The Clare Spark Blog

July 2, 2015

Are secular societies devoid of “virtue”?

Rationalism defended by Nirmukta

Rationalism defended by Nirmukta

(This is the second of two blogs on the gay rights decision by SCOTUS this week.https://clarespark.com/2015/06/27/gay-marriage-and-what-liberty-signifies/)

I was stunned to read these lines in Dan Henninger’s weekly op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, July2, 2015: “In the North, on campuses and in sophisticated circles, we are rapidly becoming unchurched, secularized. Which raises a question: Where will a predominantly secularized society learn virtue?”

I should not have been shocked, for I am aware that WSJ, like Fox News, is run by the moderate men, whose ersatz moderation masks their organic conservatism. That is, they are not embarked on a search for truth, let alone virtue; rather, they want national unity (no matter how illusory): political stability and social cohesion above human rights and facts. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

The moderate men are thus aligned with the “ethical state,” a state that is antagonistic to the Enlightenment and its materialism and preference for individual human rights over group-think. According to these organic conservatives, mystical bonds unite warring factions, with the management of opinion-elites who scaled the Olympian heights by their discreet and mostly unseen, or deliberately hidden, stratagems.

There is no contradiction between secularism and virtue except in the minds of various hysterics. Secularism as understood by the US Constitution guarantees that there is to be no established religion.(I recall from my reading of the Federalist papers that God is mentioned only once.) This disturbs ultramontane Catholics and communists alike, for pluralism and individuality, like scientific evidence,* is damnable and a threat to aristocratic or bureaucratic leadership and their version of social control. Meanwhile, a few cranks fulfill the worst fantasies of ultraconservatives by Romantic identification with Satan, or by seeking to banish all religious artifacts from public spaces.

Such militant atheists are then deployed as weapons in the culture wars, distracting the public from pressing issues such as education reform, health reform, a high divorce rate, the real or imagined threat of climate change (a controversy that only science can solve), and foreign policy.

Here is how one Orthodox Rabbi suggested that we move on toward more pressing issues: https://www.facebook.com/RabbiShmuleyBoteach/videos/10153022077966089/.

It is my own view that the gay rights decision raises the dread specter of blurred gender identity, but that horse has already been beaten to death on this website. Artists will know what I mean.

*It is objectively true that we are interdependent with each other and with Nature.

Newton imagined by William Blake

Newton imagined by William Blake

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January 23, 2015

What is an organic conservative?

Gene  Wilder as young Frankenstein

Gene Wilder as young Frankenstein

I congratulated a well-known moderately conservative (?)journalist for bringing up “multiculturalism” as an obstacle to defeating jihadism. His response shocked me, for he declared that he was defending a “common culture” against the divisiveness of “multiculturalism.” Some organic conservatives (including “liberals”) will agree with admirers of Edmund Burke (in his Tory response to the French Revolution) and to Russell Kirk. For who does not long for “order” and a route to uniting divided families, polarized political parties, and the fragments of our memories and consciousness? The longed for “union” is glamorous, even glitzy.

Such responses, however, alarm me, for I had taken it for granted that this conservative journalist would prefer intellectual and religious pluralism/diversity to the implicit racialism that underlies the term “multiculturalism.” I don’t know if he sees the racialist underpinnings of the now hegemonic pseudo-solution to racism, one that was advanced by [covertly racist/German nationalist] German Romantics in the late 18th century to stave off the “mechanical materialism” they saw looming in the French Enlightenment. The French pox was an epistemology that led inexorably to worship of the Goddess of Reason that noted academics condemn today, irrationalist social democrats that they are, despising Jacobinism and its guillotine, you know, the guillotine that to the Gothic mentality resembles a printing press. (I am not nostalgic for Jacobins, but rather favor Condorcet, the Girondist, who was hounded to death by Jacobins.)

