YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 22, 2014

Healthy Skepticism

noimageThis blog is about healthy skepticism versus the sort of philosophical skepticism that is blatantly nihilistic and/or reactionary. In writing this piece, I am immersed in rereading my favorite passages in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857). Like most of his other works, the theme of the book is protest against the rule of the moderate man of the Enlightenment. Even another “Captain Ahab” makes an early, but brief appearance as a wooden-legged scoffer at the masquerades of the multiform confidence men who dot the book. These con artists are shape shifters, and include “Black Guinea, the herb doctor, the cosmopolitan, and more. The theme is “No Trust.”

What we are to distrust (says Melville) is the moderate Enlightenment theme of cosmic benevolence, and the very idea of progress from pre-industrial to market societies, where everyone wears a mask (role-playing) and bamboozles his or her victims. I remember the art critic Harold Rosenberg lauding this particular Melville text in the late 1940s, perhaps as his sour response to the weakly resisted Holocaust, the latter surely an example of an absent deity and the depraved indifference of humanity writ large. He read the text with understanding of its allover trajectory of nihilism and abandonment in an empty universe. Such are the ways of nihilism, a popular artistic theme in the immediate period following WW2. What do I think of this trend, still extant today? davidhume To a large extent, we are all prisoners of our particular families, personal and world histories. I will give “the new historicists” that. What is the engaged citizen supposed to do, given the imprisonment in specific contexts? Should we all turn ourselves into the figure of Pierrot, the spectator, who comments, but with blood on his hands because of his passivity? (For a picture of Picasso’s immobilized seated Pierrot of 1918, and a collage linking antisemitism and misogyny see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/.) Melville went back and forth on this question: sometimes roaring as the unmasker of frauds, sometimes soothing himself with reveries that returned him to the perfectly happy family.

[David Hume on moderation, History of England, Vol.8, pp 310-311, jousting with Locke:] “The Whig party, for a course of near seventy years, has, almost without interruption, enjoyed the whole authority of government; and no honors or offices could be obtained but by their countenance and protection. But this event, which in some particulars has been advantageous to the state, has proved destructive to the truth of history, and has established many gross falsehoods, which it is unaccountable how any civilized nation could have embraced with regard to its domestic occurrences. Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter, have been extolled, and propagated, and read; as if they had equaled the most celebrated remains of antiquity. And forgetting that a regard to liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinated to a reverence for established government, the prevailing faction has celebrated only the partisans of the former, who pursued as their object the perfection of civil society, and has extolled them at the expense of their antagonists, who maintained those maxims that are essential to its very existence. But extremes of all kinds are to be avoided; and though no one will ever please either faction by moderate opinions, it is there we are most likely to meet with truth and certainty.”

And why not embrace the manipulative moderates, rejecting Locke and empiricism as Hume did, to his everlasting glory in the political ruling class? Few of us have the inner strength and indomitable will to escape the prisons of our contexts, to strip ourselves and our institutions of pretense. And so we fail. Back in the days when I was friends with leftists, I remember reading that it was the task of each generation to determine what was possible, given the times, to accomplish something that would advance human liberation.  I still think that is a noble aspiration, and grown-up too, for only chiliasts and other apocalyptic thinkers and actors would imagine immediate utopian outcomes to our efforts at understanding the world with a modicum of accuracy. The point of this blog: to be skeptical of pretenses to expert knowledge, but, after much investigation, to make a stand for empiricism and  self-discovery, for human mental and physical health, even though present pressures and future developments could render our decisions flawed and ignorant. But not to succumb to utter nihilism, as Melville did during a difficult period in his own life, lived in a transition from a pre-industrial world to a new world that seemingly rewarded only frauds and phonies.

[From Moby-Dick:] “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.  Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.  Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

     Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?  For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life.  God keep thee!  Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”(Northwestern-Newberry edition, 363-364). Has Ahab seized the narration, or is it the survivor/spectator Ishmael who warns against knowledge of the self that could estrange him from the family of origin? Or is the narrator saying that to discover that we don’t know ourselves is an unbearable horror?

Pierrot can and should bend the bars of his prison to escape, at least for the moment. We should know when we bite our tongues, and forgive ourselves for not always speaking or writing what we most deeply feel and think. I feel an Ishmael writing here.

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes


November 22, 2009

On “literariness” and “the ethical state”

The theme of this blog is the hopeless project to repair fragments. First I review the fiction of a unified Jewry, then I take on literary criticism as promulgated by New Critics, the organic conservative parents of today’s “New Historicists.”

Last night I saw the 1999 film Sunshine, directed by Istvan Szábó, and written by Szábó and Israel Horovitz. Besides its obvious merits as an epic rendition of three generations of Hungarian Jews in the twentieth century, the film raised a question that it is typical of this director’s work: can the artist find refuge in aestheticism at all times, or is there a particular moral imperative to unmask deceptive elites when they use the arts (including overt propaganda) to misguide the people? (In the case of the Sonnenschein/Sors family, the three characters played by Ralph Fiennes bond with the ruling authorities, first the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then, after the Great War, Hungarian nationalists in alliance with Hitler, and then, after the defeat of the Nazis, the Hungarian Communist Party, until the youngest Sors rebels against the Communists and changes his name back to the obviously Jewish Sonnenschein.) And more, can Jews, even when they convert to one of the dominant belief systems, find safety by separating themselves from other Jews? Obviously not. I bring this up today because the conflict in the Middle East has sharply divided what is sometimes called “the Jewish community,” though any alert Jew, secular or religious, would find the term implying a unified Jewish community absurd.

