YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 4, 2014

“Race relations” as managed by the Left

whitepolice[This is the first of two blogs on the subject of race relations after Ferguson. See https://clarespark.com/2014/11/25/reflections-on-the-ferguson-aftermath/.%5D

Is there a thread linking the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner cases?

This blog is about the horrific consequences of abandoning the widely differing details of each of these deaths, in favor of collapsing unique events into the discourse of “race relations.”  This, along with securitizing mortgages, was a practice initiated by the white liberal establishment in response to thuggish “cultural nationalists” who mounted urban race riots in the mid to late 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of legal integration was annexed to the Pan Africanism of “black power” with the blessing of cultural anthropology and the Democratic Party. This recent history, documented in widely available books, has either been ignored or forgotten or buried. For my blogs on this transformation see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/ and  especially https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/ .

The most elite universities and foundations came up with the idea co-opting the mob’s “leaders.”  Along with this mystification that erased individual differences for the sake of the organic community/multiculturalism/social stability/group cohesion, came the ratification of a certain kind of reactionary nationalism.

Recall that for decades, Nazis and “fascists” were believed to be produced by excessive “nationalism.” Only a few voices bothered to make distinctions between contrasting forms of “nationalism.” The anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, was one of these. Oddly the late historian Eric Hobsbawm was another, but he was arguing from the communist Left, whereas Sumner thought of himself as a moderate conservative.

First, Charles Sumner: For the lawyer Sumner, an admirer of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution (that he viewed as having the force of law, affirming human equality and negating slavery), the state had limited functions: national security and the protection of individual human rights (that meant equality before the law, rich and poor alike). He was also a modernizer who believed that all Americans deserved an excellent free education. See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. For Sumner’s view of railroads as modern improvements see https://clarespark.com/2013/11/30/railroading-captain-ahab/, and https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.  I see Sumner as a proponent of limited government. Were he alive today, he might be a libertarian with a bias in favor of meritocracy; he would surely be enraged by the inferior educations tolerated in ghetto schools. Sumner was a man of the Enlightenment, as was his intellectual descendant Walter Lippmann (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.)


Second, Eric Hobsbawm, who made crucial distinctions between liberal nationalism and conservative nationalism in a widely read Nation article: Liberal nationalism, unlike its conservative form, was about reducing privilege, step by step. Conservative nationalism was solely about the control of territory and resources, in competition with other states.

The cultural nationalism favored by today’s liberal elites who  push “multiculturalism” based on racial identity or similar forms of artificial “community” (like affinity groups), would have to be rejected by that forgotten man, Sumner.  Hobsbawm would probably go along with the ethnicity/race craze that has substituted for class analysis since the days of the Popular Front, even though 1930s Marxist-Leninists were strongly anti-racist before they got their marching orders from Stalin to bond with their prior class enemies, the “anti-fascist [imperialist, racist] bourgeoisie.”

Then the New Left came along, allegedly the friends of the downtrodden. Those who had benefited from prestigious educations went on to fight for the commanding heights of academe and journalism, which they now occupy, having been tolerated by weak-kneed liberals (conservatives having been banished from the respectable humanities owing to their “McCarthyism”). Their students have been indoctrinated into the belief that “African Americans” (a Pan-African term) are a cohesive whole, each one oppressed by “Whitey.” Some of these new model “anti-racists” even write popular television shows in which blacks not only enjoy interracial sex or marry with whites, but dominate them, sometimes behind the scenes (Scandal comes to mind: will Olivia Pope and her “gladiators”–other liberals masquerading as moderate Republicans– ever escape from her father’s net?).

Even some anchors on Fox News Channel accept the premises of identity politics: the police should “look like” the communities where they enforce the law, as if “white people” need to be reined in or “balanced” by members of minority groups. (Joe Hicks made two appearances on Fox, mocking such a premise, but he has disappeared from their channel as of this writing.)


If historian Michael Burleigh is correct, and the most salient feature of Nazism was the “racial state,” then I will have to drop my cautious use of the term “proto-fascist.” We are in for it, the real thing, shipmates.


The law is now a dead letter, as dead as Charles Sumner’s vision of limited but just government.  (For an academic critique of nationalism that I found on the web see http://professornerdster.com/nationalism-why-wont-you-just-die-seriously/.)


October 7, 2014

Michael Burleigh’s History of the Third Reich

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the-third-reich-978033048757306A famous conservative historian recommended Michael Burleigh’s 2001 popular best-seller of 812 pages, The History of The Third Reich (Macmillan, 2001). Burleigh is now a prominent figure on the British Right, associated with a conservative periodical Standpoint, which is commonly compared to Bill Buckley’s National Review. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Burleigh.)

