YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 15, 2014

Was Nazism a symptom of bourgeois decadence?

Immanuel.Deviant Art

Immanuel.Deviant Art

Many cultural historians and social psychologists see Nazism as bourgeois decadence.  Popular among nativist radicals, this theory brings out the latent antisemitism in some New Leftists and in counter-culture anti-imperialism.  Both the Soviets and American crypto-Tories have made Hitler (the consummate anti-bourgeois, anti-sentimentalist!) into a product of disintegrating capitalism and sentimental bourgeois culture.  They and similar thinkers have conflated American puritans/bad Jews and Nazis, functionally equating “genocides,” in this case, the extermination of European Jews, the American Indians, American blacks, the Vietnamese, etc.

Harvard professor F.O. Matthiessen, “a Christian and a Socialist,”identified Melville’s Ahab, a prototypical American, with the alleged savagery of the Hebrew prophets (1941, 1948).[1]  Also centered at Harvard were the Walter Langer team, authors of The Mind of Adolf Hitler, originally a 1943 report for the OSS but revised for publication in 1972 to diagnose hippie-fascists.  Langer, aided anonymously by Henry A. Murray, Ernst Kris, and Bertram Lewin, attempted to account for his subject’s “ambitiousness” and “extraordinary political intuition” (atypical of a “basically illiterate peasant family”); Langer and Murray actually gave credence to rumors that Hitler carried Jewish blood: Langer reported that Hitler’s grandmother might have been a servant in the home of the Baron Rothschild; Murray was impressed by a Jewish godfather to Hitler;[2] what’s more Hitler’s brilliant (Jewish) insights into the minds and hearts of the little men (the class base of fascism for the CIA and other moderates during the 1950s) should be adapted by American mind-managers.  Here are more excerpts from the declassified Murray report to FDR, 1943:

[The following diagnosis of Hitler’s condition was prepared by W.H.D. Vernon, under the supervision of Henry A. Murray and Gordon Allport, all Harvard men:]  Now it is known that syphilophobia often has its roots in the childhood discovery of the nature of sexual congress between the parents.  With a father who was an illegitimate and possibly of Jewish origin, and a strong mother fixation, such a discovery by the child Adolf may well have laid the basis of the syphilophobia which some adventure with a Jewish prostitute in Vienna fanned to a full flame. [fn: “This is mere conjecture and must be treated as such. But it is the sort of explanation which fits known psychological facts”]…Hitler’s personality structure, though falling within the normal range, may now be described as of the paranoid type with delusions of persecution and of grandeur.  This stems from sado-masochistic splits in his personality…Just as the father is the cause of his mixed blood, the source of his domination and punishment, and of the restrictions of his own artistic development; just as in the childish interpretation of sexual congress, the father attacks, strangles, and infects the mother, so the Jew, international Jewish capital, etc., encircle and restrict Germany, threaten and attack her and infect her with impurities of blood…But the mother is not only loved but hated.  For she is weak, besides he is enslaved to her affections and she reminds him all too much, in his role as dominant father, of his own gentle sensitive nature.  So, though he depends on the German people for his position of dominance, he despises and hates them, he dominates them, and because he fears his very love of them, he leads them into the destructiveness of war where multitudes of them are destroyed.  Besides, the Jewish element in his father identification permits him to use all the so-called “Jewish” tricks of deceit, lying, violence, and sudden attack both to subject the German people as well as their foes (78-80).