What is interesting about the reconstruction of the humanities curriculum (particularly with respect to critical method) in late 1930s America is the shotgun wedding between the aesthetic and the moral, in the service of what I have been calling corporatist liberalism or organic conservatism or the ideology of the moderate men, and that others call progressivism or the Third Way. These critics called themselves Formalists or New Critics, or more recently New Historicists. What follows are gleanings from the cutting room floor: footnotes to Hunting Captain Ahab that were saved for future publication.

[In what follows the reader should understand that I have not selectively excerpted the quotes from Norman Foerster’s seminal book, erasing concrete definitions, contexts, and examples. The vagueness and abstractness are in the original. Also note that Marxism had consistently been presented in the writings of  populists and progressives as a materialist ideology, whereas 1930s Marxists themselves were split on this crucial question: some were Hegelian-Marxists writing in the tradition of German idealism; others were materialists and positivists; see Partisan Review, the debate between William Phillips and Edmund Wilson.]

See Norman Foerster, et al, Literary Scholarship: Its Aims and Methods (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1941): especially the Introduction by Foerster, Chapter  Three by René Wellek, and Chapter  Four by Austin Warren. This latest group intervention in the teaching of literature was, as usual, directed against the disruptive and decadent forces of science, Marxism, psychoanalysis, relativism, romanticism, naturalism and realism, all of which were seen as reductive, deterministic, and invasive:  realism and naturalism had mounted false claims to objectivity.  Always born of literary tradition , not “social history, the biographies of authors, or the disjointed appreciation of individual works” (118), a literary work was a “dynamic system of signs” (97-98) to be judged by critics with respect to a larger, constantly evolving and unpredictable set of values (124-125).  Science and literature occupied different spheres: (the language of science was denotative and transparent; that of literature was connotative and generated multiple meanings including the accretions of previous interpreters, as Wellek and Warren explicated in a subsequent text, Theory of Literature, 1948, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation).  But science (materialist Marxism in the minds of the authors?) was not comparable to the literary as a guide to action:  for instance Catholicism was demonstrably superior to Marxism : “…no critic who is himself a scrupulous and integrated mind can regard Catholicism and Marxism—to cite a pair of contemporary options—as equally tenable readings of reality.  Privately, he must have arrived at the decision that one exceeds the other in maturity and coherence; and, as between two hypothetically equal writers, the one a Catholic and the other a Marxist, he must consider the “true believer” to be the greater, though this certainly need not mean that the critic will use his author, whether “orthodox” or “heretical”, as the occasion for doctrinal homily (166).” (Warren had cited critics, including Plekhanov and Farrell, who agree with his critical methods,  neither labeling their authors, nor practicing “vulgar sociology,” p.164)).

Maintaining their moderate credentials, the authors keep their distance from racialism, folkishness, and postulations of a national literature without exactly disavowing these ideas then associated with Nazism (113, 128).  (The impetus to the study of medieval, folk literature, and literature of the Orient, is attributed to the tastes of women and the middle-class, p.154.  Cf. postwar descriptions of Hitler’s base.) Foerster’s introduction does not deviate from his article on reforming the Ph.D in English in The Nation, 5/10/19.  For instance, “race” is the first item in the list of materials useful to biographers, ahead of “family, the social status, the individual experiences and mental characteristics of an author” (102).   Published in 1941, this volume, it seems to me, expresses (or echoes) the opposition of the universalist but tolerant, culturally pluralistic (121) Catholic Church to its upstart rival, German Nazism. For instance, Catholic toleration was demonstrated in the practice of censoring the Index Expurgatorius for “the uneducated and inexperienced,” while opening them to “the critical and mature” (148). (The Nazis did the same for Melville’s Benito Cereno and Billy Budd.)

After Strange Gods is cited favorably: “…some of Eliot’s recent prose pieces, notably After Strange Gods, seeks to “apply moral principles to literature quite explicitly” without forgetting the nature of literature….” (164).  Those who imagine that the New Critics banished moral criteria in favor of an uncluttered aestheticism have not examined the context in which their tenets were formulated. It was the class polarizing romantic Nazis who were the materialists, nihilists and iconoclasts.  The reformed critical theorists should integrate aesthetic and moral criteria; properly deployed in criticism of “maturity and coherence,” these were interpenetrating (143-151).

On the question of literariness, see René Wellek, p.101:  the “environmental context” is “supplementary” to the study of those intrinsic qualities of the art work considered in its [purity].  “When these environmental methods are pushed to their deterministic extremes, and literature is conceived as causally determined by any one or any combination of these forces, a proper comprehension of literature has actually been hindered. All such extrinsic studies do violence to the individuality of the literary work and to the nature of literary evolution. Any causal explanation of a work of art by some external activity necessarily must ignore the actual integrity, coherence, and also intrinsic value of a work of literature. The work is reduced to an illustration of an example in a different scheme of references.” (101-102).  Again, the invading foreign races and the freethinking Jews of Eliot’s speech seem to embody the extreme deterministic forces that are their targets. This is a crucial point overlooked by Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory (U. of Minnesota Press, 1983).  Eagleton wants to fit the New Critical artwork into the Marxian concept of reification (the fetishized commodity appearing to its producers as an object alienated from their labor) and to link the new critics to reaction and Fascism (as they understood the concept). Austin and Warren, however, deplored the notion of the isolated artwork; when they talked of individuality and originality, they meant that variety partook of the higher unity with traditional values (the value of order and continuity with the past). This makes them Burkean conservatives and gradualists. They are arguing against the tyranny of radical puritans and Jews, agents of apocalyptic social transformation and anarchy. Eagleton wants to represent the structuralist New Critics (like the phenomenologists) as false objectivists demanding closure and certainty, whereas (he says) the post-structuralists respect the biases of the participant-observer and respect multiplicity. He also (wrongly) suggests their inception  (flourishing) in the South during the late 1930s, thus linking them constantly to southern slaveholders. My book attempts to correct his account and his periodization; see my discussion of the corporatist discourse of The Nation and of Irving Babbitt and F. O. Matthiessen; the latter are activists who want to synthesize neoclassicism and romanticism in order to defeat heartless individualism/laissez-faire capitalism, in the Stalinist Matthiessen’s case, personified in the character Captain Ahab.

