_2012&utm_medium=email.

May 15, 2012

Progressive uplift vs. “New Left” nihilism

Bill Ayers, Weatherman

Several writers on the Right have been selling books with the premise that the Progressive movement in early 20th century America was protofascist, or fascist and racist. Their aim is to mobilize their constituencies to vote for organic conservatives like themselves in the hopes of halting “the nanny state.”  Similarly, they dwell on the President’s links to racist extremists in the period before he ran for office as a uniter, not a divider.

In this blog, I argue that it is an error to link in any way whatsoever the Progressive uplifters and more recent advocates of violence and anarchy. For uplift was an orderly process, an expression of the “moderate” strategies of the chief publicists of progressivism. It was also, at its core, defined against “revolutionary radicalism” as evidenced in the I.W.W. or anarchism in the labor movement. Here is a juicy example of their thought, taken from my book on Melville and from a previous blog. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/11/13/supermen-wanted-early-freudians-and-the-mob/, also https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.)

[Revolutionary Radicalism, “Epilogue”:] “In this rapid survey of a new and important educational idea we have carried Marja, the immigrant girl, from king and caste-ridden Europe to America, the land of hope and opportunity. We have seen her struggle with an unknown tongue and with ways of life unfamiliar to her. In the end we see her transformed, reborn–no longer foreign and illiterate, but educated and self-respecting. Later she will marry and her children, though they may have traditions of another land and another blood, will be Americans in education and ideals of life, government and progress. It was been worth while that one man has broken through this barrier and made the road clear for others to follow.

“All real education has the development of discipline as its basis. Poise, self-control and self-esteem are characteristic of the well-ordered mind, and the growth of these in the industrial worker makes for efficient service and better wages. Gradually there is an awakening of social consciousness–the awareness of one’s place in society and the obligations such membership entails upon the individual in respect to the group or racial mass, with a constantly developing sense of one’s personal responsibility in all human relationships.

“In conclusion, the higher significance of this work means that we must descend the shaft and share the lives of those that dwell in the lower strata–the teeming populations that never see the stars or the green grass, scent the flowers or hear the birds sing–the huddled, hopeless foreign folk of the tenements. We are living in the Age of Service, and are growing into a conviction that life is not a matter of favored races or small, exclusive social groups, but embraces all humanity and reaches back to God. To those of prophetic soul comes a vision of the day that haunted Tennyson when ‘The war-drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled/ In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.’ ” [From N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 2014, 2201, 3136-3137.]

Here we have a statement that is clearly ideological in favor of order and their version of Americanization; for a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/ .

Far different was the Prairie Fire contingent of Maoists (along with hippies and anarchists?): See /http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_Underground_Organization#Prairie_Fire_1974) who took over (replaced?) Students for A Democratic Society from the “Old Guard” in the late 1960s. First a bit of socialist history. In 19th century Marxist thought, it was the educated and urbanized working class that would comprise the vanguard of change. But after the stunning success of the Soviet coup in October 1917, Leninism (a branch of socialist thought that lauded bureaucratic centralism and the vanguard of intellectuals), the old Marxist anti-statist paradigm was discarded in favor of “Marxist-Leninism” with its attendant Trotskyist notion that the communist utopia could leapfrog over the bourgeois democratic phase, and stir the victims of imperialism to overthrow their European or American masters by any means necessary. (It was Stalin, not Trotsky, who insisted upon “socialism in one country.”) In China, a model for 1960s revolutionaries everywhere, the rural population was now the revolutionary vanguard, provided that they were taught by the correctly indoctrinated intellectual layer.

Such journalists as Theodore White and Edgar Snow transmitted the Maoist message to American radicals, where they received support from a communist-sympathetic faction in the U.S. Department of State.  (For details, see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.)

To these developments in revolutionary theory, add the general brutalization caused by the slaughter of the Great War, much emphasized by George L. Mosse and his students at the U. of Wisconsin; while in the realm of culture, primitivism ruled the 1920s as a white response to the growing power or prestige of New Negroes, New Women, and working class radicalism. Indeed, Ernest Hemingway’s rise to cultural prominence as a manly prose stylist may be seen as a purification of the too-florid and feminized Victorian culture that had put white males on the defensive. Supermen were wanted, and supermen were provided by our leading writers in the Nietzsche fad that still finds adherents among ambitious students, for instance those who follow such decadent musicians as Jim Morrison and the Doors.

And what were the order-loving nativists of the Progressive movement doing after the war? They were certainly not manning the outposts of the grand innovations of mass media, including radio and the movies. Rather, that task fell to recent immigrants, who sought audiences among the masses whose instinctive populism was fully exploited, as I described here in my blog on Charles Murray (https://clarespark.com/2012/05/04/3957/):

“Early Hollywood had no illusions about mass taste, and provided adventure, sex and violence to a readymade audience that already was alienated from snooty and exclusive nativist old families. The Mayers or Goldwyns or Laemmles and their movie or television offspring still adhere to populist feeling and a hefty dose of primitivism. Social realism and didacticism do not sell, except as a warning to other “liberals” that the natives are restless and gun toting, or that criminals may be running everything. But Murray is worried that the white working class is obese and watches too much television, as if the skinnier upper classes do not enjoy the more sophisticated adventures, romance, soft porn, escapism, and even artiness provided by the younger writers and producers, affected as they have been by counter-culture naughtiness, identification with Marlon Brando or James Dean, clever parodies, and fun.”