[Henry Murray: Hitler’s “revengeful dominance” is “a counteraction to insulted narcism” presumably inflicted by his (possibly half-Jewish) father:] …Knowing something of the character of Alois Hitler, we can safely infer experiences of abasement and humiliation suffered by the son….(196)…Since many of the prominent positions in Vienna were held by Jews, some of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, as well as his hatred of Vienna, can be attributed to humiliations received from the upper classes during these years…(199)  [The “determinants” of Hitler’s antisemitism:]…3. The suitability of the Jew as an object on which to project his own repudiated background and traits: his Jewish god-father (and possibly his Jewish grandfather), his physical timidity and sensitiveness, his polymorphous sexual impulses…5. The realization, after having once embarked on the road to militarism, that the stirred-up aggression of his followers needed some outlet…7. In building his military machine the anti-militaristic Jewish people could not be of much help to him.  At bottom, Fascism is the advocacy of the aggressive drive over and above the acquisitive drive (with which the Jew has generally been identified), and, by the same token, it is the substitution of Power and Glory for Peace and Prosperity, a materialistic paradise on earth (with which Communism and the Jew have also been identified).  Finally, the Nazi doctrine of fanatical irrationality (thinking with the blood) is antipathetic to the intellectual relativism of the Jew.  Thus there are several fundamental points of opposition (as well as certain points of kinship) [where?!! C.S.] between Nazi ideology and Jewish ideology (207-209).

[Murray, cont.]  Hitler has a number of unusual abilities of which his opponents should not be ignorant.  Not only is it important to justly appraise the strength of an enemy but it is well to know whether or not he possesses capacities and techniques which can be appropriated to good advantage.  Hitler’s chief abilities, realizations, and principles of action as a political figure, all of which involve an uncanny knowledge of the psychology of the average man, are briefly these: [21 items follow, including:]…Heiden speaks of “Hitler’s frequently noted incapacity to impose his will in a small circle, and his consummate skill in winning over a crowd prepared by publicity and stage management, and then, with its aid, vanquishing the small circle, too” (211).

[Clare:]     So what is this “Jew”?  Brutal/humiliating/hypermasculine or timid and gay?  Or both, as in Jewish switching, a.k.a. “sudden attack”/”intellectual relativism”?  Not surprisingly, Hebraic types (for Murray, Melville as Ahab) were deplorable to the crypto-Tories/New Dealers, because, after instructing guileless WASPS in mind-control, they turn around to blast good non-humiliating father-figures, to decode the mythic narratives that alone  confer national unity or group solidarity in a pluralist society.[3]  The writing of George L. Mosse, distinguished mentor to a generation of New Left cultural historians at the University of Wisconsin, similarly transmits the ambivalence of the moderate conservatives.


Mosse’s investigations into the sources of Nazi culture address modernization theory and develop a utopian, mass political lineage for Nazism.[4]  What were the Nazis: moderns, antimoderns, or a distinctive, confusing new blend of both?  In answer to my letter requesting a clarification of his influential formulations, Mosse replied that he once believed “National Socialism was largely a critique of modernity,” a view he has since revised: “…I think it was part of a protest of modernization…I would say that National Socialism masked modernity even as they were furthering it.” [5] Mosse seems to be saying that, on second thought, the Nazis were cunning and dishonest in their goals.  I wonder if Mosse’s “switch” overrelies on a definition of modernity as the advent of industrialization, not the institutionalization of civil liberties in the state; the unintended effect is to relativize Nazi brutality and level distinctions between autocratic and democratic bourgeois societies, a difference Mosse is elsewhere careful to maintain, cautioning me that I could “certainly compare völkisch movements to American conservatism,” but not “Nazi Germany to the United States.”  He does not say which American conservatives he thinks are völkisch; probably the right-wing populists, not the (élite) ethnopluralists!  Mosse went on to distance himself from analyses like my own that discern analogies between the world-views of ethnopluralism (identity politics) and national socialism.  He wrote, “I reject the current controversy over macho multiculturalism or postmodernism having anything whatever to do with Hitler’s psyche.  That seems to me totally unhistorical.”

The confusions of conservative Enlightenment permeate Mosse’s writing when he is not in his materialist mood.[6] In The Holy Pretence: A Study in Christianity and Reasons of State from William Perkins to John Winthrop (1968), a book about “emancipation of political action from moral restraint,” Mosse frets that “…the victory of the Dove can lead to unbridled idealism, and the ignoring of secular realities; while the victory of the Serpent means the total acceptance of what the sixteenth century called ‘Machiavellism’” (154).  Mosse lauds the Baroque synthesis that prudently balanced the Serpent and the Dove so that “neither obliterates the other.”  The realism of the secular world was not achieved through science and libertarian ideas, he argues, but through wise adjustments in religion itself (152) [cf. Dumont, 1977].

