YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

May 31, 2015

Nietzsche on “the Jews” (and non-Aryan Christians)

Aryan Christ

Aryan Christ

(This the second of two blogs; read this first. https://clarespark.com/2015/05/30/constructing-the-moderate-men-with-the-classics/.)

Nietzsche famously proclaimed that “God is dead.” Nietzsche’s fame, however, is not, nor is his professed affiliation with the Christian Middle Ages, noted in The Birth of Tragedy. We find his amorous influence in the Charles Manson cult (an emblem for the flower children of the counter-culture (?), including such immortal pop idols as the late Jim Morrison), in the hip followers of Foucault, and among postmodernists. These late 20th century (sex-obsessed) cultists were preceded by the Nietzsche followers in the earlier 20th century, George Bernard Shaw for one. Nietzsche’s Supermen were later made notorious in the Leopold and Loeb case that was dramatized in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Rope.

I was first introduced to Nietzsche in the works translated by existentialist Walter Kaufmann, who tried to rehabilitate him from charges of proto-Nazism and antisemitism, explaining in one postwar essay that Nietzsche separated Jesus from the Jews, finding them antithetical. I find it incomprehensible how he could have failed to notice this passage from Genealogy of Morals, aphorism VII:

[Nietsche, transl. Francis Golffing:] As we all know, priests are the most evil enemies to have—why should this be so? Because they are the most impotent. It is their impotence which makes their hate so violent and sinister, so cerebral and poisonous. The greatest haters in history—but also the most intelligent haters—have been priests. Beside the brilliance of priestly vengeance all other brilliance fades. Human history would be a dull and stupid thing without the intelligence furnished by its impotents. Let us begin with the most striking example. Whatever else has been done to damage the powerful and great of this earth seems trivial compared with what the Jews have done, that priestly people who succeeded in avenging themselves on their enemies and oppressors by radically inverting all their values, that is, by an act of the most spiritual vengeance. This was a strategy entirely appropriate to a priestly people in whom vindictiveness had gone most deeply underground. It was the Jew who, with frightening consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value equations good/noble/powerful/beautiful/happy/favored-of-the-gods and maintain, with the furious hatred of the underprivileged and impotent, that “only the poor, the powerless, are good; only the suffering, sick, and ugly, truly blessed. But you noble ones will be, to all eternity, the evil, the cruel, the avaricious, the godless, and thus the cursed and damned!”…it was the Jews who started the slave revolt in morals; a revolt with two millennia of history behind it, which we have lost sight of today simply because it is has triumphed so completely. [end, Nietzsche quote]

This was the translation ordered by professors who taught my daughter while she was in graduate school, studying with leftist superstars Samuel Weber and Jacques Derrida.

It is but a short step from Nietzsche’s verdict on “the Jews” to social democracy and the aristocratic principle that seems to reign in the elitism of (anticommunist) social democracy, in the celebrity-worship of mass culture, and in sectors of the far Right that blame “commie Jews” for all their woes. Such is the persistent influence of the Aryan Christ. Indeed, an Eric Gill sculpture of the Christ with his whip graces one of the reading rooms in the William Andrews Clark Jr. library in Los Angeles–the same library that houses a sizeable Gill collection.

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library

Christ and the Money-Changers 1919 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Tate Library


January 10, 2015

The case for feminism

Ad from Avant Garde "blowout sale" January 2015

Ad from Avant Garde “blowout sale” January 2015

I have written numerous blogs tracking the second wave of feminism (1960s-1970s and on).  See for example https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/. This blog is part of a two-part series: https://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Many of my prior blogs lament the automatic alignment of second wave feminists with their New Left male “oppressors,” abandoning the situations of women who were not either pro-choice, in the civil rights movement, or against the war in Viet Nam, especially as much of the Left and even those older ex-leftists who became neoconservatives remained at best ambivalent about gender issues. Perhaps these differences between liberal and conservative women are too deep to bridge, since many conservative women deny that they are subservient to males. Some liberal males feel differently, but don’t necessarily act on it.

For instance, cultural historian David Brion Davis once gave a series of lectures at an Ivy League university on race, later published, that stated that the subject of women was as grave a matter as subjection by race, but he saved that remark for his last chapter, and has, to my knowledge, never developed it, not have his students who now dominate the profession at Yale and other prestigious venues.

When I reviewed David Horowitz’s recent book Radicals (https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/), criticizing it for excessive moderation and for putting quotation marks around the word “feminist.” I send the piece to him, for David is my friend, and he welcomed the dialogue, but DH clearly doesn’t see feminism as a political priority, while I do, very vehemently.

Why do I care? For one thing I have five granddaughters and two daughters, who are coping with, or will cope with the same choices that I have done all my life: they will have to choose between stereotypes: Madonna, nymphet, femme fatale, happy mother, party girl, dominatrix, bluestocking, etc. My female descendants are all intelligent and creative, but most might not have the support network commensurate with their brains and talents. Nor are they likely to depart from the “normal” subservient posture in relationship to men, which may combine all these attributes as the illustration I have posted above:  Women as child, yet menacing in black, with short skirt inviting movement of the male hand up her thighs. (This was an ad for a sale from the boutique Avant Garde.) This teen ager is sexually provocative, yet wholesome looking with that pony tail. She will nab an upper-class mate. But will she be emancipated from the tyranny of stiletto heels for very long?

I was told by a nurse who did my blood work that there was a rule at the UCLA famed medical school and home for excellent doctors who tend to all classes of persons, that the female administrators must comply with a dress code that demands “heels”—not flat shoes, or nurse’s shoes, even though any orthopedist will warn women that high heels will inevitably lead to back, knee, and ankle problems as they age. Women must please male authority in the workplace or be fired.

Then there is the issue of androgyny, and the continued preference for hyper-masculine males and “girly” females. This combination of good father and apron-wearing mother, both God-fearing, will lift minority children out of poverty—a common viewpoint among conservatives. The same faction will go to the mat to prevent reproductive rights for women, and will oppose all but heterosexual love and marriage. Behind the opposition to gay marriage, I sense that there is a fear of effeminacy and subjection to the influence of mother, now embodied in the so-called “nanny state.”

I will not belabor the rise of “the moral mother,” or the diminution of paternal authority in the household after the Industrial Revolution, culminating in the welfare state as a bulwark against socialism, for I have written at length about the progressive movement on this website.

But I have no doubt that hierarchies, such as the domination of most women by males, “breed deceit, terror and catharsis” as I stated in passing here: https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/. Men will never know what their female mates are really thinking, as long as the extreme difference in sex roles persists, no more than did the slaveholder know what his slaves really had on their minds, nor does the employer know what his employees are really thinking about his conduct and their jobs.

Perhaps Nietzsche, and not Marx had the correct solution to the organization of advanced societies. But I would hate to think that the battle of the sexes, though insoluble owing to biological differences, cannot be more flexible in what men and women (or homosexual couples) expect from each other.

July 18, 2014

Sartre, existentialism, and red antisemitism

The Void Game ad

The Void Game ad

I have been reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s much lauded first novel Nausea (1938), followed by his canonical Anti-Semite and Jew (written ca. 1944).

It is difficult to imagine the younger Sartre as a future revolutionary socialist (though he presents himself, dubiously, as an anti-Stalinist) reading the novel, as compared to the wartime essay that nearly everyone quotes to the effect that society creates the Jew it needs for ideological purposes, i.e., actual Jewish behavior is irrelevant.

