The Clare Spark Blog

March 23, 2017

Multiculturalism and the London terror attack

Khalid Masood london attackerThe London terror attack was perpetrated by Khalid Masood, an Islamic jihadist. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new essay raises  the question of multiculturalism: a project advanced by German Romantics (especially Herder) and their followers in the progressive movement. Multiculturalism is explicitly reactionary with respect to the (French) Enlightenment with its enlightened advocacy of science, “materialism,” and the individual’s search for truth. Whereas Herder and his followers promoted “unity” and a collectivist discourse in order to quell any such “leveling” as science (or the recovery of a hidden history) implied.


So the misnamed “progressives,” fearing an abundance of free thought among “ordinary” people, came up with a plausible set of substitutes for the questing individual—“toleration,” (group) “identity,” and “diversity” in the interest of the particular types of stability and cohesion that would further their pseudo-democratic rule. We may note the “progressive” predilection for Big Government as opposed to the unpredictable “marketplace of ideas.” Upwardly mobile intellectuals (with few exceptions) went along with the masque, reaching back in history for a respectable family tree, one that was distinctly counter-revolutionary. Locke (like Hobbes) was denigrated as a “possessive individualist.” (Hip historians now link John Locke to the racism they ostensibly reject, so “bourgeois”/atomizing historians should take note.)

Multiculturalism (displacing dangerously enlightened intellectual diversity) is touted as the corrective to such “bourgeois” missteps. In our zeal to correct the errors of the past, are we rehabilitating the notion of “race” but under the rubric of cultural nationalism, which we are expected to “tolerate” in the name of diversity?


Given the hegemony of progressivism today, it is worth emphasizing the origin and establishment of multiculturalism, over and over. Although its advocates will deny it, MC has nothing to do with tolerance, mental health, immigration, or human rights. Like the (almost) invisible Herder’s reach into current day terrorism, Multiculturalism is a reactionary protocol. (See, or from an entirely different angle, see

January 28, 2012

Popular sovereignty on the ropes

I restarted my study of the making of the Constitution last summer, by reading the Federalist papers. I was very excited by Hamilton’s insistence on popular sovereignty as the fountain of authority that must guide the entire national government. (See “…The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.” [Federalist #22. Hamilton’s emphasis, pp. 106, 110, The Federalist, edited by Max Beloff, 1948, second ed. 1987]  Hamilton stressed the power of the House of Representatives as the most direct route to popular control of government.  I was somewhat shocked as the prevalent [Jeffersonian] line on Hamilton is that he was an aristocratic thinker, a quasi-monarchist, who declared at a banquet that the people were “a great beast.” This latter slap at popular sovereignty was disseminated by medievalist Henry Adams and no one has found any source to confirm Adams’s claim. And unlike Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), Lincoln’s opponent in the election of 1860, Hamilton was an abolitionist, and would not have approved Douglas’s version of popular sovereignty as a route to the expansion of slavery.

So popular sovereignty is linked, not to Rousseau’s notion of the general/popular will (an idea taken up by the Jacobins and by many leftists today), but to the deliberations of a representative republic in which, presumably, the House of Representatives is recognized by the other branches of government as the “pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.”

We find ourselves in campaign season 2012, in a condition where “the consent of the people” is a dream. In this polarized polity, characterized by a mish-mash of religious, class, ethnic, and gender politics, plus a stunning ignorance of political science, economics, and American and European history and its bevy of authoritarian social movements, “the people” is a convenient fiction of demagoguery, trotted out as counterpoint to special interests/”the nanny state.”

What is a writer with a popular audience to do? What can educators, including parents do to instill the mental habits that would make a representative republic more than a recruiting slogan for conservatives wishing to restore the divine origin of such innovations as the separation of powers and checks and balances, all treated in The Federalist? “God” is barely summoned in The Federalist; rather these pamphlets were a scientific, materialist proposal and defense of an unprecedented national government that would halt the slide to chaos and failure under the Articles of Confederation. In other words, the U.S. Constitution, and before that, the Declaration of Independence were products of the Enlightenment. “We” were “Nature’s nation” and for many, bearers of a providential mission to lead the world in political democracy. When Charles Sumner asked “Are We A Nation?” in 1867, he envisioned “the people” as the repository of those rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, and these “human rights” were universal, and, quoting James Otis, “without distinction of color.” (Sumner also nodded to The Federalist and Alexander Hamilton). For more on Providence and American mission, see  Rooseveltian internationalists, leaders of the American Studies movement, were fond of trouncing the Founders and Herman Melville’s character Captain Ahab as messianic and rabidly imperialistic. Thus “American exceptionalism” has come to signify the overweening desire to dominate the globe, rather than the invention of a nation grounded in natural, i.e., universal human rights: life, liberty, and property. However guided by “Providence,” Sumner, echoing Hamilton, insisted that “We the people,” not “We the States” were the source of legitimacy for the Constitution.

Although the President, along with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has called for the beefing up of “education,” neither one suggested a debate about the curriculum, particularly who decides what is the proper training for would-be citizens. And by citizenship, I refer to a person with the critical tools to read the messages that affect all our choices. Here is where “protestant pluralism” founders on the rocks of neo-tribalism, “local control,” anti-intellectualism, populism, proto-fascism, and other man-traps. We are cathected to leaders who pander to our pre-existent prejudices or to reverence for ancestors, to the fear of an eternity in hell, to the presidential horse-race that the media promote, and to groupiness and partisanship in general. (See We are constantly agitated and may enjoy the inner turmoil and suspense that a political campaign offers. Or we may feel helpless and permanently unrepresented in both high and popular culture, so turn inward to self, or to family, friends, employment, sports, and sex/personal appearance as primary sources of identity and purpose. Patriotism is taken to be a tic of “the Right,” not exemplary loyalty to human rights without distinction of color.