René Wellek, though he retains the discourse of organicism, must reject the absorption of literary history into natural history, for that would render intervention by elites into politics pointless. “We must conceive…of  literature as a whole system of works which is, with the accretion of new ones, constantly changing its relationships, growing as a changing whole….such predictable changes called laws have never been discovered in any historical process in spite of the brilliant speculations of Spengler or Toynbee (121-122).  On the other hand, there are cycles, but it is the genre or style which rises and falls:  [Warren:] “Between literary history in its strict sense and criticism, the relation appears to be this: That which is at once history and of literature must take form as a chronologically arranged study of an aesthetic sequence (as distinct from the biographical or social references of literature or its ideological content); it must concern itself with the cycle—the rise, equilibrium, and fall of a genre or style.  But this involves, at every moment, the use of critical criteria—in the definition of the genre (and what belongs or does not belong within it), in the estimate of what elements (added or enhanced or better arranged) are to constitute “progress,” and of what constitutes the norm or height of the genre toward which it advances, from which it falls away. It is thus a serious error to speak of literary history as concerned only with facts, for only a system of values can determine what facts are relevant. The literary historian must either be a critic as well, or borrow his standards from traditional estimates or from practising critics (169-170). Note that the critic/literary historian is not beholden to any particular class, but has become part of an independent intelligentsia in modern times, and yet he is always bound to “tradition,” even though new values are admittedly created. The key value here is “equilibrium,” an appropriation of homeostasis in the biological organism, misapplied to “the body politic.”

See also Austin Warren’s concluding remarks in a review of Christian Gauss, A Primer for Tomorrow, American Review 5 (Nov.?1934): 106-107. Warren joins Gauss in lamenting the loss of “a centre.” Warren writes, “But where is such a centre to be found? Here the Dean cannot help us, for he has found no “religion”, even in the reduced form of “social myth,” capable of enlisting his whole-minded and whole-hearted support. And he really desires incompatibles–a compelling faith, and toleration of all opinions. He wants liberty and authority. Ross Hoffman, in his article in the October REVIEW, sees the dilemma, candidly analyzes it, and boldly asserts that the time has come when the dispersive tendencies of democracy must be checked by the authority of the state, nationally representing Christian civilization. He envisages a “humanistic and ethical state, sworn to alliance with good morals and civilized religion, having much more in common with the early medieval monarchies and the Holy Roman Empire than with the modern, laicized, bureaucratic state”. Can such a “social myth” command Americans, divided as they are into many varieties of religion and irreligion, sectional in their cultures, diversely backgrounded? The prospect for an authoritarian state deriving its power not from the personality of a dynamic leader or the supremacy of a class but from a common religious and ethical faith, a common philosophy of values, seems more remote and more hopeless with us than with any other nation.  Yet Dean Gauss and Professor Hoffman and, I believe, most thoughtful Americans agree in their conviction that votes and tools cannot sustain civilization. What then, is the prospect before us? One shaft of hope, I repeat, has perforated our night. The sleepers have awakened; the watchmen have ascended the walls.”

The following issue of AR (December 1934) published Norman Foerster’s address at Rockford College, Illinois, “The College, The Individual, and Society,” repudiating materialism and the elevation of sentimental humanitarianism. “In its origin, humanitarianism was, I venture to assert, primarily a manifestation of materialism. It was not in harmony with the retreating forces of religion and humanism; it was part and parcel of the new emphasis on outer nature and the physical benefits promised by the Industrial Revolution. It called for freedom, but it meant nothing so certainly as it meant freedom from physical suffering. Freedom from physical suffering is a good thing, but it is not the best. Relatively to ethical and spiritual values it is not important. No great civilization ever made this its dominant preoccupation. If previous ages had emphasized proportionate living, or the welfare of the soul, or the development of personality, the humanitarian movement now emphasized the claims of the body.  It stirred appetite rather than virtue. Desires increased, things increased with which these desires could be satisfied; and men became more and more enmeshed in desires and things.” (136-137). (Does the reader see the critique of “consumerism” here?)

          Cf. Calvert Alexander, The Catholic Literary Revival (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1935), with its conclusion calling for a Catholic “free press” copying the independent publications of Jews, Communists and Socialists) to combat the pernicious influence of mass media and liberal Catholicism. The task for Catholics was to delegitimate “natural man” to reinstate “supernatural man,” but without returning to the nineteenth-century Romanticism of DeMaistre or Bonald.  Students of alternative media should study the influence of evangelical Catholicism (revolutionary conservatives, the born-again moderns) in the theorizing of public broadcasting as well as the formation of the academic disciplines of cultural history and the history of science, confessional psychoanalysis, and the ideology of democratic pluralism.