This blog continues the theme that I have developed on this website: it is increasingly difficult to separate social democrats from revolutionary socialists.
The early progressives made no secret of their counter-revolutionary goals, as I laid out here: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. These conservative reformers, no less than New Dealers, were frank about their politics: proletarian internationalism was their monster, and in its place they offered a paternalistic, elite-led welfare state that would contain any hanky-panky from below.

But the Soviet Union did a sharp about face with the rise of the various (irrationalist) fascisms in Italy, Spain, and especially Germany. At first appalled by the slaughter of revolutionaries in China (see Harold Isaacs’s famous book) that prompted a sectarian assault upon “Social Fascists” after 1928, the Soviets suddenly made common cause with the bourgeoisie through Popular Front politics in 1935—as long as there were bourgeois anti-fascists, as seemed to be the case during the Depression years, and especially after prominent intellectuals took up the Loyalist cause in Spain.

Someone should have told Sartre that, for in his novel, playing the Nietzschean, perhaps, he added to the voices of the resolutely anti-bourgeois, anti-modern voices of trendy European philosophers—Husserl (?) and Heidegger to mention a few of the nihilists confronting “the death of God.” For “Roquentin” there was only the Void and the denial of progress, most importantly in the possibility of overcoming evil—the very staples of the Judeo-Christian world view (this Manichaeism is not a traditional Jewish belief: in “old-fashioned” Judaism,  humanity should seek to fix or rectify self-destructive behavior).

Roquentin, a writer, seems paranoid to me, certainly disoriented, and hostile to his own body. Here is a striking passage from the novel:
“The thing which was waiting was on the alert, it has pounced on me, it flows through me, I am filled with it. It’s nothing: I am the Thing. Existence, liberated, detached, floods over me. I exist.” (p.98, New Directions paperback, my emph.) What struck me reading this passage was his quick association between liberation and detachment. I could not help thinking of the lyrics of the old song “After You’ve Gone” (1928) which are quoted several times in the novel. It was made famous by [Jewish] Sophie Tucker (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAuCSSLC-bk), and other major pop singers, but in the novel, Sartre is moved by its imagined Jewish composer and its “Negress” songstress. (Turner Layton was not Jewish, but a black songwriter, as was his lyricist Henry Creamer (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turner_Layton.)

Layton-Creamer Goodbye Alexander

Layton-Creamer Goodbye Alexander

Sartre was born into a Catholic family, and early on in the novel, I took him for a lapsed Catholic—his world was that bleak and dessicated, while his body or Nature was that repulsive, as horrifying, perhaps as the mother figure/vagina that was the real Thing. What if he became a communist because that creed and its mystical dialectical materialism reattached him to an abstract cause that did not frighten him? [I may have confused Catholicism and Puritanism, although there are puritanical Catholics.]

Turn now to his influential essay written during the war years in France. Usually taken to be a philosemitic tract, condemning Europe for its pervasive antisemitism, I was startled to see how he ended it with a standard communist trope: the working class understands its situation in the material world and is free of antisemitism, while it is the (muddled?) bourgeoisie that uses “the Jew” as scapegoat, to deflect petit-bourgeois (lower middle class in today’s argot) discontent away from their masked masters. Jews escape their “inauthenticity,” he claims, by reading Hegel’s “Master and Slave,” and finding authenticity in revolt against the ever antisemitic bourgeois oppressor. Through communism, antisemitism will disappear.

In rereading Sartre’s essay I was struck by his attack on mob society (shades of Hannah Arendt), and the anomie [inflicted by cities and industrialization?]. An entire flood of academics, young and old, follow the nearly identical philosophy of Emile Durkheim/the Frankfurt School/critical theory/the New Left/counter-culture mystics seeking both attachment and detachment.

One wonders how many of them are similarly on the lam from Mom and her illicit sticky power in the modern world.


September 8, 2013

Reading between the lines

Humpty-DumptyIn an often contentious thread on my Facebook page yesterday, I responded to a critic who suggested that I view my website as if it had the legitimacy of Biblical texts and rabbinic commentary. As part of my response, I argued that Biblical texts and associated commentary were “texts” susceptible to criticism and analysis (just as my blogs are meant to be by readers who fault my reasoning and/or facts).

Mine was postmodern talk (i.e., that all communications are “texts” susceptible to deconstruction) so this blog is about where I stand regarding postmodernism, which I do use selectively as part of my critical toolbox, along with “historicism” (See https://clarespark.com/2013/09/04/the-syria-crisis-and-historicism/.).

I.First, wherefore the term “postmodernism”? Here is the Wikipedia definition of the movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism. Its critics are vehemently opposed to this movement in criticism because of its “nihilism,” its denial of “truth,” its challenge to the authority of “science,” its tendency to “anarchism,” and its “moral relativism.” In practice, the postmodernists often point to bureaucratic rationality (Max Weber, not Karl Marx!) and mechanistic thinking as the cause of such catastrophic phenomena as the Holocaust. Since the general tendency of cultural studies follows the postmodern/poststructuralist agenda, I will explain why I find much of it useful, if not all.

While in graduate school at UCLA, many postmodernists saw me as sympathetic to their cause, perhaps because I was doing “reader-reception theory” (exploring the drastically changing meanings assigned to Herman Melville’s texts since the 19thcentury). I.e., I was looking competing narratives that explained Melville’s sometimes difficult texts . There was a similar interest in my finding that many of the key Melville revivers were practicing psychological warfare, while in some cases, caving to academic pressures that conflicted with their spontaneous responses to Melville’s often ambiguous, even mysterious life and art.

The key word is “ambiguity” along with “indeterminacy,” terms espoused by “pomos.”  Being an introspective person, I do find my own life to be ambiguous in the sense that I cannot relate a personal history with a definite cause and effect sequence. Where I depart from postmodernism is in its insistence that all of science is “a swindle”, or that “mechanical materialism” is a philistine element of the Enlightenment that caused “the Holocaust,”  or that all attempts at reconstructing the past are fool’s errands.

II. Second, a few words about cultural pluralism as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is undoubtedly offensive to some readers that I view the Bible as a text, rather than seeing it as God-originated revelation; I imagine that my Orthodox Jewish son-in-law would see my position as Talmudic and typically Jewish. One reason for the duration of our representative republic is the notion of tolerance and relatively free exchange of ideas. Whereas Europe was engulfed in war following the Reformation, the Founders very wisely insisted in a separation of Church and State: there would be no established state religion. The culture wars are fought over this point, and they have polarized the country around competing readings of the Constitution, with “secular progressives” read out of the polity by some pundits on the Right.


III. Third, the notion of “the will to power” (the title of one of Nietzsche’s books).  I have seen many Facebook comments attributing “the will to power” as the driving purpose of their ideological opponents. Indeed, in a past field exam for the U.S. history graduate students, one question asked us to comment on feminism as “the will to power.” I took this to be a hostile response to such usurpers of male authority as Anne Hutchinson in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But in my dissertation research, I noticed that aristocrats threatened with dispossession by partly emancipated women, Jews, and workers after the French Revolution, attacked these rising groups as motivated solely by a demonic, hence illegitimate, desire to control them. It is my view that Foucault and his followers come out of this aristocratic reaction to the rise of the bourgeoisie with its all-engulfing “cash nexus.”