What I complain about here regarding our distorted and irrational political culture may seem so cosmic, so impossible to rectify, that a sane person must give up on this country and its survival as a representative republic. Indeed, the powerful historian Edmund S. Morgan denies that we ever had anything resembling popular rule, nor does he appear to be sanguine as to its prospects. (See his 1988 publication: Inventing the People, in which he concludes that we have moved from the politics of deference to the politics of leadership, i.e., the manipulation of public opinion.) So to be concrete, I suggest that each person concerned with her or his child’s education, encourage that child to look up the phrase “popular sovereignty” and to urge her or his teachers to discuss it in the appropriate grades. But first, look inside, and what do you see?  A terrified conformist, a romantic renegade, or a competent voter–a faithful seeker after truth, the universal truth that is the foundation of human rights and the glory of American nationality?  Captain Ahab, arousing his crew to find and fight Leviathan, echoed Milton’s Satan in Book 9 of Paradise Lost, when Ahab/Satan declared “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.” Are We a Nation? For more on Alexander Hamilton and the search for truth see (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke).

January 2, 2010

Jottings on the culture wars: what are they?

Ad, Harvard Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2009

[Added July 6, 2013: There is massive confusion on what the culture wars are about. Bill O’Reilly pits “traditionalists” against “secular progressives” as if either group was internally coherent; while David Horowitz views [anti-Western] whiteness studies as making a “melodrama” that may explain the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin debacle (

This essay tries to unpack the culture wars by analyzing the confusing and unsettled sociology that has polarized America. Some of my questions interrogate  both sides in the “culture wars,” rejecting the emphasis on culture to the exclusion of history, political science, and social theory.  (My own views tend toward the classical liberal: thus I am one of those “secular progressives” denounced as enemies to Easter Bunnies and Christmas trees.)]

It is true that politics are messy, by contrast, sociology as the product of German Idealism, is not.  Look back to Herder, Goethe and their successors who promoted a rooted cosmopolitanism. Their identity politics are tied to the utopian longing for stable national (or international) identity where its mosaic bits assume a beautiful pattern, stretching and yawning perhaps, but not confused, not switching, not turning on each other.  With the mosaic in place (i.e., all “ethnic” groups embraced and expressing themselves, but monomaniacs/socially irresponsible capitalists cut out), hostility/prejudice will become irrational: “inclusiveness” and state regulation will have removed rational sources of disaffection. [1]

The identity that matters to enlightened “moderates” equates “totalitarianism of the Left and Right” leaving pluralistic “liberal” democracy as the emancipated, yet irrationalist, alternative.  However, the antifascist pluralism they represent is not the liberalism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie (the classical liberals) but a shattering of what is stigmatized as the Egotistical Sublime (Ariadne’s enthusiasm for labyrinths, or the long view of history.).  Following conservative sociologists (e.g., Max Weber, a German patriot and supporter of the Weltkrieg), their social world is packed into separate categories: political, economic, and the cultural, yet the latter has a life of its own that cancels the politics and economic interest; human competence is dissolved into Negative Capability, at best, grasping only fragments.  The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders merges the individual with its “ethnic (multicultural) communities”–all joyously “fused” in the state (or is it the Great Chain of Being? or nowhere at all? is the state both there and not there?): a totally mystical “public interest” in societies with antagonisms between the owning classes and those dependent on them, the latter with nowhere to go.  This corporatist liberal “web and woof” is the spiritual hammock supporting us against “totalitarianism” of both the Left and Right. 

Where do the left-populists and social democrats fit in?  How can there be anti-racist politics while thinking in racialist terms?[2]  All the questions I have raised are intertwined with the larger debate over epistemology: Heraclitus vs. Bacon and the empiricists.  How do ordinary people, responsible for exercising the duties of citizenship, relying upon observation, study, and experience, know that their actions and judgments are not the products of a flawed methodology?

This blog, like others on this website, addresses the contemporary crisis in the humanities, a feverish condition said by some Rightists to have been imposed by Gramsci, Lukács, Frankfurt School critical theorists such as Adorno and Marcuse, and New Leftists who have taken the strategic heights in education and social policy.  With the ascendancy of Reagan republicanism, revisions of the literary canon and the history curriculum generated by multiculturalism, feminism, and black nationalism have been seen by some conservatives as mindless new developments leading to resurgent antisemitism and neofascism.  I share their concerns, but many conservatives cannot defend their own records nor can they reform the reformers, for they have not situated curriculum reform within the problematic of “democratic pluralism” and its vicissitudes (e.g. Lipset’s and Raab’s  The Politics of Unreason (1970), a venue created by “pragmatic” conservatives long before the “tenured radicals” of the 1960s generation began their “Left” stampede).[3]

