The Clare Spark Blog

March 16, 2015

Who were the precursors of the New Left? The WASP establishment or Communists?

viperscoverUntil I read Philip Wylie’s best seller A Generation of Vipers (1942), I had assumed that the sprinkling of red-diaper babies who rose to prominence in the social movements of the 1960s, were the bearers of the intellectual ideas that gave rise to the women’s movement, the antiwar movement, the back to Nature movement, and to multiculturalism, with its emphasis on “race” over “class.”

(I should have known that no true communist would sort people out by “race” as the anti-racist Soviet Union was adamant about the conception of proletarian internationalism; moreover, communists wrote A World View of Race in the mid-1930s, that identified the fiction of “race” with the aims of the imperialist bourgeoisie, letting workers off the hook.)

I had already learned at Cornell U. in my course with David Brion Davis that “evil was back” with the renewed popularity of Reinhold Niebuhr, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 1940s. And the “evil” within each of us (to cite Penny Dreadful), was there to offset excessive progressive optimism about the promise of American life, which enabled upward mobility for the Common Man or Woman.

What stunned me about the Wylie “sermon,” that echoed everything that Henry A. Murray and his Harvard associates alleged (e.g., Walter Langer, Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, etc.), was his diatribe against Cinderella turning into Mom, the source of all angst in the male sex, including the medical profession. Here is a sample of Wylie’s vituperative book of essays:

“MOM IS THE END PRODUCT OF SHE. She is Cinderella…the shining-haired, the starry-eyed, the ruby-lipped virgo aeternis,  of which there is presumably one, and only one, or a one-and-only for each male, whose dream is fixed upon her deflowerment and subsequent perpetual possession. This act is a sacrament in all churches and a civil affair in our society. The collective aspects of marriage are thus largely compressed into the rituals and social perquisites of one day. Unless some element of mayhem or intention of divorce subsequently obtrudes, a sort of privacy engulfs the union and all further developments are deemed to be the business of each separate pair, including the transition of Cinderella into mom, which, if it occasions any shock, only adds to the huge, invisible burthen every man carries with him into eternity….Mom is an American creation.” (Chapter XI, p.184)

Wylie, like Henry Murray, was a convinced Jungian and primitivist, and like the pagan Murray, was an avowed elitist, also a free-love kind of fellow (but not an advocate for gay rights, for “nances” were sub-textually tied to Mom.) So Wylie was obviously attacking “sentimental” conservatives of a fundamentalist religious bent. He shared with Murray an admiration for the true grit of the Russian people, a taste for internationalism, and for FDR’s personality, with Wylie going so far as to suggest that those who lacked the [independent, masculine, upper-class unsentimental education] should not even vote or hold elective office.

Moreover, the immigrants, preceded by the Nature-wrecking pioneers were a bunch of rowdy rascals. Anyone who denied this was a Mom-identified sentimental “patriot” and deserving of contempt—in short, a viper of the type that devout Christians embodied. Such conservatives, he alleged, had twisted the life and legacy of Christ, ignoring the imprecation to “know thyself,” i.e., to know thy limitations, that such (feminized) devils are not “trained to rule” (Murray’s notes to Melville’s White-Jacket).

I have reported elsewhere that Murray thought that Hitler had Jewish blood (, footnote 2), and I didn’t understand this until I read Wylie on the Jews. Wylie spurned vulgar beliefs that upper-class Jews controlled the world (they were but a small portion of the elite, though they controlled the new media), but agreed with Talcott Parsons (Murray’s colleague) that the Jews were vain and believed in their chosen-ness and separateness. And Hitler’s crime was not just to persecute the Jews, but to imitate Jewish pridefulness; the Germans were the new Chosen People.

Where could Hitler have gotten this horribly mistaken idea unless he was something of a Jew himself, putting on airs and vain…rather like Mom.

The Wikipedia bio of Wylie states that he went on to become an early Green and fierce opponent of nuclear power. (

Philip Wylie, nature-lover

Philip Wylie, nature-lover

Although recent research has to some degree vindicated Joe McCarthy, uncovering the presence of Communist spies out to steal secrets for the benefit of Soviet-style internationalism, we should pay more attention to the dour pessimism of the old WASP establishment, who were the true parents of New Left movements, all smacking of the populism and “middle way” espoused by Philip Wylie and his contemporaries.

Wylie’s daughter, a novelist herself, has insisted that her father was no misogynist, it should be noted that “Mom” is a middle-class clubwoman married to a businessman, beguiled by materialism/consumerism/: the Northeastern elite’s idea of a Republican. And such benighted sentimentalists shouldn’t be trusted to vote.

July 29, 2009

The centrality of the Holocaust to Nazi war aims

Saul Friedlander and one of his great books

Historian Saul Friedländer gave a lecture at Vanderbilt University, November 5, 2007, that aroused the objection on one of my discussion groups (the history of antisemitism, a group on Humanities Net): one member complained that too much emphasis was placed on the centrality of Jewish extermination to the conduct of the second world war as managed by the Third Reich. This essay attempts to clear up an understandable confusion.