German printing press, 1811

German printing press, 1811

But America already has a common culture, and we didn’t need Edmund Burke to invent it, nor the Frankenstein monster to scare us half to death. That common culture is embodied in the social contract that separates church and state, and that guarantees the freedoms in the First and subsequent Amendments to the Constitution, not to speak of the property rights that enable economic growth and equal opportunity. Indeed, the very structure of the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, its separation of powers, enables us to agree to disagree. For conflict is normal and productive, unlike the dogma of “tradition” (unless that tradition favors literacy, numeracy, skepticism and close reading of texts). (Perhaps that is what the conservative journalist meant by a “common culture.” I sent him this blog and he agrees with me: his notion of a common culture is “secular and civic” and he firmly stands behind the First Amendment.)

Standing apart from these vanguard institutions are the dragons devised to scare us by less attractive conservatives like Mary Shelley, the author of the timeless Gothic thriller, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Her message, typical of all reactionaries, is reiterated in the popular Showtime series Penny Dreadful, where Victor Frankenstein is an actual character intended to remind us that the evil within us is too powerful to achieve the goals of the American and French Revolutions with respect to human rights. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

It is not only far-Right conservatives who prefer the Terror-Gothic style of social organization, wherein mystical bonds are the source of social cohesion, not the rule of law and individual human rights, including property rights. Social democrats and even revolutionary socialists are just as eager to resuscitate Edmund Burke when it suits them. (On Edmund Burke’s frantic response to the French Revolution, inverting freedom and obedience, see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/.)

Consider the abandonment of class or gender interest as an analytic category by today’s academic leftists. Gone with the wind are the days when revolutionary socialists forbade any social analysis that ignored “class struggle.” We are all multiculturalists now, Trotskyists and Stalinists alike. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. Underneath that shift to social democratic tactics is organicism brought about by the worship of the administrative state, the one that brought us permanent divisiveness and opened the gates to barbarian hordes.

All we fallen angels have to look forward to is the apocalypse. Goodbye Areopagitica; goodbye Paradise Lost. When I was a small child, I made a crayon drawing of a “happy harem girl” lacking sharp elbows. Perhaps I was more clairvoyant than Clare Spark.

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

April 29, 2012

Fred Siegel’s melodrama of 20th C. cultural history

Fred Siegel of Manhattan Institute

The April 2012 issue of Commentary features an article by Fred Siegel, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/how-highbrows-killed-culture/#.T5mYHo0AEuZ.facebook. (See his mini-bio here: http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/siegel.htm). The essay is illustrated with a picture of Sir Lawrence Olivier as the diabolical King Richard III.* Originally a lecture delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, the essay has been featured on Facebook, and is highly recommended by John Podhoretz and Richard Miniter.

The chief villains in Siegel’s piece are a motley crew of intellectuals who ostensibly spurned “mass culture” and “mass man”: Nietzsche, the Frankfurt School critical theorists (he mentions Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse), Ortega y Gasset, Dwight MacDonald, Aldous Huxley, H. L. Mencken, the disillusioned authors of the 1920s (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Waldo Frank, Sherwood Anderson). Siegel’s positive models are few, but include Robert M. Hutchins, T.S. Eliot, and apparently himself, as one who would rescue “middlebrow” taste and  “American” culture from its hatchet men. Presumably this rectified “mass culture” is the best defense against leftist and liberal statism and elitism. (Using the word “rectified” was a Marcel Duchamp joke, readers.)

Siegel, seizing the populist moment, perhaps, wants to rehabilitate the middle class and its cultural preferences away from European-friendly snobs, Western Marxists (i.e., the Frankfurters), Trotskyists, and New Leftists too. How he manages to upgrade organic conservatives such as Hutchins and Eliot to his camp is a mystery, for Hutchins was a leader in the semi-public move toward elite rule, relying for instance on Plato, no friend to the masses. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/, https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/ .  Hutchins and his cohort of “moderate men” were frank and public manipulators of the masses Siegel says he wants to protect, while Eliot abhorred “free thinking Jews” (1933) as well as the decadence they brought to the modern world, e.g. “damp souls of housemaids” in his “Morning at the Window” (1920).

I have been thinking how to transmit my horror upon reading this type of “cultural” history. There have been other such essays and books purporting to give the reader a cultural or intellectual history of the 20th century, similarly detached from politics, economics, social movements, divergent ideological/class tendencies, and the ongoing controversies over the causes of wars and mass death. For these “culturalist” authors, “ideas” or “philosophy” are the very engines of history, and anyone who protests such a narrow view is ipso facto a “historical materialist,” i.e., a communist or fellow traveler: I am not one of this dragon crew.