The leftward trajectory of the Reformation is an ongoing concern for anyone who analyzes propaganda and fascism.  Writing seven years later in The Nationalization of the Masses (1975), Mosse makes the crucial point that the modern intellectual constantly historicizes and demystifies symbolic discourses; this habit militates against the maintenance of a stable national identity expressed through symbols.[7]  When inside the anti-materialist Aristotelian civic humanist tradition, Mosse will not turn around and demystify “moderate” mind-managers in the West, the followers of Durkheim, Weber, and Parsons.  Given his reputation among New Leftists and other antifascists, Mosse has presented a disturbingly inaccurate synthesis for the intellectual origins of fascist brutality in his “General Theory of Fascism.”[8]  Arguing against the “stereotype” that fascism is a reaction to liberalism and socialism (1), Mosse claims throughout that fascism (Nazism more than Italian fascism) selectively appropriated and, through its control of mass media, put a corporatist spin on Western ideals (5, 14, 17-19).  Hitler and Mussolini are carefully separated; Hitler came out of the jacobin antipluralist, antiparliamentary tradition of mass politics and popular culture (the repulsive part of the West); the more pluralist Mussolini allowed new and old élites to co-exist because he respected aristocratic culture and tradition; this aristocratic culture embraced the German idealism that Mosse suggests was foreign to Nazis (3, 10, 28, 33, 35).  Fascist violence originated in the brutality and camaraderie of World War I (which Mosse blurs with youth and the mobs of the French Revolution, aka Napoleon, “Romantic Nationalism,” “popular sovereignty” and “workers movements,” even “middle-class virtues”), not the medievalism of the aristocracy (4, 6, 9, 10, 17-19, 21, 25, 31, 37, 38).  There was no counter-revolution and no civil war; weak bourgeois institutions simply collapsed, and Hitler and Mussolini presented themselves to fill the void.  Conservatives left the Nazi government after six months (19).

Mosse is politically allied to the pluralists and pragmatists of the moderate center (many of whom were intrigued with Italian Fascism during the 1930s) and who have abandoned the open-ended processes and unpredictable outcomes of liberal nationalism, instead redefining American nationality on the basis of a mosaic of rooted ethnic groups; i.e., they are ready to play ball inside the fences erected by élites.  With intellectuals like Talcott Parsons and Henry A. Murray, the moderate nationalists have recommended that the state rely on the manipulation of symbols to enforce “integration” and “national unity” while simultaneously denouncing the tyrannical animal called mass politics!

Of course, as Mosse also realized, one problem with the formulation of a clear-cut Nazi radical conservatism or reaction [9] was Hitler’s desire to bring railroads, improved tools, and “welcoming farms” to central Europe; and, like other eugenicists, Hitler believed he was scientific, critical, and independent, following the truth wherever it might lead.  No less than the Burkean conservatives (including “socialists” like Karl Pearson, then the Fabians), the weaving, quilting Hitler wanted modernity and progress without the loss of a stable national/ethnic identity: capitalism without tears, slavery without guilt.  Sentimental Christians and Jews were de trop.

[Hitler, Table-Talk, Oct. 15, 1941:]  Inflation is not caused by increasing the fiduciary circulation.  It begins on the day when the purchaser is obliged to pay, for the same goods, at higher sum than that asked the day before.  At that point, one must intervene.  Even to Schacht, I had to begin by explaining this elementary truth: that the essential cause of the stability of our currency was to be sought for in our concentration camps.  The currency remains stable when the speculators are put under lock and key.  I also had to make Schacht understand that excess profits must be removed from economic circulation….All these things are simple and natural.  The only thing is, one musn’t let the Jew stick his nose in.  The basis of Jewish commercial policy is to make matters incomprehensible for a normal brain.  People go into ecstasies of confidence before the science of the great economists.  Anyone who doesn’t understand is taxed with ignorance!  At bottom, the only object of all these notions is to throw everything into confusion (65-66).