The New Historicism of the post-60s generation:  “Formalist” New Critics (notoriously conservative) supposedly focus on aesthetic values alone, ignoring context (which is not true, see above), while the corrective younger New Historicists (a mixture of self-styled radicals, including some Marxists, romantic anticapitalists, and primitivists) see texts as generated from contexts.  New Historicists claim to be relativists, but their relativism is professed in response to administrative adjustments to clamoring women and non-whites after the movements of the 1960s. Both generations derive their rooted cosmopolitanism from Herder.  See Wesley Morris, Toward a New Historicism (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1972); each chapter is headed with an epigraph from T.S. Eliot.  My diagnosis of romantic conservatism in the Left and New Left includes the “cultural materialists” such as Alan Sinfield, Literature, Politics, and Culture in Postwar Britain (Berkeley: U.C. Press, 1989), part of a series, “The New Historicism.”  Sinfield’s idealism comes out in statements such as “The contest between rival stories produces our notions of reality, and hence our beliefs about what we can and cannot do”(23), and in his epigraph to the Introduction from Gramsci: “In acquiring one’s conception of the world one always belongs to a particular grouping which is that of all the social elements which share the same mode of thinking and acting. …The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without  leaving an inventory.”  Introduced as “an exemplar of the New Historicism,” David Reynolds discussed canon revision at UCLA, 5/16/91, advocating “reconstructive criticism” (continuous with the “old cultural historicism” of Constance Rourke, William Charvat, and Henry Nash Smith) to end the Canon Wars: Scholars should reconstruct the socio-literary milieu by explicating a “broad range of literary texts produced in different regions and by different social groups.”

Some recent books are attempting to rehabilitate the Southern conservatives/New Critics, marking what they see as a powerful critique of bourgeois society/possessive individualism, but, alarmingly, are refusing to engage their protofascism. See for instance, Thomas Daniel Young, Gentleman in a Dustcoat: A Biography of John Crowe Ransom (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976):495, fn 14,  who cites Left-wing accusations that the Agrarians were preparing the way for fascism in America only to delegitimate them; Mark Jancovich, The Cultural Politics of the New Criticism (Cambridge UP, 1993); and Mark G. Malvasi, The Unregenerate South: The Agrarian Thought of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1997):153-4, stating that the Agrarians’ association with profascist Seward Collins (beginning in 1933) was “turbulent and brief,” and citing his doctoral dissertation. This is a strange claim given the continuing presence of the Agrarians in American Review. Would Collins even have approached the group to start his blatantly pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist journal had he thought their thought was out of synch with his own?

September 5, 2009

The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired)

    As I have been trying to demonstrate in prior blogs, free thought in the academy has been circumscribed, generally away from the public eye.  Led by cultural anthropologists and other social theorists of the Right (masquerading as the Left), science tout court has been vigorously opposed by the humanities, not for its excesses, but for its allegedly flawed methodology. These positions can be subtle and invisible to readers not acquainted with the contested history of the West.  For instance, intellectual historian David Hollinger, a professor teaching at UC Berkeley (the top-rated history department in the country) has begun his collected essays Science, Jews, and Secular Culture (Princeton U.P., 1996) by invoking Walter Lippmann, who thought that universities had a crucial part to play in public life. “A faith in the unique importance of secular inquiry to the making of a good society had been inherited from the people who built the American universities between the Civil War and World War I, and was then renewed and expanded during the prodigious growth of American higher education that followed World War II.” Hollinger goes on to argue that the Jews who “quietly entered” university faculties since the last war have further weakened the hold of Christian ideas. Did he mean to imply that Jewish professors manipulated science as their weapon, a weapon that produced the Bomb? Hollinger does not think there is anything antisemitic or anti-intellectual about his book; indeed, he is an avowed pluralist, an anti-essentialist, and faithful defender of the Enlightenment repudiating “blood and history”; it is just that he thinks ethnicity/religion is an overarching and explanatory category that applies whether or not “Jews” like Lippmann or J. Robert Oppenheimer had any ties to Judaism whatsoever.       


      Like other cultural historians, Hollinger believes that “Protestant hegemony” persisted until the 1960s (with a brief interlude of ethnopluralism in the thought of Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen before the Immigration Act of 1924).  There is no consideration of the ethnopluralist vision of Hitler and Goebbels or their primitivist predecessors, entailing the leadership of the Socialist racial State that would bring joy to the weeping world once the tyrannical Jews and their materialist analyses were removed. Nor does he examine the ways in which the Jews who were awarded professorships might have accommodated their thought to a WASP establishment, adopting cultural explanations for conflict that had never lost their supremacy over materialist ones in history or literature, namely that the flowering of national character from the grass roots would reanimate decadent societies, that “individuation” meant freedom from the repressive and depressing rule of law that had originated with the Mosaic code.


         Thanks to the sociologists following Durkheim and Weber, we can deal with conflict on the expansive terrain of the culture wars, inside cultural formations that “have a life of their own.” Gone is the concept of society as a collection of individuals, positioned with regard to economic interests and political choices and curious about the decisions and motives of powerful individuals and agencies who make policy in response to social forces that are not always visible or explicable on rational grounds.  The anti-racist liberals in the universities tell us we must have “affiliations,” multiple and overlapping, else there can be no national identity, no unum in the rooted pluribuses, just the easy-to-recognize uniforms of the racial community (that no sane conservative could bear). Also disappeared are the macro-economic changes that would explain the increased polarization of the 1980s and 90s.[1] 


 One would think that the academic Left would have cleared all this up with some hard facts and a review of racial theory as it has evolved, but no; it is the failure of those who profess to represent the interests of workers and the neglected and abandoned of our country that I find most distressing.  “The Left” has brought neither history nor analytic clarity to this momentous debate; it is indeed one of the players in obscuring the long and short-term causes of the so-called culture wars. This lapse is linked to other errors, instances of amnesia, namely, the intellectual lineage of the democratic tradition that leftists are supposed to be carrying forward against all challenges from the forces of reaction.