As an artist and scholar familiar with some of the history of antidemocratic propaganda, psychological warfare, and censorship, I am disappointed and impatient with the scholars who have taken part to date.  I see mostly polarization and self-righteousness, little self-criticism or generosity or insight: more feints among different factions of counter-Enlightenment vying for the vanguard position, each waving the banner for humanitarian values and methodological sophistication.  I see little robust intellectual confrontation between radicals, liberals and conservatives.  And the wars rage on and on, spurred by the dubious appropriations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and chaos theory.[4]  Underneath the chatter and jargon and ad hominem insults to colleagues and to humanity at large, the questions of greatest importance to our survival lie buried; no reform strategies can be formulated without answers, and the questions are susceptible to empirical investigation:  Is there or is there not inevitable class exploitation in bourgeois democracies? Can social democratic reform remove what the revolutionary left insists are structural antagonisms?    Are contracts between persons, corporations, and nations contracts at all if one party is coerced by the other?  And who shall adjudicate disagreements if the weaker party balks?  If many people are oppressed, how shall they organize themselves to redress grievances, or should we breed a race of supermen?  Are modernization and industrialization really destroying the planet?  If so, what, if any, mass activity could halt or reverse the destruction?  What are the responsibilities of families, schools, corporations and the media in providing the critical and emotional tools to understand and ameliorate our worsening condition?  Have they ever done so?

Here come the masterless men. As hitherto orchestrated and conducted, the culture wars have diverted attention from these life-and-death issues, as perhaps they were intended to, as they have always done.  Nor have conservatives admitted the source of their anxieties: the tender moment of late adolescence when young people are separating from families of origin and lacking family responsibilities that later on might discourage political radicalism.  Conservative social psychologists applying the lessons of psychological warfare are alert to the power of modern fiction in making subversive notions attractive and acceptible.  Take the case of Herman Melville and his “elusive” or “ambivalent” texts, which though apparently conservative or reactionary, have aroused the energies of expert propagandists of the Right who fear his effect on young readers. For instance, some noted psychological warriors have explained how radical messages may be smuggled into harmless appearing fantasies, making stressed readers more receptive to new ideas, ideas they would normally reject as alien if encountered in an explicitly political context:

“…Of crucial significance may be those who are under strain, ambivalent, at once torn between loyalty to patriotic values and to the new values being offered by the communicator.  Such a segment may be a crucially important target, and it is necessary to understand the nature of its ambivalence and the implications for psychological warfare possibilities.  While such a segment is drawn to the new values, its allegiance to the old is made more compulsive by guilt feeling evoked by its attraction to the new.  Among such a population we should expect strong ritualistic conformity which would serve to deny evidences of hospitality to the alien values.  Beneath this ritualism, however, we should also expect to find the repressed side of the ambivalence, the side which represents a disposition to espouse the new values.

Research is now needed on the readiness of individuals under strain to accept communications which represent both the expressed and the repressed sides of their ambivalence.  It has been suggested that such individuals will reject any overt statement of the repressed side; but that they may pay attention if the repressed value is expressed in fictional form, so that it may be received on the level of fantasy, thus protecting the receiver from the need to decide whether or not he believes, or is willing to accept, such a conflicting value.  It is our belief that research along lines such as these would have far reaching operational usefulness for psychological warfare.” [5]

 [Clare:] Such sophisticated machinations at the highest levels of government suggest why apparently harmless cultural artifacts as the novels students read in high school and college can fluster vigilant ideologues.

Blunted tools have brought us to the current impasse over teaching methods, curriculum, and standards.  We are besieged by crazy-making, historically incorrect specters of our own fully feeling, fully thinking selves: The modern artist as slipping Titan, the obsessive Faustian autodidact, the obsequious romantic lover, the miscegenating rootless cosmopolitan, the vindictive muckraker.  Their unpardonable sin is the bad news that uncontrollable curiosity and unbalanced temperaments have shoved in our faces: there are or may be class antagonisms that cannot be reconciled by conservative reform, i.e., by negotiation and adjustments that do not severely threaten the economic interests of ruling classes.  So the hyper-individualistic “materialistic” Jew is converted to “the [idealist] new historicism”and disappears into “community” as defined by others; the judenrein center finds itself ensconced in the administered state.[6]

1930s intellectuals sometimes called this condition fascism; today it is more benignly labeled ‘multiculturalism,’ and is touted as the remedy for prejudice, scapegoating, and intolerance.  As social policy its longevity has been guaranteed by state, foundation, and university funding.  To speak against it incites accusations of Right-wing racism and worse.  Don’t bother applying for a CPB grant or a job in public broadcasting if you disdain the multicultural narrative of world history as racial/ethnic conflict, the genocide and ecocide perpetrated by “white males” or “the West”–a sad story that new textbooks, curricula, and television or radio programs celebrating “diversity” will bring to a happy end.

Although “Left” and “Right” have been internally at loggerheads over this social policy, all parties agree that insurgent blacks, women, and gays of the New Left initiated and now preside over the new wave of reform.  Before that (the early 1970s), an unbroken, unchallenged master narrative of Western progress is said to have reigned in academe and the media.  For the hard Right, the narrative was rational, unified and benign; for the hard Left (including anti-imperialist whites, people of color, and women, but not materialists), the narrative was entirely malignant; for the “moderate” critics straddling both positions, the narrative was contradictory and ambiguous, but would be resynthesized with the vigorous new blood and perspectives of the hitherto excluded, the better to launch a really Enlightened non-Marxist New New Left.[7]

My work takes none of these idealist positions, but seeks to document some of the major thinkers and social movements that promoted cultural policies coinciding with their perceived class interests.  No materialist has publicized the history of multiculturalism or “identity politics,” a history which cannot be deciphered without recalling competing prewar definitions of fascism, protofascism, and antifascism.  Hence I reject as ideologically distorted previous attempts to periodize the culture wars.  I suspect that the media, publishing, and academe are structurally precluded from describing the origins of this dispute for fear of damage done to the reputations of most postwar “liberal” intellectuals, whether positioned on the Left, Right or Center.  Nobody wants to say he has been successful by conforming to pseudo-democratic institutions, in some ways indistinguishable from their analogs in Germany and Italy before 1945; nobody wants to admit he is suffering from a massive failure of nerve.