There is simply no way to describe “culture” in a vacuum. It is the same problem that I have found in other culture war manifestoes. The organic conservatives (like the apparently “moderate” Siegel) ignore all of history since the invention of the printing press. (For a summary of elite moves against autodidacts see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/11/review-excerpts-re-hunting-captain-ahab/, especially the “letter to the editor” that explains why non-literary critics should read my book.) Without examining constant offensives against the newly literate and numerate, there can be no “cultural history.” That would entail, pace Siegel, a grander sweep than he has attempted. Since the Reformation, elites threatened with displacement have drenched ordinary people with counter-revolutionary, irrationalist propaganda, whether this takes place in the realm of language, or ongoing debates about human nature, or the Promethean impulse (always a bad thing for fact-hoarding elites), or what is or is not fascism.

To summarize, readers and other consumers of “culture” want to know (or should want to know) what they are experiencing. They (should) want to know who made this or that artifact (including her or his biography), who paid for it, what it is saying about past and present conflict (for instance, the range of permissible emotions, disobedience to authority or the role of Church and State in everyday life). Whereas organic conservatives are interested in none of the above. They value social cohesion/stability over the search for truth, and trot out their celebrities or institutions du jour to guide the autodidact away from the abyss they most fear:  rupture with the past—a past that is irrationalist to its very core, that makes objective reality a phantasm pursued only by monomaniacs.

Fred Siegel wants to be a friend to mass man, and to the middle class consumer of masscult. Yet he does not respect the very tools that ordinary people have developed, against the wishes of their betters, critical tools such as science and empiricism that point the way to understanding past and present.

*Siegel actually praises the large audience for the television presentation of Richard III, as part of his defense of 1950s popular culture, but the deployment of Richard III’s face by Commentary suggests a group assassination to me. And where oh where is John Milton and Paradise Lost? It was once the case that Shakespeare and Milton were paired as the leading voices in English poetry, but Milton, the puritan whose “Satan” “traced the ways of highest agents,”  and, with Eve, purveyor of the Fortunate Fall, is nowhere to be found in the new dispensation.

July 17, 2011

Literary criticism, Ravitch variant

John Martin’s Satan in Council, the engraving owned by Melville

[Before you read this, see https://clarespark.com/2011/05/28/who-is-a-racist-now-2/, retitled “Diane Ravitch and the higher moderation.”]

Here is a quote from Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police (Knopf, 2003). She writes “Most state standards say that literature is to be read by students for a social or political message, as though every poem or novel is meant to be a social or political commentary rather than an expression of the writer’s emotional, spiritual, or aesthetic concerns…The study of literature as knowledge and as art is either missing from the standards or has been supplanted by utilitarian concerns.” (p.124)

Such statements make me tear my hair. Every author, no matter the subject matter, is situated in some particular relationship with the dominant cultural and political trends of a specific historical context; they may affirm or reject dominant values, but they do not stand above the fray, with the affected neutrality of state-appointed mediators. If a writer’s book or poem is heavily influenced by a previous author from a different period, as, say, Melville was responding to Milton’s Paradise Lost in Moby-Dick, it is not because of aesthetics alone, but because a certain unresolved philosophical issue remains current and problematic to Melville. In his case, it was the matter of moral accountability and the limits of human agency: were his actions predestined or chosen freely? The question of moral action could not have been more relevant to the period of composition for Moby-Dick: the slavery question was already dividing the Republic, along with Melville’s own family as the decades wore on. And then there is the issue of patronage, irrelevant to Ravitch’s declaration of war against extra-aesthetic or extra-“literary” readings. In the case of Melville, writing his Supplement to Battle-Pieces during the intial year of Reconstruction, patronage was everything, for his support group was entirely conservative Democratic (though a very few of his relatives stood with the Radical Republicans like Sumner and Stevens, but the sprinkling of “radicals” did not affect his pocketbook; see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/).

