The Clare Spark Blog

September 4, 2013

The Syria crisis and historicism

arabs-take-syria-crisis-to-un-1327616110-3682I am in no way an expert on current relations in the Middle East, but I have found one article that seems rational and appropriately analytic, written by Caroline Glick:

Who is supporting Obama’s recent foreign policy moves? The Wall Street Journal and various moderates, i.e., neoconservatives. As I write this short blog, those who support Obama’s desire to have a limited strike in Syria are calling their opponents “isolationists.”  These include Bret Stephens writing in the Wall Street Journal, and Ron Radosh, writing for Pajamas Media. Stephens is critical of neo-isolationism, while Radosh seems primarily concerned with the weakening of executive authority. Radosh writes “Our country cannot afford the luxury of weakening of presidential power and authority, which could stifle the ability to act when it is most needed in the future. Supporting the authority of the Chief Executive to act, does not mean conservatives and Republicans should stop being critical of the policy of the Obama administration, its half-way measures, its contradictions and its overall embarrassing incompetence. But to weaken the authority of any Chief Executive to act, including President Barack Obama, will only hurt the nation and stifle our ability to respond to aggression effectively, now and later.” it is somewhat buried within a comparison of “isolationists” before and after WW2. But are the conditions the same?

ISOLATIONISM”. It is not historically correct to label every opponent of Obama’s latest initiative in the Syria crisis as an “isolationist,” though some may be so. The opponents of American involvement in European affairs as European countries fell into the lap of the Third Reich during the 1930s (see ),  were largely from the Midwest and South: many bought the defeatist line of such unapologetic antisemites as Joseph P. Kennedy while he was Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Kennedy even warned a gathering of fifty mostly Jewish Hollywood “moguls” in 1940 that Hitler would win and that they should therefore not make anti-Nazi films, a point that is overlooked by Ben Urwand’s sensational book Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler (Harvard UP, 2013). And before that, FDR’s support of the Neutrality Act allowed the Spanish rebels to destroy a popularly elected government in Spain. FDR was worried about “the Catholic vote.”

At the time, like populist antisemites before them, Hitler and his admirers in other countries blamed all modern warfare on an international cabal of Jewish financiers who also controlled the new mass media. From J. A. Hobson onward, “the Jews” made wars for the sake of unseemly profits (see Hobson’s words here: Such was the source of much “isolationism” before Pearl Harbor. (And I have not mentioned prior French upper-class ongoing hatred of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s emancipation of the Jews, echoed by the tsarist agents who dreamed up The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, itself based on an earlier French rightist fantasy.)

This is a confusing time for Americans of both political parties. What I see missing from the commentary of Obama’s supporters is the appropriate hesitancy of intervention that is considered to be either “too little too late” or misdirected and likely to further empower Iran, Syria’s ally and patron. The opponents of Obama are not wary of any foreign intervention because of the Jew-hatred that marked “isolationism” before Pearl Harbor. The dissenters’ case is made on strategic grounds, blended with a mistrust of this administration’s competence in foreign affairs, including its appeal to a non-existent “international community.”

The moral of this short blog: Historicism is the practice of looking at conflict without specious analogies to prior conflicts. Each new conflict is unique and our opinions are largely based on guesswork and such often suspect and multi-layered statements as become public.  The best of us are groping in the dark. It is all too human to seek patterns and precedents in the past, but that may be a fool’s errand, for the historians or other experts upon whom we rely are captives to an often inaccessible record along with their biases and preferred interpretations.

While it used to be the case that historical judgments about the causes of prior wars were based on the archival record (such as it is), we have nothing to go on now but the statements of our leaders. Should we trust their veracity and good intentions? When did properly skeptical historians become “authoritative” journalists? (See

August 8, 2013

Neocons, academics, melodrama

Dallas flyer Nov. '63

Dallas flyer Nov. ’63

A welcome voice of moderation and self-examination has crept into some writing on the internet and other mass media. Yesterday, published Ronald Radosh’s “take-down” of Diana West’s new book that in his view revived the take-no-prisoners approach of Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society (See Today, August 8, 2013, I have been in touch with other writers who are calling for a renewed attention to the style in which various commentators who write for a generally conservative audience are addressing their concerns. [Added 8-11-13: Clarice Feldman quoted passages from this blog here:]

(At the same time, a major realignment seems to be underway within the Republican Party as libertarians, classical liberals, and “moderates” or “RINO”s slug it out. I find the “neocons” in this debate to be more appealing, though I understand the outrage of those libertarians who have had it with authoritarian governments, leaders, and families, even as I disagree with their sometimes illiberal views on such questions as gay rights and feminism.)