When I first started my Pacifica radio programs on the art world in the early 1970s, I noticed that the Los Angeles hipster male artists were fans of Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. Since I was relatively uneducated in the ways of black supremacy or nihilism* in general, I was not on guard. Not long ago, I checked out a copy of a manifesto titled Prairie Fire (1974), a production of the Weather Underground (authors William Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn). It was so violent in its language and in its aims, that I had to put it down; it was simply unbearable in its stridency. For a fictional peek into the European nihilists who were their contemporaries, see William Herrick’s Love and Terror (1981), a brilliant and disturbing work that reveals the mindset of the Baader-Meinhof gang. The intellectual antecedents of such urban terrorists are not to be found in the utopian thought of Marx, but in the ravings of such radicals as Marx’s rivals: Proudhon and Bakunin, earlier Babeuf, later George Sorel. For all of them “property is theft” and no crime is too vicious, no product of human labor off limits to their fury and defiance.

I wrote this blog because I see the some of the same thuggery in some protest movements (the “Red-Greens”, the Occupy Wall Street troops, Chicano irredentism, or black liberationist tendencies–see photo of Michelle Obama associating with the Nation of Islam below). I worry that the Baby Boomer parents of the antiwar generation who raised their children to be spontaneous and creative, will only egg on the mindless acting out in which they, the sadder but un-wiser generation, frequently indulged as young women and men. These nouvelle enragées owe nothing to the progressives who led both American political parties to dominance in the 20thcentury. It is also true that Communists infiltrated the progressive movement, using the Popular Front as their entry. The writing of “cultural history” has been deformed accordingly.

*By nihilism, I do not refer to anthropology that argues for cultural relativism and historicism, but to the apparent promotion of “beast of prey” by Nietzsche in such works as Beyond Good and Evil or The Genealogy of Morals, both read and studied by Jim Morrison (see comment below that defends Nietzsche against such readings).

Michelle Obama and friends

March 31, 2012

Nell Painter’s History of White People

Rather than summarize the scope of Nell Painter’s book, I ask you to read this review by a sympathetic colleague. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Gordon-t.html?pagewanted=all.

As  Linda Gordon’s NYT review makes clear, Nell Irvin Painter, a much honored historian, has written The History of White People (Norton, 2010), directing this synoptic intellectual/cultural history to a popular audience, hence biting off too big a chunk of history. Not so surprisingly, Professor Gordon, a well-known left-feminist, does not launch an ideological critique, for she shares the same social democratic/New Deal belief system. Gordon is a noted historian of the welfare state and feminist issues, but since she is of the same faction as Painter, she could not identify the slant of Painter’s book, which mocks the notion of cultural syncretism and the melting pot in favor of a salad bowl or multiplicity of American identities, defined in terms that rooted cosmopolitans would recognize: see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/).

Briefly, Painter reiterates the left-progressive (but not Marxist*) story of American identity, one defined in racial terms: American identity, the echt example of Manifest Destiny masquerading as universal messianic liberator, was in fact racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, etc. Howard Zinn could have written this book, and did. American identity is nowhere related to the revolutionary character of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or to the uniqueness of the conception of popular sovereignty—a notion of popular participation that would require several centuries and bitterly fought conflicts to be worked out, and even then, thanks to the unhelpful interventions of many progressives like Painter and Gordon, was undermined by boundaries to education established by corporatist liberal elites and their allies and pets, the teachers unions. For a chronology see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/.

The corporatist liberals are a movement of patricians who attached themselves to “intercultural understanding” as a solution to looming class politics from 1900 on, and who were especially threatened in the 1930s, when materialist analyses were prominent and popular. (See my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Ralph Bunche and other anti-racist blacks—especially Abram L. Harris–writing in the materialist tradition and in opposition to German Idealism, are absent from her book, along with such as white antiracists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and many abolitionists, also Anglophiles in the sense that they celebrated libertarian ideals.)

In Painter’s account, New England Puritans were the bad guys whose ancestors framed the Magna Charta (dissed by Painter), and whose descendants were (with the exception of Ruth Benedict) nativists associated with the Republican Party. All other Americans (obviously blacks, but also non-Aryans) were  their victims.  But recent trends in intermarriage have blurred the sharp racial lines that were established by “scientific racism.” The latter is an ideology forged in Germany and England, and then eagerly taken up by American Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and those she associates with him, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant  [although Zangwill dedicated his The Melting Pot to TR]. Into the brew add a host of American eugenicists and evil statisticians, who not only persecuted Appalachian whites and ethnic groups from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, arbitrarily designating themselves (the WASPS) as the natural elite and true white people, but originated, avant la lettre, some of the most repellent Nazi practices and beliefs.

Along the way, Professor Painter, like other social democrats, presents herself as a sympathizer to the working class and to anarchists and communists absurdly hounded by the proto-Nazi Republicans in the riotous and strike-ridden year of 1919. (Readers of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will find some of the same miscreants, e.g., Margaret Sanger, only in his widely admired book, it is progressives who are the fascists and Nazis.) And yet, Painter does not recognize or acknowledge the German Romantic predecessors to multiculturalism and Nazism alike. Nor does the term “organic conservative” darken her palette. (See these take shape in the interwar period in numerous venues as I laid out in several blogs: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.  In other words, the progressives and Southern Agrarians were as enamored of “Anglo-Saxon” collectivist/corporatist categories as the uniformly racist Republicans she taunts throughout.

