The Clare Spark Blog

February 28, 2016

“The dangers of apathy”

From the Sam L Slick collection of South American posters

From the Sam L Slick collection of South American posters

I am reading an eye-opening book on US political history by two Cornell professors that is literally blowing my mind.

Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin’s Rude Republic: Americans and their politics in the 19th Century (Princeton UP, 2000) seriously contradicts what I had been taught in graduate school. According to my dissertation adviser, Alexander Saxton in his course on American mass media, American political culture drastically changed from an 18th C. “politics of deference” to a 19th C. “mass politics” (the latter implying either proto-fascism or communism?)

On the contrary, the Cornellians argue that 1. The Constitution was an aristocratic document that discouraged democratic participation; and 2. The politics of deference persisted more than had been documented until the Civil War direct involvement of the American populace in matters of life and death and preservation of the Union; and even after the tumultuous period following the Civil War, most Americans remained detached from politics (preferring respectability and separation from dirty, increasingly urbanized machine politics), a condition that they hint persists today, implying that it was a struggle against apathy to gain support for the New Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society.

I have looked for reviews, but the tiny number I found distorted their arguments. None mentioned their opening salvo that the Constitution was “aristocratic,” discouraging political participation; and all suggested that mass political involvement was intense (perhaps focusing on the Civil War).

I haven’t finished the book yet, but so far it explains a lot; e.g. conservatives produced a Midwestern radio series “The Dangers of Apathy” that I used to play on Pacifica to make fun of the Right (I regret this now); Watters’ World on Fox’s The Factor displays the ignorance of young people regarding knowledge of US leaders and their issues; both political parties appeal to “family”: the social democratic Left tries to extend “the family” (the preoccupation of most Americans) so that it encompasses Big Government solutions to “income inequality,” while the conservative Right seeks to recover the patriarchal family to solve the problems of education and crime in minority neighborhoods; while all factions seek to unify Americans to defeat polarization in One Big [Familial] Union. (See

(update 3-2-2016: I have finished  the book and found some sentences  worth quoting, as they emphasize the revisionist character of their research “Political historians of the nineteenth century have augmented their tabulations of voter turnout with other evidence of popular political participation, especially in the party-directed campaigns that preceded presidential elections. What they have been less attentive to is the evidence of qualified participation and of outright rejection. They have, for the most part, heard the cheers but not the sneers, and have taken very little note of silence…Large numbers, we believe, embraced the institutions and rituals of self-rule hesitantly, limiting their political engagement to brief periods, distancing themselves from the wire pullers and office seekers who ran the parties to their own advantage, and resisting the intrustion of politics into the more sacred precincts of family, church, and community…Political engagement–increasingly partisan engagement–was for some a serious business, for others an amusement or temporary diversion, and for still others an intrusion. (p.270)”

In 2016, the tide seems to have turned.

Women's March on Duma, February Revolution 1917

Women’s March on Duma, February Revolution 1917

January 19, 2016

“New York values”

New-Yorker-NY-Daily-News-side-by-side-CruzWhen presidential aspirant Ted Cruz accused his rival Donald J. Trump of professing “New York values” (ultra-liberal sponsorship of gay marriage and “pro-abortion” sentiments) I immediately took offense, for I recognized the latent antisemitism in that remark. Not so on Fox News Channel, with the notable exception of Geraldo Rivera, whose mother is Jewish.  Last  night (1-18-16) Irish Catholic Bill O’Reilly sharply distanced himself from the Geraldo diagnosis, perhaps  oblivious to his semi-conscious feelings. (As a culture warrior, O’Reilly blames “secular progressives” for assaulting Christmas. His [deicide] guests from that ostensibly atheistic faction have had “Jewish” names, though O’Reilly has not been an obvious antisemite.)

This blog goes over old ground, for since 1986 I have been studying both latent and explicit antisemitism, and I will be very specific.

Cruz’s characterization of “New York values” evokes the rural hostility to “Cain’s cities” that, in the [Iowan] agrarian argot signify violence and decadence. (See Moreover, New York has always been a target of politicians for its Jewish population, and it is accurate that “liberal” Jews have, since they were supposedly agents of ferment hostile to WASP America, risen in the socio-economic scale, and arousing fear of “the Jewish vote” (see

But consider the two policies specified by Senator Cruz: “pro-abortion” and “gay marriage.” First, no feminist (female or male) is in favor of slaughtering babies. That expression “pro-abortion” evokes the blood libel, an ancient fantasy that Jews murder Christian infants for their matzo-flavoring blood. (Some feminists may refer to “abortion rights” but I prefer the notion of “choice.”)