[Hitler, Nov. 5, 1941:]  The Jew is the incarnation of egoism…The Jew has talent for bringing confusion into the simplest matters, for getting everything muddled up…The Jew makes use of words to stultify his neighbors. And that’s why people make them professors….

If the Jew weren’t kept presentable by the Aryan, he’d be so dirty he couldn’t open his eyes.  We can live without the Jews, but they couldn’t live without us.  When the European realizes that, they’ll all become simultaneously aware of the solidarity that binds them together.  The Jew prevents this solidarity.  The Jew owes his livelihood to the fact that this solidarity does not exist (119-120).

[Hitler, Feb. 3-4, 1942; Hitler identifies with heretics; Jews have instigated the “collective madness” of witch hunts carried out by organized Christianity:]  A Jew was discovered to whom it occurred that if one presented abstruse ideas to non-Jews, the more abstruse these ideas were, the more the non-Jews would rack their brains to try to understand them.  The fact of having their attention fixed on what does not exist must make them blind to what exists.  An excellent calculation on the Jew’s part.  So the Jew smacks his thighs to see how his diabolic strategem has succeeded.  He bears in mind that if his victims suddenly became aware of these things, all Jews would be exterminated.  But, this time, the Jews will disappear from Europe.

The world will breathe freely and recover its sense of joy, when this weight is no longer crushing its shoulders (288).

[Hitler, June 13, 1943:]  I cannot make up my mind to buy a picture by a French painter, because I am not sure of the dividing line between what I understand and what I do not understand.  I have the same feeling when I look at paintings by Corinth and Trbner–to mention only two of our German artists.  These men started by painting pictures of great merit, and then, urged on by pride, they started to produce the most startling and extraordinary works. [THE SWITCH] In literature the Jew has already blazed the same pernicious trail, and artists like Corinth and Trübner have followed them.  The result is the frightful daubs with which they now inflict us (703-704).

[Clare:] Less is more. Like many conservatives, Mosse has placed Nazi excess in the tradition of mass politics and youth revolt, i.e., Jacobin democracy and terror.  But Hitler’s own writings place him securely in the ranks of the reactionary romantic anticapitalists; he was a typically vulnerable petit-bourgeois, railing against fluctuating money markets, terrified of status loss, and choking off the intellectual curiosity and expression that will cast him into the abyss reserved for lapsed conservative Christians and blue-collars.  He wants an enduring structure, a familiar terrain.  How many of those who have attempted to analyze him and/or the appeal of national socialism pay attention to his panic in the face of naturalistic romantic art and poetry? As with other neoclassicists, the consequence for Hitler is a deficient vocabulary; he cannot define his situation in concrete, descriptively precise language—words, tones, and gestures that chart the rise and fall of feelings, their switches, subtle interpenetrations and metamorphoses.  How might the scientistic social critic (his vocabulary similarly limited insofar as he turns away from the living world to his non-interactive models, ideal types and abstractions) react with phobic intensity to the finely differentiated emotions of everyday life, emotions that he cannot grasp without the words and detail that match the distinctive qualities, nuances and motions of each?   Might his own person become the loathsome, super-demanding, ever elusive creature that Hitler disowned as Jewish, the muddling (female) body that even after repeated exterminations inevitably returned to terrorize him again?  Might the tasteful planner or architect taken with structural models that may be encompassed at a single glance feel the same? Are there not escapist, mystical, and submissive longings , underneath such “aesthetic” preferences;  postures or dreamy states that quiet the rage of seeing, mop up the blood on the floor?[10]