During the period that I was shopping my book manuscript, an occasional reader would accuse me of too closely identifying with the dastardly Captain Ahab, and imagining that I had the right answer to the Melville problem, notwithstanding that I refused to conclude anything in particular other than the suppression of key documents in Melville’s life and art that would have made his more influential critics look really bad. There are problems that are insoluble, particularly where the human psyche and a dearth of primary source documents are involved.

Some other Melvilleans claimed that I was vindictive owing to my firing as Program Director of KPFK in 1982! Obviously, I, a female with strong views about censorship, must be possessed by “the will to power” over authoritative male literary historians.  Whereas I should have backed off and admitted that there are a “multiplicity of readings” on all matters of fact. For these nay-sayers I perhaps invoked Hawthorne’s sketch of the uppity, puffed-up “Woman” : Hester Prynne was modeled on Anne Hutchinson as Michael Colacurcio once argued.

As the late Norman J. Levitt insisted in his takedown of the postmodernists among the academic Left, some science is “settled.”  But the “bourgeois apologist” Levitt is dead, and I hear rumors that 2+2=5.

will to power

March 22, 2013

“Traditionalists” on the culture front


Kinkade “Sunrise”

[This is the second blog that mentions Andrew Klavan. See part one of this series here: https://clarespark.com/2013/03/11/do-paleoconservatives-want-a-theocracy/.]

As if the “culture wars” had not already sown enough confusion and polarization, some “traditionalists” are now encouraging right-thinking conservatives to make popular art that would challenge what is seen as the Hollywood monopoly on popular entertainment—a mass culture with way too much sex and not enough religion. Some warriors are humorously grotesque, for instance Bill O’Reilly’s offensive on behalf of the Easter Bunny. But others on the right participate in this war against “secular progressives” while others scan high culture for salutary examples with potential to heal a sick “body politic.”  For instance, Andrew Klavan (a convert to Christianity, and an ex-liberal as well, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Klavan), who writes popular mysteries, also writes on culture regularly for Pajamas Media. Klavan deplores what he calls “moral relativism,” preferring Immanuel Kant, the ethical universalist, over godless Nietzschean Supermen and the dread (and misconstrued) “deconstructionists” whom he links to Nazism. (See his talk of March 18, 2013 at the David Horowitz Freedom Center: http://tinyurl.com/ch8ucow.)

In the high Renaissance, great artists limited their subject matter to either religious art or to naked goddesses that pleased the propensities of aristocratic patrons. Recall too that Shakespeare was a Catholic, an anti-puritan, and a proponent of the organic society.  The Reformation, then the Enlightenment, began the long road to (partial) independence for artists, and a freer choice of subject matter and (subtly limited) freedom of thought and expression.

It is my own view that any repressed human being will be unable to make anything that passes for “modern” art, and that the traditionalist artists and illustrators (like Thomas Kinkade or Andrew Wyeth that seemingly upheld either “Christian” (Kinkade) or rural values (Wyeth) may be popular among older conservatives and even among liberals nostalgic for representation, but in this age of mass media with its celebration of youth culture, the call for more conservative artists and writers will find few patrons to subsidize their neo-“puritanism” except among themselves. But then today’s “culture warriors” define themselves against “modernity” and the dissenting individual, even as they protest groupiness–those notions such as multiculturalism that are collectivist in nature. For many “libertarians” (Klavan), the goal in “speaking truth to power” is to demolish Big Government, not to criticize authoritarian institutions, whether these appear at the national, local or state level, let alone within the family. (Even moderates may call for a revitalized mass culture: see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/29/fred-siegels-melodrama-of-20th-c-cultural-history/.)

Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny

We are all anticapitalists now. Modernism in the arts participated in the degeneration narrative, for these confusingly named “modernists,” the big corporation and technological pseudo-progress were agents of decadence, producing seductive consumer goods that vitiated class consciousness.  Along with celebrities, movie stars, and journalists, were the mobs unleashed by industrial capitalism, the New Woman, and the international Jewish conspiracy. Cain’s cities therefore were the site of hyper-sexuality, homosexuality, and all nervous anxieties, to be cured by a return to Nature and/or to order and anti-secular religion. The path to neoclassical safety would be mapped by primitivists and/or neo-medievalists from Left to Right seeking to renew paternal authority in the family. (On the dangers of cities see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/19/the-scary-city-lamprecht-becker-lynd/.)


Andrew Wyeth “Spring” (1978)

October 15, 2012

Orwell, Power, and the ‘Totalitarian’ State

[Updated 6-4-13:] This blog has three purposes: 1. To demonstrate that there is no such thing as “power” as an end in itself, and in Orwell’s most famous book, his villain O’Brien explicitly makes mind-control the chief end of the Inner Party. But in doing that he separates mind from body, suggesting that Orwell was never a materialist, in contrast to Freud and his materialist followers. In prior research, I noted that the formulation of “the will to power” (as an end in itself) was asserted by aristocrats, like Nietzsche, critical of the rising middle class, of rising women, and of the “jewified” bourgeoisie in general. 2. To suggest that social democrats fastened onto the term “totalitarian” (invented by Italian Fascists) in order to distinguish themselves from rival statists, whether these be fascists or communists. It is my contention (and here I find both Eric Hobsbawm and Jacob Talmon very helpful) that fascists and communists had antithetical orientations to the Enlightenment, notwithstanding their terroristic methods and lack of regard for dissent. But communists acquired adherents among artists, for instance, because they promised emancipation from the philistine bourgeoisie and the commodification imposed by “capitalism.” That Bolsheviks (including Trotsky) did not deliver on this promise is often forgotten by today’s New Left and the counter-culture with which it is in alliance. 3. To suggest that George Orwell was taken up by British social democrats, even though he was obviously concerned about the direction of the (anticommunist) British Labour Party as he wrote his last book. The companion piece to this blog is https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.]

One of the chief claims of Orwell’s 1984 is that, for the Inner Party (the state terrorists who destroy the autonomy of Winston Smith–one of the Outer Party intellectuals who writes history according to the ideological needs of Big Brother, but who struggles to maintain his inner freedom– the aim of O’Brien and his cohort is to maintain power for its own sake. Such an attachment to total control as an end in itself is a symptom of the ‘totalitarian state’, i.e. Nazi Germany and its supposed twin, the Soviet Union. “O’Brien” makes this explicit as he tortures Winston Smith:

[Part 3, Chapter 2:] “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’ [O’Brien]

…’We are the priests of power,’ he said. ‘God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone — free — the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter — external reality, as you would call it — is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’” [End, excerpt from 1984, my emph.]

However, the fact that both loathsome dictatorships murdered millions of their own and warred with rival peoples, does not justify lumping them together as if each had exactly the same historical trajectory; as if each and every member of the Third Reich or the Soviet Union was successfully inveigled to love Big Brother. Indeed, Orwell may have been criticizing capitalism, not some variant of socialism, so as not to become commodified in a world where every human relationship is on the market, measured by “the [Jewish] money power,” as the broken Winston recites ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree /I sold you and you sold me –‘.

