The Clare Spark Blog

September 17, 2013

The Illusion of National Unity

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

Max Beckmann paints Paris 1931

In this brief blog I will address those still potent divisions that the “turn to culturalism” has masked. I will, as usual, reject the inheritance of the “organic nation,” or the misnamed cultural pluralism that goes by the name of “multiculturalism,” as well as such terms as “national identity,” “group identity” or “zeitgeist.” All these terms are the effluents of German Romanticism, or the “Aufklärung” as it is misleading named. The German” Enlightenment” is a misnomer for it asserted itself against the all-too “bourgeois” “mechanical materialism” of the French and English Enlightenments.

No one with even a passing knowledge of US history can imagine that we are a unified entity unless they are chauvinists who revel in the notion of American superpower status, as opposed to celebrating the good sense embodied in the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, separation of powers, and frankly materialistic approach to conflict (see the Federalist Papers that made almost no mention of “God.”) Nor did the framers of that Constitution have any illusions about human nature. Federalist #10 made the conflict between creditors and debtors clear enough, and the Left loves to cite Madison’s contribution as proof that capitalism is elitist and opposed to the interests of the common man; that the Constitution is an elitist document). What are the real divisions that complicate the controversies swirling around us and that are masked by “culturalism” and its rhetoric?

Besides the ongoing structural conflict between creditors and debtors that often takes the form of populism, already mentioned, First, there is not a [jewified] communist party versus a capitalist party, as some on the Far Right would have it. Two capitalist parties confront one another, with differing strategies for wealth creation: one generally looks to state-imposed Keynesian demand-stimulus economic remedies for economic downturns, while those Republicans who are not overly indebted to “progressives” look to free markets and supply-side economics. (For living economists exemplifying the latter, see Larry Lindsey’s latest book, or the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 9-17-13 by Martin Feldstein.) The fact that Keynesians may be found in both parties owing to the bipartisan origins of progressivism, complicates the picture.

Second, there is a strong argument for the South having won the peace through the popularity of the paternalistic organic society that Southerners asserted as superior to the “wage-slavery” of the urbanized, capitalist, puritan North.

Gemeinschaft beat out Gesellschaft during successive phases of the progressive movement, culminating in the New Deal, hence the collectivist vocabulary that may be found in advertising and political speeches. Ayn Rand railed against this, to little avail. She was preceded in the 19th century by the antislavery Senator from Massachusetts, the descendant of Puritans: Charles Sumner.

Thus we have an ongoing conflict between the country and the city, with many protest movements flavored by agrarianism and nostalgia for the allegedly neighborly and unified small town (compare to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, 1919). Sumner took liberal nationalism to mean a government that protected the rights of individuals as opposed to collective entities. For this (along with Sumner’s proposals for “Radical Reconstruction”) Sumner has been read out of the canon of great Americans until very recently.

Third, anyone who thinks that the Reformation was settled long ago, and that there is no deeply rooted religious conflict today is uneducated about the history of immigration and of religiously defined conflict in general. Sectarian divisions within and between the major religions impinge on all the other conflicts. I could go on, but won’t, for too long a blog would emerge. I will mention, however, the omnipresent sentimentality of our popular culture, whether this is reflected in the worship of “romantic love,” “the happy family,” “the community,” adorable babies, or pets–all attempts to find internal unity in divided selves. Community-and-Society It is difficult to navigate oneself politically through all these intertwined conflicts. But it would be true progress to admit that they exist. On Toennies see https://clarespark.com/2011/12/15/gingrich-and-the-socially-constructed-nation-state/.

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May 28, 2011

Diane Ravitch and the higher “moderation”

Diane Ravitch with Jon Stewart, March 2011

[Added 5-29-2011: As I write this, the UFT and the NAACP are attacking charter schools and supporting multiculturalism.] Diane Ravitch (often considered the most astute historian and critic of educational reform) is now an opponent of charter schools.   This is how she ends her history of conflict in education policy in New York City:

[Ravitch, The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805-1973: A History of the Public Schools as Battlefield of Social Change (Basic Books, 1974):] “While the language of school wars relates to educational issues, the underlying contest will continue to reflect fundamental value clashes among discordant ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious groups. And this very fact underlines the importance of comity in the politics of education—comity, that basic recognition of differences in values and interests and of the desirability of reconciling these differences peacefully which the school itself aims to teach. The effort to advance comity, in educational affairs and in the affairs of the larger society, has always been at the heart of public education. Whatever their failings, whatever their accomplishments, the public schools have been and will be inescapably involved in the American search for a viable definition of community” (p.404).