The blurred formulations of Nazi ideology crowding the field of cultural anthropology and cultural history sharply contrast with the clear view of the enemy available in the straightforward writing of Hitler and other National Socialists.  They explicitly and plainly oppose independent labor unions, the rootless cosmopolitanism associated with capital, liberalism and international socialism, and the universalist ethics and the too-attractive no-holds-barred intellectual procedures associated with science and democracy, all products of the radical Enlightenment and identified with “the International Jew.”[11] Because the idealist social theorists described above are corporatist liberals wedded to the calming closures of Christian eschatology (and unconditional surrender?) their explanations for Nazi antisemitism are marred by the abstractness and vagueness of ideal types and antitheses.[12]  Above all they must carve a clear channel between Hitler and themselves as supporters of FDR and other self-sacrificing good fathers; as bureaucratic collectivists supposed to be different from fascists they necessarily construct Hitler as a creative figure, the failed, unbalanced romantic artist concocting an original, eclectic, incoherent ideology that may not be construed as another case of corporatist liberalism.[13].

[Henry A. Murray to FDR, 1943:]  [Hitler] was a compound, say, of Lord Byron and Al Capone (143)…It was not Germany as it was or had been that Hitler represented but rather the ideal social pattern which he wished to impose on the country.  Not only during his days of rumination in Vienna but later it was necessary for him to construct an ideology from diverse sources in terms of which he could preach to the people.  None of the elements were original with him but some inventiveness was required in developing the precise combination of principles that became the creed of the Nazi Party.  Besides this, he was continually preoccupied with inventing means to his goals, which involved a considerable amount of creative thought; thus, to a certain extent, he functioned as a creative artist and certainly conceived of himself as such (178-179).

[Clare:] The only switch visible to the moderate men is the metamorphosis of extreme nationalism to antisemitism and xenophobia, a change that moderate nationalism resists after the social psychologists have cooled it out.  In the mass media that have interpreted the Third Reich to millions, the outsider Hitler’s own voice has been presented, perhaps invariably, as a rant in the German language, shadowed by domineering Jewish blood, lapped up by cheering fresh-scrubbed German Aryan women.



                [1] See F.O.Matthiessen, American Renaissance (Oxford U.P., 1941); From The Heart of Europe (Oxford U.P.,1948): 182-183.  See Lord James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, Vol.II (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1891): 275-276, 278, 281-82, for a more ambivalent account of American [Chosen People]: “If you ask an intelligent citizen why he so holds [incorrect majorities will be persuaded of the right], he will answer that truth and justice are sure to make their way into the minds and consciences of the majority.  This is deemed an axiom, and the more readily so deemed, because truth is identified with common sense, the quality which the average citizen is most confidently proud of possessing.  This feeling shades off into another, externally like it, but at bottom distrust–the feeling not only that the majority, be it right or wrong, will and must prevail, but that its being the majority proves it to be right.  This feeling appears in the guise sometimes of piety and somtimes of fatalism.  Religious minds hold–you find the idea underlying many books and hear it in many pulpits–that Divine Providence has specially chosen and led the American people to work out a higher type of freedom and civilization than any other state has yet attained, and that this great work will surely be brought to a happy issue by the protecting hand which has so long guided it (276).”

 [2] Walter Langer, The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report (Basic Books, 1972): 102-103. Murray, op.cit.

  [3] The Zionist writer Alex Bein (cited above) relies on Alan Bullock and the Langer report in his presentation of Hitler’s personality.  The influence of the crypto-Tories in American Studies is the terrain of my doctoral dissertation on the Melville revival.  One of the central debates in American history surfaces in an essay by Barbara J. Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History,” Region, Race and Reconstruction, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 1982): 143-177.  This subtly argued essay challenged the New Left/American Studies interpretation of white supremacy (not class conflict) as the motor of American history.