I do not know why Painter wrote this book unless it was meant to lure Reagan Democrats away from the Republican Party, back to the Democratic Party as it has evolved under President Obama. Her work reminds me of a common designation by 1930s Stalinists whereby all Republicans were Fascists, whereas the multicultural Soviet Union was the home to the most amply realized freedom of the individual.

One or two last words: Although Painter is hostile to antisemitism, she is not sympathetic to Israel, or to “Jews” who insist on “having the last word.” I did find her description of Hiram Powers’s “The White Slave” to be a useful key to identifying the erotic appeal of Katherine McPhee’s big number in the last episode of Smash. Dressed in white drapery, country mouse McPhee as Marilyn Monroe, is hounded to death and caged by her [Jewish?] masked promoters/fans, with her allure defined by whiteness and the chains (bars of the cage) that link purity, sex, and submission. But any hip feminist would have seen through that one.

Hiram Powers' White Slave

*Marx admired the American Civil War as one of the great world revolutions. His communist supporters, writing in The New Masses during the 1930s, admired America for having developed the productive forces that would make the transcendence of capitalism a practical possibility. In those days, one could find radicals who admired the bourgeoisie as a progressive class. The New Left, mesmerized by black nationalist militants and Afro-centrists like Nell Painter, scrubbed away that interpretation of U.S. history. I rather  like her paintings however.

"Plantains 3" Nell Painter

October 4, 2011

Coulter’s demons, Melville, John Adams on the late 18th C.

Ann Coulter. Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America. New York: Crown Forum, 2011. 354 pages. $28.99.

Best-selling author Ann Coulter, with 19th century ultra-conservative French writer Gustave Le Bon for backup, has determined that the liberals of the US today are a hysterical mob, given to group-think and heinous atrocities, depicted here in detail as she pivots from the enraged French scum to such favorite targets as MSNBC, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, the better for our sick delectation. Upon reflection as I look at her repeated examples, it seems to me that her pages depicting mob-driven mayhem (600,000 French casualties!) are to be compared to 53 million unborn babies massacred by her arch-enemies, pro-choice feminists. She has just as little love for The Declaration of the Rights of Man,* gays, androgynes, liberal Jews (all Jews?), and other women, the latter the objects of Le Bon’s contempt as well.

This is most ironic, for whereas Le Bon was an irrationalist, but a secularist pondering how to control the lower orders since revealed religion (allied with arbitrary authority), had lost its gleam, Coulter, flying his counter-Enlightenment flag, allies herself with the divinely-inspired rationalism she imputes to Anglo-Saxons, the American Revolution, and the Federalist Papers. Such “harmonious order,” delivered by rules-regulated, mob-smashing, yet calm leadership, is invidiously compared to the “Latin” nations’ proclivity for cannibalism, blood lust, tumult and mindless, i.e., womanish, violence. Coulter may be one of the last respectable nativists.

As a book claiming “political science” status, Demonic is so wild and undisciplined that it hardly bears further discussion. Some of her more egregious howlers: 1. The most romantic radicals of the 1960s are conflated with their liberal opponents. Think of the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, where liberals were the target of the Weathermen and other radicals. 2. Coulter is a conservative, who uses Republicans mostly to suit her argument. Hence, they are useful as anti-racists during the Civil War and Reconstruction, but she does not distinguish between Conservative and Radical Republicans, who had divergent agendas; it was such as Sumner and Stevens who put civil and economic rights for the freedmen at the top of their must-do lists, and before that, Alexander Hamilton’s antislavery position got him labeled as an abolitionist by the Jeffersonians who sought to tear him down from his own lifetime to ours. (See Stephen F. Knott’s book for the juicy details.)

I prefer to compare her pornographic rant to some leaves from Herman Melville’s manuscript, “Billy Budd, Sailor: an inside narrative” for his last composition (unpublished in his lifetime) also pondered the contested legacy of the French Revolution, clearly the subject of his [always controversial and enigmatic] novella:

[Melville, as published in Weaver’s Constable edition, vol.13, not available on the internet:] “The year 1797, the year of this narrative, belongs to a period which as every thinker now feels, involved a crisis for Christendom not exceeded in its undetermined momentousness at the time by any other era whereof there is record. The opening proposition made by the Spirit of that Age, involved the rectification of the Old World’s hereditary wrongs. In France, to some extent this was bloodily effected. But what then? Straightway the Revolution itself became a wrongdoer, one more oppressive than the Kings, and initiated that prolonged agony of general war that ended in Waterloo. During those years not the wisest could have foreseen that the outcome of all would be what in some thinkers apparently it has since turned out to be, a political advance along nearly the whole line for Europeans.”

In the first part of this statement, Melville takes the same dim view of the French Revolution as Coulter and the most ultraconservative thinkers of the period. But he leaves the question open, asking the reader to think very hard and for him/herself, given the more positive views of significant philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill) who wrote during his lifetime. Melville was an American patriot and a great admirer of the Declaration of Independence, “that makes a difference” as he wrote to a friend. But for Coulter, Thomas Jefferson is too Frenchified, even a “flake,” and she much prefers the godly [Anglophile] John Adams. But what should she have made of this much reproduced and discussed quote from Adams, clearly aligning the Constitution with the Enlightenment, and with the intonations of Prometheus?