Ravitch is complaining about bowdlerization and abridgment as perpetrated by “puritan” “perfectionists” of both Left and Right, and I am with her as she complains about pervasive censorship in textbooks and speech codes. But to throw in this plea for literariness is reactionary, but it does line her up with the moderates I dissected here: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/. So, in spite of her oeuvre standing athwart the general protocols of moderate progressives,* Ravitch is revealed as an organic conservative, unwilling to open literary texts to students, not matter  how much she may complain about the language police,  heading her chapters with epigraphs from George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. She has her own axe to grind, and it doesn’t serve young readers, though she would like to introduce them to our “common humanity,” speaking to us today across the vast reaches of “time and space.”

What are the implications for teachers of English or any other language that delves into the literary inheritance? It is impossible to teach literature as an artifact plucked from history and held up to scrutiny in the classroom, wiped clean of its historical referents. Teachers at every level need to be well-grounded in the humanities, with an understanding of competing ideologies at the time of the artwork’s production. It is hard to find such persons today, for the Left has captured the relevant terrain.  Will classical liberals meet that challenge and develop their own objective, courageously analytic approach to the teaching of our literary and cultural heritage? Or will it abandon the field to censors from the Left, Right, or Middle? How will they teach Milton’s Paradise Lost, if at all, for it remains one of the seminal texts of modernity. For most of the 20th century, Melville’s annotations to Book IX, approving of some of Satan’s arguments in the seduction of Eve, remained sequestered from scholarly and public eyes. These lines had to do with the accountability of rulers to the ruled, as viewed by a radical puritan, as Milton undoubtedly was. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/; some of Melville’s annotations to Paradise Lost are described at the bottom of the blog.)

Now teaching kids about that controversy would be a blow for artists and everyone else.

*Compare to this statement on p.163: ” The schools should be the great agencies of social and intellectual equality. This they cannot be unless they can give all children access to great literature and teach them the joy of reading. Reading is the key to future success; it builds vocabulary, it enriches the imagination, it opens new worlds. …What literature offers is a common denominator for understanding human experience; it allows human beings to recognize one another across time and space.” These are the banalities of the progressive movement: the religion of humanity (a kind of leveling and internationalism) has removed the stark differences of people in societies that do not allow dissent or the development of individual rights with those democratic republics that do encourage individuation, innovation, and critical thought. Although Ravitch is hostile to Gary Nash’s notion of European, Amerindian and African convergence in colonial America, she has her own version of community. It is a distinction without a difference.

June 2, 2011

The Mass Culture Problem

There is a Humanities-Net list devoted to the period between 1918-1945 that has been discussing modernity, mass culture, and assimilation. For some, “nativists” are viewed as perpetrators of racism.  I started a glossary to see if we could come to agreement on the terms we used in debating this premise.

Public library luring readers with Captain Ahab "sea food"

Modernity: some  scholars start it with the age of expansion. I see modernity as starting with the Reformation, nascent capitalism in England on the land and then in finance, the invention of the printing press and growing mass literacy and numeracy, the Scientific Revolution, then the  speedup in industrialization, long distance transportation, and the settling of great cities in the West. Other scholars prefer to start with expansionism/imperialism alone. When the postmodernists seemingly burst upon the scene, I noted that there was little agreement about when modernism began or ended. Some seemed to be irrationalists echoing the
widespread horror at the casualties of the Great War.

Racism: Recent scholars have frequently erased “class” by collapsing it into “race” or “ethnicity.” Scientific racism and the intertwined notion of national character is best traced to the German Romantics of the late 18th century, following Herder. I blogged about the latter and others here:

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism,
also https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.

Race” as a concept that predicts mental and other psychological characteristics was challenged in the mid-1930s, as was “ethnicity” insofar as these were held to be predictors of character, as opposed to physical variations within one species. It is my view that “antiracists”today use a racialist discourse while disavowing “racism.”