     So-called multiculturalism is a reactionary ideological offensive that  confused individuals with groups and suppresses economic explanations for conflict and change in favor of cultural anthropological ones.[8]  As a manifestation of German Romanticism, it was an aesthetic theory buttressing a political structure: an irrationalist völkisch “aristo-democracy” (Herder).[9]  The German Romantics and their popularizers in England and America, men like Carlyle and Emerson, waved their supple poetic individuality, unique, yet imperceptibly diffused into race and nation and time itself as Schlegel had advised.  The aristo-democrats were the blooming correctives to the dessicating “mechanical” rationalism and universalism that had undergirded popular sovereignty for the seventeenth-century political theorist of constitutional democracy, John Locke.  In the eighteenth century, Piranesi would visualize this Lockean world in a series of engravings, his nightmarish urban spaces/prisons.  Lord Byron counterattacked with Lockean Prometheans, images of indomitable humanity: fatherless, yet kind, ameliorative and intellectually fortified.  In the later nineteenth century, Piranesi’s desolate, gigantic scenes of torture would reappear in James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, the City ruled by numeracy and literacy personified in Melencolia, the Queen patterned after both Dürer’s famous image of writer’s block, and George Eliot, Thomson’s contemporary, the realist novelist, author of Felix Holt, Radical.

I have mentioned just a few instances of cultural conflict over accountability: the culture wars are fought over you and me, non-experts in an advanced, complex, and hierarchical, yet “democratic” industrialized society.  Confident in the capacity of ordinary people to test their betters, Locke, like ourselves, was up against centuries of conservative antidemocratic propaganda on behalf of a tribal or feudal order where either Nature or arbitrary authority were taken for granted as immovable. Not surprisingly, social obligations (contracts) were vertical, links in the Great Chain of Being, not horizontal agreements between equals, each party theoretically free to walk away from a bad deal.


[1] For cultural nationalists, the mosaic represents “self-reliance” as expressed in economic autarky, the unit being the ethnic nation.  Such organization would make it difficult for workers to unite across “ethnic” or “cultural” lines. By biological determinism, I do not mean that the followers of Herder had a materialist understanding of the natural sciences. As John Crowe Ransom or Eric Voegelin understood the völkisch idea of a national culture, there would be a spiritual uniformity in a people who had interacted for a lengthy period with their specific material environment, evolving into a balanced relationship with nature and each other. This was the point of T.S. Eliot’s famous remark (1933) about limiting the number of freethinking Jews in the interest of local stability. See Ransom’s crucial essay “The Aesthetic of Regionalism,” AR Vol. 2 (Jan 1934): 290-310, for an elucidation of scientistic localism that infuses contemporary concepts of multiculturalism and compare to Herder’s concept of nationality as described by Eric Voegelin, The History of the Race Idea (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989).

[2] Until I read the political sociologist Eric Voegelin on the history of the race idea, I did not understand this point. Voegelin rejected the concept of “race” as too materialist because of its biological implications. Instead he embraced Herder’s seminal idea of cultural nationalism.

[3] See the tone set by Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Education (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1990): “…the men and women who are paid to introduce students to the great works and ideas of our civilization have by and large remained true to the emancipationist ideology of the sixties” (xiv)…a new form of thought control based on a variety of pious new-left slogans and attitudes (xvi)…The denunciations of the “hegemony” of Western culture and liberal institutions that are sounded so insistently within our colleges and universities these days are not idle chatter, but represent a concerted effort to attack the very foundations of the society that guarantees the independence of cultural and artistic life–including the independence of our institutions of higher education (xviii).”  The radical canon includes Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (7); quoting Schiller, Kimball praises dissent and complains that the tenured radicals now occupy the moderate center (188-89).

Few have challenged Kimball’s periodization of the “P.C.” debate, nor are the “radical” challenges to the canon seen as élite initiatives, in which a folkish idea has been co-opted and nervously managed by the corporatist liberals on behalf of social stability.  See for instance Gregory S. Jay, “The First Round of the Cultural Wars,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/26/92, B 1-2: The move toward multiculturalism emanated from academic “have-nots” after the 1960s.  Also the militant Heterodoxy, edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, Vol.1, #1, “PC Cover-Up,” which argues that left-over Stalinist progeny, 1960s veterans of the New Left, are fighting a rear-guard action which “must be fought to conclusion”: the future of America hangs in the balance.  The writers decry the apocalyptic mentality of “the Left,” chiliastic originators of twentieth-century brutality. [added 1/5/2010: since I wrote this note, I have tended to share the Horowitz-Collier sense of urgency, especially after studying the vogue for Maoism on the Left and chiliasm on parts of the Right.]