Tom Paine Press image for Billy Budd opera

[Adams:] “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”

*At a book talk in Los Angeles, Coulter stated that the French have no conception of individual rights. The Rousseau-maddened Jacobin mob leads directly to Hitler and Mussolini. This is the same line advanced by Jonah Goldberg in his Liberal Fascism. See my discussion of the latter here: https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.

June 11, 2011

Coulter, Weiner, Goldberg and the Liberal Mob

Two events in the last several weeks are worthy of comment by a historian.  First, the still brewing scandal of Congressman Anthony Weiner’s tweets, and second, the release of Ann Coulter’s latest book, this one entitled Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America.

Yesterday on my Facebook page, I wondered why the thrust of “Weinergate” was a mob-like assault on Weiner, tantamount to a witch hunt. Pundits did have the option to talk about male sexuality [and its drive toward multiple partners], instead of piling on Weiner. As this was a bit abstract and possibly dangerous territory,  I tried to direct the discussion into the hyper-sexualization of adolescence in the popular television show Glee, going so far as to suggest that adolescent boys and girls might be better off separated in single-gender schools so that they might be free of the biologically based preoccupation with snaring love-objects.  As a feminist, I was especially concerned with the emotional manipulation learned by girls that caters to male fetishes. This latter suggestion prompted some responses and lots of wandering off topic. Sex is apparently too hot to handle especially in a public forum. One very religious right-wing commentator on my list was furious that Weiner had lied. I replied (roughly) that the lying that goes on in both private and public life was so pervasive as to be the norm, and that powerful persons will do and say anything to retain power, that the problem is with a culture that rewards status-preservation above the truth.

Earlier in the week, one Christian Toto, a writer for Pajamas Media, puffed Coulter’s latest outpouring against the Democratic Party, adding to his praise a mention of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.  Both works see the Jacobin mob and its Reign of Terror as precursor to everything that conservatives Coulter and Goldberg reject in progressive America.  I objected to this ahistoric and irresponsible  line of reasoning in a comment, and the comment was censored. I also remarked that venting on the internet was not constructive. I had crossed a line, at least for whoever moderated the comments.

It is very strange to me that Anthony Weiner’s lying should be universally condemned, while Coulter’s and  Goldberg’s lying and hysterical demonization of the opposition, is not. It is one thing for conservative journalists to condemn statism through criticism of specific social policies, but to take the moral high ground while highly vulnerable themselves is hypocrisy. Ann Coulter agrees with Jonah Goldberg that we are in the grip of a “nanny state.” (Coulter notoriously suggested –jokingly–that women not be allowed to vote, for their compassionate nature overcomes sound economic policy.)

I have worked over Jonah Goldberg’s awful book here: https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/. I have not written previously about Ann Coulter, but I recommend another blog  https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.  If Ann Coulter does not fit the dominatrix archetype, then no one does. Her popularity (on the Right) as a polemicist is a symptom of a pathological and hyper-polarized political culture. It is also a reminder that conservatives and classical liberals have little to say to each other.

[Added later 6-11-2011:] I have been asked to specify how Goldberg and Coulter were lying.  In my blog on Liberal Fascism, I pointed out that Goldberg had mischaracterized Walter Lippmann. [I just reread my blog: I criticized Goldberg on Lippmann elsewhere on the website, here: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.] In both cases (Goldberg and Coulter), there is no genealogy that links the [godless]  Jacobin terror with modern social democracy and its alleged mob psychology. It is a violation of historical method to do that. The precursors to social democracy were religious conservatives fending off materialist ideologies (e.g. materialists doing history without taking into account divine intervention in human affairs). They include Christian Socialism, Bismarck, the Social Gospel, the distributionism of Rerum Novarum, and of the Progressive movement in general. Social democrats have been strong anticommunists, offering their own piecemeal reform as the antidote to godless materialism.

March 10, 2010

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism

Fuseli’s precursor to Captain Ahab

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for the conservative-libertarian National Review Online, wrote a popular intellectual history intended to remedy the common practice on the Left of characterizing Italian Fascism and Nazism as movements primarily of the Right. He tells me that he started formulating a book proposal in 2002, partly in response to his father’s ongoing concerns, partly in response to a talk by Michael Ledeen in the 1990s. It was published with endnotes in 2008 and became a runaway best-seller, a remarkable performance in itself. Perhaps reacting to the growth of the so-called “Tea-Party” movement in 2009, in late January of this year, some professional historians and journalists strongly objected to Goldberg’s thesis that Nazism and Fascism were entirely movements of the Left.

This and subsequent blogs will try to tease out the underlying narrative in JG’s book, one that was not spotted in the symposium mounted by History News Network on January 25, 2010 (with JG’s response January 28): briefly, Liberal Fascism is not only a crusade, a critique of “progressivism” as the eugenics-inspired spur to European“ fascism” and mass death in the twentieth century, but more deeply, LF is an attack on the science and “secularism” that have invaded the cultural space previously furnished with “traditionalism” by which JG means religion and undisputed paternal authority in the family: the consequence in JG’s text is an intrusive nanny-statism TODAY that is fascistically totalitarian and seeks to impose draconian rules on all aspects of everyday life, but most awesomely, will destroy “liberty” with the same resolve as the Jacobin mob and their spawn: Blackshirts, Brownshirts, and Bolshies. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/, for one possible source for the linkage between the French Revolution and the Soviet Union, particularly the first volume of Hobsbawm’s tetralogy, in which EH draws a straight line between the French Revolution and Leninism. In this he agrees with liberal Jacob Talmon or the conservative Catholic Francois Furet: see https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.)