This blog is about my reservations regarding his mammoth popular history, which in my reading leans toward social democracy (that took the “hard edges” off of capitalism). He has curried favor with The Guardian, for instance in an article that recognizes a closet liberal: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/mar/11/academicexperts.highereducationprofile)

For instance, though few doubt that the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School are writing from the Left, Burleigh is outraged by “massification” and the ruins wreaked by popular mass media, just as Adorno et al were. MB, however, explicitly misses the old aristocratic elites who were more focused on their “obligations” (as contrasted with the chorus of ordinary people demanding “rights”). Burleigh was formerly a medievalist and I suspect him of missing the Good Kings who have been glorified by some historians. Curiously, MB sees the Third Reich pretty much as the psychological warfare figures of the New Deal: “guttersnipe” Nazis appealed to common men and women, who “fell for him,” [Jung, 1946] causing the German catastrophe.

Second, Burleigh continuing along this elitist line, complains that Nazis fancied that they were heroic figures that would be vindicated by history: “For history’s most enduring B-movie villains were self-consciously assigning themselves parts within an A-movie which runs and runs, increasingly in the debased form of documentaries, made-for-TV soaps, and lurid magazines and books which have scraped the barrel of sensation until it is almost worn away. The Nazis cynically manipulated posterity as they had manipulated their contemporaries; by way of continuity, they are cynically manipulated in their turn by a ‘Hitler industry’ for which there seems to be an insatiable market. A regime which had lived by image perished by it, in a final triumph of style over substance, as the greatest stage villains of all departed what they called the stage of history, leaving a lingering trail of evil beyond the curtains.” (p.788)*

But Burleigh had written a luridly detailed lengthy section on Operation Barbarossa, replete with images of cannibalism and maimed bodies and corpses that rivals any Nazi propaganda production, and exceeds in vividness all academic writing, which generally eschews adjectives and outrage. Perhaps his unleashed imagination was unacceptable to those academic minds from whom he proudly walked away, preferring religion, not materialist history, as the framework of major events such as world wars and social movements. I suspect that for Burleigh, the devil is back, along with Manichaeism. Seeing all conflict as warfare between good and evil (detached from specific institutions) marks the self-righteous moralist, which MB unabashedly is.


Second, though Burleigh is attentive to the horrors of the racial state as wreaked on homosexuals, the mentally ill, gypsies, Poles and other Slavs, etc. he tends to minimize the importance of European anti-Semitism, though he also claims (as do critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, including Saul Friedländer) that “the Holocaust” tests the boundaries of historical representation and is hence unfathomable (?) and unrepresentable. “After Auschwitz, there can be no poetry.”  (See http://mindfulpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/03/poetry-after-auschwitz-what-adorno.html for “what Adorno really said.”

Finally, Burleigh, no less than the crypto-Leninist Hannah Arendt, uses the liberal term “totalitarianism” though he contradicts himself when he complains that common soldiers followed orders. Either there is total control or there is a degree of choice. In my own view, communism and Nazism were polar opposites in their orientation to the [materialist] Enlightenment, as I argued here: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics/.

But to end on a positive note, Burleigh emphasizes throughout Nazism’s obliviousness to the rule of law. Perhaps American exceptionalism should be defined as equality before the law for poor and rich alike. That would be a true Enlightenment innovation.

*Burleigh deceptively footnotes this passage with Robert Harris’s journalistic account of “the selling of the Hitler diaries”, a book that “documented” (through interviews) how confidence men, publishers, and renowned academics tried to foist Hitler memorabilia on a gullible public addicted to revelations regarding Hitler’s private life. But Harris quotes David Irving, reflecting on another famous forgery, Howard Hughes’ autobiography, swallowed by McGraw Hill: “…Corporate profit justifies any form of lunacy. There’s been no other hoax like it in modern times.” (p.198). I.e., Burleigh’s target may be the profit motive and his footnote apparently has no relation to his text that indicts working class soldiers, collated as Hitler’s base. When I read the title “Selling Hitler” I had assumed that MB referred to Hitler’s appeal among the masses, not the Hitler diary hoax, a subtitle that was left out of MB’s footnote.