A similar urgency informs a more recent debate on PBS (McNeil-Lehrer, 10-26-94) between Lynn Cheney, former head of NEH, and Professor Gary Nash, director of the UCLA National Center for History in the Schools which has produced a curriculum guidebook for grades 5-12 (flexible and adaptable to local conditions and preferences, according to New York Times, 10-26-94, B-8).  Cheney charged that the forces of political correctness have triumphed in the historical profession, and are destroying belief in a flawed, but on balance, great nation; Nash defended his guidebook as “a revolution” in the teaching of history, which will deemphasize “dates, facts, and names” in favor of critical inquiry into an evolving history which is always “provisional and contingent,” sensitive to the presence of women and minorities (labor not mentioned in the TV program, though Nash’s Urban Crucible celebrates the role of radical artisans in the American Revolution).  When charged by Cheney with denigrating all wealth (but not that of an African king) Nash contrasted Carnegie with Rockefeller.  Both Cheney and Nash say they want a critical approach to US history; both agree that a revolution is in progress. Joyce Appleby, president of the American Historical Association sees the culture wars as the chief struggle of our times (conversation with the author).

[4] See Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) for a spirited attack on such appropriations and all anti-Enlightenment tendencies in the humanities.  The authors (who seem sympathetic to sociobiology) suggest that scientists may go their own way, teaching the humanities themselves if the present situation is not remedied.

[5] John W. Riley, Jr. and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., “Research for Psychological Warfare,” A Psychological Warfare Casebook, ed. William E. Daugherty and Morris Janowitz (Johns Hopkins U.P., 1958): 543.

[6] I am adopting the formulation of generic fascism as a centrist social movement that has obliterated liberalism, forcing agreement between the goals and interests of capital and labor, as suggested by David Stephen Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society 1931-81 (University of Manchester Press, 1987).

[7] For the latest example of the moderate position, see Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars (N.Y.: Henry Holt, 1995).

[8] If ethnic and gender studies were organized to deal with populations as they have been historically defined by others and often themselves, then there would be no objection from anti-racists.  Such programs need not ignore class issues, nor need they mythologize in search for glorious ancestors.  However, these programs were institutionalized in response to status group politics, and tend to reinforce biological determinism by their very organization.  As I have argued at public meetings, the separation of gender and “racial” issues in special programs has served as an excuse for “regular” curricula to ignore the needs expressed by previously excluded groups to see society and history as a whole.  See David A. Hollinger, “Postethnic America,” Contention 4 (Fall 1992): 79-86, for an interpretation that superficially resembles my own; however, he does not look to the possible structural incapacity of our society to respond to the social democratic reforms he proposes, or the structural antagonisms that make “common ground” a utopian wish or a tactical compromise.


September 8, 2009

Making Political Love, Not War

infographia imagines elements of critical thought

infografia imagines elements of critical thought

Today, September 8, 2009, the President addressed a national audience of schoolchildren from kindergarten through K-12, reiterating the American Dream, a dream attained through “taking responsibility,” learning from failure, overcoming obstacles, and, he advised, almost in passing, learning to think critically. That critical thought remains a controversial and muddled value, or might be opposed by fundamentalists of either Left or Right, or might, as a concept, be simply incomprehensible to younger children was not addressed by either Nina Easton or William Kristol on Fox News Channel, both of whom praised the talk as reinforcing conservative values. Meanwhile, Joe Hicks told Pajamas Media viewers not to emulate Sean Penn’s tantrums by succumbing to Obama Derangement Syndrome before they even heard the speech; that Eric Holder’s hiring of numerous civil rights litigators to dig up rampant racial discrimination, notwithstanding his appointment by a black president, was worthier of attention.

Shortly after watching Obama’s speech, I opened my Facebook page and learned that Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism had been deemed by one reviewer as the most important book of the last decade (a book that, in my view, does not look at the resistance to informed political participation from a long enough time frame). I invite readers of today’s blog not only to consider what each of us means by appropriately critical thought in a would-be democratic republic, but to find out what attitudes, facts, and narratives teachers of history and social studies in the public schools are actually relating concerning the national biography. As my own contribution I resuscitate an essay written almost twenty years ago, while I still had hopes of reforming Pacifica from within.

And all that Jazz.    On 15 July 1990, I met with Pacifica listeners who had listened to my radio series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” and wanted to discuss its implications face-to-face.  It was valuable to me as a guide to future programming, and helped me to understand how my work differs from that of other social critics, both in its form and its content.   The listeners who attended our fund-raiser ranged in age from the twenties to the sixties.  Many were social activists, some were teachers and graduate students; they also included accountants, an air-conditioning repairman, a house painter, an artist, a TV editor, and a manicurist.  One listener was a Holocaust survivor.  We were all white people, neither very poor nor very rich.  Everyone was well informed and articulate: there were many expressions of anxiety about our society, disgust with mass culture, and despair for the future; one listener wants to leave the country.  After I had summarized my argument for the series and answered questions and criticisms, I got three interesting objections to my analysis.  One person felt that my emphasis on anti-Semitism was a furtive defense of Israel.  Another was frustrated with me; I talked too much about the past.  She seemed to want rules and recipes for action, as if she wanted to know whom to hate. Whereas I, hoping to counter the demoralizing effects of centuries of antidemocratic propaganda, had only offered the idea that we must always improvise and address the specific circumstances of the moment; finally we must rely on our own critical capacities to evaluate and judge competing interpretations of society and plans for social action; I was saying that such enlightened determinations would be the result of study, introspection, debate, and the testing of would-be-allies and leaders over time.  Another listener, a member of a Maoist group wanted me to say that America was already fascist because of our behavior in Central America. [It seems to me today that neither of these three understood that you can’t get to peace and love through hate. Not good for conflict-resolution, if that is your thing.]