It is my suggestion that “totalitarianism” as a conception (from Italian Fascism, coined by Giovanni Gentile) was adopted by social democrats in order to remove the stain of proto-fascism from themselves. Hence, in opposition to these admittedly violent dictatorships, they could grab the flag of freedom, while conflating Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as structurally equivalent tyrannies, and as predictable outcomes of the Enlightenment. Such a strategy was brilliant, for it constructed statist New Dealers in America as the polar opposites of the hated dictators, notwithstanding the New Deal’s social policy rejection of the Enlightenment conception of the autonomous individual in favor of collectivist political identities and rule by Platonic guardians. (For more on the “integral nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/20/an-awesome-inauguration/.) Indeed, many of Roosevelt’s social psychologists and sociologists were busy looting Hitler’s remarkable sykewar arsenal, admiring Hitler’s management of “the little man” whom they held responsible for his popular appeal. (For examples, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/05/proto-fascism-and-the-democrat-peoples-community/, https://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/, https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.)

And so it is with numerous academic studies of Orwell, written by members of the British Labour Party,  in which the word “totalitarianism” is thrown around (or, in one case, was seen as somewhat old hat, as a Cold War strategy that became passé after the 1950s, yet the word was used by this academic). Similarly, they do not question the notion of “power” as an end in itself, which of course, in their emotional identification with “the working class,” they wholeheartedly reject.

Are these Labourite authors both narcissistic and statist (as one friend suggested today)? Reading British Labourites on the Orwell problem,* I tend to agree with the view that statists are narcissistic. Like George Orwell, they imagine “the working class” as one happy, warmly attached family, lodged in its compassionate, emotionally expressive, and self-enclosed “community.” So Orwell’s greatest quality is his identification with such working-class communities, where egalitarianism reigns supreme. Perhaps this confusion of themselves with working class students whom they teach,  is a projection of their own grandiosity as advocates of the (hypermoral) planning state.

Why do I then reject the  notion of “power” as an end in itself? First, the word power is abstract and empty. It only has content with respect to “power” over something. As I read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938) and then 1984 (1949), I was struck by his belaboring of the theme of dirt and smell, all the while imagining that working class folk in Spain or in a future Britain, had the gift of comradeship and a lust for life, something missing in his own family and in his schooling. He also belabored/glorified suffering along with the total control exerted by his villains: in this he reminded me of a practicing sadomasochist (Steadman Thompson) in middle management whose collages and fantasies I examined in the Sadomasochism collection at UCLA Special Collections. Like Orwell in his latter years, S.T. believed that revolutions were pointless in that masters and slaves simply changed places, with former slaves becoming as brutal as the former ruling class. Second, the only character in the history and mythology of “the West” who wants power for its own sake is the Devil. One cannot argue across religious lines.

The persistent theme in S. T.’s writing was this: once he had subjected himself to caning or whipping by a maternal dominatrix, he was restored to the lap of the good parent. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.) Of all the biographies I have read, only Jeffrey Meyers has emphasized the masochistic elements of Orwell’s personality, but even Meyers does not report the tedious quality of  the early pages of Homage to Catalonia, dwelling as they do on the repulsive aspects of trench warfare in northern Spain for page after page. However, Meyers’s biography does pick up on the suicidal tendencies of Orwell’s management of his own health.

We don’t see often enough that middle managers (college professors or high school teachers) are masochistic insofar as they submit to the bullying direction of their superiors, but sadistic in depriving their students or the workers whom they manage of the skills necessary to reject illegitimate authority. By crippling their students of the power to think, and to see the inseparability of mind and matter, they are minor league O’Briens. (It is materialists like myself who insist on the unity of mind and body.)

From the vantage point of my years, I have often seen the desire for boys and girls alike to control Mothers—mothers who may cling indefinitely, or who, conversely, may separate too crudely and quickly from their small children. It is in such twisted experiences of early childhood that we might find the appeal of “power as an end in itself” or the notion of totalitarianism itself. The abandoned child wants to control straying Mother, while the suffocated child needs to push Mother away.  But in the real world of adulthood, such maternal imagos may not have the power imagined by Orwell or by his character, “the Last Man in Europe.”  The antimodernist Orwell, who sees Nature as a maternal refuge, apparently even in the hostile, punishing Hebrides, was emotionally and politically confused. One of his critics should point this out. Stephen Ingle’s second book makes a stab at the political confusions, but is limited by his “ethical socialist” commitments. But we must not forget that Orwell was worried about central planning by the new managerial class, as warned by James Burnham. I don’t want to psychologize this structural change and thus reduce it to family relations alone.

Owell passport photo

*Orwell’s 1984 was welcomed by rightists and Cold Warriors in 1949 and afterwards as proof that Orwell, as in Animal Farm, had exposed the bogus democratic pretensions of the Soviet Union. Much of the voluminous subsequent academic scholarship was devoted to retrieving Orwell for the “socialists” in Britain, not that these authors were themselves unequivocal in the accomplishments of the British Labour Party.


Brunsdale,  Mitzi M. Student Companion to George Orwell. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Hitchens, Christopher. Why Orwell Matters. Basic Books, 2002.

Ingle, Stephen. George Orwell: A Political Life. Manchester UP, 1993.

__________. The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A reassessment. Routledge, 2006.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. Norton, 2000.

Newsinger, John. Orwell’s Politics. Macmillan, 1999.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Secker and Warburg, 1986.

__________. 1984. (Read online)

Rai, Alok. Orwell and the Politics of Despair. Cambridge UP, 1988. Chapter two is devoted to tracking the conception of totalitarianism, which he traces back to Giovanni Gentile, Mussolini’s confederate and a major figure in Italian Fascism.

April 3, 2011

Progressives, the luxury debate, and decadence

Thos. Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836

Our nation is currently embroiled in a turmoil over finances, the debt, and the potential fall of the  American Republic, indeed, of the West itself. This blog sketches contrasting theories of progress and decadence. The purpose is to identify the eclectic character of history as written by the Progressives and their progeny. I propose that there are three primary schools of interpretation: one is entirely religious, and two are secular, but are not identical. All three are infused with what historians call “the luxury debate,” the secularism debate, and the danger of cities.

1. Many Christians take the position that there was a Golden Age in Eden before Eve ate of the Apple. Since that fatal bite, the world is fallen, and all hopes for amelioration are transferred to Paradise. The world we inhabit is a vale of tears and we “see through a glass, darkly.” The author Hilaire Belloc was of this view, and, like other ultra-Catholics, fixated his attention on the Crucifixion as the moment when Christ’s passion  purified humanity of its sins, promising a better place for the faithful after death. Arthur Lovejoy’s book, The Great Chain of Being, spelled out the Platonic-Christian world view very clearly. If an historian is known by the ability to distinguish between change and continuity through the accumulation of empirical evidence, then such “periodization” is irrelevant within this anti-materialist world view. See my blog on Nicholas Boyle for an example: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

2.  In the eighteenth century, Volney and others (Vico, earlier) dramatically intervened in the conservative Christian world-view with the cyclical view of history. That secular and “scientific” view is illustrated in Thomas Cole’s famous series The Course of Empire. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire.) Cole’s bleak prognosis remains the preferred interpretation for organic conservatives who liken the course of history to the life cycles of plants (Goethe, for instance). A seed germinates, flourishes, then drops to the mold. Similarly, a warrior class is feminized by excessive love of luxury, and fails to maintain its defenses, hence  is invaded by warrior-barbarians, is destroyed, and we are left with romantic  ruins only. Such was the vision of those who posited a sequence of inevitable stages in the history of humanity. Keep in mind that “the Jews” have been seen as agents of feminization,  illicit luxury, and debauchery by such as the Nazis and New Dealers alike. Asceticism was the ticket to neoclassical order,  a point challenged by romantic Nietzsche in Genealogy of Morals.