    After reading the book twice, I maintain that the actual social structures and practices of the Third Reich and Italy under Mussolini (partly taken up by Robert Paxton in the HNN symposium) are of less concern to the author than “the smothering love” and feminized “niceness” of any American political faction that considers the national government to be a prospective locus for ameliorative reform and regulation. Like the most reactive Christians in history, but especially those who emerged after the Reign of Terror, JG seems to see “liberty” as the freedom for Everyman to suffer in this world, owing to (sinful) “human nature,” though I doubt that he has consciously taken his argument for “liberty” or the frictionless “pursuit of happiness” to its logical conclusion; he may simply be refuting the social engineering conception that man is infinitely malleable and that proper social organization will eliminate aggression and the will to power. That he blames Rousseau and the Jacobins for “totalitarianism” is everywhere apparent in his book. The Committee Of Public Safety has morphed into the Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA—and that specter and reality is where he has put his authorial energy. He would have stood on firmer ground had he blamed the social theorists of the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries, described so well in Frank E. Manuel’s The Prophets of Paris: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon and others who had no connection to the likes of Robespierre.* (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.)

[Added 4-4-10 and 4-6-10: Though I agree with much of what is in Liberal Fascism, it is not a work of history, for he does not reconstruct the historical context in which the various “fascisms” appeared. Ideas (e.g. “Jacobinism”) do not give birth to other ideas. JG could have, but did not, specify the class coalition with conservative nationalists that brought Hitler to power. By sticking with a left-wing genealogy for Hitler, he erases traditional right-wing support (support that was present during the Weimar Republic). Moreover, I have written extensively about “the progressives” and their role in formulating what we take to be mental health. What I found over a period of forty years is as alarming as anything in JG’s book. For instance “progressives” (who were really organic conservatives –“corporatist liberals”–adjusting to the growth of mass literacy and an industrial working class), because of their simultaneous support of “liberty” (e.g. dissent) and “community,”  could immobilize persons who sought to make an original contribution to society. Some of that research is elsewhere on this website,  but much of it can be found in my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, where I show how Melville identified the double bind in his own family, and how he was labeled insane by some in his family and in the writing of his academic revivers.  (By double bind, I do not concur with Gregory Bateson’s definition that rests on the presence of a rejecting Janus-faced mother: rather the incompatible demands to be original in one’s discoveries, but not to disturb traditional institutional arrangements; to be both loyal to one’s country of origin and a member of an international “community”, and more.) 

   JG is on sounder ground when he critiques multiculturalism as derived from Herder. In my own work I trace Herder’s impact on German Romanticism and then nazism. JG should have said something about the dubious Herder-derived notions of national character and zeitgeist. He should have contrasted Herder’s rooted cosmopolitan and the rootless cosmopolitan of science and urbanity. But the possibly worst part of Liberal Fascism is the notion that some readers may absorb: that the entire Democratic Party is already entirely totalitarian, instead of incoherent, given the clashing elements inside the Democratic coalition. The Dems may be heading in that direction, but as a tactic to mobilize libertarian opposition, JG’s bleakness may create more apathy than informed resistance to illegitimate authority. And by constantly combining the word “liberal” with “fascism,” all statist activity is stigmatized, which would have amazed Hamilton, Hayek, and the Friedmans. ]

[Added 4-18-2010:] I am reading George E. Mowry’s excellent political and intellectual history of the period 1900-1912: The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of Modern America (originally published in 1958). The variability in what was considered to be “progressive” is laid out clearly. By contrast, the polemical and narrow focus of JG’s book becomes apparent. Given that Mowry and the other historians in the series of readers that Harper and Row published are writing within the progressive tradition, he (and probably they) are remarkably objective. Mowry brings the look of the period to life, and you will never read Edith Wharton again without seeing what a fatalist and traditional conservative she was.

[Added 4-23-10:] Mowry’s highly regarded account of the Republican Party contribution to progressivism certainly sees Theodore Roosevelt as a radical statist, but Mowry remains grounded in the period under study, and never calls T.R. style progressivism protofascist. I wish that journalists who write about politics today would be as attentive to detail and primary sources (and as broad in their interests) as did Mowry. This is a great book.

