The Clare Spark Blog

June 15, 2013

Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero

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

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

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

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

"Victor Hugo en mage"

“Victor Hugo en mage”

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

British production

British production

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

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

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

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February 25, 2013

POTUS, Michelle, and the end of the democratic republic

MichelleOscarI didn’t expect to blog about the Oscars 2013, but the denouement, in which [naughty] Jack Nicholson handed over his duties in announcing the Oscar for Best Picture to the First Lady, dressed for the Red Carpet and surrounded by what appeared to be a private army (yes they were military, it was acknowledged today), has suggested to me that not only are Hollywood liberalism and the newly minted Democratic Party-in–name-only seriously in cahoots, but that the spirit roused by the excerpt from Les Miserables, ending with tricolors floating to the stage, along with Barbra Streisand reminding us of a 1973 movie in which she played a sweet young Stalinist—all this signals that our Leader and his followers in Hollywood and in the mass media intend to establish the Permanent Revolution in America, with the Obamas playing Lenin/Stalin/Trotsky. Someday, far, very far in the future, the state will melt away, and the “Parisian” poor will get their just deserts.

The signs were all there during the first campaign: Michelle’s Princeton thesis was outspoken in its support for black nationalism, as was her consort’s twenty-year stint in Reverend Wright’s whacked out antisemitic congregation. Non-white supremacy is in the air, while recent popular television shows, written by liberals, feature strong black characters who appear to be lamentably compromised in their sex lives, but who will likely expose and discipline corrupt white characters of great power and wealth. (Think SCANDAL or DECEPTION.)

During my days on the Left, it was obvious that Stalinists and anarchistic local artists admired angry black men, such as Malcolm X. In those radio days, I never heard of Ralph Bunche or his accomplished mentor Abram L. Harris until I started my Bunche researches at UCLA in the 1990s, and after I had gotten my doctorate. More along these lines: At the Oscars, the ever-cocky Quentin Tarantino was recognized for DJANGO UNCHAINED. That was yet another symptom of the blood lust that runs through the movie industry, a “business” supposedly controlled by older members (many of whom behave like the old Reds). Indeed, were not key movie stars sitting on their hands while movie buffs picketed outside, when the brilliant but “treacherous” director Elia Kazan was belatedly recognized a few years ago?

StreisandOscar

And what of the campaign to deny ZERO DARK THIRTY its award because it allegedly glorified “torture” in the hunt for Bin Laden?

It matters not what we call the coming political dispensation. Obama’s constant campaigning (as if for a third term), his denunciation of the looming budget cuts while threatening national mayhem (even where localities, not the feds, control the hiring of first responders or teachers), growing evidence of electoral fraud and the cynicism of some black and brown supporters, suggest that social justice means one party dictatorship and the end of the Constitution, let alone of the meritocracy.

THE_WAY_WE_WERE

It is not too late to halt the slide toward the F-word. But the opposition (that may come to include disillusioned Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and conservatives) had better read the tea leaves and wake up.

August 5, 2012

Hating finance capital

Big Money crushing the People

Much of this website has been devoted to decoding “liberal” propaganda, especially the repetitive strains of populism that will constitute the Democratic Party playbook in 2012 as we move toward an election that will either push us yet further on the path to communism or dirigisme (a form of elite rule where the state not only regulates the economy but directs investment), or that will reverse course and could restore the American economy along more laissez-faire lines. The rhetoric of “families” can be seen as entirely about collectivist identities, or it can be seen, also, as a plea to corporations to look upon their employees as children whose demands should be met through further concessions. The index that follows is only a small portion of what has been my major concern: the authoritarian character of American political culture since the New Deal. Sadly, Popular Front politics have masked the penetration of communist and other statist ideas into the mainstream political discourse.

In sum, the State exists to cage the octopus of “finance capital.” That is the unifying theme of today’s “progressives” and before that, the Progressive movement: such populist scapegoating provides a bogus image of unity in fragmented societies. And recall that Hitler thought that the Soviets were not really socialists like himself, but were the puppets of “finance capital” a.k.a. the Jews.

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/ (David Brooks separates populism from progressivism, which is wrong.)