Ravitch is writing from the higher moderation and hence inflicting the double bind that has been the theme of this website.  Yes, we have “fundamental value clashes”, but properly managed by a professionally disinterested elite, comity and community are attainable goals despite “discordant ethnic, cultural, racial, and religious groups.” Left out of this volatile yet potentially cooperative crucible is “class” difference. Yet it is upper class delinquency that she frequently mentions earlier in the book as the source of substandard ghetto schools in the big cities. Nowhere does she mention the unbounded search for truth as the aim of public education, nor does she criticize the notion of race, for that would offend parties to the Grand Reconciliation of E Pluribus Unum that Ravitch is advocating to the reader of her “history.” Ravitch does not want to be another Captain Ahab or any other opponent of state-imposed harmony.** Ravitch is no daughter of Eve, eating the forbidden apple of the Tree of Knowledge. Moral relativism does not disturb her sleep. Or perhaps it does, for it is my impression that she understands the contradictions in her work, but has chosen to paper them over for reasons I cannot fathom. This is a very insightful writer, and what I say here should not diminish her positive contributions.

Do I exaggerate about her moderation? Here is one section of her Wikipedia entry: “ Vincent N. Parrillo, author of Diversity in America, wrote, “She, too, emphasized a common culture but one that incorporated the contributions of all racial and ethnic groups so that they can believe in their full membership in America’s past, present, and future. She envisioned elimination of allegiance to any specific racial and/or ethnic group, with emphasis instead on our common humanity, our shared national identity, and our individual accomplishments.”

But racial theory is the sworn enemy to common humanity, let alone individuality: ask any “diversity” advocate. In the olden days when Hitler’s racial state was on the march, there was a significant debate in the West regarding the very notion of “race.” Yes, there were obvious physical variations among “races”, but to attribute common mental and character traits that were passed down through the genes was considered either proto-Nazi or misguided Lamarckianism. Even “ethnicity” was seen as a misunderstanding of the ancients (especially Herodotus), who, according to Julian Huxley in We Europeans, used ethnos to refer solely to a particular population, with no implication of national character or any other type of “national identity.”

Such beliefs in a shared bond between members of a “race” or “ethnicity” can only be mystical, not grounded in empirical fact. Yet that does not stop the “historians” of racial or ethnic conflict from writing books and playing leading roles in the formulation of national, state, and local policy, as is the case with Dr. Ravitch, or her humanist predecessor Robert M. Hutchins, whom she cites favorably in the last chapter of her big book, and in passing in other synoptic works. (See Hutchins and his colleague Paul Hoffman illustrating https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/. Also https://clarespark.com/2011/07/17/literary-criticism-ravitch-variant/.)

If such historians of education are going to do the work usually done by empiricist historians, then they should do history, not theology.** As a subsidiary issue, freedom in the classroom is at stake, namely the willingness of the teacher to encourage the full range of debate where controversial matters are concerned, even if the students do not reach an agreeable consensus or “compromise” (see “comity” one of Ravitch’s favorite words).

Ravitch wanted to bring “different” communities together, though her means remain utopian. Today, because of the alliance between radical intellectuals of the Left with militant cultural nationalists (an alliance burnished in the late 1960s, but echoing Leninism), the project of the Left and masochistic Left-liberals is no longer community control in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, but the political imperative to demonstrate that foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government are outgrowths of some essential American project of imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism, ecocide, racism and so on as the New Americanists claim (e.g. William Spanos Jr.) against the prior notion of American exceptionalism (which had to do with advancement through merit, not hereditary status). Such are the wages of the moderate men, or, as I prefer to name them, the corporatist liberals. Instead of incorporating dissenters and other troublemakers to defuse their militancy through “inclusion,” they have yielded the field to America’s most determined enemies. And it is the latter who have rehabilitated the once discredited notion of “race.”

For a related short blog, see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.

*[Ahab speaking in “The Quarter-Deck”:] “Who’s over me? Truth hath no confines.”

**After many chapters relating the internal contradictions of the evolving civil rights movement (e.g., color-blindness vs. color consciousness), Ravitch ends one of her essays with this appeal to “spirit”: “As a people, we are still far from that sense of common humanity to which the civil rights movement appealed. We may yet find that just such a spirit is required to advance a generous and broad sense of the needs and purposes of American society as a whole.” (See The Schools We Deserve, p.259.) This is a thoroughly idealistic conception that there is a “spirit” or any such entity as “American society as a whole.” Ravitch reminds me of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who fretted about the fragmentation of America, wishing for unity even as material interests drive us apart. In another book, The Troubled Crusade, she writes that ” literacy” should be the aim of education, but does not spell out whether that skill should decode propaganda and false ideas. I gather that for Ravitch, literacy signifies that knowledge that advances “the public interest.” As a fan of Hutchins, she must ally herself with the Platonic Guardians–an antidemocratic and ultimately anti-intellectual position.

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