“Gay marriage” offends some ultra-conservatives, because it evokes androgyny, blurring the sharp separation between male and female that, it is believed, are necessary ingredients for abolishing poverty in the (restored) patriarchal family. Hitler (in Mein Kampf) referred to the “feminized masses” who, in my reading, were oddly both gullible and too curious about the affairs of their betters. Hitler, like many historians, abhorred “mass politics” pandering to the base instincts, unlike the displaced aristocracy.

Caruba/Flickr in

Caruba/Flickr in

Close reading is necessary to decode propaganda. It is unlikely that Ted Cruz intended to vilify Jews. But when sharp eyed and sensitive students of stereotypes call him out on at least latent name-calling, it behooves him and all politicians and journalists to wise up, as O’Reilly likes to say. (Update: I found the Leipzig postcard under Google images for “mass politics”; i.e., the loss of the “good King” opens the door to the “special interest group” that divides and ultimately conquers “the body politic.”)

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group

German postcard (1906): Leipzig special interest group




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

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]

"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” (  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

*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.

June 19, 2011

Index to links on Hitler and the Big Lie

[Update: I have reformatted this series to make it more user-friendly. See
Here is an index to an unpublished manuscript of mine that was years in the making. It was vetted by major scholars, and the reader will find copious footnotes in the text that survey the established literature on the subject. I know of nothing like it in the academic or popular literature. If you have time for only one segment, I recommend the last one, for it gets to the psychological nub of Hitler’s confusion and panic, but I have a special liking for the first one, where Hitler expresses his fear of romantic art. [I moved the footnotes to the text because the standard academic literature on Hitler and his appeal is appalling.]

June 2, 2011

The Mass Culture Problem

There is a Humanities-Net list devoted to the period between 1918-1945 that has been discussing modernity, mass culture, and assimilation. For some, “nativists” are viewed as perpetrators of racism.  I started a glossary to see if we could come to agreement on the terms we used in debating this premise.

Public library luring readers with Captain Ahab "sea food"

Modernity: some  scholars start it with the age of expansion. I see modernity as starting with the Reformation, nascent capitalism in England on the land and then in finance, the invention of the printing press and growing mass literacy and numeracy, the Scientific Revolution, then the  speedup in industrialization, long distance transportation, and the settling of great cities in the West. Other scholars prefer to start with expansionism/imperialism alone. When the postmodernists seemingly burst upon the scene, I noted that there was little agreement about when modernism began or ended. Some seemed to be irrationalists echoing the
widespread horror at the casualties of the Great War.

Racism: Recent scholars have frequently erased “class” by collapsing it into “race” or “ethnicity.” Scientific racism and the intertwined notion of national character is best traced to the German Romantics of the late 18th century, following Herder. I blogged about the latter and others here:,

Race” as a concept that predicts mental and other psychological characteristics was challenged in the mid-1930s, as was “ethnicity” insofar as these were held to be predictors of character, as opposed to physical variations within one species. It is my view that “antiracists”today use a racialist discourse while disavowing “racism.”

Assimilation:  the Left in general interprets this as adjusting to ugly nativism, and the nativists are supposedly chauvinistic believers in “American exceptionalism” by which they supposedly agree that America is the greatest country in the history of the world, based upon American military power. It is my view that assimilation in America requires no more than learning the customary language and obeying the laws of the land, by which I mean internalizing the novel idea of equality before the law and limited government. (It is true that the quietism of immigrant ancestors may cause rifts in families.)  As for “American exceptionalism” it once referred to “careers open to the talents” as opposed to a rigid class and caste society. America, lacking a hereditary aristocracy, was the land of upward mobility for all, and after the civil rights movement and the laws that followed, such mobility was offered to the descendants of slaves and even women.