October 2, 2014

Burleigh’s final assessment of the Nazi empire

The Racial StateFrom the end of the section on “Occupation and Collaboration in Europe, 1939-1943.” Michael Burleigh’s HISTORY OF THE THIRD REICH (Macmillan, 2001) is a good read. Here is just a sample of why I am plowing through this very long book, with candid opinions that I have rarely seen in other such histories (with the exception of an earlier book, co-authored with Wolfgang Wippermann, THE RACIAL STATE):

[Burleigh, p.481:] “How might this most transient of modern empires be viewed in the longer perspective which separates us from other empires, both ancient and modern? The Nazi empire was created by violence, lived by violence, and was destroyed than violence. In contrast to other empires created by armed might, which bequeathed art and literature that are still widely admired, or administrations, customs, languages and legal codes that Europeans and non-Europeans still adhere to,  from Ireland to India, the tawdry Nazi anti-civilization left nothing of any worth behind, except perhaps its contemporary synonym for human evil. Nazism’s material remains number a few third-rate buildings, for Albert Speer was hardly Bernini, Wren, or Lutyens, concrete coastal fortifications too dense to destroy, and the wooden huts, wind-swept parade grounds, watchtowers, and barbed wire of the concentration camps, which are paradoxically restored, rather than left to rot and rust. Nazism was literally ‘from nothing to nothing’: with its powerful imaginative afterlife curiously disembodied from its pitiful achievements. Rarely can an empire have existed about which nothing positive could be said, notwithstanding the happy memories of wartime tourism with which we began. Even in the limited terms of its own aesthetic politics, the Nazi ‘New Order’ was merely the universalization of ugliness.”

Have we entirely escaped the universalization of ugliness?

"The New Order"

“The New Order”

September 26, 2014

What is critical thinking?

critical-thoughtEmbedded in the sharply polarized debates between political parties is a great slugfest on the teaching of US history. Many on the Right want a “patriotic” curriculum, while the Left insists that the Right is determined to abolish “critical thought” that the Leftists believe they uphold, without blemishes.

Neither Right nor Left is monolithic in its ideology, so this blog will focus on “critical thought”—how it is defined by the contemporary “Left” and how some elements of “the Right” feed into the most damaging “leftist” fantasies about a presumably monolithic “cowboy” Right mostly located in the Midwest (Texas) and the still wild, wild West, by which they mean Utah and Arizona, not of course the famously “Left Coast.”

By “critical thought” the Left, inspired by German philosophy, means negative critique of what is common institutional practice in the bourgeois West (i.e., the capitalist countries: the US, Western Europe, and Russia). The US is singled out for especially harsh criticism: deploying the categories invented by progressivism and the New Left version of Marxist-Leninism, our country is essentially imperialistic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, and ecocidal. Hence post-60s textbooks, influenced by identity politics, focus on those aspects of Western expansion: industrialization, and urbanization that exterminated and otherwise bullied non-whites, workers, women, and unspoiled Nature herself. (Think the references to Zinn and Chomsky in Good Will Hunting). Their remedies range from class struggle to the band-aids of progressivism: statist regulation, welfare statism, and conflict-resolution techniques to prevent the more drastic remedy of socialist revolution. Gone are the days when ‘liberals’ called themselves moderate conservatives or conservative reformers. ‘Liberals’ do not want to be confused with their “fascist” enemies: the Republican Party, even as many ‘liberals’ ape the most elitist and reactionary ideologies in the history of Western civilization, through multiculturalism, eschewing anything so gross as the rootless cosmopolitan, at home wherever s/he wanders.

By contrast and sometimes in reaction to this mandated negativity about the American past, many elements of the Right glorify the Founders and the original Constitution, resist the notion of a “living Constitution” that social democrats (‘liberals’) prefer, and campaign for school vouchers that will fund religious schools. Charter schools are dicey, for they may be covers for “secular progressivism” that some conservatives mistake for communist infiltration/atheism, all the while insisting that the Constitution was divinely inspired, and anyone who denies that is leading our children to perdition.

So much for our polarized competing ideologies as the election season looms upon us. What follows is my own definition of critical thought, gleaned from experience in graduate school, from interacting with a broad public on the radio, and on social media.

First of all, it is very hard to separate ourselves from family, friends, or peer groups in school or in the workplace. Most of us would prefer to preserve existing attachments, no matter how damaging to our understanding of ourselves and the increasingly dangerous and impenetrable world. Hence Obama’s appealing promise of “transparency” of government under his administration. That is a hot button to push, for it resonates with our deepest wishes to develop our individuality—without drowning.

Second, it takes a long time to figure anything out. Most of the problems facing the electorate and our children take years of close study to comprehend without a large dollop of prejudice or wish-fulfillment. Only an independent income and a willingness to stand alone yields the time and will to seek the truth. So we escape into sports, easy to comprehend conspiracy theories, or reliance on celebrities in academe or in the media to do our research for us, and we follow them, happy to have found a community of the  well-informed and like-minded, no matter how bogus.