3. With the development of capitalism and industry, innovations grounded in a scientific (materialist) and worldly view of humanity and its future, various optimistic proposals emerged before and during the American and French Revolutions. The most famous intervention was by Marx, but he was competing with various Utopians, also believers in Progress: Turgot, Condorcet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Comte.  But in all these cases, human nature was not fallen or doomed, but rather susceptible to changes in the environment and particularly in institutions that brought out the best in [malleable] human nature. Although the new industrial working class did not turn out to be the revolutionary class that would bring about emancipation and utopia(for Marxists), there was enough servile revolt (actually starting with the English Civil War) to implant the continued fear of the red menace in the upper classes. Their pre-emptive strategy was to make concessions to social movements originating from “below” or to attempt to co-opt them through various motions of conservative reform. The Populist-Progressive movement is the most prominent and still powerful of these tendencies in America; they were following that master strategist Bismarck, originator of social insurance even as he made the German Social Democratic Party illegal. Populist-Progressives may be found in either the Democratic or Republican Parties (the latter as “moderates”) and are spurned by “social conservatives” today.

Since the moderate men must deal with a constituency that is internally conflicted, they take pieces of earlier world-views and incorporate all of them in an incoherent and confusing mix. But mostly, they are slippery and hard to pin down, except where the Marxist-Leninist Left is concerned.  That Left is either purged or marginalized, so that current journalists can simply describe what was originally a “moderate conservative” movement as “the hard Left” fading gently into left-liberalism. State power in the service of redistributive justice unites all these tendencies—Marxist-Leninist Left and progressives alike. The moderate men support science, but attempt to halt the inevitable warfare between science and religion.  The recent British movie Creation (2009), a recounting of Darwin’s emotional struggles as he moved toward publication of The Origin of Species (1859), is one example. Yes, Darwin finally puts out into the world his completely destabilizing view of evolution and natural selection, removing God from direct interference in the plan for humanity, but he is buried with full Christian honors in Westminster Abbey. Goethe, with his Pelagian heresy (we are not fallen, there is no original sin), is memorialized throughout the progressive West as the greatest cosmopolitan intellectual ever, but Goethe’s view of human society and progress is grounded in the life of plants and follows Herder’s cultural relativism and rooted cosmopolitanism. His American utopia has no modern Jews—they lack “reverence” and “roots.”

Who then are the moderns? We are left with the classical liberals or libertarians. These thinkers, following Adam Smith, von Mises, Ayn Rand, Hayek, and the Friedmans, see competitive markets as the route to wealth creation and a better life on earth. They are worldly, but not immoralists, for some see the need for state action (see especially the legal theorist Richard A. Epstein). Their European predecessors were the “mechanical materialists” denounced by all the ultra-conservatives, faux liberals, and dialectical materialists who followed. It is this school (not necessarily united within their ranks) , who put the future in the laps of our assessing, choosing, individual selves, who reject the fatalism of Vico, Volney, or their Greek and Christian-Platonic predecessors. (For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/.)

December 11, 2009

“Don’t fence me in”: notes toward a workable consensus


a page from New Theatre, June 1936: Hitler as narcissist

Here is my utopian contribution to the theory of independent media–a hot topic in the era of the internet and blogging. It was directed to program producers and listeners to Pacifica Radio after years of observing how this “alternative” media outlet malfunctioned, even at its best. Given how polarized our political culture remains, I hope that readers of all ideological preferences will read the notes as a plea for a more constructive and creative dialogue. You might want to read these first: https://clarespark.com/2009/08/20/shakin-the-blues-away-primitivism-rock-n-roll-and-mental-health/, https://clarespark.com/2009/08/18/storming-pacifica-revising-my-view-of-pacifica-history-july-22-1999/, https://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/08/14/my-life-at-pacifica-part-two-with-gory-details-and-more-on-identity/.

[Christopher Simpson, 1994:] Entrepreneurial academics modeled the scientific tools needed for development of practical applications of communication-as-domination on those that had seemed so successful in the physical sciences: a positivist reduction of complex phenomena to discrete components; an emphasis on quantitative description of change; and claimed perspective of “objectivity” toward scientific “truth.”  With few exceptions, they assumed that mass communication was “appropriately viewed from [the perspective of] the top or power center…rather than from the bottom or periphery of the system (6)….U.S. social science, including mass communications research, helped elaborate rationales for coercing groups targeted by the U.S. government and Western Industrial culture generally (115).  Roughly similar psychological and linguistic structures seem to have played a role in certain phases of Turkish Ittyad efforts to exterminate Armenians during World War I, in atrocities during Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, and in U.S. exploitation of former Nazis in intelligence operations.  There are many obvious differences, of course, between the psychological and linguistic dynamics of atrocities and those of psychological warfare projects.  Nonetheless, there are enough similarities to suggest that euphemistic “cover stories” are integral to much of modern political communication (144).[1]

[Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Truth in Myths,” 1937:]  …religion is forced to tell many little lies in the interest of a great truth, while science inclines to tell many little truths in the interest of a great lie.  The great truth in the interest of which many little lies are told is that life and history have meaning and the source and the fulfillment of that meaning lie beyond history.  The great lie in the interest of which science tells many little truths is that spatio-temporal realities are self-contained and self-explanatory and that a scientific description of sequences is an adequate analysis of causes. [2]

[Clare’s blog:]      Make no mistake, the culture wars will be fought to the death, and not because scientists do not “tolerate” religious values, but because there is no center, no middle-ground between secular and mystical world-views; either intellectual debate is worth the trouble, or it is a waste of time; either popular sovereignty is to be made rational and competent, or we should return to enlightened despotism.

Certain conclusions for theory and practice flow from my reflections on the devious cultural politics of nineteenth and twentieth-century America and Europe.  What has been most strenuously dismantled in the last tumultuous period of academic reform is The Big Lie of materialism, mega-weapon of Western Industrial culture (according to Christopher Simpson).  As I have tried to show throughout the blogs posted on this website,  however, most public “liberals” and “leftists” today (ethnocultural structuralists) are inheritors of social ideas that were never libertarian and universalistic.  These particular “multiculturalists” decapitate political animals insofar as they prejudge coherent narratives (i.e., authoritative, chronologically ordered, fact-based accounts) of historical change and conflict as totalitarian, racist, and genocidal.  We are toothless without the relatively objective criteria that would make elected authority accountable to its constituency, helpless in identifying the social divisions and antagonisms that most persuasively delineate the trajectory of history at any given moment.

Often with the best of intentions, the Populists and Progressives, the Leninist Left, the Frankfurt School critical theorists, and many New Left anti-racists admiring Simpson or Niebuhr advocated free speech and cultural relativism in ways that would logically undermine confidence in common readers scrutinizing rival political platforms, thus hindering  the coalition building necessary for earnest (goal-directed) politics.  The primitivists/libertines among them sought emancipation from the slavery of romantic love, finding equality in the acting out of repressed “instincts” that the workaholic bourgeoisie had squashed; some critics of essentialism/identity politics argue from the positions of Heraclitus and Nietzsche: the aristocratic radical (Cormac McCarthy?) again looks askance at uppity artisans, the murderous children of Cain.  Our generation of intellectuals might do well to distinguish between 17th-18th C. and late 20th C. conceptions of science, democracy, history and international brotherhood.