*Earlier critics than JG must have been comparing the welfare state to the various fascisms because Frank Manuel complained about the comparison in his The Prophets of Paris (1962): ” The specter of emotional and moral as well as scientific and industrial control hovers over the Saint-Simonian system, and Rousseau’s censor rears his ugly head. Nevertheless it seems farfetched to relate the Saint-Simonians on these grounds to the monster states of Hitler and Stalin. True, the Saint-Simonian political formulae emphasized emotion rather than reason, plus the hierarchy, an elite, the organic, and in this respect their theories bear superficial resemblance to the lucubrations of twentieth-century fascism. The ecclesiastical nonsense of the cult, however, should not obscure the fact that their image of society was founded first and foremost upon the expectation that there would be an upsurge of Eros in the world, that men would become more loving–a rather dubious assumption, though one that is not to be laughed out of court by the true skeptic. The Saint-Simonian society was founded upon relations of love among members of a hierarchy. This may be ridiculous, unfeasible, nonrational humbug, but it is totalitarian only in the sense that love may be. The Saint-Simonians were committed to the winning of converts solely through preaching and persuasion. To relate all the images of “authoritarianism” and “totalitarianism” to these tender failures of the 1830s entails driving their ideas to conclusions they never entertained. Saint-Simonians talked and quarreled far more about love, all sorts of love, than they did about authority. They never spilled a drop of blood in their lives and in middle age became respectable bourgeois. There was something unique about the German experience under the Third Reich. Remembrance of it should not be diluted by the discovery of antecedents that are of a qualitatively different character. The Saint-Simonians may be cast into liberal hell, but there they will probably encounter as many lovers and passionately fixated men as Dante did in the Christian hell.” (p.184)

[Added 4-30-2010: JG has an article on Obama’s “neosocialism” in the May issue of Commentary. The phrase “liberal fascism” does not appear there. But he still does not know about the contribution of the organic thinkers of nineteenth-century France (some of whom were reconstructing a more secular Catholicism) to Marxism and twentieth-century political thought, including the creators of the welfare state. These are Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte. Manuel distinguishes their organicism from that of their predecessors Turgot and Condorcet, though the latter were strong advocates of a science-driven progressive future.]

[Added 12-10-11: If JG had written about populism, I would have agreed with him about its protofascist potential. See https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/.]

September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

August 19, 2009

Noam Chomsky’s misrepresentation of Walter Lippmann’s chief ideas on manufacturing consent

Walter Lippmann

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/12/the-counter-culture-vs-the-establishment/]

I first defended Walter Lippmann’s chief ideas from the 1920s and 1930s on a KPFK radio program, then worked up this longer analysis for a discussion group on Humanities Net (the History of Diplomacy). It is archived there, but the material remains timely, as science is always on the defensive, and the entire subject of “public opinion” is paramount in importance to any would-be democracy.

For instance, as I showed in my book, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival,  Melville’s character Captain Ahab was appropriated by “moderately” conservative psychoanalysts and sociologists calling for government psychological warfare during and after World War II, and blaming fascism on Byronic/Ahab-ish puritanism and romanticism, at times recommending the adoption of (Byronic, Ahab-ish, Jewish) Hitler’s astute and effective techniques of mind-management in order to evacuate the Radical Enlightenment (i.e., civil liberties, rational-secular education, the accountability of “experts” directly to the people). One of these, the political scientist Harold Lasswell (featured in my book), is now paired in his Wikipedia entry with Walter Lippmann as a proponent of propaganda designed to make us dependent upon experts, who may not be interrogated by non-experts. Anyone who has read Lippmann’s Liberty and the News, would have to be outraged by this comparison. Meanwhile, Chomsky still draws crowds among the Left and the social psychologists whose antidemocratic policies I have addressed remain unexposed.

[Added 3-11-10: Jonah  Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (p.109) similarly misreads Lippmann. He footnotes an apparently damning quote from Public Opinion, but then gives no page number. See https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/]

The H-Diplo interchanges started with a query, 7 December 2001, and raised the hackles of Chomsky-ites who defended Chomsky to the death:

[My query:] I am trying to get a handle on why Noam Chomsky and his followers are so hostile to Walter Lippmann. I have read Lippmann’s Public Opinion and the sequel The Phantom Public  (both published in the 1920s), and there is no basis for the Chomskyite claim that Lippmann thought that the manufacture of consent was a good idea; it was quite the opposite.

Moreover, the second work (Phantom Public) was decidedly Heraclitean, postmodern and cultural/ethical relativist in its epistemology; one would think that the New Left academic cohort would have embraced Lippmann (though perhaps experiencing discomfort with his defense of fact-finding and truth vs. falsehood, a task best handled by experts).

I would also like to add that from my reading of right-wing populist screeds (and including the Carroll Quigley tome), that Walter Lippmann is a favorite bogeyman, along with other “Jews” and their Anglo-Saxon co-conspirators who have allegedly controlled the mass media to the detriment of participatory democracy.

[Second H-Diplo posting, 15 Jan.2002:] This message responds to questions and claims offered by a few list members with respect to whether or not Noam Chomsky and his followers have misrepresented Walter Lippmann’s positions on the role of experts and others in the formation of public opinion. Specifically, in my initial query on this list I alluded to the Chomskyite distortion of Lippmann’s attitude to “the manufacture of consent” in his book, Public Opinion (1922).

Chomsky’s characterization of Lippmann and his role in what is often called “elite culture” is frequently repeated in both written and spoken form, and widely disseminated to college audiences. For instance, in his talk “Media Control,” at M.I.T., 3/17/91, Chomsky noted that “Walter Lippman, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy…argued that what he called a ‘revolution in the art of democracy,’ could be used to ‘manufacture consent,’ that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things they didn’t want by the new techniques of propaganda.” And speaking to the Society of Professional Journalists at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, 4/30/00, a graduate student noted in the Minutes for the Society, “Chomsky frames his media criticism around Walter Lippmann’s famous term, “manufactured consent…The public’s role is to be spectators, not participants, and that is the sound of the trampling and roar of an obedient herd.”

