YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 11, 2016

Are “the People” misguided? Is America “racist”?

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establishmentThis blog is about the fecklessness of “the Republican establishment.” In prior blogs I have noticed that both major political parties cater to “the People” (a demagogic term never broken down into structural components, especially class or gender differences in needs and outlook: see https://clarespark.com/2016/06/04/multiculturalism-the-missing-term-in-the-trump-fiasco/ and https://clarespark.com/2016/06/09/sex-and-aggression-in-hillarys-following-in-either-gender/.)

Moreover, the “establishment” has refused to move away from Trump’s ostensibly “racist” remark about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, despite indications that the judge (like many lawyers) may indeed be tied to cultural nationalism, a.k.a. “identity politics”/multiculturalism, not to speak of an opposing law firm representing the plaintiffs tied to the Clinton campaign.

I include in my list of suspicious characters the obvious elitist Wall Street Journal and the more folksy Fox News Channel, both run by moderate men who do not diverge from Hillary Clinton’s fusing of workers and small businessmen.

Here is how to spot a moderate man: he or she uses the following key words: “compassion,” “teamwork”, “imagination,” “rainbow connection,” “a positive outlook,” “inclusiveness,” and “diversity”—-all in the service of “making the world a better place” and “health.” Let us recall that leading supporters of the New Deal/FDR called themselves “moderate conservatives” to distinguish themselves from Nazis and other upstart movements on either Left or Right that challenged their “centrist” (fair and balanced) leadership. FDR himself termed his opponents “economic royalists.”

PBS ad for Constitution series

PBS ad for Constitution series

Are Donald J. Trump and/or his followers among “the People” racists, as Paul Ryan and other top Republicans imply? Or does the “establishment” entirely misunderstand “racism,” forgetting its lineage?

We could answer this question if we knew more about the history of the Old Left versus the New Left. I was startled to discover that Marxist-Leninists came out against racism in the 1930s. True, some bashed the progressive bourgeoisie, but not so much after the Popular Front against fascism was declared in 1934-35.

It was the Leninist/Maoist and anti-imperialist New Left that changed all that hyping of the productive forces that would or should produce the revolutionary working class. I remember the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s very well; Amerikkka was now deemed to be classist, racist, sexist, and exploitative of Nature/Woman. Witness the popularity of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and the nascent Green Party.

New Leftists pretending to be hard-hats

New Leftists pretending to be hard-hats


These “social justice” radicals went to graduate school and entered the professions, including teaching and show biz. Many formed a network of buddies, got their PhD’s and now control the humanities and mass media, the social democrats (and some communists) among them warning against white male heterosexual supremacy, going so far as to propose exterminating the literary greats of yesteryear (at Yale for instance).

After all, if Shakespeare and Milton were widely read by the slobs, they must be part of the paranoid “People” and we all know that “the People is an ass.” https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/.

Our betters insist upon it.

July 18, 2015

Political Correctness and Chattanooga shooting

Painting by Jeff Wilkie

Painting by Jeff Wilkie

The moderate men have done it again in generally declining to investigate a precise motive for the Chattanooga shooting, while using the word “extremist” to designate their enemies on either Left or Right.

This will be a short blog, for I have beaten this horse to death, investigating the origins of political correctness in German Romanticism, the hegemony of multiculturalism (shockingly taken up by the once anti-racist Left), and the reluctance to admit to antisemitic subtexts in our political discourses. (For one example among many see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/02/groupiness-group-think-and-race/.)

In the weekend Wall Street Journal, for instance, linguistics professor at Columbia U, John McWhorter, ostensibly a neocon, writes at length about changing meanings of curse words as if they evolved, without identifiable causes. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-dare-you-say-that-the-evolution-of-profanity-1437168515.) What he left out in his essay was the time-tested tactic of the liberal establishment, acting in the interests of the neutral state, to promote politeness as a tactic in bringing warring factions into line, so that artful mediators could promote social harmony and their version of stability. For these liberals, offensive language only polarizes the conflict, promoting hate, not love and mutual “understanding.”*

Image by Jesse Lenz

Image by Jesse Lenz

Even Andrew McCarthy, in a National Review piece that correctly identifies the Palestinian background of Muhammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/421346/chattanooga-shooting-muslim-jihad-muhammad-abdulazeez), does not identify the stakes in the widespread reticence in even suggesting that international terrorism, not some radicalized “lone wolf” was responsible for the mayhem. For we cannot suggest that all Muslims might not be agreeable to peaceful co-existence. That would evade the tenets of mandatory collectivist discourses, prompting broader investigations into individual motives, and in this bogus “lone wolf” case, polluting the dominant “moderate” view that finds moral equivalence in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Social media, rightly or wrongly, has become the new facilitator of terrorism. Yet these media are our only route to dissent in the cultural monopolies staffed by the moderate men.

*In fairness to McWhorter, in his WSJ piece, he does historicize taboo expressions, brings up middle class mores, and mentioning that groups may not be stigmatized by outsiders, but he doesn’t go far enough. All we are left with is changing times, with examples of outdated naughty speech. This from an author frequently identified with the Republican “right-wing.”


May 30, 2015

Constructing the moderate men with the classics

authors_rectThis blog is about tranquilizing our students through indoctrination: a kind of lobotomy of the imagination.

The Wall Street Journal, stomping grounds of the moderate men, features a “counter-cultural” summer reading list for high school kids in its May 30, 2015 edition (page A-13), clearly intended to cool out extremists of every stripe. Meet the author here: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2004/09/01/textbooks-where-curriculum-meets-child-exclusive-interview-gilbert-t-sewall (preceded last week by Peggy Noonan’s http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-trigger-happy-generation-1432245600).

Sewall advertises himself as a (sort of) conservative who opposes the radicalism of “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, going back to the “classics” with a small dollop of works likely to instill pride in (tempered) American individualism.