       Hollinger is at one with New Dealers and their allies on the Left in his periodization of repression directed against free thought.  “The Cold War” or “McCarthy-ite” assault on critical thought did not launch the repression associated with the establishment of the national security state in 1947 and the Republican backlash against the New Deal as they have argued. With this formulation the democratic pluralists, as these conservative reformers call themselves, mask ongoing upper-class resistance to democratic processes and mass education since notions of science and democracy took hold in antiquity. It was a defensive élite response intensified after the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, formulations and reformulations of cosmopolitanism, species-unity, natural law, natural rights and equality in the Enlightenment debates over slavery, and made particularly urgent in mid-1930s America as domestic radicalism/antifascism made significant gains, provoking “moderate” solutions to economic crisis and creeping fascism.



     The subject of prior blogs was this very clique of social psychologists and “cultural historians; it is they who dominate the humanities in America and who put forth the diagnosis of scapegoating to explain “prejudice,” powerfully affecting the direction of postwar ameliorative social movements and demands for better race relations. Following their lead, cultural nationalist media reformers demand positive images to build esteem in stigmatized ethnic or racial groups, often holding the bad Jews of Hollywood and/or the secular academy responsible for maliciously disseminating negative images as the means to further their own nefarious schemes to dominate the world.  But for these Progressive social pathologists, bigotry is rarely viewed as plausible, adaptive, and inevitable because (however crudely) it feeds off and rationalizes rivalry and subordination in either autarchic or competitive free market economies. Economic relations tend to be absent from their analyses because cultural, i.e., religious, explanations explain all of social life: God made diversity and we celebrate the perfection of the world as it is. The vivid and earthy polyglot culture of cities, properly understood, could be the antidote to the etiolating genteel tradition.



     Social conflict, they argue, arises from hubris; the rationalistic scientists think their models have absolute authority, usurping God’s.  Mammon, like the moral mother of the nineteenth-century, has overstepped her bounds. Told as the story of Icarus such overreaching explains the horrors of human history.  Discreetly bounded “communities” are the longed-for alternative to “consumerism.” When thinkers like Hollinger criticize Protestant hegemony, it is the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament they may have in mind; their target is the Hebraic radical puritan whose egalitarian, universalist and messianic ideals could not be absorbed and deflected by the Christian-Platonic organic conservatives—the classicist Robert Hutchins for one. By conflating the most right-wing and nativist Protestant evangelicals with the radical protestants, Hollinger and other ethnopluralists make their elimination a victory for the forces of democracy, not a rout for radical liberals. 



    Of course “negative images” may function to confuse and further split groups who must unite to further their own class interests, and who should be wondering if abstract, impersonal social forces and property relations are the root sources of their suffering or malaise; e.g., physicians continue to locate the sources of “stress” primarily in (poorly managed) individuals, not structurally flawed class or caste institutions.  Lacking such curiosity, troubled individuals and persecuted groups may fatally misdirect their righteous indignation, resorting to conspiracy theories and terror to explain and ameliorate their condition, unable to decide whether structural transformation or incremental improvements are appropriate measures to effect their aims.  



     The romantic conservatives/cultural nationalists I have introduced reify distinctions between “Self” and “Other,” embracing ethnopluralism–a “rooted” localism that, while apparently condemning elitism, in practice may be exaggerating differences between groups needing, and already possessing, common ground.  Even the past becomes Other; each incomparable, finally inscrutable event is an example of historische Individualität. [2]  For intellectual descendants of J.G. von Herder [3] and other German idealists, history is a subset of a poetic natural history: unlike the mechanical Staatsnation (whose bogus liberties are the source of selfishness and anomie), the Kulturnation is rooted in blood and soil; each nationality is uniquely shaped by a combination of instinct and the physical environment.  No culture is inferior to any other as long as each one springs from the Volksgeist; toward that end the Volk must throw off alien cultural domination.  Following Kant and Herder, one modern pedagogue resisted what he called the arbitrary, repressive and formalistic devices of the Middle Ages in coping with the racial mingling that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.  Such harsh discipline in the process of assimilating the foreigner hampers true, because rooted, individuality and freedom: [4]  We don’t have to be, must not be, “Jewish.”  



       Recent research into the history of the humanistic sciences suggests that sociological investigations of human institutions are conducted with ideal organic models lurking in the background: progress has been understood as the throwing off of an invading force (e.g. the “jewified” bourgeoisie) to permit “natural growth” to return.  We need the tools of eighteenth-century materialism to determine exactly how established institutions have actually operated by studying their evolution and the political context in which institutions developed or became obsolete.  How else can we devise new experimental institutional forms to further human development in democratic, scientifically informed directions?  