Since I have been critical of those “moderate conservatives” who masked themselves as New Deal liberals on this website, I think it is time I clarified my own stand on “moderation.” (See

True moderation is linked to balance. These are powerful words that send a signal to the emotions of the reader that s/he will not be humiliated or stomped underfoot with ridicule. The reader will not fall down or be tossed over a cliff. So far, so good. I have tried to be forthright and scholarly, specifying my sources and giving weight to those opponents whose considered opinions clash with mine. The key word here is “considered.” I have little patience with amateurs who take advantage of the internet and cable news to delve into political and diplomatic history willy nilly, taking advantage of the poor educations of their target audience—an audience that is hurting, confused by conflicting truth-claims, and looking for guidance. It is possible to be moderate without being wishy-washy or wavering. We are all limited by limited access to documents and to our own inner psychodramas. And yet we strive for objectivity and for truthfulness. But the heated political language of our time, playing on our emotions, makes moderation a wish, rarely achieved. Some of our “unmaskers” are self-righteous opportunists, unbalanced and averse to even friendly criticism. True, they seek your financial support, but there must be more to it.

Here is a tentative suggestion: Popular culture is often expressed in a language of melodrama that turns us back into the dependent states of childhood, even infancy. How ironic that a wildly popular book that celebrates sadomasochism is entitled “Fifty Shades of Grey.” For the images of S-M are black and white, elevating domination and submission, sometimes simultaneously. In this regressive alternative universe, we are Heroes, Villains, and Victims, switching places at alarming speed. Insofar as we are attuned to these archetypes, we are stuck and dependent on demagogues.

There is no place for true moderation in the S-M universe, or in the language of paranoid populists who hate the more emotionally and intellectually responsible and mature. There is something to be said for the moderate tone and demeanor of the public intellectual/statesman, self-revising, self-critical, and attuned to the worries and fears of the reader. (For part two of this analysis see


October 15, 2011

The Protestant Establishment taps the Good Jew

E. Digby Baltzell

While still in graduate school, I met several editors then employed by the University of California Press. I was advised by one of them to read John Murray Cuddihy’s  The Ordeal of Civility (1978) that they were all talking about. I found it offensive to be told to read a book about manners. But even more offensive, if amusingly so, is Philadelphian* E. Digby Baltzell’s earnest appeal to upper-class Americans published  just as the civil rights movement was in high gear:  The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America (N.Y.: Random House, 1964).

The aim of the sociologist Baltzell’s book was to distinguish between an aristocratic upper class that carried out the programs of Jefferson and Lincoln and a retardataire Republican Party that, unlike the cosmopolitan Wilson and FDR,  had not only systematically refused Jewish entry to the establishment, but was, implicitly, going to oppose the upward mobility of deserving “Negroes.” The good guys (Woodrow Wilson and the two Roosevelts) had abandoned the racist “caste” ideology of the money-mad, exclusionary Republican establishment for the truly aristocratic [co-optative] strategies of liberal democrats like himself.  Mind you, Baltzell was no extremist. He loathed such as Joseph McCarthy and his [vulgar] Jewish henchmen, Roy Cohn and David Schine; similarly he was horrified by the 1930s revolutionaries (John Dos Passos for instance) who had overreacted to the sex and booze-madness of the 1920s. (Interestingly, the horror of the First World War and the rejection of the idea of progress gets no mention in Baltzell’s cultural history of American writers of “the lost generation.”)

I had not expected to read such a friendly book about Jews coming from a Protestant professor, but wait: entry into Wall Street or the higher levels of Washington politics, signified by membership in the chic urban clubs and country clubs of the old rich was conditional: Jews were advised to bond with the “tory Reformer” type, such as JFK (p.81).   And, would-be patrician Jews had better clean up their act by following FDR’s warning to the economic royalists, who had sullied the temple of capitalism: Here is Baltzell quoting Professor Cochran: “In the early months of 1933, the term ‘bankster’ classified these erstwhile paragons of respectability with the underworld and President Roosevelt in his inaugural address promised to drive the money changers from the temple.” (p.226).

Nor was the materialism of Republicans to be an example to the better sort of Jew: Here the Roosevelt family is compared to du Pont family: “…the du Ponts surely stood for the idea of the single-minded , and scientific, pursuit of success….” (p. 250) [cf. monomania imputed to Captain Ahab, though Ahab was not interested in profits]

As a moderate man, i.e., a proponent of balance, Baltzell fears that the Roosevelt tradition will get out of hand: “Reflecting on de Tocqueville and the Republican du Pont family: “…Tocqueville would also see the possible usefulness of dynasties like the du Ponts, as ‘secondary powers’ and guardians of freedom, in an age that has gone far beyond the Roosevelt revolution on the road toward the omnipotent state. Like Aristotle before him, Tocqueville was always aware of the need for balance and the moderate mean: in the depths of a depression, the balance of power surely needed tipping in the direction of Washington, as against Wilmington or Wall Street; this may not be the case today [1964, C.S.].” (p.252) See

And we wonder why many liberal Jewish writers (including those of Jewish “origin” or Jewish “blood,” as Baltzell would say) rail against “neocons” and other defectors from the moderate consensus! Their own hard won class mobility (up from the ghettoes or Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens) might be threatened by those who have joined the unregenerate “racists”** of the Right. A gentleman hath proclaimed it so.

* Baltzell’s Wikipedia entry states that he was born to a wealthy Episcopalian family and attended St. Paul’s preparatory school.

** For an example of the racialist discourse of multiculturalism, along with its “cultural” hierarchy see

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