But let us assume that we are so ‘monomaniacally’ driven (like Captain Ahab) as to solve problems for ourselves, to have our own perspective, that we actually make time and renounce some mindless activities that divert our attention.

My own approach to critical thought entails figuring out those “facts” that are in dispute. This is no easy task, when most people are captives of ideology where all controversies are settled, and where “facts” and “opinions” are mistaken for each other. When queried on this point by a Facebook friend who denied that facts were in dispute, I gave as examples, 1. the insistence by some “moderate men” that “extremists” (i.e., abolitionists and ‘fire-eaters’) caused the Civil War; and 2. That American Cold Warriors exaggerated the Soviet military threat (this was a claim of the Stalinoid Left). The reader will supply her own examples from everyday life, for whether or not there is a “war on women” is a hot subject today.

More often than not, differences in what facts are real, and what are factoids, are resolved through “virtuous expediency” to preserve social cohesion. This world is “soaked in lies” said Melville speaking through one of his narrators in his novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and condemning the moderate men and his own family secrets. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

Then there is the laborious task of sorting out competing narratives, noting which arguments are based on documentary evidence (which may also be misleading, not only forged but subjective, such as letters and diaries). I have been reading a compendium of Nazi institutional practices, defending the authors’ notion of the Third Reich as a “racial state” to which all was subordinated to protect the notion of a [purified Aryan] “people’s community.” What makes this book The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann (UK: Cambridge UP, 1991) so helpful to critical thought is its detailed account of changing social policies and its awareness of competing narratives on the same subject. The chapter on women in Nazi Germany was especially revelatory, with some painful comparisons between Nazis practices and conservative religious groups that were “anti-Nazi.”


Armed with concrete facts and precedents in actually existing authoritarian societies, the reader may see through the demagogic politicians who will represent themselves, in true knightly fashion, as the rescuers of women, non-whites, nature, and the school curricula. [For Wikipedia’s classification of types of criticism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varieties_of_criticism. I find many of these examples ideological, but feel most comfortable with “scholarly criticism” though the example of Mike Davis as an exemplary scholarly critic is hilarious.]

September 20, 2014

“Taking responsibility” for ourselves and society

free_will-net_This blog is about personal responsibility and how that demand affects the writing of both personal histories and world historical events, especially catastrophic ones that cause mass death.

Personal responsibility/free will: I have written before about the ambiguities of assigning praise and blame for our life choices. When Melville did it in his under-read novel that followed Moby-Dick, Pierre, or the Ambiguities,  his mother thought he was crazy and called in Oliver Wendell Holmes (author of the snake-infested book Elsie Venner) to evaluate his mental health, perhaps to institutionalize him. Yet on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are told to take an individual (not collective) inventory of those whom we have harmed, to change our conduct, and to make restitution to the damaged victim of our presumed malice or carelessness. (On Melville and free will see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

If only it were that easy to determine cause and effect. My baby may be screaming and driving me to distraction, but is her wailing an inherited feature of her temperament, or is she responding to negligent or stupid parenting choices, possibly picked up from my own parents?

Social responsibility. I have been reading books by historian Michael Burleigh, who seems quite Catholic to me in his leaning toward a late 19th century version of social democracy (see Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum 1891), and Burleigh’s rejection of the liberal theory of “totalitarianism” that equates Nazism and communism, i.e., Nazism is bad because of its divisive racial theories, while the Soviet Union attacked the materialist, modernizing bourgeoisie; at least the Reds were not wigged out with nationalism and differing sets of rules for hedgehogs and foxes. Or perhaps Burleigh dislikes the notion of totalitarianism because it implies total control and hence threatens his notion of free will and personal responsibility, without considering the details of Soviets versus Nazis. (The latter seems more likely, as he uses and abandons the term “totalitarian” depending on his outrage.)

Burleigh’s co-authored book on the Nazi “racial state” (with Wolfgang Wipperman) makes the point that Hitler’s welfare measures were directed solely at biologically fit, sports loving Aryans and depended on a racial hierarchy that demeaned Jews, feminists, Slavs, gypsies, “asocials”, and homosexuals; i.e., he is protecting the welfare statism of social democrats and their much vaunted “tolerance” of “difference.”


As an historian of the Third Reich, Burleigh has emphasized individual acts of resistance to Hitler’s policies, thus linking him to those believers in free will and social responsibility. BUT this traps us in the double bind so plainly delineated in “crazy” Melville’s novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) that mocked “virtuous expediency.” (On the latter see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

I would gladly atone for my lapses and flaws; would that I knew what they are, without the inevitable muddle. “These free men are  not as free as they think” wrote Melville in his novel Mardi (1847).


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