Assimilation:  the Left in general interprets this as adjusting to ugly nativism, and the nativists are supposedly chauvinistic believers in “American exceptionalism” by which they supposedly agree that America is the greatest country in the history of the world, based upon American military power. It is my view that assimilation in America requires no more than learning the customary language and obeying the laws of the land, by which I mean internalizing the novel idea of equality before the law and limited government. (It is true that the quietism of immigrant ancestors may cause rifts in families.)  As for “American exceptionalism” it once referred to “careers open to the talents” as opposed to a rigid class and caste society. America, lacking a hereditary aristocracy, was the land of upward mobility for all, and after the civil rights movement and the laws that followed, such mobility was offered to the descendants of slaves and even women.

Secularism: many cultural historians characterize the modern world as primarily “secular”.  This term is hotly contested in the culture wars.  “Traditionalists” abhor “secularists” who, they believe, have opened the flood gates of diabolism, degeneracy and every type of “unrest.”  The traditionalists insist that no separation between Church and State was intended by the Founding Fathers, who believed in America’s Providential mission. It is my position that religious and intellectual pluralism were institutionalized in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The culture war positions point to the unfinished revolutions, about which I wrote here:  https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/.

Organic conservatives:  These persons tend to reject the “anomie” of the modern world, also the notion of irreconcilable conflicts between persons,  nation-states, religions, and so on. They prefer social models, either state-imposed or religious, that unite warring factions or individuals through mystical bonds, not congruent material interests. Examples are the Catholic essayists de Maistre and  Bonald after the French Revolution.  But many of the corporatist liberals (i.e., conservative reformers of the New Deal) also posit mystical bonds of blood and soil. Here are to be found the ethnic nationalists and some regionalists.

Organic conservatives may be found throughout the political spectrum. They are not to be confused with libertarians, who tend to be materialists, and expect competing (free) markets to produce social well-being and a rising standard of living for all. The dread homo economicus is described here: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

Mass Culture: This is a term much used by the Frankfurt School critical theorists, who, as I have shown elsewhere on this website, attribute Hitler’s appeal to “the revolt of the masses” in tandem with the one-sidedness of an increasingly technological society and a Kafka-esque bureaucracy. They blame the Enlightenment for the Holocaust. I reject both their counter-Enlightenment views and their explanation for the rise of Hitler, which is a culturalist one only, and is historically inadequate to explain such a multi-faceted phenomenon. Modernity and “consumerism” are seen by the critical theorists (Frankfurters) as bourgeoisifying a social class that should be transcending capitalism and bringing in a form of libertarian socialism. These refugees from Germany were linked to left-liberals who themselves did sykewar for the Roosevelt administration and its social psychologist allies. There is a related category: mass politics, which signifies the type of log cabin politics initiated by the administration of Andrew Jackson. Mass politics are said by left-wing academics to have replaced “the politics of deference” and the rule of the best families. Hence the novel catering to “public opinion” in our political culture, and the fascination with propaganda as the primary mover of political choice.

[Added 6-3-11:] Don’t miss the two interesting comments by CatoRenasci below. Read #3 first, then #1.

February 10, 2011

“Multiculturalism”: cui bono?

David Cameron

I have seen numerous cable news reports of British P. M. David Cameron’s recent speech in Munich, where he spoke about “multiculturalism” as failed social policy, thus joining Angela Merkel as a critic of MC.  No one in the major media, to my knowledge, understands the origin and application of this doctrine, although it is the chief sales point of many a progressive private school, and indeed, it is the ruling ideology in the U.S., though both Marxists and conservatives grumble.  I wrote about its origins at length here: http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. But to answer the question I posed above, who benefits, I can enumerate those who have triumphed in imposing MC:

1. Social democrats who smashed the red specter of proletarian internationalism that haunted Europe after the French Revolution and the various smaller revolutions that followed. The social democratic claim was that ethnicity trumped class solidarity in the hearts of the people. In countries such as the U.S. where a flood of immigrants threatened WASP hegemony, the melting pot ideal of the new amalgamated, innovative, culturally syncretic American was smothered by “cultural pluralism” and hyphenated Americanism as advanced by such as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen. Ethnicity or “race” displaced “class” as an analytic category, though the Depression years saw a resurgence of class analysis, making late 1930s progressives very nervous about another depression that would surely follow demobilization after the looming  second world war. Et voila, the Carnegie Corporation fretted about the “American Dilemma,” with Gunnar Myrdal attacking Ralph Bunche’s  “economic determinism” in the pages of that landmark book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (1944).