Secularism: many cultural historians characterize the modern world as primarily “secular”.  This term is hotly contested in the culture wars.  “Traditionalists” abhor “secularists” who, they believe, have opened the flood gates of diabolism, degeneracy and every type of “unrest.”  The traditionalists insist that no separation between Church and State was intended by the Founding Fathers, who believed in America’s Providential mission. It is my position that religious and intellectual pluralism were institutionalized in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The culture war positions point to the unfinished revolutions, about which I wrote here:

Organic conservatives:  These persons tend to reject the “anomie” of the modern world, also the notion of irreconcilable conflicts between persons,  nation-states, religions, and so on. They prefer social models, either state-imposed or religious, that unite warring factions or individuals through mystical bonds, not congruent material interests. Examples are the Catholic essayists de Maistre and  Bonald after the French Revolution.  But many of the corporatist liberals (i.e., conservative reformers of the New Deal) also posit mystical bonds of blood and soil. Here are to be found the ethnic nationalists and some regionalists.

Organic conservatives may be found throughout the political spectrum. They are not to be confused with libertarians, who tend to be materialists, and expect competing (free) markets to produce social well-being and a rising standard of living for all. The dread homo economicus is described here:

Mass Culture: This is a term much used by the Frankfurt School critical theorists, who, as I have shown elsewhere on this website, attribute Hitler’s appeal to “the revolt of the masses” in tandem with the one-sidedness of an increasingly technological society and a Kafka-esque bureaucracy. They blame the Enlightenment for the Holocaust. I reject both their counter-Enlightenment views and their explanation for the rise of Hitler, which is a culturalist one only, and is historically inadequate to explain such a multi-faceted phenomenon. Modernity and “consumerism” are seen by the critical theorists (Frankfurters) as bourgeoisifying a social class that should be transcending capitalism and bringing in a form of libertarian socialism. These refugees from Germany were linked to left-liberals who themselves did sykewar for the Roosevelt administration and its social psychologist allies. There is a related category: mass politics, which signifies the type of log cabin politics initiated by the administration of Andrew Jackson. Mass politics are said by left-wing academics to have replaced “the politics of deference” and the rule of the best families. Hence the novel catering to “public opinion” in our political culture, and the fascination with propaganda as the primary mover of political choice.

[Added 6-3-11:] Don’t miss the two interesting comments by CatoRenasci below. Read #3 first, then #1.

June 4, 2009

modernity and mass death

Outsider Art

[Added 1-5-11: the “N” word is to be deleted from an upcoming edition of Huckleberry Finn. The best context for this decision is not merely political correctness, but the fantasy that words, by themselves, not only create reality, but that propaganda, by itself,  is the engine of history. Propaganda is very important, and this website is devoted to it, but I would never make the claims that the academics reported below have done.]


Here is an episode in my KPFK series “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” They show what was possible to present on a Pacifica radio station before its descent into near-oblivion. My “radicalism” consisted primarily in defending autodidacts and decoding propaganda.

KPFK, 12/3/92. THE BIG LIE.
Frame: I am responding to two significant cultural events: the conference on Censorship in the Arts, UCLA, 11/92, and the exhibition Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art through January 3, 1993.

Purpose of this episode. To clarify a powerful social psychological concept that has ruled postwar American radical ideas about politics: the concept of mass society and mass politics. The idea of mass politics does not refer to bad taste or working-class politics as such; rather the catastrophically mediocre and irrational political culture produced by the rise of the technocrat, the arrogant specialist to be found in any class, who does not defer to traditional authority; its source is European élite theory, for instance in the fulminations of Jose Ortega y Gasset, Revolt of the Masses (1930), explicated in William Kornhauser’s The Politics of Mass Society (1959), and demonstrated in the recent Gothic tale set in mid-18th century France, Perfume, The Story of a Murderer (1986), by the German writer Patrick Süskind. Such thinkers identified with the aristocrats threatened with dispossession ever since the English Civil War of the seventeenth century; their nightmare specter was the artisan radical, an autodidact developing the craft and sophistication to meet the needs of a consumer, market society, and newly confident of his/her capacity to participate in the decisions that determined the work process and the structure of all social institutions.

In Süskind’s Perfume, the monstrous artisan over-reacher is named Grenouille; for élite social pathologists, the frogs were self-fashioners who had turned themselves into princes, all the while unaware that they were merely idiot savants, sociopaths, and vampires; experts, yes, but narrow, wishing only to dominate and drain the all too willing sensualist, libertine moneyed classes, and ridiculously aspiring to massive social improvements and other utopian transformations. What would happen to level-headed experienced élites with their gentle holistic views of society, their heartfelt, communal concepts of management, dripping with the milk of human kindness?