I suspect that Sewall’s agenda fits in all too snugly with earlier “moderates” whose project was to tame autodidacts, i.e., the barbarian hordes likely, through empiricism, science, and technology, to overthrow traditional elites. I have written about their efforts before on this website:

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/,  https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/.

Who are the enemy to the moderate men? Nietzsche, in his inimitable fashion, points the way in his first book (The Birth of Tragedy):

[Nietzsche:] Nothing can be more terrible than a barbaric slave class that has learned to view its existence as an injustice and preparing to avenge not only its own wrongs but those of all previous generations. Under such conditions, who would dare appeal confidently to our weary and etiolated religions, which have long since become “Brahmin” religions?” Myth, the prerequisite of all religion, has been paralyzed everywhere, and theology has been invaded by that optimistic spirit which I have just stigmatized as the baneful virus of society. [Compare to my next blog that quotes FN on “the Jews”: https://clarespark.com/2015/05/31/nietzsche-on-the-jews-and-non-aryan-christians/%5D

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

[Clare, cont.] So it is not surprising to see Voltaire’s Candide (with its counter Enlightenment-optimism message) on Sewall’s reading list.

What is missing from all these paeans to the classics? To be sure, they may be wonderful to read, but the biographies and sociopolitical commitments of the authors are all missing. Hence we can revel in the images and eloquence of the authors, but we have no idea of the deeper meanings of the texts, nor how incompatible social movements have appropriated them to twist their meanings.

That is the problem with the all of the humanities as taught today by either multicultural leftists or by the organic conservatives who called themselves “moderates” and have explicitly sought to enhance “social cohesion,” political stability, as achieved through the golden mean. (On the intentions of the New Critics see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.)

Without rigorous training in history, political theory, and economics, youngsters of college age are left without a beacon to light their way through these classic texts, however meritorious and appealing they may be as high cultural artifacts.

And even more likely, the poor preparation for reading anything at all with even a shallow understanding in our dumbed down, pseudo-civilization, suggests that a humanities education at any age is a waste of time and money.


September 13, 2014

Melville, Edmund Burke, and literary cubism

Picasso, 1910

Picasso, 1910

[My comment on Burke as reactionary raised a ruckus on Facebook (see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/), so here is some material from my book on Burke’s neoclassical rage for order and rejection of both the Sublime and the Beautiful. It is also relevant to the practice of conservative psychiatry and mental health services.]

[Excerpt: Hunting Captain Ahab:] Since the nineteenth century, images of Melville have moved from lunatic to Fallen Superman to rootless cosmopolitan to rooted cosmopolitan, with the figure of the rooted cosmopolitan unmasking would-be tyrants posing as democrats.  Underneath the mixed, ever-ambiguous reception to Melville’s art is a larger impulse: the subliminal blue-penciling of natural rights.  The eighteenth-century organic conservative Edmund Burke, like Samuel Johnson, reacted to Bacon, Milton and Locke by nervously constructing a politicized aesthetics. Whether rendered as Sublime or Beautiful the seductive material world the neo-classicists called Nature was always subversive to rational inquiry.[1]  The Sublime was the terrifying but alluring romantic style associated with rupture or iconoclasm, unchecked fancy and speculation, unmonitored boundary-blurring science, and Hebraic “puritanism.” It was contrasted with its Beautiful rival, the soothing, bounded pastoral style associated with conservative reform.

Melville’s gigantic sin was, perhaps, also the source of his greatness to corporatist readers.  In cleaving to purple/black/brown sublimity, he jammed his poetic prose with too many images.  The disorienting view from mountain tops, foretops, and rooftops (the brain) bored within the psyche and without, and defied Ovid by mating “unlike things,” thus muddling distinctions between art and life, dreams and reality.[2]  While the literary cubist Melville melted walls between some categories and made them interpenetrate or turn into their opposites, he had a fitful but keen eye for structures that could not be washed away by his conservative narrators. The cubist Melville interrupted their moralistic admonitions with materialist expletives.  The Nation magazine had explained in 1919 (the year they helped initiate the Melville Revival) that “the inherent common sense” of the flexible “Anglo-Saxon race” would overcome Jewish Bolshevism in America.  Following their logic, Melville would have betrayed his Anglo-Saxon racial inheritance by describing group antagonisms and double binds that, in turn, suggested the necessity of structural reform. Structural reform would not only ameliorate the condition of labor and create “the first firm founding of the state,” but, in a related perception, it would prevent mental illness in the laps of “families” that wanted to erase the contradiction between (adolescent) truth and (parental) order, families that madly promoted the critical spirit while fencing the rebel senses.


But even as a Burkean, Melville was subversive.  As Burke recognized, the relaxing Beautiful was not the antidote to the agitating Sublime, but a different style of Romantic seduction.  Melville’s “primitivist” or “reactionary” protests, no less than his “Marxian” moments, were utopian delegitimations of deceptive or heartless authority in the name of universal standards of truth and justice.  Such unsettling criticism as the desire for something better, as desire itself (as opposed to the impassibility [3] of “aestheticism”) may initiate processes that can get out of hand, that may lead to unpredicted developments more far-reaching than Machiavellian “moderate” conservatives, the managers of “ritual rebellions,” would like.  The impeccably WASP American writer, on closer scrutiny, turned out to be a bad Jew even when he tried to be good by working within the system.


“The Melville problem” (what is he, where is he, why did he fail?), “the Jewish problem,” and the problem of the form and content of American democratic institutions trampled over the same dark and bloody ground.  The Melville scholars studied here were transmitters of his “Hebraic” utopian provocations, while dependent on “neutral” (but really conservative) institutions. They have, with frequent resentment, tightened their corsets, assaulting the body in repose, the body freed from intimidation, the relaxed body better able to exercise curiosity and formulate those worldly assessments of social relationships and domination that build confidence in rising groups.  The revivers anxiously merged with and simultaneously rejected their Hebraic monster/monument, fencing their own “rebel senses” as well as Melville’s.  Given the structural pressures in American universities after 1919, the ongoing appeal of crypto-Tory nostrums, and a series of fatal decisions by the Left, the Melville malaise was inevitable.