Chomsky’s constant invocation of Lippmann is reflected in the title of his book co-authored with Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of mass media  (1988) and in the videorecording Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (National Film Board of Canada, 1992). The award-winning film, an argument that Chomsky has been denied access to what is commonly called “the corporate media,” shows sentences on the printed page from Public Opinion (with the words “manufacture of consent”) purportedly demonstrating that Lippmann was, in fact, a powerful advocate of mind-management . I saw the film when it was used by the Public Broadcasting System as a fund drive premium for Los Angeles station KCET and was stunned. [This was an unforgivable crime against the historical record. C.S. 8-19-09]

As a preface to further remarks, I offer the following comments about the general context surrounding the debate over Lippmann. WL  is frequently linked to Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays (see my bibliography below). As many of these titles suggest, Lippmann, Freud and Bernays are the “spinmeisters” who originated the practice of brainwashing the public. Both Bernays and Lippmann had worked for George Creel’s Committee during the First World War, as Chomsky and his followers note. Deploying their propaganda techniques, they claim that Bernays has corrupted the working class with consumerism, and, through symbol manipulation (allegedly advocated by Lippmann, who had studied Freud, as had Bernays), they engineer the consent of the masses to the takeover of government by big business. Thus the State becomes the engine of imperialist war in the sole interest of commercial values, hence destroying the spirituality that hitherto protected and united peace-loving communities. This linkage seemed to me to echo well-known populist allegations that “the Jews” control the media, to the detriment of “the people” who are thereby hornswoggled. Further, according to a recent NBC television special, “Roots of Rage” Arab populations believe that in fact the Jews do control the media (I don’t know if there were any polls taken). Other reports note that many Arabs believe that “Hollywood” can make anything look real, i.e. the supposedly manufactured bin Laden tape recently circulated. It is thus essential for us to be very careful about the relationship between the media and public opinion, especially on the foreign policy issues that are the focus of this discussion group.

Having read Public Opinion and seen the numerous slams at Lippmann mentioned above, several years ago I asked Ronald Steel, Lippmann’s biographer, if Chomsky had not mischaracterized WL’s position. He said that I was correct, but then cautioned me to read The Phantom Public, where I would see what an elitist Lippmann really was. I have read the latter book and also Drift and Mastery (1914), written when Lippmann was only 24, an outspoken socialist, and about to become a founding editor of The New Republic; it is an optimistic affirmation of the possibilities of a scientifically conceived, trained, and informed democratic polity. There is no evidence that Lippmann (then or later) had contempt for democracy, let alone workers, consumers, women, or any other members of a “bewildered herd” as one list member alleges. “Bewildered” is a word Lippmann often uses, and applies it to himself and to every other person attempting to grasp the huge changes in scale and the titanic social forces aroused by industrial society, along with its sharply divergent proposals for reform or revolution. It is a modest and humble but hopeful book, and strongly influenced by Freud insofar as Lippmann wishes to make the hitherto unconscious elements of our volition susceptible to apprehension and constructive redirection. (It should be mentioned here that Woodrow Wilson and Lippmann, following Theodore Roosevelt, had divergent views on the role of experts in an industrial society [Cooper, 1983], and the Wilson-Roosevelt rivalry may be an element of the historical sub-text underlying the Chomsky-Lippmann debate.)

The most persuasive riposte I can offer to those who believe Chomsky (along with other antagonists claiming that Lippmann was an antidemocrat, i.e. an elitist opponent of “popular sovereignty” [Riccio, 1994] is to quote relevant passages from Public Opinion, including the one cited by list member Charles Young (p.248) as evidence in support of the allegation that Lippmann was indeed advocating mind-control.

First, Lippmann lays out the project of the book at the end of his first chapter “The Pictures In Our Heads.”

…”The substance of the argument is that democracy in its original form never seriously faced the problem which arises because the pictures inside people’s heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside. And then, because the democratic theory is under criticism by socialist thinkers, there follows an examination of the most advanced and coherent of these criticisms, as made by the English Guild Socialists. My purpose here is to find out whether these reformers take into account the main difficulties of public opinion. My conclusion is that they ignore these difficulties, as completely as did the original democrats, because they, too, assume, and in a much more complicated civilization, that somehow mysteriously there exists in the hearts of men a knowledge of the world beyond their reach.

[Lippmann continues:] “I argue that representative government, either in what is ordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of the election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those who have to make the decisions. I attempt, therefore, to argue that the serious acceptance of the principle that personal representation must be supplemented by representation of the unseen facts would alone permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us to escape from the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs. It is argued that the problem of the press is confused because the critics and the apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or lesser measure, intensify, the defective organization of public opinion. My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.” (pp.31-32, Harcourt Brace edition, 1922)

The second excerpt uses the contested term “manufacture of consent” in the chapter entitled “Leaders and the Rank and File”:

“The established leaders of any organization have great natural advantages. They are believed to have better sources of information. The books and papers are in their offices. They took part in the important conferences. They met the important people. They have responsibility. It is, therefore, easier for them to secure attention and to speak in a convincing tone. But also they have a very great deal of control over access to the facts. Every official is in some degree a censor. And since no one can suppress information, either by concealing it or forgetting to mention it, without some notion of what he wishes the public to know, every leader is in some degree a propagandist. Strategically placed, and compelled often to choose even at the best between the equally cogent though conflicting ideals of safety for the institution, and candor to his public, the official finds himself deciding more and more consciously what fact, in what setting, in what guise he shall permit the public to know. [subsection 4 follows]
“That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements, no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.
[Lippmann, cont.] “The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.
“Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the old original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.” (Lippmann, 247-249)