     Liberals and leftists have not systematically examined the nuances of antidemocratic propaganda in the West though they confidently denounce the overpowering influence of “the media.”  This cultural failure is partly a product of conservative ascendancy since the radical 1890s-World War I period in which corporatist liberals (the “progressives” or “moderate” conservatives) appropriated the prestige of science and progress to discredit the radical liberals. In reaction the corporatist liberals promoted a new/old species of organic conservatism widely practiced in Europe; the Christian-Platonic Great Chain of Being was revitalized in the pseudo-democratic idea of an international federation of folkish states, sometimes known as aristo-democracy (see the writings of Randolph Bourne, Horace Kallen, or the eugenicists Stoddard, McDougall).  Romantic anticapitalism, expressed today as communitarianism and a resurgent arts and crafts movement, was transmitted by the German Romantics and common to Herder, Kant, Burke, Goethe, Hegel, Blake, Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin, the von Humboldts and William Morris, to name a few.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this irrationalist ideology was represented as “materialism” and “the new social history” derived from Frederick Jackson Turner; after the war as “genuine liberalism” represented by T.W. Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality (1950).     


    Some Marxists and New Leftists (the critical theorists) have similarly rejected radical liberalism for this reactionary but “cosmopolitan” and “progressive” ideology: such Leftists are more accurately joined to the defensive progressive reaction to the mass politics furthered by the American and French Revolutions; they too have stigmatized the critical processes associated with empiricism (an epistemology grounded in observable facts, experience, and inductive logic) as excessively cerebral, detached, cancerous and corrosive to “cohesion” or “the Heart.” In their demonology, radical liberals sometime appear as the rootless cosmopolitan or the defiant Romantic Wandering Jew, but also as the domineering market or the jacobin or crazy scientist or as a (switching) two-faced femme fatale/moral mother.


Bottoms-Up. The German Romantics and their descendants have co-opted radical Enlightenment concepts (tolerance, the rejection of innate ideas and fallen flesh as determinants of “human nature,” the cultural biases of the participant-observer) and practices (introspection, scientific materialism, the comparative history and analysis of political and economic institutions).  These “enlightened” concepts and practices were then turned against “the lower orders.”  For instance, the social psychology of “progressivism” transforms the common-sense perception of objective social conflicts and clashing interests into personal, anti-social symptoms of “xenophobia,” “prejudice” or “scapegoating,” i.e., distorted vision of “the Other.”  Insofar as they are conservative Freudians and Jungians, the progressive psychologists attribute negative “stereotypes” to individual weakness and social irresponsibility: Entirely inner conflicts (Oedipal or pre-Oedipal in origin) are projected onto the outer world; this social world could be made harmonious through “integration”; i.e., discreet purges aka correct adjustments or through the emotionally mature recourse to administrative remedies.  In their moralistic, muckraking diagnostics it is possible to construct an entire Weltanschauung in which an entitity called “the Jews” possesses the god-like omnipotence attributed by Christians to the Devil; all modern social movements that question religious authority in favor of empirical investigation of both the natural world and the structures and practices of human institutions will be characterized as false friends to the people, for this world is controlled by our Great Adversary, the archetypal confidence-man represented by the power of filthy lucre aka “finance capital.”  



     It is my argument that “the new social history,”  like “cultural history” has an antisemitic sub-text that few cared to identify after World War II.  But before the murder of European Jewry, writers were less tactful.  J. Mace Andress was head of the Boston Normal School; his lucid book tracing the lineage from Herder to Franz Boas introduced this unknown forefather to fellow teacher-trainers.  His tolerance broke down, however, when giving advice about Bible appreciation: “The Bible Herder regarded as the deepest source of wisdom, and the biblical stories he considered as important means toward education.  In the handling of the Bible stories he recommended the greatest care.  All that was essentially Jewish, not Christian, should be avoided” (168).        Like moderates before him, Andress was looking to moral reform as the basis for socially responsible capitalism; for a progressivism that restored the hierarchical organic social relations of the Middle Ages into micro-units, relieving local élites of competing loyalty to either the universal Catholic Church or to the universal brotherhood and egalitarianism preached by the “Hebraic” Radical Reformation.  Andress’ rhetoric suggests that the essentially Jewish character (God as Devil) is construed as rationalism: “[The rationalist type] of philosophy had made a conquest of the intellectual world, and with self-complacency, looked upon its work and called it good.  The millennium of life was a paradise guided solely by reason; that was sufficient unto itself for everybody at any time and under every condition.  Reason was regarded as the only measure of the values of life.  With contempt it turned to the past to see mirrored there the gloom, fanaticism, and ignorance due to irrationalism!  This brand of philosophy was quite important, thoroughly dogmatic, and quite unsympathetic with historical thought.  The world was to be created anew by man’s power of reason” (52).  

     Herder, like his teacher Hamann, grasped the superior power of faith and spirit; these would unify humanity against the divisiveness imposed by [modern Jews, scientists, radical puritans] (53). Titans need not be Prometheans; ordinary folk, resisting the syren call of democratic citizenship could become gods. Excerpts from the Andress protocols for the new race pedagogy follow.