This study revealed the etiology of the Melville problem in the attempts of organic conservatives to contain the explosive forces unleashed by science, liberal nationalism, universal literacy and mass suffrage. Their reactive concept of national, ethnic, or racial character is the heart-string that constricts and arrests the questing or utopian imagination in either its sublime or beautiful expansiveness. Ahab’s quest was viewed by conservatives as leading to the creation of a rational-secular international order with universal standards of excellence and human rights.  Red pencils were flaunted in 1917-1919 with the stunning advent of Bolshevism and Wilson’s appealing concept of a New World Order.  The corporatists  forged a middle way between the “extremes” of right-wing reaction and revolutionary socialism in 1919, and similarly, between laissez-faire liberalism and Nazism/Communism in the mid-1930s.  The strategy of these “moderates” was to co-opt the scientific language of the Enlightenment. They purged or discredited class-conscious “Bolshevists,” left-liberal materialists, and laissez-faire liberals alike. As corporatist thinkers, they incorporated newly discovered “facts” into “totalities”or “organic wholes.” In doing so, they presented their blood and soil historicism as the democratic vanguard of progress; their interacting biological, geographical, psychological or cultural “types”were offered as novel interventions that protected the uninitiated reader from mad scientists and the Bomb.  I have neither typed nor stamped Melville; rather, I have followed his lead, noting the tight harness of nineteenth-century family loyalty (corporatism and hereditarian racism) that restrained the isolato’s equally stubborn efforts to depict, overturn, or escape illegitimate authority, to merge his interests with those of suffering humanity. Whether hiding or writhing under the boot, Melville was an insoluble problem for the moderate men in all factions of Melville studies after 1919.

By suggesting ongoing conflict between materialist and pseudo-materialist (organicist) thinkers in the West as the sub-text of the ‘Melville’ Revival, I implicitly criticize the notion of Cold War culture as the unique creation of “fascist” Republicans.  The identification of classical liberalism with “romantic fascism” has been the dubious construct of the corporatists and their Popular Front Left allies, supporters of the New Deal.  The same thinkers have identified Red Scares as hysterical over-reactions to a relatively insignificant Communist presence in the labor movement or to an exaggerated Soviet military threat after 1945: this is their explanation for assaults on civil liberties.  The picture changes when we take elite perceptions of lower-class autodidacts in a period of mass literacy and mass media as the subject of inquiry.  In my view, ongoing hostility to “materialism” and “insatiable curiosity” (self-assertion in the independent labor movement and its associated internationalism) explains the continuities in the Melville Revival and modifies the Cold War explanation for repression of civil liberties.  Rather than diagnosing Far Right hysteria or overreaction, I relocated “hysteria” in the moderate center, in its “cool” neo-classical (but not Beautiful) response to hot-headed romanticism or “paranoia” on the fringe.  There was an epochal emancipatory moment in the seventeenth century; all subsequent intellectual history in “the West” may be seen as counter-attack to the Titanic threat of universal democracy and scientific advance, grounded in economic arrangements that would facilitate that goal. I cannot think of a single political movement that has embraced the scientist’s open-ended and experimental program, though it should be implicit in the struggle for cultural freedom.

Enlightenment materialists argued for the universal natural rights of individuals; as republicans they demanded one set of rules for rich and poor, institutionalizing natural rights in the state as civil liberties.  In this context, the so-called eternal conflict between individual and society denotes rather a fight specific to bourgeois democracies: the defense of civil liberties against privileged minorities or intolerant or uninformed majorities.  Moreover, as Locke and Diderot insisted, the citizen protester demanded that authorities heed exactly their own rules and standards–the precepts that legitimated their power and signified superior competence.[4]  Transferring their own libertinage onto social rebels (in this case, the revolutionary bourgeoisie) the threatened aristocracy resorted to stereotypes that slandered democracy and The People.  In a scenario still played out in offices of conservative psychiatry, the conflict between the individual and “civilization” originates in self-indulgent acting-out of anti-social emotions and instincts, not legitimate grievances. Unlike Don Juan/Faust socially responsible elites possess an “inner check,” the measured response to provocation that staves off both violent, rigid responses in themselves and revolution by the desperate.[5] A rainbow (not reaction or rubble or rivers of blood) is dispensed by the good father and other mental health professionals. [6]


                [1] See two eighteenth-century works, both in Melville’s library: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, Introduction by Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1990, originally publ.1757); in Phillips’ opinion, the Sublime and the Beautiful were not antinomies for Burke: both were arousing and opposed to indifference and immobility; however, Phillips makes the comparison with rupture and continuity, Thanatos and Eros.  Also see Samuel Johnson, Rasselas (1759), especially Chapter XVII, the remarks on “fancy” (the meteor: transitory, irregular, delusive; i.e., the Melville career as read by conservatives) and Chapter XLIV “The Dangerous Prevalence of Imagination.”  Both the pastoral (fantastic delight) and the visionary utopia (which Johnson connects) are dangerous and lead to fixed ideas, melancholy, insanity, parricide and fratricide. Rasselas (in subject matter and philosophy likened to Voltaire’s Candide) was Johnson’s most popular work, enjoying 450 editions by 1959. See Samuel Johnson, LL.D., An Exhibition of First Editions, Manuscripts, Letters and Portraits to Commemorate the 250th Anniversary of his Birth, and the 200th Anniversary of the Publication of his Rasselas (N.Y.: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1959). Cf. the attempt by Harry Hayden Clark, 1944, op.cit., to fasten Thomas Paine to this neo-classical literary tradition, cviii-cxviii.

[2] My reference to the mating of unlike things is from Ovid’s definition of Chaos that begins Metamorphoses as well as Melville’s poem “Art.” Burke describes the obscurity that results from Milton’s description of Satan (and poetry in general) as the consequence of compressing unlike things (a problem not shared by imitative painting), Philosophical Enquiry, Part II, Section IV (cont.), 57.  “Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture consist? in images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through the mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions of kingdoms.  The mind is hurried out of itself by a croud of great and confused images; which affect because they are crouded and confused.  For separate them, and you lose much of the greatness, and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness.”