As Europeanist historians are aware, Friedländer and the late Martin Broszat had a very public argument in the 1980s over whether or not the final solution was or was not an indirect consequence of dispersed bureaucratic decision-making as opposed to the obsessive intent of Hitler and his closest lieutenants. There was also in this argument a debate over the “uniqueness” of the Holocaust, compared with other genocides. UCLA professor Peter Baldwin reproduces their correspondence in his Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians’ Debate, edited with an introduction (Beacon Press, 1990). This argument is now commonly characterized as the intentionalist versus functionalist debate. Near the beginning of his talk, Friedländer breaks away from his notes to describe some of his beef with Broszat, but only mentions, fascinatingly, that Broszat, like some other historians of note, did not think that the testimony of the victims (ostensibly a Jewish myth) should be part of the writing of an “objective” history of the final solution. One of the features of Friedländer’s two volumes is the inclusion of victim diaries (and their recovery is a story in itself), and these voices from the dead not only powerfully remove the Holocaust from the realm of depersonalized abstraction, but reveal what Friedländer describes as an important internal contradiction in some of their writing: a belief that their death is imminent, combined with plans for the future; in short, a degree of denial. This denial, that things are not as bad as they appear to be, is to be part of my comments below.

So, it is my view that when Friedländer describes the centrality of the complete extermination of the Jews in the Nazi project, he is arguing against the functionalist school of interpretation. He is not ignoring other factors that all students of German history are aware of. In his recorded lecture, you will hear him explain what he characterizes as his own view and the evidence for it, for instance, the timing of the extermination (as opposed to deportation and enslavement) moves in response to the entry of the Americans after Pearl Harbor and the counter-attack against the German invasion by the Soviets in late 1941. Hitler was now surrounded by “the Jews” on two fronts, not to speak of the enemy within. He also mentions Jeffrey Herf’s recent book [The Jewish Enemy, 2006] that shows the image of the Jew becoming ever more ominous (in concert with a flood of Nazi propaganda depicting the Jews as instigators of the war and their intention to exterminate Germany). Friedländer makes a nice comment on this point: whereas Nazi propaganda depicts the Jews as a monolithic demonic force, Jews were drastically divided among themselves throughout “the years of extermination,” to the detriment of all. And scariest of all, he points out that the knowledge of the final solution as it was taking place was broadly known by elites in every field (including the churches) and yet nearly all remained publicly silent. I bring this out because we may be in a comparable position today with respect to the terrorist threat emanating from Islamists and the dissemination of such horrors as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf throughout the Arab and Muslim world. (On the understudied subject of antisemitism see

When I first started reading and writing about the role of propaganda in the second world war (in the 1970s), I was dubious about how effective it was as an explanation for the rise of Nazism and its victories. I was then a Marxist of some sort and read numerous left-wing books on fascism as the inevitable result of monopoly capital. And the fact that immediately after the war, American elites were pushing the importance of propaganda and Hitler’s craziness while ignoring the Nazi and Italian Fascist destruction of the independent working class movement in tandem with the destruction of the Soviet Union (the home of “Jewish Bolshevism,” supposedly a bogus form of socialism) tended to minimize in my own mind the toxic cultural inheritance of Germany and Europe in general. Moreover, throughout my education in major universities (whether in the 1950s or from 1983 on in graduate school), I never heard a responsible discussion on the history and power of antisemitism. My postings on the history of antisemitism list have been a record of my own growing change of mind. I have posted numerous comments about “the Jews” perceived as responsible for capitalism and the growing rule of filthy lucre. (I do not imply that this was some kind of original discovery of mine, but only my public education by other scholars plus broad and probably obsessive reading in the sources.) Moreover, as just noted, it was the argument of many Europeans that the Soviet regime was not true socialism but a trick, with finance capital pulling the strings: see the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its predecessor, “the Rabbi’s speech” (synopsized in Norman Cohn’s book, Warrant for Genocide), but also the ongoing hatred of “finance capitalism” as essentially a Jewish invention that was dominated by Jews and the wide currency such beliefs had at the turn of the twentieth century, for instance in the writing of J. A. Hobson (author of Imperialism: A Study.) Populists bought this notion, I believe on both Left and Right. Little did I know that those publicists of 1945 and after who emphasized propaganda knew whereof they spoke, for they had been, as progressives, creating their own propaganda to maintain an American consensus in support of the New Deal, aka “socially responsible capitalism.” There was nothing in their project that would have enhanced understanding in this country of the power of antisemitism and its fundamental tenets. And none of these social psychologists/sociologists called a conference in America or Europe immediately after the war to make sure that such racist malevolence was entirely bogus, anti-intellectual, and antidemocratic. [This blog might be read along with my blog of 8-22 on sykewar emanating from Harvard , also my blog on the book and movie The Reader]

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