Instead of viewing the improved material and political conditions that ensued after the Industrial Revolution as an emancipation from superstition, perpetual feudal violence, and early death, the displaced élites churned out mountains of propaganda, characterizing the rising bourgeoisie as the agents of totalitarian rule, their states and bodies iron cages of repressive bureaucracy, their false notions of Progress the big lie (or the melting pot that jammed Durkheim’s mechanical solidarities too close to vermischt secular Jews and radical protestants). The twentieth century spokesmen for aristocratic radicalism (sometimes called radical conservatism) are such thinkers as Werner Sombart, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt, the Frankfurt School of critical theorists, and Michel Foucault; these antimoderns and their followers seem to spurn antiseptic wastelands for the delightfully messy, spontaneous, carefree, passionate, above all, organic life said to have existed in the Middle Ages before the dull, dark days of “middle-class hegemony.”

The relations of the aristocratic radicals to the romantic anticapitalism of the counter-culture and the New Left should be obvious; for instance in the poetry and criticism of the anti-imperialist Charles Olson, father of postmodernism, specifically his turn toward mysticism, Eastern religions and the archaic. Olson and others draw upon blood-and-soil völkisch ideas of group identity based in the counter-Enlightenment ideas of J.G. Herder or later, Carl Jung; some New Left notions of participatory democracy are not incompatible with this decentered, localist, communitarian ethos, blissfully rid of its freethinking cosmopolitan Freudian/Marxist Jews. After the war (and earlier, 1939-41?) the Stalinist Left adopted this identical organicist anti-Western, anti-Americanism; genocidal America was characterized as the land of Indian killers; Hitler’s deadly propaganda was said to have been inspired by American advertising (Lukács, 1952). Amazingly, and despite the supposed philo-semitism that reigned after the war, such American savagery was linked with that of the Hebrew prophets. Nazis, radical protestants and Romantic artists (instances of Cain, Prometheus, Faust, the Wandering Jew) were now similarly Bad Jews. In Ernest Tuveson’s opinion, America was the redeemer Nation intent on its destructive Woodrow Wilson-style millenarianism. The field of American Studies is built on this staggering claim. Stalinists, Christian Socialists, and Ivy League professors of American literature connected to the CIA walked hand in hand.

Some of these intellectuals asserted that Hitler, like other materialists, was contemptuously, cynically swindling the German masses and admitted this in his autobiography Mein Kampf; as T.W. Adorno, Paul Massing and Leo Lowenthal put it in 1946, Hitler was the confidence-man puppeteer that the kitsch-loving masses preferred.* The foil to Hitler’s manipulativeness was obviously themselves: rational, socially responsible and sincere aristocratic radical leadership (often speaking in the name of Kant, Marx and Freud, the bearers and protectors of high culture and social scientific demystification!). In this aristocratic radical interpretation, Hitler was the culmination of iconoclastic Western civilization, the apex of Enlightenment hubris and over-reaching. Like other Enlightenment mad scientists, Hitler’s typical gesture was the murderous dissection that endless ripped the social fabric in its misguided search for perfection, the grasp of first principles and the hidden essence of things. Thus, the Holocaust has come to be seen as the distillation, the rotten perfume of modernity itself; the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, a follower of Max Weber and Hannah Arendt, has written a book Modernity and the Holocaust (Cornell U.P., 1989) to warn his colleagues that social theory must be purged of its genocidal Enlightenment underpinnings.

One panel at the UCLA Censorship in the Arts conference (organized by the UCLA administration) dealt with art as aggression; deftly assuming the premise that art is dangerous, the program and panelists asked, how can we defend ourself against misogynist and racist art? As the talk proceeded, UCLA English professor Vincent Pecora reminded us that the censored French writer Flaubert was a cynical fraud, and 20th century modernism (Wyndham Lewis, Yeats, Pound, Eliot) could be fascist in sympathy; the claim was made that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was a major factor in the transformation of sane Germans into crazy Nazis (by Nation art critic Arthur Danto, no less, inspired by Pecora: MK was an epidemic eating through the body politic to make Nazis; Pecora did not distance himself from this remark until I objected to it from the floor). Similarly, the feminist lawyer Christine Littleton (recounting numerous episodes of male violence) had stated that “propaganda works”; i.e., propaganda kills.