                [3] See Piero Camporesi, The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily mutilation and mortification in religion and folklore, transl. Tania Croft-Murray (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1988): Chapter Two, “The Impassible Saint.”

                [4] See Denis Diderot, Memoirs of a Nun, transl. Frances Birrell (London: Elek Books, 1959).

                [5] See Heinrich Heine, Doktor Faust, A Dance Poem, transl. and ed. Basil Ashmore (London: Peter Nevill, 1952): 16,17 for the intertwining of the Don Juan/Faust legends and the threat of the autodidact; the conflation of printing with necromancy and compare to some criticism of mass media today: Heine wrote in 1851 (the same year Moby Dick was published), “The Church deliberately confused [the historic Faust, a magician, with the inventor of printing] because in its opinion, necromancy has found its most wicked tool in the diffusion of thought by means of printing.  To such minds Thought is a terrible menace to that blind credo demanded in the Middle Ages, which requires acceptance of the Church’s total authority in matters spiritual and temporal, and keeps the humble charcoal burner [the Carboneri!] on his knees.  Faust began to think.  His impious intellect rebelled against the meek acceptance of his forefathers.  He was not content to read in dark places and to trifle with simple arts.  He longed for scientific knowledge and lusted for worldly power.  He demanded to be allowed to think, to act and to enjoy life to its full extent, and so…to use the language of the ancients…he became an apostate, renounced all hope of heavenly bliss, and turned to Satan and his earthly ways and promises.  This single man’s revolt was most certainly spread abroad by means of the printer’s art, so that his doctrine was very soon assimilated, not merely by a handful of intellectual rebels, but by whole populaces.  Small wonder then, that men of God denounced the art of printing as an attribute of Satan.”

                [6] See Robert Filmer’s classic formulation of stealthily advancing, bloodthirsty, irrational democracies in Patriarcha, ed. Peter Laslett (Oxford U.P. 1949: 89,90.

March 20, 2014

Role models, Talcott Parsons, and Structural Functionalism

Tinguely construction

Tinguely construction

The persistent theme of this website is to decode the propaganda of all political factions, tracing their histories back to the invention of the printing press, when ordinary people first became at least partly independent of “traditional” hierarchies. So began the modern world in my lexicon, where anything can happen in relations with “authority” and new strategies for “order” were invented by threatened elites.

Reading comprehension (my strongest suit) became my preoccupation, for language, music, and visual symbols are powerful forces that may either aid emancipation from illegitimate authority, or may fasten “ordinary people” to bad “role models” as they are called today.

The phrase “role model” is constantly trotted out as THE solution to upward mobility for “victims” of capitalism and the modern world in general. The “leaders” we encounter are held to mold our characters and desires: parents, teachers, entertainers, artists, the media, public intellectuals. These figures may be forces for positive growth as unique individuals, capable of seeing through confidence men, or, as now-and-then rebels/protesters, they may relieve the negative aspects of “tradition,” allowing us to blow off steam—a process that leaves oppressive elites undamaged.

Or these designated role models may be so ambiguous as to be indecipherable, even as they appeal to our needs for safety and sense of belonging to what is called either “family” or “community.” It is my view that multiculturalism is one pervasive elite strategy that appears to “include” everyone in the “international community”, but in practice, divides groups from one another. Enter cultural anthropology and its spin-off: “interdisciplinary cultural studies” that avoid “economic determinism” like the plague.

For economic factors are too central to understanding the material world we live in, and too close to science, especially to the empiricism that strengthens “ordinary people.” They also buttress the claims of classical liberals (the Founders and framers of the US Constitution); try to read the Federalist papers without understanding the economic disaster of the Articles of Confederation, or without understanding the liberating conception of equality under the law—and the laws are at bottom about economic factors and their interpretation.

One reason I mention the moderate men so frequently is not out of antagonism toward moderation as such, but because “moderate conservatives” (the progressives) changed their spots with particular effectiveness at the end of the Red Decade (the 1930s), in order to lure “ordinary people” away from either communism or “laissez-faire capitalism” as it was derisively called by its elite antagonists. (FDR, a conservative reformer, called his opponents “economic royalists,” all the while courting allies such as Harvard social psychologist Dr. Henry A. Murray, whose notes on Melville’s White-Jacket insisted that ordinary people were not “trained to rule.”)

Central to that project of counter-Enlightenment were the fields of social psychology, social relations, and sociology. No longer would professionals in these fields follow the procedures of science (either “pure” or “applied”), following material evidence to its logical conclusions, but now, echoing British Tories and Whigs, their aims were “social cohesion” and “political stability”—sometimes called the Third Way.  If this meant abandoning the authority of (unreliably changeable) science, so be it. After all, materialist procedures buttressed the arguments of the Enlightenment (see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.) Here are some of Parsons’s other achievements: 1. The declaration that free speech should be tolerated solely in a psychiatrist’s office; 2. An essay in a volume on antisemitism that described the Jewish God as domineering and genocidal; and 3. The blaming of native Nazism on “romantic puritans”. These claims were not hidden away in private communications or notes, but published in 1942, where I found them, with my eyebrows raised to my hairline.

Indeed, the great achievement of progressive sociology (as exemplified by Parsons and other authoritarian “liberals”) was to place the academic reader in a double bind: society was ideally a self-contained smoothly functioning machine, similar to that of the plant world. But social bonds were mystical, not materialist as the puritan romantics would have it.

Enter the role of language: “communities” substituted for identity of material interests, let alone the rule of law.  “Role models” became a useful form of identity formation, stopping moves toward individual judgment, for role models originated within “the system”—hyper-“individualists” must be outside agitators, troublemakers too reliant on their sense impressions and readings of key texts.