2. Upwardly mobile non-white petit-bourgeois intellectuals. In the move toward separate ethnic studies programs after the urban riots of the mid to late 1960s, college administrators leapt at the opportunity to pacify the restless natives. MC asserted that “cultural diversity” was a great thing for everyone, enriching even, and that if you were a person of color, only other persons of color in your particular group understood your unique and untranslatable “experience”. Under these conditions, ancient and recent wrongs would be righted, and “deracinated” blacks, browns, and reds (Native Americans), and sometimes even yellows, would set down roots and arm themselves to resist the depredations of the white male oppressor. Job opportunities burgeoned for would-be academics from the correctly hyphenated community of color. (I.e., only an African-American can teach African-American Studies.)

3. Terrorists (home-grown).  The constant reiteration of Amerika as a tainted, evil country, with no boundaries between past and present,  provides the moral justification for destroying the entire entity.

     So when P.M. David Cameron and various journalists deplore ghettoes that prevent assimilation to a presumably more coherent [British] “national identity” they are not misdescribing reality (though jihadists are the issue, not westernized Muslims, though there is disagreement even on this issue: see http://www.meforum.org/3053/radical-islamist-muslims). Where the pundits fail is in ignoring distinctions between liberal nationalism (Gesellschaft) and conservative, integral nationalism (Gemeinschaft). I.e., they do not sufficiently define their terms.  Charles Sumner prescribed liberal nationalism during the mid-19th century as follows: the overarching federal government, as a republic, protects its citizens from invasion and protects their civil rights, including property rights (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/). But there was a competing notion of “identity” derived first from German Romanticism and then carried forth in the organic conservatism beloved in the American South before and after the Civil War, and by the advocates of MC today as they deploy magical notions of “community” or the utterly invented and absurd idea of Zeitgeist (the spirit of the age or Volk, a spirit, indeed).

What is lost is the notion of the free-standing individual, possessed of an education that prepared her to criticize proposed social policies and their advocates. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/09/vox-populi-vox-big-brother/.) What is also lost is the ongoing debate about markets: their wealth-creating potential, or conversely, their regulation, limitation, or abolition. (I am of the belief that markets are wealth-creators and that every anti-modern, anti-science initiative is a descent into possibly irreparable poverty and strife. Multiculturalism is anti-science and anti-modern.)

August 15, 2010

Nazis exhibit Der ewige Jude, 1937

Jullius Streicher’s rage

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/.]

On November 8, 1937, the Nazis opened a Fair in the German Museum at Munich to commemorate the fourteenth anniversary of The Beer-Hall Putsch.  The show was entitled Der ewige Jude (variously translated as “The Wandering Jew” or “The Eternal Jew” in British and American newspapers).  In his study of British press coverage of Nazism, Andrew Sharf complained that Der ewige Jude had been incorrectly regarded by journalists “as yet another nasty aberration,” not as a sign of mainstream Nazi malice.  Sharf further noted that the Manchester Guardian was one of the few British newspapers to transmit the organizers’ declared intention: “the exhibition is educational in purpose and will show particularly why it was necessary to introduce the Nuremburg laws.”  Sharf thought that the Times had erred in their translation of the title:

” It is surprising that [they used “The Wandering Jew” instead of “The Eternal Jew”].  Can it have been due to the subconscious belief that an adjective so expressive of antiquity as the latter could scarcely have borne a derogatory meaning–even for the Nazis?”   [1]