The pattern should be clear: the recently reconstructed Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937 at LACMA made the same point: Artists and other image-makers are the source of evil, forget the abuse of class power as the villain in the piece. Forget history, in the case of Germany, economic crisis after 1928, the schemes of frightened conservative nationalists responding to rising communist votes in 1932, the tactical errors and sectarianism of the Communists throughout the 1920s and 1930s. For the LA County Museum and the conservative scholars who advised them (including George Mosse), Hitler, the failed artist, the little man with too much power in the modern world, lured the German masses with kitsch spectacles and propaganda; this achievement (added to the disastrously unfair Versailles Treaty, the Hitler line! and the inflation of 1923) fully accounts for Hitler’s rise to power: bad art led straight to the ovens at the death camps: propaganda kills. There could have been no rational reasons to kill the Jews, no material advantages to be gained by the expropriation of Jewish property and/or the removal of professional rivals, Marxist troublemakers and other cosmopolitan internationalists; rather, the Holocaust was cold-blooded mass politics as usual, prefigured by Robespierre and Marat in the French Revolution, the normal machinations of a heartless bureaucracy in Zygmunt Bauman’s view.

I was equally stupefied by the narrow focus of the recent symposium held at the LACMA to discuss issues arising from the controversial exhibition of Outsider Art, curated by Maurice Tuchman and others, to make the startling art historical point that much of modern art (specifically the Symbolist, Surrealist, Expressionist, and Art Brut tendencies) was ripped-off or inspired by the art of psychotics and other “compulsive visionaries.” Although several of the journalists present had strong criticisms of the exhibition, no one complained that whatever genetic inheritance, or family/political history caused the crazies to make their powerful, disturbed and disturbing images was noticeably absent (perhaps because the necessary research was hampered by lack of records, but also possibly by a lack of historical imagination). While elevating the crazies’ outpourings to the status of “art” (a multi-cultural move which brought the marginal, excluded loony to stage-center) their crazy-making painful life experience had been reduced to rubble. In other words, the 18th century entertainment of the visit to Bedlam had been revived; pain had become spectacle; “aesthetic” considerations had silenced Dionysus: the artists’ voices (unheard as historical artifacts) were stilled. Similarly, at the UCLA event, I have been told (by an insider) that artists were not permitted to participate in the program (except of course from the margins, the floor, so reminiscent of the circumscribed public space Franklin Murphy told us he had permitted for criticism of the Vietnam war during the late 1960s at UCLA. Such are the strategies of “civility” in our free society).

To tie these two cultural events together: I have been appalled at the systematic removal of materialist history from our public life since the 1930s; pain, suffering, and mass death have been rendered absurdly mysterious and elusive. UCLA and the LA County Museum are not uniquely culpable; neither the Left nor the New Left, nor the counter-culture has created an alternative popular education to analyze and change the inhumane pseudo-conservatism which it constantly deplores. What should we be doing? We begin with the accurate reading of texts and the reconstruction of all the relevant conflicts in which key texts are situated; this is a task requiring sometimes strenous efforts at empathy with historical actors, laborious archival research and a sociologically informed understanding of institutional structures. It is possible to do that with Hitler’s Mein Kampf; however, as I argue below, an accurate reading of Hitler’s autobiography may collapse or blur the careful distinctions that conservatives have drawn since 1945, distinctions between American Progressives and Nazis, good fathers like FDR and bad fathers like Hitler, democratic pluralism versus fascism/communism: the latter twins held to be the sources of all tyranny, violence, swindling, and intolerance. Upon closer scrutiny, we may find that no society has yet been willing to institutionalize fully the process of independent critical thought, accurately to read its institutions and relationships, to identify double-binds in families and universities (impossible reconciliations between truth and order, independence and loyalty, cosmopolitanism and narrow ethnic identification, science and religion); that such cultural freedom as we have enjoyed has been a bone thrown to appease the mob, as my research has shown, often explicitly intended to disguise the shallowness of our cultural life, but mostly to sharpen the distinction between free West and slave East ever since 1917. For contemporary artists and writers, no greater task for our generation has emerged than the rescue of the radical Enlightenment; that is, the rehabilitation of the creative, dissenting individual willing to separate from illegitimate authority, like Herman Melville as Ahab, Pierre, Isabel, Bartleby, and Margoth, to walk away from the big lie. [Added 12-14-09: the painting is not Outsider Art, but a painting made by my daughter Rachel in her childhood. Also, I am not slyly defending the Soviet Union: it was indeed a slave society, but that did not mean that the West was off the hot seat where cultural freedom is concerned. Nor do I discount the importance of propaganda and/or culture; I am quite obsessed with propaganda and culture as influences on what we take to be real. It is the neglect of material factors such as economic history and conflicts of interest that I object to when academics give all the weight to propaganda in the mobilization of mass movements such as Nazism.]