Indeed, the Parsons cohort had elaborate plans to enhance “national morale” that effectively identified gritty individuals before they ascended to positions of power. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ followed by https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/. These are excerpts from my book on the Melville Revival and are unknown or off limits to most researchers.)

Is it any wonder that artists have resisted the process by which they were invited to enter the machine world of the structural functionalists and their allies in the progressive movement, even as they, like Jean Tinguely, proclaimed the superior “social” qualities of the “self-sufficient” world of the artist? http://www.moma.org/pdfs/docs/press_archives/4149/releases/MOMA_1968_July-December_0081.pdf?2010. Would they have been exhibited under a different banner?


October 26, 2013

Krauthammer, Fox News Channel, and the search for Unity

Charles2I looked forward to Bret Baier’s documentary (Charles Krauthammer: A Life That Matters, 10-25-13) in honor of Charles Krauthammer’s just published book of collected essays, partly because I look up to Krauthammer as the wise man of FNC, but partly because I knew little of his family background, other than that he had suffered a terrible disabling accident when still a young man, yet had gone on to become a psychiatrist and a political pundit who famously switched from liberal to neoconservative (i.e., the very liberal anticommunist became a moderate man leaning toward the Right).

CK’s Wikipedia page has nothing about his family background (or his intellectual influences such as favorite reading), but we learned from the Baier doc that his father and mother were Jewish immigrants from Europe, that his father spoke 9 languages, and that his older brother (who died at 59 of cancer) was worshipped by his sibling, and that big brother had shown him the ropes, initiating him into manhood as something of an athlete. One could conclude that CK’s private life would remain very private. No mention of  the accomplishments or character of CK’s mother; only a brief appreciation of his artist wife; and an allusion to a baby son.  His private life remains private, and was perhaps the condition of his being interviewed. Given his career aspirations and chosen universities, I guessed that his family was haute bourgeois in Europe (it was briefly mentioned that father was a real estate developer).

Upon being questioned about  his education, I was surprised to learn that CK started out in “political theory” but finding it “too abstract” he switched to medicine (following his brother?), which he said was more reality oriented and more philosophically challenging. CK further insisted that he remained “in denial” regarding both his accident and his “interior life,” which seemed to amuse him and Baier alike, though I found it bizarre for a self-described “psychiatrist.”

Political science, like its materialist fellow-disciplines (sociology, history, economics, anthropology) is anything but boring to one who seeks to understand contemporary political affairs. It occurred to me that CK might be highly invested in personal power and influence, even if it costs him something in self-understanding. The rest of this blog is about what I gathered from the CK show.

Fox News Channel, like the Wall Street Journal, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a businessman who profits from maximum eyeballs and circulation, not unlike the rest of mass media. Hence the “moderate” direction of both enterprises. The search for truth takes back seat to the “fair and balanced” mantra. To CK (at least in the Baier show), the Tea Party is not like other social movements, an object of contemplation and analysis as to social base, tactics, objectives, organizational structure, numbers, etc., but rather fanatical and extreme (I am using my words, not quoting CK’s). And yet a few days ago, while promoting this show, the same CK assessed the GOP-Tea Party split as over, celebrating its “fusion.” (CK did the same on Greta’s show 10-31-13.)

This is what I mean by the search for unity at all costs; besides denying the family dynamics that may create lifelong ambivalence and other distortions, the search for unity implies an underlying belief in the neutral state and in the organic nation. Bret Baier’s panels of experts, like Chris Wallace’s, sometimes break out in vociferous disagreement, but we are reassured that beneath the high dudgeon, they and we are all friends.  (The same goes for the hit show The Five.)

Bret Baier panel_640

And yet, the Democratic Party loathes the GOP, ignoring the progressive origins of both modern capitalist parties. It was no big deal for the wise elder statesman of Fox News Channel to switch. (For material on the populist origins of the moderate men/progressives see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For some thoughts on how fast switches between topics can cause the loss of focus in the viewer, see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/. Not just tabloids, but all news media suffer from this structural problem. For two recent blogs that address the illusion of national or group unity see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/21/citizen-obama-political-pluralism-and-the-elusive-search-for-unity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

[Added 10-27-13: It seems that CK deferred to three men in his life: his father (to whom he gave his Pulitzer medal on his death bed) , the older brother Marcel, and the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, who predicted that any civilization advanced enough to figure out [atomic fission] would end up destroying itself. This strain of cultural pessimism is disturbing to me, and perhaps owes more than a little to CK’s life-transforming disastrous accident while still a very young man. In any case, having renounced “psychiatry” and the inner world of feelings,  he should not trot out his credentials as a psychiatrist while making political judgments. For more on his attachment to his older brother Marcel see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012601471.html.]

January 5, 2013


common-core-standards-turtleSegments of the Right are correctly worried that the reading of government pamphlets will displace the classic works of English and American literature as currently taught in the schools. Some, including Pajamas Media and Fox News imagine that such “classics” as Orwell, Huxley, and Hemingway will disappear from the curriculum in favor of progressive propaganda as disseminated by the CORE STANDARDS, sometimes called Common Core.

What these popular rightist media fail to understand is 1. that for the standards to be enforced in every classroom, government surveillance would have to accomplish what may be impossible; i.e., a form of terror; and 2. that statist progressives have long dominated the teaching of literature and the humanities in general, twisting texts to elevate the “moderate” solution to social conflict. What these progressives want, like fascists before them, is acquiescence to state directives and the obliteration of extremism, whether the hotheads targeted are communists on the Left or laissez-faire capitalists on the Right.

Hence, the rightists and liberals who look askance on the wide state support for the Core Standards, fail to teach their followers how to recognize ideology in the arts, particularly those aspects of the humanities that appropriate past cultural artifacts for present-day partisan purposes. No political faction is innocent in this culture-deadening scenario.