[4] Compare to Sternhell, Zeev. Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France, translated by David Meisel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Pre-fascist ideology in France set the stage for the Vichy Revolution in 1940-41. Revolutionary syndicalism and radical nationalism of the late 19th century were fused in the 1920s and 1930s to create a novel, mass based, youth-inspired revolt against materialism and decadence blamed on liberalism, democracy and reformed Marxism (i.e. social democracy). For the prefascists, the enemy was finance capital and monopoly, seen as Jewish, American and British. The deracinated individual was the source of decadence, and the compensatory discourse was corporatist/communitarian and meant to integrate the proletariat into the nation through a strong planning state, coterminous with the nation. Emphasized family, work (in tradition of medieval guilds), and region. Did not eliminate profit or private property. Neither ideology nor economic crisis alone could have created this revolutionary departure from the principles of 1789; hence the implicit warning to other social democrats: don’t allow economic crisis to develop: this ideology is still extant. Sternhell somewhat plays down the antisemitic, Christian character of the sources of the ideology, though he does not deny it. France was “impregnated” by the ideology of fascism (a revolution of the spirit: modern, aesthetic, and moral, exalting blood and soil, instinct, force, violence, the healthy body, sacrifice, and monkish asceticism, futurism, modern architecture of Le Corbusier, and Freud). The nonconformist journalist politicos in the 1930s penetrated popular culture; only a few of them, however, explicitly embraced nazism and fascism, though they came very close. Henri De Man the principle theorist of an idealist Marxism. (Sternhell does not consider historical materialism to be idealist.)

This book is directed against Marxist interpretations of fascism as a reaction by monopoly capital to working class militancy in a period of economic crisis. Sternhell thanks A. James Gregor (a self-described fascist and biographer of Mussolini) in the acknowledgments.(vii) and places five of his books in the bibliography. Also Mosse’s General Theory of Fascism, and Masses and Man.

Sterhell does not explain how Freud could contribute to fascist ideology, given that Freud did not advocate unleashing the instincts, as did Jung, for whom the unconscious, home of the racial ancestry and spirits, was a source of creativity.

[5] Cf. Erik Levi, Music In The Third Reich (N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1994): 124, commenting on the paradoxical Nazi views of technological progress misted over with anti-industrial romanticism. , a conflict that was apparent in confused music policies.

 [6] See The Crisis of the German Ideology (1962), and Toward The Final Solution (1980).

  [7] George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses: Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany From the Napoleonic Wars Through the Third Reich (Howard Fertig, 1975).

  [8] See Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” International Fascism, ed. George L. Mosse (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1979): 1-41.

  [9] Mosse’s Nazi Culture was criticized by readers as ignoring the role of technology in the Third Reich, he reports.  See also Barrington Moore, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967).

[10]Cf. the Tory poet and editor J.C. Squire, quoted above.

 [11] Cf. Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred; Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1986).

 [12] See Erich Dinkler, “Earliest Christianity,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East, ed. Robert C. Dentan (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 187-190 for the ways Christian eschatology (a world of cycles and repetitions, filled with “anticipations,” types and antitypes) is incompatible with history and critical thought but not anthropology (a view which I feel applies to anthropology as practiced by Carl Jung, Ruth Benedict, Geoffrey Gorer, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Henry Murray, etc.).

 [13] See Victor Serge’s suggestive comment of 1944, reminiscent of pre-Popular Front communist definitions of “social fascism”: “The Soviet regime, fascism, Nazism, and the New Deal undeniably share common traits determined in the last instance by the collectivist tendencies of the modern economy…As a consequence of the exhaustion of the working class, these tendencies take on the form of bureaucratic collectivism.” Quoted in Susan Weissman, doctoral diss., 459-460.



June 14, 2013

“Father, dear father, come home with me now”

TennightsinbarroomThere will be many tributes to fathers in the next few days. This one will deal 1. with my own father, and 2. with the efforts by social psychologists of the 1940s to rehabilitate the image of the Good Father in order to advance their moderate conservative agendas.

First, my own father, Charles Spark, M.D. My father the doctor was born in NYC, and was the child of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. During the 1930s he was a research fellow in endocrinology at Montefiore Hospital, and before that he had published a pioneering research paper while still in college. Immediately after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, he wrote and directed an antifascist play at his workplace. After Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to join the medical corps even though he was over-age (he may have been drafted, and lied to me). Henceforth, we followed him around the country as he ran pathology laboratories at army bases in Texas, Missouri, and California. His precocity, versatility, and willingness to sacrifice himself for his country was impressed upon me from early childhood. I prayed every night that he would not be killed, even though he never saw combat. That is how children think.