As the quotations from Lewis Hill, founder of Pacifica radio and his successors demonstrated, it was the class war that the Pacifica pacifists were to oppose most emphatically: good labor unions collaborated with business as corporatist liberalism (New Deal policies mimicking the happy family) preferred; however, given the conditions of the Depression, during which every class was in crisis, the managed good news Lewis Hill advocated could not report negotiation between equals though that fiction would be maintained in contract law.  Implicit in Hill’s ideology was the notion that misunderstandings in communication (the source of conflict?) could be removed through enlightened workplace anthropology.  Pacifica would radiate good feelings.  Similarly, reformed curricula and canons, overcoming Anglo-American/Hebraic “liberal” hubris, selfishness, and avarice, would breed empathic workers and managers.  Intractable differences were only racial or ethnic or gendered: the powerless would be typed according to biological imperatives, each group possessed of marvelously unique, equally idiosyncratic, rooted points of view that could be freely expressed on public or independent or reformed media, yet these perspectives were finally untranslatable to members of different linguistic communities.  Such rights of privacy, aka group expression, would be guarded by socially responsible businessmen and their deputized academics, fending off melting-pot sharpshooters to their Right.  So far and no farther would freedom, independence, and equality be tolerated.

“Radical subjectivism” asserted itself against “Marxist” postulations of ruling-class “hegemony” by insisting upon the inevitable multiplicity of points of view, of de-centered loci of power and authority. Individual character gave way to “social character.” As one professor of “applied Christianity” put it, referring to the work of Erich Fromm, Clyde Kluckhohn, and Henry Murray, “In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act the way they have to act as members of the society or of a special class within it. Fromm is thoroughly aware of the grave dangers in this ability of society to pressure us into becoming what society wants. But he realizes also that freedom is achieved only in social relations and that one becomes a self only within a group or a people.”[3]

Such “diversity” was seen as both descriptive and desirable.  Like community broadcasting itself, radical subjectivism was a rejection of white male domination, hence progressive, not a turn toward the archaic, the medieval and the barbaric.  In the etiquette of The New Pluralism-Without-Snakes-and-Spiders, there are no lies, save the Big One.  Given this marvel of constructive disengagement, how might alternative media planners counter the cacophony of corporatist liberalism?

I. Discourse and critical method.

—–A. The ethnopluralists have been tracked throughout the blogs. To distinguish ourselves from these organic conservatives masked as genuine liberals we should avoid their buzz words insofar as they apply the terms of biological systems to social organization: e.g., “the community,” “the body politic,” “national character,” “group mind,” “roots,” “milieu,” “equilibria,” “cultural climate,” “balance” (understood as the harmony which ensues when two more or less hysterical people contradict or “check” each other), and “identity” (understood as essential group psychological characteristics transmitted in the genes).

—–B. We should challenge the deployment of the words “race” and “ethnicity” insofar as they are meant to describe hereditary intellectual capacity and other psychological characteristics, as opposed to the ideological construction of “group character” in historically specific moments of conflict.  We ask our audience to keep in mind this understanding of “race” and “ethnicity”: (1). Groups are treated differently on the basis of fictional categories that are supposedly “real” and uniformly applicable to everyone in the group. Such typing reinforces the divisive idea that we are not one species, hence cannot understand each other’s perceptions of reality.  Thus the need to defend and revise our possibly distorted assertions about politics to reach a consensus is made unnecessary: there are no universally perceptible facts, only “group facts.” (2). Even though we are one species, we are not necessarily perceived as such by others: the ideas of (always pure) “race” and “ethnicity” are plausible only as fictions too often considered  real.  (3). Antisemitism is not simply a variant of racism, but a particularly dangerous form of false consciousness because it strikes at “basic trust,” without which no rationally informed social action is possible.  Whereas racial prejudices may be overcome with contact, the switching Jew will always be a confidence-man, his promise of utopia (to know the truth, to build a more humane society) a ruse; the outcome is dangerous not only for Jews, but for the antisemite, because the target is her/his own critical intellect and emotions.  Hence Jews cannot overcome antisemitism through philanthropy or reminding the world about their contributions to modernity: it is precisely modernity and its promise, its open-endedness that is the threat. It is true that the Alien or the Stranger has always been distrusted by insular societies; but in the context of enlightened Europe, the content of the Jewish archetype was adapted to suit the needs of reactionaries. “Roots” secured the “identity” of the beleaguered institutions of the European Right  (comprised of the Church and landed aristocracy) against the “disintegrating” forces of liberal nationalism. Suddenly Jews were no longer convertible or useful; today’s “identity politics” are the tool of similar conservative localists, like the aristodemocrats described above. It is the same not-so-old “scientific racism” cleansed by association with Jewish cultural anthropologists like Boas and his students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Again: there is no way to rescue German idealism.  It was formed in reaction to rationalism, democracy and the Enlightenment and will always oppose intelligent, democratic, universalistic forms of social organization.

—–C. The current litany for progressive journalists and academics is the study of “class, race, and gender” by which it is usually meant that structural position will entirely predict behavior, desire, and point-of-view, i.e., we are molded and stamped to act in our own behalf (hence participating wisely in pluralist politics, neither befuddled nor capable of perceiving universal human interests which could suggest different forms of political organization).  Besides ignoring distorted consciousness, this functionalist theory of class, race and gender conflates dissimilar categories of analysis.  Although the term is hotly debated, “class” can be defined with regard to the possession or non-possession of resources (money, tools, land, special scarce skills) enabling survival, either allowing persons to walk away from a bad contract or forcing them to work or starve.  Such ownership is not a matter of opinion, it is an objective fact in the world.  Similarly, gender difference is real: e.g., at different times women are more or less tied down by child-bearing and nursing.  But “race” and “ethnicity” are entirely socially constructed, which is not to say that culture (or climate) does not affect or partially predict behavior.  The issue for the twentieth century has been whether or not a better social environment can create “the new man” thus making it unnecessary for each generation to strive anew to rear critical thinkers with humanitarian values.  Lamarckians and muckrakers (like Hitler) want a quick fix; geneticists (should) advise patience and effort.  A Lockean-neo-Freudian approach would see class and gender as a set of conditions that limit experience, but against which we may struggle as we increasingly comprehend the ways we repress those ideas and feelings that threaten illegitimate authority.

—–D. A materialist discourse describes historically concrete individuals and the many institutions in which they are asked to function (the market, the state, the family, education, media, etc.).  This includes (1). Abstract and impersonal social property relations (class structure, how classes reproduce themselves, and class relations including relations between members of the same class who may be either cooperating, competing, or both);  (2). Social movements which may be challenging or acquiescing in the rules of the game; (3). The exercise of power within institutions and between individuals: how is authority made legitimate?  How is consent obtained: through analysis of the system (rational persuasion) or appeals relying upon emotionally charged language and archetypes, on veiled or naked force?  How are the concepts of multiplicity and diversity deployed for and against equal opportunity?  Are persons expected to resolve irreconcilable differences?  Do agitators create or exaggerate differences where none need exist?  (4). What are the sources of change, legal and illegal?  (5). How have powerful interests defined the social psychology of the society or group under consideration?  How have these assessments changed with transformations in modes of production?