The first nine references (very alarming)  below lay out the controversy over the Core Standards, which threaten to diminish literary texts in order to include readings in history and science. The professed aim of these “Standards” is to prepare high school students for life and work in the modern world. But the authors of the Core Standards neglect to acknowledge that the works chosen from history and science are likely to reinforce as true and normal what are in fact policy initiatives of the evermore left-leaning and incompetent Obama administration.  The next six links are my own research, published and unpublished, on the consensus of the moderate men in the teaching of American literature with the goal of managing or obliterating class or gender conflict. Their mutual aim is the substitution of scientific, materialist history by an organicist discourse that reunites master and man/ President and the “middle class” (including “the working class”). In other words, the teaching of English is already ideological. (And on the left and liberal left, teaching is generally fiercely averse to anything that smacks of Freudian analysis, with its emphasis on ambivalence, ambiguity, and uncertainty.)

Poe's Raven

Poe’s Raven
















https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (The Great Dumbing Down in two parts)




June 3, 2012

Connecting vs. connecting the dots

George Wallace, ca. 1960s

In this campaign year, pundits are constantly complaining that Romney is not “connecting” with the electorate, because he is wealthy (but lacks “the King’s touch”?). The same accusation was directed at him by his populist competitor Rick Santorum, who did “connect” with Pennsylvania coal miners, because, he stated, it was in his blood. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/.) This emphasis on a vaguely stated  blood and soil “connection” should scare us, for it evades the question of policy, and which candidate offers better economic and diplomatic policy recommendations to maintain American institutions and national security. In the blog that follows, I will try to show how two major books, in their zeal to keep America steady,  fail to inform us of lingering irrationalism in American political culture, an irrationalism that is characteristic of the middle, not the “extremes.” These books are

Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself  (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992), and Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab: The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1970).

Here are two meticulously documented books written for the general reader. The first, by Klehr and Haynes,  concludes that although the communist movement was messianic and directed from Moscow, it was never a substantial threat to the American consensus; indeed, Communism did itself in through such errors as the blunder in running Henry Wallace for president in the Progressive Party campaign of 1948, preceded of course, by the zig-zagging moves of the late 1920s-early1930s, as it veered against the New Deal (seen as “social fascism”), followed by the Popular Front of 1935 onward, then the shock of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 (that killed the Popular Front), then after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, shifting back to Popular Front politics, only to be sunk once again by the revelations of Khrushchev in 1956. Klehr and Haynes see the years from 1960-1990 as “twilight years.”

I remember reading Ellen Schrecker’s book, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (Oxford UP, 1986), when I first started my dissertation research.  She claimed that communism had always been relatively weak, and that the crusade mounted against it by the Right and by Trotskyists, had over-reacted to the detriment of our political culture. When I finished the Klehr-Haynes survey of (now defunct) communism in America, I had the sinking feeling that their book was not incompatible with Schrecker’s argument; that two scholars I greatly admired had not deviated from the “moderate” line of liberal anticommunism, which, while stigmatizing Marxist-Leninism as a religion, did not demand that it, along with its statism/bureaucratic collectivism, be banished from the democratic pluralist spectrum of competing interest groups; nor were they alarmed by the arrival of New Leftism and black nationalism from the 1960s onward. Such a drastic erasure would have linked the authors to the dread anti-intellectual, paranoid extremism of the far right, i.e. to the subject of Lipset and Raab’s survey of irrationalist social movements in the U.S.

In my own experience, both as programmer and for 18 months as Program Director at a Pacifica  radio station (KPFK-Los Angeles), then in graduate school at UCLA in the Department of History, I felt the sting of Communist ideology and organizing: Stalinists were entirely entrenched at Pacifica, and CPUSA organizing got me fired when I put a few Trotskyists on the air, programmers who were complaining about the Spanish Civil War and other insults to the amour propre of such as William Mandel, who used to read from Pravda as a legitimate source of news. Trotskyist intellectuals called their “progressive” competition Stalinoids, and that is an accurate term, though the CPUSA, directly and indirectly, continues to influence mass media, alternative media, and the humanities departments of the major universities, not with a nod to Stalin, but rather to Third Worldism and what they insist is the lamentable history of crooked capitalism in America. In other words, Klehr and Haynes did not consider the penetration of communist ideas into the progressive mainstream, though they point out several times communist initiatives that were taken up by the Roosevelt administration, also the general communist/populist hostility to “finance capital.” While at UCLA, there was no animus directed against Stalinism; rather I met many famous Communist academics, and those (Leninists) on the faculty supported separatist ethnic and women’s studies, just as 1930s Communists supported a Black Belt in the American South to compensate the descendants of slaves; i.e., the racialism of the multicultural discourse did not discourage Communists in the UCLA Department of History, and the most anti-imperialist students were rewarded with fellowships and jobs.

Moving on to Lipset and Raab. These authors come out of the Harvard school of sociology and social relations as it developed from about 1939 onward, linked most famously to the cultural anthropology  (or “structural functionalism”) of Talcott Parsons and the political science “typology” of Max Weber, along with the diagnosis of urban anomie postulated by Durkheim.  Here are the liberal anticommunists who contrast “democratic pluralism” with the “patterns of prejudice” they see as a continuing theme in U.S. political culture, all too given to hysteria. They too are progressive pundits, though, unlike journalists, as academics they were at the top of their profession and remain hegemonic. Among their targets such easy prey as the anti-Masons, the Know-Nothings, Joseph McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and George Wallace. They are big on how conservative elites ensnare unwary little people suffering from status deprivation. (And it was the “moderate” line after WW2, that the Nazis won by capturing the lower middle class, atomized by “mass society.” Democratic pluralism is their antidote to “mass culture.)