Dirt: a problem of the transition.  Why should we compare the political culture of Nazi fascism to our own?  I continue to argue that “fascism” is not simply the brutality of counter-revolution and the suppression of a militant labor movement, but an attack on the Brain, on the critical spirit of the Enlightenment that alone could make democratic participation and self-management effective.  This critical spirit was represented by organic conservatives as the figure of the Romantic Wandering Jew, dirty, demonic, restless, and a transgressor: the practitioner of solitary vice, reading library books and doing archival research and investigative journalism.  He is ourselves in the Pacifica audience.

If we fail to make the distinction between Nazi fascism and authoritarian tendencies in our own culture, then we will not be able to understand contested institutions like the media, traditional families, and the school system: we will not know how and where to put our energies.  We will not be able to evaluate the analysis and tactics of “progressive” social movements or embattled artists and writers based in the petit-bourgeoisie, and which are clamoring for our support and which may be proto-fascist and therefore deluded and destructive.  We will not see the openings for effective social action and dialogue with those who do not agree with us, but may continue to feel desperate and immobilized.  Moreover, if we fail to understand the Holocaust, we may not be able to prevent mass death today; we may continue to do to ourselves and to our environment what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe.  Like them we will attempt to turn back the clock and recover the good father who alone, could and would restrain the predatory side of capitalism.

Three discussions of Nazism are of interest to me this week. In May, Saul Friedländer’s UCLA seminar showed Syberberg’s 7 1/2 hour film, Our Hitler, A Film From Germany; during our fund drive, Michael Parenti gave taped talks on the abuses of psychohistory and then Nazism; Elinor Langer’s article on Neo-Nazis was the centerpiece of last week’s Nation magazine. Though it did not advertise its Burkean antidemocratic commitments, the Syberberg film represented the conservative nationalist position, claiming that Hitler was elected democratically, that he was the inheritor of German Romanticism through Wagner: he was the little man who had seized the printing press and the film camera, aestheticizing violence and creating the corrupting spectacles of mass culture.  Like the Jungian psychoanalysts in America who worked for the OSS analyzing Hitler’s perverted psyche, Syberberg made Hitler archetypally Jewish.

Michael Parenti offered the Stalinist interpretation of Nazism: it was monopoly capital’s assault on the labor movement; anti-Semitism was a propaganda ploy to smear communists; he dismissed the question of fascism’s appeal as not terribly relevant.  The tactics of the KPD were not mentioned, nor did he attempt to explain the Holocaust.  Eleanor Langer’s article worried about Tom Metzgar, David Duke, and skinheads, collapsed Jew hatred into racism in general, and argued that racism, ostensibly at bay after World War II was alarmingly returning.  The issue was filled with advertisements from liberal anti-Nazi, anti-Klan organizations asking for support.  Langer did attempt to counter the ADL characterization of neo-Nazis as extremists; we should look at mainstream racism, she said finally (contradicting her earlier statement about the abated racism after the war?).  Because none of these social critics has delivered a satisfying account of antisemitism’s functioning in Nazi culture, they cannot help us identify it here or frame effective tactics to defeat fascism today.  For the remainder of this broadcast, I shall show that historical analysis helps us understand the present and gives us hope and courage, but also demands that we examine our attitudes toward America and the “right-wingers” we are certain are our sworn enemies, and who, we are certain, bear no resemblance to ourselves.

What was the threat of the Jews?  What was their connection with the rationalism, science, technology, and radical puritanism we associate with the word Enlightenment, and which accelerated in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries?  What was unique about modernity?  For the first time in history, the material conditions for global peace were developed.  The unfettered imagination created the technology that would one day eliminate toil and gross inequities of wealth; the preconditions for maximum personal development would finally be realized.  Mass communications made mass education (and therefore responsible political participation) plausible.  The psychology of John Locke proposed that experience, not our fallen state, determined one’s understanding of the world.  This Lockean tradition emphasized possibilities of cooperation and educability: Lockeans stressed the importance of institutions that could be modified and improved; twentieth century Behaviorism owes more to Locke than does conservative psychoanalysis, which may be viewed as counter-revolutionary, e.g., in its emphasis on the Death Instinct.

The English Civil War, the American and French Revolutions raised the specter of lower-class autodidacts whose nosiness and insatiable curiosity were questioning the virtue of ruling élites.  Customary “deference” was over.  The radical Protestant sects which emerged during the period of the English Civil War were identified with Old Testament Jews by their Royalist enemies.  Meanwhile, the new science was promoting the idea of species-unity, as all of nature seemed governed by knowable and universal laws: nature was our teacher and a text anyone could learn to read.  The procedures of science were implicitly anti-authoritarian.  The senses were no longer deceptive as the Church had argued, but a relatively reliable source of positive knowledge.  As a scientific explorer of the world, you were expected to prove your assertions with observable facts and replicable experiments, not intuition or inspiration.  Thus was the basis laid for legitimate, not coercive, authority.  This democratic science is at the heart of voluntarism and rationalism: it is our only protection against demagoguery and the exorcisms that must follow the sleep of reason.