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/

https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/

https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/

https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/25/the-state-of-the-union-stinks/

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/ (On German Romantic predecessors to political correctness)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/15/the-politics-of-family-vs-mass-politics-altered/ (retitled Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero)

December 16, 2009

Perceptions of the enemy: The “Left” looks at the “Right” and vice-versa

 
 [Added 1-10-11: This blog is about rhetoric on both sides of the great divide over statism and the New Deal. But it is not my view that the incident in Tucson is about hate speech at all, but about the failure to prevent such atrocities owing to a malfunctioning mental health-law enforcement establishment.] [Added 3-5-11: I am wondering if some Republicans are reacting to Democratic Party accusations that they are grinding the face of the poor and of the hard-working “middle class” by excessive politeness and silence, for instance in not fully explaining state initiatives in Wisconsin and Ohio that would rein in public sector unions, letting the opposition control public opinion.]
  

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1990

Some mistaken identities.

I don’t think that some “Right-wing” partisans understand Leftists, often conflating revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and [anticommunist] social democrats. And yet media pundits constantly refer to “the Left” as if it still existed in its historic 19th and 20th century red-hot formulations and in the same numbers. What is lost is the memory of moderate conservatives or conservative reformers like FDR (descendants of New Dealers, now called “the Left”) and their practices of lopping off those who were to their left, that is, the structural reformers, unless there was a “Popular Front” against looming internal and external fascism, as did exist from 1935 until the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939.  At what point did these “moderate conservatives” as they called themselves  metamorphose into “the Left” as sole defenders of the little guy? I am guessing around 1919 (but following antimodern protest such as Victor Hugo’s melodramatic Les Misérables in the late 19th century). More on that another time, or see chapter two of my book on the Melville revival or my blog on Disraeli’s contribution to social democracy (https://clarespark.com/2011/07/16/disraelis-contribution-to-social-democracy/).

From long experience with leftists and the entire socialist-communist-social democratic traditions, however, despite their sharp differences in goals and tactics, I can generalize about them as follows:  All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers. By contrast, as progressives they see themselves as sacrificing their own personalities, economic interests, and happiness for “the public good” or “suffering humanity”; to be one of them, you must “stand with the oppressed,” even if that means helping Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And many prominent “liberals” may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary (e.g. hear the cry of 1960s black nationalists or see Trey Ellis in HuffPo, 12-16: “The Obama administration needs to course-correct immediately. He needs to make a series of bold, muscular, ruthlessly political moves immediately (reconciliation anyone?) to put the fear of god into all those puny adversaries out there that have been pushing him around with impunity”).  So they are the true humanitarians in their own eyes and the antitheses of the “fascists” they valiantly oppose.

Also, do not minimize both continuities and ruptures between the factions of what is loosely called “the Left.” Anyone who has studied or had contact with revolutionary socialists knows about their history of sectarianism. It makes Protestantism look demure and pure. They have killed or sacrificed  each other without hesitation: just look at what the Stalinists did to Trotskyists and Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, or the notorious Stalin purges of his former comrades, not to speak of other communists with Jewish backgrounds, a process that ceased only with his death in 1953. But mixing them in with social democrats is absurd, for the motley Marxist-Leninists inhabit mostly such outposts as Pacifica Radio, a few journals, and increasingly-criticized departments of comparative literature and other humanities.

But most crucially, “right-wing social democrats” (as some Leftists call them, distinguishing them from the Second International left-wing social democrats favoring incremental reforms on the way to socialism) have an entirely different lineage from the Marxist-Leninists.  As I have shown in other blogs, European aristocrats, following Bismarck and before that, reformers in Great Britain, “christianized” the new [“jewified”] industrial society with social insurance that we now call the welfare state. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/29/the-enigmatic-face-of-philosemitism/.)