It was in their big book from 1970 that I saw multiculturalism/groupiness in action, with the notion of multiple group affiliations as the heartfelt solution to excessive cerebration by such “economic determinists” as Ralph Bunche in his late 1930s memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/).  Lipset and Raab’s most important revision of class analysis was to redefine class altogether. Whereas Marxists defined class as a specific relationship to the means of production, analyzing power as distributed in given institutions, these Parsonians define class as a ladder, as “status” (i.e. “caste”) encompassing life style and income. What such a definition does is remove the question of contracts and their potential asymmetry from consciousness. All of mass media buy into this Lipset and Raab managerial definition. This erasure of classes as standing in a particular relation to each other, instead of “life style choices” demonstrates to me that such intellectuals have taken on the task of managing conflict by defining everyone who sees structural problems in our society as extremists. They cut out the anti-statist libertarian right who see free markets as wealth creators and the road to opportunity, and they cut out what is now called “the hard left” who make their case on the premise that capital/capitalism exploits not “labor” but a vaguely defined “middle class.”

Prometheus, Heinrich Fueger, 1817

Say what you will about the failures of the Soviet Union. At least its better advocates saw the communist experiment as the culmination of the Enlightenment and the realization of individuality. The best that the moderate men came up with has been “the inherent tension between social egalitarianism—the democratic impulse—and political liberty—democratic restraint.” (Lipset and Raab, p.514) By restraint, the authors mean the stamping out of excessive moralism and resentment, a moralism exemplified by the awful romantic New England Puritan. Moderates like us do not storm heaven, do not copy Prometheus, are generous of spirit; indeed our groupiness is spirituality personified. Orwell anyone? (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.)

April 6, 2012

Diagnosing POTUS

President as Antifederalist?

[Update 6-18-16:]

It is my view that Barack Obama meant by “hope and change” that he intended to create a permanent Democrat Party, moved so far left that minorities would overturn what is imagined to be “white heterosexual male supremacy” by 1960s activists, the “social justice warriors.”
Depending on the speaker, the President is either
  1. incompetent (“in over his head”);
  2. suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (“arrogant” or “out of touch”);
  3. a stealth Leninist (nihilist, opportunist, anti-imperialist, crypto-Islamist carrying out his African father’s failed mission), using black liberation theology to rev up his base, while tearing up the [racist] Constitution during the past week; or
  4. a noble centrist, a “moderate” who makes Democrats and even some neocons or conservatives proud to have voted for the first black (“African American”) president, and who has vindicated their belief in his sane and virtuous  progressive commitments to human rights and community welfare, appropriately reining in selfish individualists.
  5. [Added 3-15-14: I am told that he is not only gay, but that Michelle is a man in drag]

As far as I know, I am one of the few who has defined  his political base as incoherent , thus bringing together most of the items listed above: (See https://clarespark.com/2012/08/16/marx-rivals-and-our-enigmatic-president/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/05/is-potus-crazy/, and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/. especially the sentence in bold face type: “It is conceivable to me that Obama’s family history (especially the abandonment by his father and who-knows-what-relationships with his doting mother and doting grandparents), set him up to be the perfect candidate for ambitious politicians in Chicago, who could count on the incoherent constituencies of the Democratic Party (big labor, public sector employees, cultural nationalist minorities–including those who profit from undocumented workers, dependents of the welfare state, feminists, gays, veterans of the civil rights movement, wealthy liberal Jews, post60s academics and journalists, Rooseveltian internationalists, environmentalists) to be taken in by his charisma and passionate promises for a national healing that would a. reconcile the irreconcilable demands and interests of his base; b. bring to pass an equally apocalyptic change inside the Washington Beltway; and c. through the power of diplomacy, effectuate an avowedly anti-imperialist “pro-peace” foreign policy. It makes sense too, in explaining his obvious rage at being criticized and blocked, to suspect that his “narcissistic supplies” are threatened. As for the grandiosity that characterizes the narcissist and other would-be healers or “moderates”, such a high opinion of himself attracts others who aspire to greatness and a cohesive human community, and who therefore tend to idealize him and overlook his contradictory statements and broken promises–for he could not and cannot please the diverse elements of the base that elected him and that continues to support him”).

If indeed, the Supreme Court does declare the ACA unconstitutional, and if there are other blows to the President’s self-esteem and conviction that he is ever the Chosen Leader of the 99%, the successful “uniter,” then it would not be unreasonable to predict some kind of crack-up. Should he “lose it” in some fashion or other (including the election), elements of his base will of course blame his opponents. These “reactionaries” will be viewed as variants of the American Assassin, as proto-Nazis or other power-grabbers, as having worn him down through the drip, drip, drip of their day in and day out attempts to undermine the resolve of the last best hope of suffering humanity. The last thing the diehard Obama supporters will examine is their own motives for having elected him in the first place.

In this blog, I have focused on the internal incoherence of the Democratic Party. For a look at differences inside their opponents, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. Note especially how populism can appear anywhere and is always destructive to sane political thought and assessments. For an example how the populist movement was co-opted by “progressives” see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.

June 19, 2010

Committee For Economic Development and its sociologists


From Athena’s mouth to your ears

[excerpt chapter 9, Hunting Captain Ahab] The pursuit of Herman Melville in elite eastern universities during the late 1930s was coterminous with the excising of radical will through antifascist liberal surgery.

As world war loomed, Marxists and many others from Center to Left were predicting fascism in America. New Deal policies, they argued, could not avert or repair the periodic structural crises of capitalism; only a corporate state could suppress the class warfare that would flare anew in the depression that was expected to follow demobilization. Irrationalist moderate conservatives viewed moralistic self-righteousness (on the Left) and selfishness (on the Right) as the source of social violence.

In 1939 or 1940, three moderate men, Robert Hutchins, Paul Hoffman, and William Benton, invited University of Chicago faculty and “personal friends” from big business to join a study group, The American Policy Commission. Hutchins was President of the University of Chicago and defender of Great Books; he and his former partner Chester Bowles would be members of America First; Hoffman was President of Studebaker, later chief administrator for the Marshall Plan and first president of the Ford Foundation; Benton was Vice-President of the University of Chicago, promoter of modern radio advertising, Amos ‘n Andy, and Muzak, later publisher of Encyclopedia Britannica and other educational media, Assistant Secretary of State, then originator of “The Voice of America,” U.S. Senator from Connecticut, and backer of UNESCO enabling legislation. The American Policy Commission evolved into The Committee For Economic Development, institutionalized in 1942; its purpose to meet the anticipated postwar depression with Keynesian economics. The CED distinguished its “socially responsible” policies from those of the laissez-faire National Association of Manufacturers; it brought scholarly specialists together with liberal businessmen to steer America clear of the mad extremes of Fascism and Communism, later McCarthyism, inflated arms budgets, and commercial broadcasting.