In the English and German Terror-Gothic art that followed the French Revolution, the figures of the Wandering Jew and the femme-fatale represented the fearsome specter of revolution from below: revolutions were linked to sex, pantheism, curiosity, narcissism, androgyny, and reason (all were illicit passions).  Victorian Tory Radicals and Christian Socialists identified America as the nation of Bad Jews–we were revolutionary puritans, the bearers of the most radical Enlightenment ideas.  “The Hebrew Children” carried the critical spirit; they were the transgressors of the boundaries set by the old and apparently declining European élites.  For extreme conservatives in this country, the American frontiersman was the type of the dangerously egalitarian and ambitious bad Jew bringing death to the paternalism of the Old World.  D.H. Lawrence inspired the nativist radicals who followed when he characterized the typical American as hard, stoic, isolate, a killer: he was surely thinking of the nosy Hebrews and modern women he also complained about.

European élites did not sit idly by, then, gracefully bowing to the rising classes that would remove their privileges, but counter-attacked with all their Hearts.  Their strategy was to co-opt the materialism and environmentalism of the Enlightenment: their perverse productions haunt us today and may be an obstacle to coalition-building in the 1990s.  First there was scientific racism to justify expropriation of land and slavery: this countered the Judeo-Christian ideas of single creation, international brotherhood, equality, and ideas of species-unity popularized by science and commerce.  As an improvement, we got polygenesis and the Aryan myth.  By 1945, Franz Boas and his students in cultural anthropology had apparently made valiant progress in demolishing these vicious ideas.  But Boas, along with students of Frederick Jackson Turner and the other Progressives had simultaneously supported pseudo-scientific notions of national and regional character: the doctrine of blood and soil which we usually associate with Germany, or the Southern Agrarians of the 1920s and 1930s, not 1960s America.  For the ethnopluralists like Boas or Turner (both ideological descendants of the German Romantics), different racial stocks interacted with their material environments to produce unique qualities, rooted in local history, which was again, also natural history.  All events were now “rooted” in a specific incomparable moment; events were unique; the past was no guide to the present in this brand of historicism.  Turner’s pseudo-materialism created the intellectual foundations for much of the new social history and fashionable studies of “material culture” in academic cultural history and in museums.  It sounds Marxist, but is not. (Turner explicitly vowed to promote a pseudo-materialism in the public universities to counter the growing authority of Marxism in Europe and America; see his essays in The Frontier in History, 1921.)

Similarly, Social Darwinism undermined the materialist analysis that the Enlightenment made possible.  For the social Darwinists, national or regional struggle was the motor of history and was healthy and progressive, uplifting, weeding out the lower races, like the English imperialism that J.A. Hobson ambivalently criticized in 1902.  Racial unity was normal; if class warfare erupted, it was the fault of Jewish finance capital: its symbol the Stock Exchange.  The absentee ownership born of the Stock Exchange destroyed the warm personal relationships that were supposed to have moderated relations between master and man (Hitler’s fantasy).  Meanwhile, conspiratorial and always lying Jews had seized the technology of mass media to instill greed and dissatisfaction with things as they are (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).  In America, nativist reformers argued that immigrant Polish Jews had corrupted the native American working class, convincing them that they would be exploited under capitalism, no matter what the AFL said.  Antimodernists everywhere saw the Jewified city as the source of dissension; mixing races and nationalities, its bohemian inhabitants were going native to overthrow the authority of the fathers; these primitivist revolts, melting pots boiling over, were the first step in the descent to internationalism, chaos and decay.

As we know, science, technology and psychology were continually co-opted by “moderate” conservatives to control the labor force and forestall socialist transformation.  John Dos Passos loved exposing the new techniques of public relations (U.S.A. is his masterpiece).  From the 1920s to the present, the lower orders, as usual, were fed images of their ugliness, irrationality and incompetence.  But bad Jews in movies and television did not invent this practice.  Plato had insisted on the necessity of the noble lie to keep the masses in their place, but he didn’t have mass literacy and newspapers to contend with.[1]  Aristocratic radicals, writing in the tradition of Plato to stigmatize the lower-class brain, have attacked positivism and objectivity: (popular) science is but one of competing myths, they claim.  As with other philosopher-kings, their wisdom and rationality in making these judgments is not contested; as David Hume asserted, moderation was hard to come by; truth and certainty were to be found, if anywhere, in the moderate point of view.  And like other élite theorists in Europe and America, the moderate men have attacked all materialists pointing the way to emancipation from upper-class terrorism.  The moderns and their radical liberal followers must be purged to restore normal, natural (i.e., racial) harmony, the de-centered localism they, Herder, and T.S. Eliot admired.  Like earlier élite theorists and carriers of Conservative Enlightenment, then, the aristocratic radicals dismiss the possibility of excellence in democratic societies.  By attacking the revolutionary bourgeoisie from the p.o.v. of the higher moderation, they have lined up with the displaced European aristocracy and can see only darkness in their future.