“Kant gave to the world…a new sense of spiritual freedom.  He taught that the individual is able to build his own world.  No matter what your condition in life, your world may become glorious if only you will make it so.  ‘Its spirituality is your own creation, or else is nothing.  Awake, arise, be willing, endure, struggle, defy evil, cleave to good, strive, be strenuous, be devoted, throw into the face of evil and depression your brave cry of resistance, and then this dark universe of destiny will glow with a divine light.  For you have no relations with the eternal world save such as you make for yourself.’  This sort of philosophy was a call to the individual to arise to self-mastery and self-realization.  Kant believed that the world is not beyond us but is the deepest truth within us.  As we master this truth we conquer the discordant tendencies of our own lives…With Kant [German idealism] said the world is indeed the world as built by self-consciousness; but the real world is the world of the genius, the poet, the artist.  It refused to interpret the world according to reason or the moral law, but in terms of sentiment, emotion, and heart longings.  Romanticism found its chief interest in man’s wealth of divine emotions (Andress, 29-30).” 
“We have noted again and again [Herder’s] opposition to the rationalist philosopher.  Men like Rousseau and Hamann had already led the way, but it was Herder who first put the reactionary movement on a firm basis and gave it solidity.  This was not a result merely of his revulsion of feeling, but because he penetrated beyond to a conception of human life as an organic whole.  He was the first to adopt the historical method in the effort to find meaning in the world as a whole.  Bossert said of Herder that he ‘created the historical method which revived the study of language, literature and religion, and he applied it with such authority and such competence that he rendered for a long time any other method impossible’…In his search for origins both in science and history he foreshadowed the progress of culture for a century after his time…It is no exaggeration to say that Herder foreshadowed the modern trend in psychology…His method, as might be expected, is the genetic….(Andress, 278, 279).” 
     “Herder’s service to religion was monumental. Here again we find him a foe of the Aufklärung, which would make everything amenable to common understanding, which attempted to force truth into the narrow moulds of intellectualism.  As a follower of Rousseau and Hamann, Herder entertained a profound contempt for such rationalistic procedure.  He was not impressed by the merely traditional, the dogmas, the artificiality of churches.  He tried to find the genuine religious feelings of the people which had become largely suppressed by rules and dogma.  As a student of civilization, he went back to the study of the ancient and primitive religions with enthusiasm, intelligence and insight.  Although often reflecting the spirit of traditionalism and the spirit of the past, he was remarkably open minded.  The bigot finds nothing to praise in religions outside his own; but Herder was superior to the littleness of mind often characteristic of the theologian (Andress, 283-84).” 
     “When we stop to think that the science of sociology was unknown in the eighteenth century, we begin to realize how penetrating was Herder’s insight.  He was mindful of the progress of the individual, his enthusiasm for individuality and his rebellion against formalism did not prevent his understanding the real significance of the past, the relation of the individual to the group, and the contribution of society as a whole to culture.  In a broad way Herder in his philosophy of culture lays the foundation for a race pedagogy, which stated tersely would read: in the teaching of a people we should build upon their culture not try to destroy it.  The world-wide efforts to convert primitive peoples to Christianity, the forcing of a foreign culture upon an alien conquered people, are examples of the violation of this pedagogy.  The social philosophy of Herder suggests the beginnings of sociology and social psychology and the recognition of the social aspects of education and culture.  Again we find Herder the Bahnbrecher, one standing on the tiptoe of expectancy for the gates of the nineteenth century to swing wide open, a blazer of new trails for humanity (Andress, 298).” 
A Change of Spectacles.  While class hierarchies and national character are natural, (Jewish) bigotry is not.  The (Jewishly-inspired) scientific revolution plainly ruptures traditional social bonds; like the national chauvinism which would impose “reason and the moral law” on “alien” cultures, such artifice could only be catastrophic.  German Romanticism corrects the death-ray vision of the new science: in the process of self-cultivation or Bildung, sub-divided humanity, like Leibnitz’s monads, are properly seen as units in a grand, gradually evolving whole, judenrein, hence moving onward and upward toward God-like perfection, harmony and equilibrium, each living out its unique potential in the universal Becoming (Werden).     


     Explicating the elusive concept of Bildung, the distinguished and revered cultural historian George L. Mosse approvingly cited Herder: “Man must grow like a plant, as Johann Gottfried von Herder put it, striving to unfold his personality until he becomes a harmonious, autonomous individual engaged in a continual quest for knowledge.” [5]  Although the German Romantics founded the disciplines of comparative literature, comparative religion, cultural anthropology, social psychology and “modern race pedagogy,” to insist on universal ethical rules or standards or analytic tools would violate the tenets of their “anti-élitist” progressive movement. [6]  For the “cultural materialists” among them “class” is a “socially constructed” category, with no more objectivity in the real world than ugly images of race; for these irrationalists, the inductive scientific method and the monolithic, hegemonic Enlightenment (“the West” as personified in comic-book characters like Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse) remain the sources of iconoclasm and genocidal fascist bureaucracies—the inevitable products of levelling, totalitarian “mass politics” and a discredited Whiggish, covertly imperialist “master narrative.”


       The search for origins, the “genetic” method of their “new historicism,” exists solely to delegitimate the claims of science for universal validity; new historicists have mocked the “plodding bourgeois virtues” that “downplay” “character, individuality and point-of-view.” [7]  The searching spotlights of irrationalists, however, cannot be turned upon themselves lest their own schematic diagnostics be relativized as tendentious pronouncements from upper-class controlled institutions; hence the widespread antagonism to Freudian introspection or any declaration of personal interest in the outcomes of their own assertions (aka ‘investigations’).  Such tactful silences would be intolerable if practiced by the scientists who, it is claimed by the new historicists, are inevitably bought and sold by the Big Money.  Hitler, a self-styled critical, independent analyst, said the same about “Jewish Bolshevism” as a front for finance capital. 