*  See T.W. Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, and Paul W. Massing, “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda,” Antisemitism: A Social Disease, ed. Ernst Simmel with a Preface by Gordon Allport (N.Y.: International Universities Press, 1946): 132: “…it is a deceptive idea, that the so-called common people have an unfailing flair for the genuine and sincere, and disparage fake.  Hitler was liked, not in spite of his cheap antics, but just because of them, because of his false tones and his clowning.  They are observed as such, and appreciated….The sentimentality of the common people is by no means primitive, unreflecting emotion.  On the contrary, it is pretense, a fictitious, shabby imitation of real feeling often self-conscious and slightly contemptuous of itself.  This fictitiousness is the life element of the fascist propagandist performances.”  See also Hannah Arendt, “The Concentration Camps,” Partisan Review, July 1948, 745: “Hitler circulated millions of copies of his book in which he stated that to be successful, a lie must be enormous–which did not prevent people from believing him….”  This claim, the center of her irrationalist argument, is not footnoted; in any case, she implies that Hitler was boasting about his own successful lying in attaining the support of the German people.  Arendt argues that Nazis were philistines, relativists/nihilists, not pseudo-aristocrats defending “individuality” in terms similar to her own (for Arendt: “the uniqueness shaped in equal parts by nature, will, and destiny,” 758).  Note the refusal of former critical tools: “An insight into the nature of totalitarian rule, directed by our fear of the concentration camp, might serve to devaluate all outmoded political shadings from right to left and, beside and above them, to introduce the most essential political criterion of our time: Will it lead to totalitarian rule or will it not? (747).”

See Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason (London: The Merlin Press, 1980): 721-726 for the claim that Hitler learned his demagogical techniques from American advertising (imperialist Americans were the new Nazis in 1950s Stalinist propaganda). Citing Rauschning as his source, Lukács wrote, “In their speeches and writing, the fascist leaders poured out with a nauseating show of emotion their national and social demagogie, whose public second names were honour, loyalty, faith and sacrifice, etc. But when they came together in private, they spoke with the most cynical, knowing smiles of their own messages and manifestoes” (721).  It was of course English wartime propaganda that Hitler credited in Mein Kampf and he disavowed manipulativeness, see below; Cf. Jim Fyrth, Britain, Fascism, and the Popular Front (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1985): 10: “…fascism posed as a form of socialism and its anti-capitalist rhetoric was directed at the working class and lower-middle class.” The Tory/Stalinist characterization of Americans as the new Nazis persists in anti-imperialist movements today; see for instance, Alexander Cockburn’s ill-timed insinuation in The Nation, 8/17-24/92, 163 that Jews (in the persons of Edward Alexander and the Jews who publish him) selfishly and callously minimize the suffering of other oppressed groups (American Indians and Southern slaves) by resisting [ahistoric] attempts to equate “the Holocaust” with other forms of mass death.  Cf. The New Masses during the 1930s which defended the revolutionary bourgeoisie and its development of the productive forces in the same progressive America that would be treated as a country of Bad Jews after the war.

Also see Joachim Fest, Hitler (Harcourt Brace, 1973): Fest presents a bouquet of diagnoses in “the manic simple-mindedness with which he traced all the anxieties he had ever felt back to a single source.” (101-102); “[Hitler learned everything from Marxism and its idea of the vanguard.]  He also went much further than his model.  In his nature there was an infantile fondness for the grand, surpassing gesture, a craving to impress.  He dreamed of superlatives and was bent on having the most radical ideology, just as later he was bent on having the biggest building or the heaviest tank.” (126) i.e., both Marxism and Hitler are crazy.