Does Lippmann want his political science fact-finders to hide the truth from the populace; i.e. to “manufacture consent” ? In distinguishing between the news and truth, he is clearly on the side of correcting misconceptions propagated by media: “…news and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act. Only at these points, where social conditions take recognizable and measurable shape, do the body of truth and the body of news coincide.” (358)

Lippmann’s chapter “The Appeal To The Public” speaks directly to teachers, and once again reiterates his commitment to scientific method, and the mastery of the irrational (the theme of Drift and Mastery). Note that the professionals are not hoarding their expertise:

[This is my favorite part: C.S., 8-19-09] “The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. As our minds become more deeply aware of their own subjectivism, we find a zest in objective method that is not otherwise there. We see vividly, as normally we should not, the enormous mischief and casual cruelty of our prejudices. And the destruction of a prejudice, though painful at first, because of its connection with our self-respect, gives an immense relief and fine pride when it is successfully done. There is a radical enlargement of the range of attention. As the current categories dissolve, a hard, simple version of the world breaks up. The scene turns, vivid and full. There follows an emotional incentive to hearty appreciation of scientific method, which otherwise it is not easy to arouse, and is impossible to sustain. Prejudices are so much easier and more interesting. For if you teach the principles of science as if they had always been accepted, their chief virtue as a discipline, which is objectivity, will make them dull. But teach them at first as victories over the superstitions of the mind, and the exhilaration of the chase and of the conquest may carry the pupil over that hard transition from his own self-bound experience to the phase where his curiosity has matured, and his reason has acquired passion.” (my italics, 409-410).

As for The Phantom Public (1925), Lippmann criticizes those who claim to speak for the public interest or community or nation or society while concealing their own particular interests. He proposes that a fully pluralist political and intellectual environment will offer the opportunity for such deceptions to be exposed by the opposition. The book is yet another attempt to rethink democratic political practices, and reiterates the position that the complexity and technicalities of industrial society (modernity) put an impossible burden on individual voters, who are asked to become proficient in areas for which no one is prepared. Lippmann’s implication is that peer review is needed to sort out which experts we should endorse. I don’t find his concern elitist, but rather realistic. This view is also consistent with his earlier critiques of populism, Marxian socialism, and Wilson’s New Freedom, plus all other movements that practice reductive social labeling and neglect the concrete individual and his behavior who does not fit the ideal type of exploiter, etc.

It is also worth noting that a recent study of Lippmann and his cohort takes to task the revisionist historiography of the 1960s and 1970s that characterized the progressives as “misleading if not dishonest.” Whereas they could have been seen as persons in a dilemma: that is, they were democratic theorists without a political base that could realize their idealistic admonitions. [Thompson, 1987, 287-88] Thompson also notes that Lippmann had been contemplating a revision of democratic social theory at least since 1915 (when he was still influenced by English socialists).

I am not an uncritical acolyte of Walter Lippmann, but I do not see how any democrat can fail to worry about the state of culture and education during the period when Lippmann was a public intellectual, or the terrible decline of standards today. I do think that it behooves scholars, as a matter of ethics and professionalism, not to distort the views of their opponents. Finally, if others on this list know of other refutations of the Chomsky claim that Lippmann is an antidemocrat and mind-manager, arch manufacturer of consent, I would like to know about them. If there are none or few, then this matter should be widely publicized, for Chomsky’s bitter and negative views of American identity and U.S. foreign policy have had a broad impact on college youth and many an autodidact.

Bibliography.

Chomsky, Noam and Edward S. Herman. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Cooper, John Milton, Jr.. The Warrior and the Priest. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1983

Ewen, Stuart. PR! A Social History of Spin. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Ewen, Stuart. Interviewed by David Barsamian. _Z Magazine_, May 2000.

Gabler, Neal. “The Fathers of P.R.” New York Times Magazine, 31 Dec.1995, 28-29.

Jackson, Charles E. “The Long and Influential Life of the Original Spinmeister.” Boston Globe, 23 Aug.1998, C2. Review of Larry Tye, The Father of Spin.

Lippmann, Walter. Drift and Mastery. New York: Mitchell Kennerly, 1914.

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion . New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922.

Lippmann, Walter. The Phantom Public. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925.

Riccio, Barry D. Walter Lippmann: Odyssey of a Liberal. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Thompson, John A. Reformers and War: American progressive publicists and the First World War. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1987.

Valby, Karen. Minutes for Chomsky lecture, Society of Professional Journalists, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 30 April 2000.

Wintonick, Peter and Mark Achbar. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. National Film Board of Canada, 1992.

Worth, Mark. “Who Are ‘They’? Alex Carey Outs The Founders of the American Propaganda Machine.” Internet review of Alex Carey, Taking The Risk Out of Democracy (University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of mass media (Pantheon, 1988), and then consult the videorecording Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (National Film Board of Canada, 1992, distributed by Zeitgeist Films), and the accompanying companion book, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media: the companion book to the award-winning film, by Peter Wintonick and Mark Achbar (Montreal: Black Rose Press, 1994).

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