An orgy of obscurantism. My review of the Fallen Flesh Brigade, then, retrieves the history of the antifascist “liberals” who have shaped social psychology in the twentieth century, and who have not been able to explain mass death in the past, nor to prevent its recurrence in the present.  I continue to study institutional sources of dead-end politics and other social pathologies, including primitivism, apathy, sadomasochism, and necrophilia.  I have summoned the ghost of Herman Melville to show the difficulties in achieving autonomy (the precondition for democratic participation) in societies that refuse appropriate structural transformation while simultaneously promoting “freedom,” “democracy,” and “critical thought.”  Racism, sexism, homophobia, artistic censorship, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, family violence, and elitism as they have been defined in today’s social movements will be re-assessed in this political and institutional context.  Artists’ depictions of modernity and its alleged social pathologies should be compared to those of leading journalists and academics treating the same issues.  



     We may observe that petit-bourgeois intellectuals–the sometimes defiant, sometimes conforming middle-managers who occupy the teaching and healing professions and who create media–have, owing to class origin, education, allegiance and interest, been structurally driven to identify with a declining “aristocracy.”  The middle-managers tend to reject Eros (the life-affirming rainbow sighted by attractive popular democratic movements), for Thanatos (the bleak response of the still-controlling old order looking into a future in which it, the owning-class, could be dispossessed)–hence the flight of middle-management to sadomasochistic social relations as self-discipline or “adjustment” to élite-controlled, pseudo-democratic, unevenly emancipated institutions.  For some progressives, pain melts away as they rosily merge into the All. To a rationalist like myself, amazed but not intimidated by the power of irrational psychological processes, the progressives are a disaster: in their “radical” and “pacifist” but finally völkisch and reactionary ideology there can be no unified social action, no self-management or informed consent to management by experts, no concept of the independent artist, scientist, or any (relatively) autonomous, dissenting individual, no constructively critical intellectual: open-minded and, along with a collective of other critical thinkers, meandering purposefully toward either provisional or solid conclusions.

           [1] See David A. Hollinger, Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (N.Y., Basic Books, 1995); James L. Nolan, Jr. ed., The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996).

            [2] See Jerry Z. Muller, The Other God That Failed: Hans Freyer and the deradicalization of European conservatism (Princeton U.P., 1987).

            [3] My description of German Romanticism and its core beliefs is taken from J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916).

            [4] Andress, p.251.

            [5] George L. Mosse, Confronting The Nation: Jewish and Western Nationalism (Brandeis U. Press, 1993): 133; he was citing Hans Weil, 1930.  But Mosse qualified his approbation, perhaps in defense of his stigmatized homosexuality.  The concept of Sittlichkeit anchored the individual in the “restrictive moral order” of middle-class respectability.

            [6] Andress, p.303.

            [7] George Levine, “The Ambiguous Ethics of Self-Annihilation,” paper given 4/26/97, UCLA symposium, “The Values of Science.” Levine argued that Victorian scientists (e.g., Darwin) had merely substituted submission to Nature for the old submission to religious authority; the fantasy of liberty gave power to their bogus heroic efforts; enabling servants were absent from their narratives; (referring to the followers of Gross and Levitt, authors of The Higher Superstition) their moralistic rhetoric is full of vehemence and rage.  Similar arguments were offered by the other participants: “all knowledge is local,” there is no such thing as “value-free inquiry” or “absolute objectivity” in the academy or anywhere else, etc.

August 27, 2009

Hitler and the “Jewish” Mind, Part Three

Werner Sombart, Neo-Nazi idol

[This is the last of three entries on Hitler’s encounter with the restless, skeptical, switching “Jewish” mind. It should be read along with my earlier blog on Hitler and modern art (“Hitler, Switches, Modern Art and more….”) as introduction to the three recent entries. Also see the materials from my book chapters two and nine that document the actions of social psychologists on behalf of ‘civilian morale,’ or preventive politics, also posted this month.]

[Concluding entry to Hitler and the “Jewish” mind:]  How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.)  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist? That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution. Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.

Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase. Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist class analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual. However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative! As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness. But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and uplift of the poor, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended.

[footnote:] Geoffrey Gorer’s presentation of de Sade’s delightful Constructive Sadism (1934) suggests that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. (See Hunting Captain Ahab for key quotations.) For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201. [end footnote]

Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty.   Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness subtly expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939) (I may be misreading Freud here). Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to the social idealism of the radical puritans. All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man.

[footnote:] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see George L. Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12. [end footnote]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:] The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution. Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction. As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall. Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!” To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus. For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s terrier at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws. The fly came close to him. He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized. His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression. Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated. I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him. He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:] A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe. They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us. In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations. When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs. As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing. And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”
Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money. One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth. A big city is very ungrateful. Its inhabitants are like children. They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility. A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them. There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked. I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

Contrast with American reactionaries.     Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence. It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities. It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with radical Protestants, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him. That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance. And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous only to their class. I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable. Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions. [footnote:] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority. The defining attribute of the conservative Enlightenment, of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character. To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions. The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, “identity politics”, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration. In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Sombart:] [We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about. Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood. But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends.”

[footnote:] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a Marxist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation. [end footnote]

By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide. In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good.

[Note: these entries on Hitler’s view of the “Jewish” mind were read by Roy Porter, Robert Brenner, and my teacher of the German language, Lewis Jillian in the early 1990s. At the time of writing I was writing from the Left. I had not yet read von Mises or Hayek, hence did not consider the argument that class divisions are erased by the self-regulating free market. Still, much of this essay remains valid, for instance, the conflict between the interests of peasants and workers that Stalinists tried so hard to erase through the planning state, with horrible consequences.]

Blog at WordPress.com.