He was shipped off to Guadalcanal where he had a violent allergic reaction to the environment, and was shipped home, claiming later that he almost died. For reasons that escape me, he gave up medical research for general practice and we moved into a veteran’s housing project in Elmhurst, NYC. We had never lived high, so the cramped material surroundings were not deeply shocking. All that mattered was that our family was reunified and my father practiced medicine for enlisted men and their families next door.

So my father assumed the proportions of a family hero. He was not only a high achiever in his field, I was expected to live up to his accomplishments, and later in life when I asked him why he gave up medical research, he wrote to me that I was to be his “greatest contribution to medicine.” What I could not know as a child was that neither he nor my mother had any parenting skills. They were nothing like the elites of Europe, who, early on prepared their offspring to take a leading part in world affairs, to travel broadly, and to imbibe high culture and languages, preferably from tutors.

Call it benign neglect. Both parents assumed that I would be an outstanding student and would find a suitable mate (though he frequently warned me about the duplicity of men, binding me to him in the process: he almost didn’t attend my wedding in 1959). So it was their examples as intelligent individuals with high expectations for me that set me up for the future. I learned nothing from my family about sexuality, the other emotions, and neither of them had an interest in Freud or his followers. But neither indoctrinated me in any religion or ideology, though my mother often mentioned her pride in her rabbinic ancestors (see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/12/i-remember-mama-betty-spark/.) I had the impression that they must be liberals of some kind. Sadly, they are both deceased, and I cannot interrogate them on these interesting questions.

It was not until I was at Pacifica and made the acquaintance of numerous New Leftists that I began to look into masculine versus feminine roles. From political scientist Carl Boggs I learned that paternal authority had been eroded for centuries. From feminists, I learned that there was a furious debate over the status of women: hard left women tended to believe that women had greater status when their labor was visible (e.g. Mary Kelley), while another faction (social democratic, e.g. Kathryn Kish Sklar) argued that domestic feminism leading to the welfare state marked the advance of all women. It was noted that by all that under industrialization, the father was no longer the paterfamilias who distributed resources in the household: father was now out of the house and the role of religious training fell more and more on mothers. (Ann Douglas wrote a best seller, still highly regarded, but controversial: The Feminization of American Culture. Douglas preferred the terrifying Calvinist God, not the feminized Jesus of the 19th century.) Hence the widespread nervousness among conservatives about “the [encroaching] nanny state.” 1970s feminism was the last straw (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/) .

During my dissertation research, I discovered that social psychologists at Harvard University were frantically attempting to rehabilitate the good father, merging the figures of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, in order, they said, to raise “civilian morale.” Feminization, it was believed, would lead to Marxism, not to the conservative reform that such as Henry A. Murray, Gordon Allport, Talcott Parsons, and their Harvard colleagues preferred as moderate men. Indeed, Talcott Parsons published an article in an anthology edited by Isacque Graeber and Steuart Henderson Britt, Jews in a Gentile World (Macmillan, 1942) that limned the bad father: the Jewish God was nailed as brutal, militaristic, and domineering. Whereas Murray and Allport in their notebooks on civilian morale praised the Leader/ Father/God as loving and committed to democracy, the very embodiment of Eros. (On this topic see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, also the postwar planning intended to continue this “moderate” agenda: https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ .)

So on this Father’s Day, 2013, we find ourselves in a quandary. Do we want Father to be the stern disciplinarian, the masculinist role model for boys who will divert libido from too-compassionate, radicalizing mothers to [moderately] Democratic fathers (as these social psychologists suggested)? Can women raise children without a husband? Conservatives and liberals are still slugging it out on this question.

As for my own father the doctor, I remain deeply attached to him, notwithstanding his many flaws. Both he and my late mother believed in me, in some ways stimulated me, and in other ways left me alone. Perhaps by default, they encouraged me to be curious and to admire and emulate the most daring thinkers in Western civilization.

Charles and Betty Spark mid-1930s

Charles and Betty Spark mid-1930s

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