How have other twentieth century social movements positioned themselves with regard to the Enlightenment?  First the Nazis (who have been incorrectly portrayed as romantic individualists and decadents by some conservatives): The Nazi movement, based in the ruined middle-class and longing for restoration, embraced the harmony, balance and repose of classicism and corporatism, including its supposed socialist and internationalist left-wing–the S.A. (cf. Elinor Langer).  For these pseudo-aristocrats, the lower orders could be inclusively integrated into the whole; class hatred and class war would be banished forever once the Jewish irritants of finance capital and phony class analysis were removed.  At long last, true love: the proletarianized German nation (abused by the Treaty of Versailles), finally united, would struggle against other racial entities for its place in the sun.  Hardness would replace bourgeois sentimentality, humanitarianism, parliamentary politics, and pacifism.  The steel helmet was the perfect object; the insensibility of judenrein racial purity was the key to national greatness and creativity.  In fact, Nazi Prometheans would rescue the world from the Jewish, romantic, deracinating Marxist night.  Albert Speer’s searchlights could have symbolized this nobly enlightened mission to pierce the mystifications of the revolutionary bourgeoisie and its upstart children.  Nazism then, was the offspring of Conservative Enlightenment, not the excrescence of Romanticism that Peter Viereck and other conservatives claimed; like other relics of feudalism Nazis carried the logic of Social Darwinism to its inevitable conclusion.  Jews, however, were not simply rival professionals to be beaten or expropriated, or one of many labor pools to be subjugated: they were the obstreperous, incorrigible individualists refusing to reconcile the irreconcilable; they were the sinister, softening forces of modernity making political love, not war.  As Sartre famously noticed, the warring pluralities of fascist Germany could find unity only in their common enmity to the mythical Jew they had constructed.

Upper-class American Progressives and the nativist radicals (including Lewis Mumford, Van Wyck Brooks, Richard Chase, the New Left following romantic anticapitalists like Blake, the pre-Raphaelites, William Morris, etc.) have also spurned the radical Enlightenment, embracing Frederick Jackson Turner-style doctrines of blood and soil pluralism, and eschewing the radical liberals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for theories of racial, gender, and national difference or character.  Elinor Langer is writing to this audience; since they believe they are not racists, but right-on radicals, antifascists, and anti-imperialists, they cannot analyze proto-fascism in themselves.  These thinkers are especially given to despair; they do not want fascism in America, but see no possibility of dialogue with the hopelessly racist white males of all classes, i.e., the frontiersmen.  In fact, their discourse celebrating diversity and the multi-cultural experience resembles that of the liberal imperialists of England (knights of the Round Table), who promoted the idea of the multi-racial Empire, headed of course by the English upper-classes: the same ideology permeated the upper-class peace movement that Progressives backed after World War II (with Pacifica one of its progeny).

And what of the Old Left?  For strategic reasons, Stalinists supported national liberation movements in the Third World and cultural nationalist movements in America, no matter how hierarchical and internally antidemocratic and exploitative.  At Pacifica, a similar policy is displayed in the block programming initiated in the 1970s and 1980s, institutionalizing racial and gender difference, and making it difficult to confront internal antagonisms or experiences that deviated from positive images promulgated by “the community.”  A heroic myth was wanted; meanwhile other white male programmers were off the hook; their sometimes sadistic humor would be balanced by fulminations from the spruced-up ghettoes sophisticated conservatives had provided for them.

And what of the Trotskyists?  The Partisan Review intellectuals seemed divided over materialism and organicism; for some, it was not peculiar to be publishing the anti-Semitic and Tory T.S. Eliot, or to support Ezra Pound in the controversy that erupted after he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949.  Insofar as Marxists go, I feel that Rosa Luxemberg’s left-liberal style of Marxism, not Leninist vanguardism, protects the democratic promise of the Enlightenment more persuasively than any other Left tendency.  (See Stephen Eric Bronner, Socialism Unbound.)

And what of the Frankfurt School: the Marxist-Freudians who emigrated to America from Germany ?  Many were as élitist and organicist as the nativist radicals whose work they cited and supported, figures such as Harold Lasswell and Henry A. Murray.  Adorno, Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Leo Lowenthal have devastatingly criticised mass media and American popular culture, seeing only thought-control and repressive tolerance (that is, Pacifica would be seen as impotent, existing only to make the system look good).  Not surprisingly, their followers have rarely bestirred themselves on behalf of our radio station; why bother?  And finally, there are the romantic Third-Worlders and deep ecologists.  These identify with the victimized Third World and Nature, and talk of them as if they are literally abused children or pets, not to be criticized for sexism, homophobia, or other counter-Enlightenment values, objectives, and tactics.

I have been describing obstacles to communication between Pacifica programmers and the audience; it is a dismal picture.  We are now the major repository of the critical spirit and mass education in America, such as it is.  We alone put up the good fight against “cold war culture,” it is said.  However, many of our listeners blame Western culture a.k.a. the phony liberalism of the Jews, for bringing all the ills of modernity, including fascism and ecocide to the world.  I am asking them to reconsider the upper-class ideologies that have contributed to their miseducation and thus their despair; I am asking them to contextualize the quietistic religions or peasant communities they believe are the antidote to Western desirousness and angst; I am asking them to renew their commitments to inter-group and interpersonal understanding in ‘our’ radio station.  This entails the continual retrieval of history, self-knowledge, the scrupulous search for truth, no-holds barred rational criticism, but always in the context of mutual respect, gentleness and patience.  If we shy away from this task, we will have missed a golden opportunity to intervene in the history of our time, to make political love and to leave behind the idealizations and monsters of the past.  Fascism and indiscriminate numbness are the problem: true liberalism and discriminating sensibility the solution.  In this ambiguous century, who else is going to know which is which witch?  [revised 10/96, 9-8-2000]

[1] Plato’s parable of the cave was featured in Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922), but not to attack materialism. Lippmann advocated the training of an intellectual class that would specialize in fact-finding to help the reading public evaluate competing claims from management and labor in an increasingly expert-controlled society; the fact-finding function was to be separated from policy-making, Cf. Emile Zola on naturalism.

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