——E. An organicist discourse confuses because groups and nation-states are treated as if they were individuals.  Thus for moralistic anti-American New Leftists, “America” is one very bad person, stealing Africans, exterminating Indians, raping the environment, tricking the masses with false promises of cultural freedom, etc.  Similarly “the West” and “Western science” are genocidal.  By contrast, a materialist discourse would identify historically specific individuals and groups, often buffeted by social forces producing destructive behavior.  Comparative history and sociology will reveal that the humanitarian, universalistic values espoused by “Western civilization” are still only partially realized in practice, along with the technology that may someday lighten drudgery and toil for everyone.  Hence we should ask, what are the economic and cultural preconditions that enable people to be creative, peaceful and tolerant?  How have earlier Leftists answered this question and what have we learned from their decisions?

When all of these arduous (but not impossible) tasks are accomplished, then rational communicators may be said to have reached a consensus on the facts of their condition.  Obviously, societies that see human motivation and history as inscrutable and chaotic, an unfinished dialogue between God, the World, the Flesh and the Devil (the Flesh-made Word?) will resist (to the death) such processes of analyses and synthesis. [4]

II. Earning trust of the audience.

A. Spotting the phony liberals/radicals/protofascists.  They say they are not fascists, meanwhile replicate the cultural practice of earlier aristocratic radicals/corporatist liberals with an antimodern, antidemocratic agenda.  Rather than institutional analysis they purge/muckrake, implying that good fathers will make the system work; “corruption” or exploitation may not be structural in origin, but solely the product of moral weakness, e.g., an immoderate will to power and greed or decadent effeminacy and narcissism (consumerism).  Conspirators make history; conspiracy theories have prestige among groups lacking political education.  How should we deal with their “paranoia”?  Indeed, I have been charged by both leftists and conservatives with conspiratorial thinking even where I demonstrate institutional sources of unethical behavior.  Such attempts to discredit destabilizing historical research are to be expected; it is a form of psychological warfare that may cause all of us to distrust our own perceptions, experiences, and educated sense of danger.  But there are real paranoids out there, and opportunistic radicals have indulged irrational fears and hatreds, for instance in their uncritical support of cultural nationalism and populism, indulging the petit-bourgeois radicalism which sees money or “finance capital” as the demonic enemy.

In my view, good history drives out bad.  I respect the suspicions of oppressed people by identifying real historical conspiracies, but attempt to locate them at least partly in institutional imperatives and constraints.  Biographies will often demonstrate the clash between values and behavior, not because of the predilection for lying or hypocrisy, but because of class allegiance and mixed-messages dispensed by societies resisting the transition to a creative democracy  (e.g., multiculturalism is a form of “indirect rule”: an attempt to conciliate lower-class demands for autonomy while maintaining élite control).

B. The production of hopelessness.  College professors, like all intellectuals, have a choice; they may choose topics for research that examine class institutions and reform movements, showing how industrial societies, unlike their predecessors, produce the conditions for their possible transcendence or improvement.  Or, as is more often the case, professors may attack the “hegemony” of philistine puritans, the bourgeois businessmen who supposedly control their careers with an iron fist.  The first approach produces winning tactics and reasonable time lines for change; the second produces cultural despair, has chosen the bleak world-view of the dispossessed aristocrat railing against the false optimism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.  The first approach emphasizes favorable conditions and possibilities for amelioration where they exist; the second dotes on human weakness, promotes dropping-out/ suicidal adventurism, ends with a sigh, in practice the passivity which only blesses the forces that are killing us. “Ah, Bartleby! Ah humanity!” and “God bless Captain Vere!”

C. Living with ambiguity and suspended judgments.  The condition of modernity is the unending search for truth, for an accurate description of ourselves and of the system (insofar as there is a single coherent system, which I doubt).  In my book, I called it Ahab’s “meandering railroad.” We inspect our closest attachments so that we may be less deluded about our own “pure” motives, desires for control, and other defenses against fear, anger, and rage.  It is a terrible thing to espouse radical politics for purposes of revenge, to mobilize others by stirring up traditional group hatreds.  I see no reason for any “democrat” to appeal to such emotions.  Marx’s irrational polemics stand in contrast to his ostensibly rational analysis of the capitalist system, to his compassionate account of the nightmare of tradition that burdens the brain of the living.  In my own experience, I have found that irrationally motivated radicals are identified by an attachment to labels: like conservative bureaucrats they want to file us in the proper drawers, the better to be manipulated, squashed if potentially “unmanageable” and “unpredictable.”

I doubt that I will ever be able conclusively to separate structure from agency, or pin Herman Melville or myself down.  What we are, where we were, where we are: these are portraits and maps that will more or less change as we revise and reconfigure the past and present, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly working ourselves out of primitive fantasies and defenses.  Hence we emphasize the dynamics of change (not Jungian archetypes) in an atmosphere of safety and trust.  These comments about the fluidity of perception should not be marshaled to relativize the objective conditions of social institutions.  Whether or not workers are exploited, whether or not ordinary people have access to quality education, health care, mass media and state secrets, whether or not citizens are consulted about the decisions that affect their lives, the existence or non-existence of corporal punishment and other cruelties in the family, can all be established as facts in the real world.  Without an exhaustive and accurate assessment of  institutions (and they may be anarchic and messily unpredictable), we cannot test and judge “authority” or choose between rival claims for love and friendship.

How then will such values be expressed in practice?  If we wish to understand people in motion or mired in apathy we avoid typing people as conservatives, radicals, and liberals or as moderates and extremists as if everyone knew what that meant, as if these words had timeless meanings, as if no one ever changed her mind.  People have describable imaginations, values, and interests that may be modified in changing circumstances; these should be specified concretely.  Similarly, the appropriation of good buzz words in particular moments of struggle should be described: concepts such as pacifism, balance, the people, multiplicity, diversity, relativism, pluralism, and democracy may be claimed by democrats and authoritarians alike.  For instance, socialists might be pacifists in August 1914; American Nazi-sympathizers might be pacifists in 1938; during the same period isolationist conservatives might have feared that international war would create the conditions for another civil war (like the Russian Revolution).

Ideal formats for alternative or oppositional media cannot be prescribed in a vacuum.  “Innovation” and “experimentation” are good or bad insofar as they attempt to promote critical, independent thought and heightened awareness of ourselves and our environments, no foible left unexamined, no nuance of thought or feeling unexpressed.  If our goal is self-management and informed consent to management by experts, then there is no mystery about what to do and how to do it.  We must first determine the condition and preconceptions of our audience in all its varying states of consciousness.

If “commercial” (i.e., jewishly contaminated) mass media present a more or less phony aura of objectivity, self-control, and sanity should we defiantly praise subjectivism, stridency, and irrationality as “radical?”  I believe the competition should be praised for positive achievements where they exist; where their coverage of personalities and events falters, we should fill in the gaps and reconfigure the problem, if necessary, calling attention to the greater freedom that listener-sponsorship makes possible.  If we are not more objective, self-possessed, and rational, more open and scientific, more historically and sociologically informed, more respectful of the audience, more completely descriptive than “mass culture” and “mass media,” then there is no legitimacy to our claim for moral superiority.