Stand-ins for the controlling parent? Conservatives must read their antagonists without caricatures and without mistaking their objectives.  Revolutionary socialists and social democrats are not simply “elitists” who think they know what is best for others (though many think that “the Right” is not only monolithic, but racist, selfish, square, dumb, Islamophobic, xenophobic, indifferent to environmental degradation, gun-totin’ and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, frequently lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists–Glenn Beck for instance, though I am finding his analysis of increasing statism consistent with a view of the Obama administration as stealth Leninists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism/redistribution to rectify social inequities and achieve what all call “social justice.” In the end, we could make the public discourse on politics more rational by specifying competing theories of the good society:

Libertarians find wealth creation through free markets a good thing and, in the case of the better educated, believe that the state should protect this process through sound monetary policy. The social democratic Left (a.k.a. the moderate men, see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/) sees the state as planning rationally to compensate for what they believe to be a weak and unstable system: capitalism. Nothing is so scary as great gaps between rich and poor, for that portends another bloody French Revolution. If that means that everyone is relatively poor in the quasi-socialist utopia, such asceticism is better than the suffering of the victims du jour while the ever libertine rich feast and thoughtlessly indulge their animal appetites for glitter and other luxuries, hence “bourgeoisifying,” i.e., corrupting, the tastes and desires of the working-class who are now beset by “false consciousness.” And some conservatives, angry combatants in the culture wars, even as they invoke the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, seek to impose their own morality on those who don’t share the same “values,” (e.g. pro-life, anti-gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research using frozen embryos, creationism or intelligent design, the superiority of a rural way of life to decadent cities), thus nullifying the separation of Church and State that has served us so well. But I caution my readers who remain somewhere on “the Left” that conservatives are not evil or demented when they find such developments as the hyper-sexualization of women and children to be dangerous and destructive, or wonder, as I do, how it happened that sadomasochism became acceptable, even fashionable. And remember that Lord Maynard Keynes thought that his measures to relieve a depression were not to be permanently institutionalized.

POPULISM. According to Rasmussen Reports, 55% of the American public is populist, i.e., they believe that government and big business are in cahoots, which makes sense if you understand that small business and big business are in conflict. Interestingly given our generally anticommunist polity, this is the analysis of the Marxist-Leninist Left: the state is an executive committee of the big bourgeoisie (as opposed to the state being an independent institution with its own interests, see sociologist Michael Mann’s books). Populism is a subject I have written about extensively on this website. It claims to speak for “the people” against “the special interests” or “Wall Street” or “the military-industrial complex” or some other dread agglomeration such as “the Jews” or “white males.”As such, it speaks to class resentments and is irrational. Whether of the Left or of the Right, populism is not good for analyzing concrete institutions and their policies. Moreover, as indicated above, it does not distinguish between fractions of those who make decisions for the rest of us, each of which has different and possibly clashing interests with others in the so-called “ruling class.” Populists are incapable of writing accurate histories, but seem content to follow their leaders. And their leaders, insofar as they resort to demagoguery, don’t really care about “the folks.” (Who are the folks? Rural residents and small producers or small businessmen, or these and the industrial working class, including those in the state sector or service occupations? It is this vagueness that marks the demagogue. For more precise definitions of populist demagoguery and its techniques see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/10/index-to-blogs-on-populist-demagoguery/, or Lowenthal and Guterman’s book on right-wing agitators, still valid.)

*Contending definitions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ generally means a society practicing “laissez-faire” economics, militarism, hypernationalism (“national chauvinism”), the manipulation of public opinion through heavy-handed propaganda, and imperialism/racism. This absolves social democracy of continuities or comparisons with statist fascism and Nazism, not to speak of their zealousness in attacking “rugged individualism,” the American unpardonable sin that is imagined to persist beyond the pioneer period. By contrast, revolutionary socialists generally refer to the rule of finance capital or monopoly capital or “late capitalism” when they write of fascism and Nazism. Social democrats, true to their Platonic Guardian-philosopher-king heritage, tend to see fascism as the revolt of the masses, as noted above. Much psychiatry/psychoanalysis seeks to manage these “id-forces” and may be more powerful than we think in influencing the medical culture of postwar America. For more on the practice of psychoanalysis at a distance, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/. The importance of the father as leader and as commander of a tight militarized family unit with high morale cannot be overemphasized, a point forcefully made in the last section of the blog just cited, where I analyze the politics of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. I am all for keeping the family together, but caution against families keeping their children in a regressed state of mind, that is, either in a state of hero-worship (idealization) or of demonizing “the enemy.” The sane alternative is to look at competing interests, policies, and programs with enough detachment to take on the responsibilities of citizenship in a would-be democratic republic, examining a warring world characterized by every kind of uneven development.

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