Although E. Jäckel criticized the Hermann Rauschning tendency, such arguments appeared before Rauschning’s book.  See for instance, George Sylvester Viereck, 1923 (his self-published journal, with the “explosive” Hitler as Byron, vagina dentata, Jewish intellectual, and Gorgon); also Johannes Steel, Hitler as Frankenstein, with a preface by Harold Laski (London: Wishart, 1933): 7.  Describing Mein Kampf: “Eight hundred pages full of curses against Pacifists, Jews, Marxists, Internationalists, and Capitalists without a single productive idea.  His political faith as proclaimed in this book is, that everybody is wrong and only he is right.  A curious book…in which he never speaks about himself, his family, his life, or even his program for the future, but only about generalities.  Metaphysical theories on the necessity of the purification of the German race, of which he is not a member, and in addition to that, nothing but hate and again hate…. (7).  At the end of his speech he registered a child-like happy self-satisfaction” (9).  Hitler is drawn as a Henry Ford-type, not a corporatist liberal: “[Henry Ford] like himself, was a bourgeois, did not like Jews, Socialists, Communists or Revolutionaries, or government interference with private business.” (33).  On Jew-hatred, Steel writes of  “black-haired Jews who seemed to have such an easy life, just trading, arguing and talking and yet getting on and on more rapidly than he, or anyone around him” (3).  The Hitler-Robespierre-syndicalist connection was explicit in Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Our Battle (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1938): 68 ff, 77.

On 7/17/92 Los Angeles public television broadcast a British film, Führer: Seduction of a Nation, advised by Lord Bullock, which carried these themes, depicting Hitler as an inflamed narcissist, “a face from the crowd” taking in the masses with a line that “sounded democratic”; the grandiose Hitler was too close to his mother, the father was described as “authoritarian” and perhaps half-Jewish.

For other works by conservatives that promulgate the Big Lie theory of Nazi propaganda/Nazi narcissism see the Fireside Discussion Group of The Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith, Hitler’s Communism Unmasked (Chicago, 1938); Louis W. Bondy, Racketeers of Hatred: Julius Streicher and the Jew-Baiters International (London: Newman Wolsey, 1946); Adolf Leschnitzer, The Magic Background of Modern Anti-Semitism (N.Y.: International Universities Press, 1956): 142-143; Stanley G. Payne, Fascism: Comparison and Definition (Madison: U.of Wisconsin Press, 1980): 7.  In his typology of social movements, Payne describes Nazi style and organization as “Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects”; David Welch, Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933-1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983): 44-45; Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986): 3, 147, 259-62; Martin Broszat, “A Plea for the Historicization of National Socialism,” Reworking the Past, ed. Peter Baldwin, op.cit., the (populist) Nazis [not Plato et al] invented the idea of the Big Lie! (84).

A somewhat differing impression of Nazi propaganda is carried in Leonard W. Doob, “Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda,” Public Opinion Quarterly, vol.14 (Fall 1950): 419-442.  Doob believes Goebbels defended the “truth” of his propaganda, but “credibility” was sought in the spirit of Machiavellian expediency, not morality.  But, according to Richard Crossman (British M.P.), this was (also?) the Allies’ position!  See his “Supplementary Essay” to Daniel Lerner, Sykewar (N.Y.: George Stewart, 1949): 334-335.  For Crossman, the “arch propagandist” Goebbels was sincerely deluded in his Big Lie (then described as necessarily duplicitous): “Where the Germans differed from us was not in their means, but in their ends.  The Nazis really believed that the Germans were a Herrenvolk, with the right to dominate the world; that democracy was an expression of decaying capitalism, and civil liberty a relic of a decadent bourgeois civilization; that the Soviet Union was simply a Mongolian despotism, and Communism a disease; that the Slavs were natural slaves and the Jews vermin, fit only for extirpation.  The real lie of which Goebbels was guilty was the attempt to conceal from the rest of Europe the implications of his Herrenvolk idea…. (334)  Earlier, he claimed that Nazis “took over and vastly refined Bolshevik techniques of mass persuasion (323).”  (Compare Hitler’s admiration in Mein Kampf of British war propaganda for its clarity regarding guilt and innocence; in the Crossman essay, he states that the same propaganda was solely dedicated to urging the Germans to overthrow the Kaiser and establish democracy.)

In Doob’s account, Goebbels himself did not evolve criteria for measuring the effectiveness of differing media, so tried everything to catch his fish.  As often happens, mind-managers have less confidence in their tactics than their critics.  But see Weinreich, “The Jew As A Demon” (Hitler’s Professors, 1946) for evidence of hypocrisy among Goebbels’ disciples.  In my essay, I make no further claim than the absence of Hitler’s bragging about manipulating the masses (against their interests) in either Mein Kampf or Table Talk.


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