The omnipresent political scientist Harold Lasswell[i] was central to their project of preventive politics: the Jung-inspired Lasswell discovered the psychopathology of communism and fascism. Benton’s biographer unambiguously placed Lasswell’s probe in the democratic tradition:

“[Lasswell] looked hard and long at these worldwide disorders of the political mind, hoping to find in them the terms for a program of preventive medicine and that could help maintain America as a free society with equal opportunity for human dignity open to all. [ii] 

With the examples of Plato and other classicists at hand, Lasswell and other psychopathologists could protect the old master narrative. Nazis sighted on the horizon (like the jingoistic followers of Father Coughlin and other American fascists) must be the People: sneaky, bloody, perverse, selfish and paranoid. Without good father navigation the hysterical People would be driven by shadows in Plato’s Cave, go berserk and drown “business.” Lasswell was worried about the possible transition from fascism to communism; while attempting to overcome Marxian socialism, (rational) European businessmen had been captured by the “romantic Fascists” of the squeezed “lower middle-class” who might go on to liquidate their former patrons.[iii] Interestingly, for Lasswell in 1936, the scenario in America seemed different. Here the middle class was so identified with “big business” and “big finance” that it was likely to fall for the propaganda against “reds” and smash labor. To avoid “piecemeal fascism” and to enhance “peaceful development,” Lasswell (and other ego psychologists) prescribed class-consciousness (but integration) through pluralist bargaining in “interest groups” to achieve emotional and intellectual independence from monopolistic big business. In 1941, Lasswell urged vigilant sighting and sympathetic treatment of bad seeds: [iv]

“Public opinion is profoundly distorted when there are deference crises in society; and these appear when the level of deference is suddenly interfered with, and when destructive personalities exercise a directive effect upon public opinion. Some persons are at odd with themselves, carrying heavy loads of anxiety, and from these anxiety types extremism may be expected. We need to become aware of which social practices in the home, school, factory, office–contribute to anxiety and which to security. We may be able to lower the level of the explosive reserves when human development is subject to gross distortion.”

Lasswell could have been describing Herman Melville’s anxious disillusion with paternal authority; perhaps explosions would be obviated by enhanced civilian morale with methods advocated by Harvard social psychologists Murray and Allport, also disseminated in 1941. By 1942, these social scientists were certain: the Head Self was sturdy guardian of “the public interest,” whereas overly egalitarian motions inside the Western Body levelled walls, erected barricades, then tossed up lonesome corpses.

In his article “Propaganda and Social Control,”[v] Talcott Parsons, Murray’s Harvard associate and mentor, addressed mental health practitioners, proposing that the government practice “social psychotherapy” to stabilize the national consensus. He advocated subliminal “reinforcement type” propaganda to calm the “revolutionary” and “disruptive” types that were inducing structural change or undermining “confidence in authority and leadership.” Maladjusted neurotics were fomenting conflict and fragmentation, not adaptation and interdependence. But froward rebels could be cured in the socially responsible psychiatrist’s office through  

“steady discipline to which the patient is subjected in the course of his treatment. While the fact that he is required and allowed to express himself freely may provide some immediate satisfactions, he is not really allowed to ‘get away’ with their implications for the permanent patterning of his life and social relations, but is made, on progressively deeper levels, conscious of the fact that he cannot ‘get away’ with them. The physician places him in a kind of ‘experimental situation’ where this is demonstrated over and over again (561).”

[i]               14. Lasswell was the son of a midwestern minister. Entering a project (1928) initiated by others in 1926, Lasswell had played “the primary role” in the shaping of methodology in interdisciplinary social sciences, against the methods of physical sciences. See Stuart A. Rice, ed., Methods in Social Science, A Case Book Compiled Under the Direction of the Committee on Scientific Method in the Social Sciences of the Social Science Research Council (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1931), vii, 732, 734, 737. Lasswell’s Appendix B, 740-742, limited scientific studies of social change to the methods of Sumner, Turner, and Spengler.

[ii]               15. Sidney Hyman, The Lives of William Benton (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969), 232-233. In his preventive politics, Lasswell was emulating other conservatives, for instance the important English journalist Wickham Steed, editor of The Times, and before that, head of British war propaganda; see his Hitler, Whence and Whither? (London: Nisbet, 1934), 188-189: “German Nazism is the outcome of a morbid national mood, and of propagandistic suggestions working on mass neurasthenia…Great Britain and France have been and are relatively free from this morbid mood, though they are less free from perverse conceptions of democracy, which, by running wild in Italy and Germany, helped to produce a state of mind favourable to the rise of violent totalitarian dictatorship. We should have a care lest we too, by harbouring perverse and degenerate conceptions of democracy, betray its sound principles and smooth the path of the enslaver.”

[iii]              16. Harold D. Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1936), 239-242, 236. Commenting on the likely trajectory of romantic fascism, Lasswell warned, “At first private capitalism is preserved; but it seems probable that in the face of the necessity for a united nation, private capitalism will be liquidated in times of military stress. In a military state, the movement for equalization, governmentalization, and monopolization would no doubt proceed.”

[iv]              17. Harold D. Lasswell, Democracy Through Public Opinion (Menasha, Wisc.: George Banta Book Co. [Chi Omega Research Fund], 1941), 32-34.

[v]               18. Talcott Parsons, “Propaganda and Social Control,” Psychiatry 5 (Nov. 1942): 551-572.

From Athena’s mouth to your ears

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