Warmth need not yield to stridency or manipulative charm; nor should we talk down to the audience.  We ask ourselves if our revolts are primitivist, ascetic and sadomasochistic, the desire to be punished or to humiliate others; we may be pandering to sadism and masochism in the audience through the endless parade of atrocities and bondage.  Our élitism is communicated through excessive secrecy, obscurantism, false modesty, reductiveness, snideness, sloganeering, slang and obscenity.  We have a beautiful, expressive language that is hardly used; instead as radicals, we punkishly use the speech of the street to exhibit our trustworthiness.  Whom are we fooling?

[Bernard Mandeville, The Sixth Dialogue from Fable of the Bees, Vol.2, Oxford U. Press, 1924, first publ. 1714:]

 Cleomenes.  The natural Ambition and strong Desire Men have to triumph over, as well as persuade others, are the occasion for all this [fiery oratory].  Heightning and lowring the Voice, at proper Seasons, is a bewitching Engine to captivate mean Understandings; and Loudness is an Assistant to Speech, as well as Action is: Uncorrectness, false Grammar, and even want of Sense, are often happily drown’d in Noise and great Bustle; and many an Argument has been convincing, that had all its Force from the Vehemence it was made with: The Weakness of the Language it self may be palliatively cured by the strength of Elocution.

Horatio. I am glad that speaking low is the Fashion among well-bred People in England; for Bawling and Impetuosity I cannot endure.

Cleo. Yet this latter is more natural; and no Man ever gave in to the contrary Practice, the Fashion you like, that was not taught it, either by Precept or Example: And if Men do not accustom themselves to it, whilst they are very young, it is very difficult to comply with afterwards: But it is the most lovely, as well as the most rational Piece of good Manners, that human Invention has yet to boast of in the Art of Flattery; for when a Man addresses himself to me in a calm manner without making Gestures, or other Motions with Head or Body, and continues his Discourse in the same submissive Strain and Composure of Voice, without exalting or depressing it, he, in the first place, displays his own Modesty and Humility in an agreeable manner; and, in the second, makes me a great Compliment, in the Opinion which he seems to have of me; for by such a Behavior he gives me the Pleasure to imagine, that he thinks me not influenc’d by my Passions, but altogether sway’d by my Reason: He seems to lay his Stress on my Judgment, and therefore to desire, that I should weigh and consider what he says, without being ruffled or disturbed: No Man would do this unless he trusted entirely to my good Sense, and the Rectitude of my Understanding…(291-292).  When a Man has only his Words to trust to, and the Hearer is not to be affected by the Delivery of them otherwise, that if he was to read them himself, it will infallibly put Men upon studying not only for nervous Thoughts and Perspicuity, but likewise for Words of great Energy, for Purity of Diction, Compactness of Style, and Fullness as well as Elegancy of Expressions (293).

The various cultures, institutions and social movements we encounter, like all human phenomena, are difficult, if not impossible, fully to comprehend: still we should be wary of simplistic calls for “complexity.”  Rather than a healthy respect for the difficulty of achieving precise and relatively complete accounts of our condition, such warnings (directed at “levellers”?) may mean that we can’t ever know what we are experiencing: events are just too over-determined, too individualized, too particularistic, too mystical, too mysterious.  What was Hayek saying about the “social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand”?  Was his statement descriptive of the present (1946), or was he saying that, given the limits of research into the motives and actions of others, at any period a Titanic, perhaps unfeasible project, the unfettered market offers the least coercive form of regulation and the most efficient and accurate marker of merit?  Shouldn’t “the Left” engage these and other libertarian arguments with an open mind? Is it not a sign of intellectual and moral weakness when opponents do not engage each other’s facts and programs, no holds barred? Can we say that either side of a debate is “scientific” when they do not engage?

Eloquence and sublimity are not achieved through bombast and obfuscation, but almost rush forth when we have mastered the precision and subtlety of language, when we care for others, as artists, giving them everything we’ve got, understanding suffering and sincerely striving to alleviate it.  In my own experience as a teacher and broadcaster, I have found that “ordinary” people–non-intellectuals–often ask for my assistance in illuminating the historical background of everyday problems; they appreciate being pushed a bit, they do not expect perfection from me or themselves, but self-criticism and progress.  I have succeeded when listeners and readers feel more confident in their own capacities to penetrate, comprehend and at least partially master reality.  Aristocratic radicals will scoff at such aspirations as the rotten odor of mechanical materialism.

Cultural cues are transparent when all the relevant conflicts are brought to conscious awareness; psychological warfare can be decoded and made as easy to read as comic books.  However, “prudence” and the defense of “expertise” forbid the direct, unpretentious communication of institutional or personal goals and operations.  “Two-way communication” is subtly authoritarian when we have not equal access to technology, facts, and skills; we have the microphone, they have the telephone.  We should not abuse our authority.  For instance “call-in” shows, like seminars, usually do not allow follow-up questions; hence may not identify areas of agreement, partial agreement or impasse.  Instead these interchanges sound like a play by Ionesco; the participants take turns speaking into the void.  To put it another way, program hosts ask for feedback from listeners, but do not necessarily act upon legitimate criticisms by self-examination or further research and reflection, nor do they often address the anxieties, rational and irrational alike, that have produced hostile responses.

Trust requires a prolonged period of testing through the individual and group processes of interactivity; this endless, boundless, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful process of testing authority, made meaningful through ongoing self-education and group education, is the distinctive feature of democratic institutions.

Notes: [1] Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Pyschological Warfare 1945-60 (Oxford U.P. 1994).

[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, 1937, reprinted in Gail Kennedy, ed., Evolution and Religion: The Conflict Between Science and Theology in Modern America (D.C. Heath, 1957): 94.

[3]  Roger L. Shinn, The Search for Identity: Essays on the American Character (New York: Harper & Row, for the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 1964), 2-3. Shinn is quoting from a Fromm essay of 1944 “Individual and Social Origins of Neurosis,” American Sociological Review Vol.9 [1944], pp.380-384, and reprinted in Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, editors (Knopf, 1948), 407. Shinn tips his hat to Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma, p. x, a theme taken up in the essay by Kyle Haselden, “Race–And The Divided American Soul,” 133-152. But Myrdal, under the influence of Ralph Bunche, described “the American Creed,” not group character. For this author, however, the American character is divided and marred. “…the racial problem more than any other single factor has been the crux of our history. …the clash of the white man and Negro in American society–has had more influence on developing American character than any other single factor.” Haselden blames white racism for its handling of a “racially different minority in the social structure.” (p.137) The author ends with an appeal to moderation, avoiding “Uncle Tomism on the one extreme and aggressive black nationalism on the other” (152).

The call for inclusion, balance and stability within a restored natural American character runs throughout. See Harold K. Schilling, “The Transforming Power of the Sciences,” 39-54. Religion, not science, should direct the future. Using Loren Eiseley’s term “lethal factor,” Schilling warns of the coming apocalypse: “Since science has taught us what nature is really like, and what it means to be “natural,” we now realize that with the arrival of man on earth, there appeared a disturbing, lethal factor that has somehow upset the balance, self-consistency and naturalness of nature. Sometime in his history man has succeeded in producing an ever more destructive black whirlpool that is threatening to drag both him and his world into the bottomless abyss of death and oblivion. (Italics in original, p.54.)

[4] 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 “cultural pluralism”).  See 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.

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