Sharf is instructively wrong on this point.  There is no positive myth of “The Eternal Jew” contrasting with the negative image of “The Wandering Jew” as Sharf implies.  No European myth is benign or even neutral with regard to Jews or to the liberal values that Sharf wants to defend, nor can it be otherwise.  All Jews, including the “eternal” ones, are “bad”; the antithesis of Christian and Jew corresponds to the antipodes of Christian [organic] conservatism* and Jewish [classical] liberalism: (heartfelt) mysticism and (heartless) science, trust and withering skepticism, loyalty and betrayal, community and mob, busy bee and parasite, garden and wasteland.  “Good Jews” like Lessing’s Nathan the Wise, Cumberland’s Sheva, Walker’s Schechem, and Dickens’ Riah who appeared in the humanitarian literature of the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century were good only because they were more Christian than the bourgeois Christians who were behaving like Shylock and Fagin; capitalism purged of its Judas red-beards would presumably lose its heartless and exploitative character.  Christian landlords would never evict a tenant, Christian bankers would never foreclose a mortgage: this demented idea is fundamental to the völkisch revolution of Nazism,[2] but was not their invention.  Nazi anti-Semitism, then, was only partly about the considerable material advantages in expropriating Jewish property and expelling Jewish rivals: Nazis, to maintain their credibility as redeemers and protectors, would have to plunge a stake in the heart of the “demon Thought” (to use Byron’s expression).  For the antifascist critical mind is not found in a guilt-ridden Adam shrinking from conflict with illegitimate authority or from the perception of other irreconcilable conflicts.  Instead, the anti-Semitic/ anti-intellectual mind anxiously mystifies structural antagonisms by positing (an unattainable) harmony as “normal.”  Brandishing images of solidarity, the fascist bonds people only to “romance” in a false utopia necessarily maintained through deceit, terror and catharsis.

“Moderate” conservatives (including some Jews) have disabled themselves and their readers by discarding the tools of Enlightenment to embrace the myth of American classlessness: the “Holocaust” becomes strangely inexplicable: Germans are alien, irrational and muddled, to be sharply contrasted with the tolerant, rational Western democracies.  Take the following critical remarks of a revered figure in American Jewish history, describing the peculiarities of German anti-Semitism:

“The Jew could be represented as the embodiment of everything to be resented, feared, and despised.  He was a carrier of bolshevism, but curiously enough, he simultaneously stood for the liberal spirit of rotten western democracy.  Economically, he was both capitalist and socialist.  He was blamed as the indolent pacifist, but, by strange coincidence, he was also the eternal instigator to wars.”

Writing in 1946, Max Weinreich, Research Director of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, was agonized but unable to account for the historical record [Weinreich, 28]: How odd it all seemed that Germans could conflate capitalists and socialists.  Yet any streetwise empiricist could have told him that the eighteenth-century bourgeoisie brought forth a new class, the industrial proletariat; like its parent, arguing for emancipation in a discourse of natural rights; that the endlessly reproduced forgery of “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” had warned that Jewish agitators would dupe the suffering masses into throwing off their nationalist masters, only to deliver their victims to the newer and more deadly tyranny of finance capital or “the international Jew.”  In other words, [classical] liberalism was a confidence-game: scabrous Jewish “socialists” concealed their loyalty to one great poison spider.  In the antidemocratic, antimodern discourse of organic conservatives, the newly literate “lower orders” were bludgeoned with images of hypercritical Moral Mothers or greedy Rothschilds or Frankensteins or femmes fatales: they are versions of Eve big with Cain or Prometheus: versions of the modern bourgeoisie tied to its monstrous birth, tugged and tugging around the globe.  It is hard work not to see this.

Here and elsewhere on this website I compare the discourses of the “moderate men” who revived “Melville” with the European and American “moderates” (in all political factions) who paved the way for the rise of Hitler, and who today cannot or will not explain fascism (or corporatist liberalism) as a rational response to democratic social movements and the Universal Reason which classical liberals (but not corporatist liberals[3]) defend.  Instead, as we shall see, the “moderates” have delivered a history of Nazism that, while exculpating high Western culture, blames the moby-sentimental culture of the lower-middle class (including authoritarian workers) for both fascism and “the Holocaust”:  Hitler (like Ahab) is Poe’s “Man of the Crowd”; the feminized Byronic figure who bears the stigmata of “mass culture.”  In the struggle between Nazis and “the West,” however, romantic fascists and classicizing conservatives were not pitted against each other, as many “liberals” argue: rather, the battle, one that rages still, is between rival Appollonians, each faction claiming to be the sole legatee of science and Enlightenment.  Each side champions critical, independent thought; each side depicts its rival as “the shadow” bringing cancer (the lethal disease that initially masks its alien character to its fellow cells) to the body politic.[4]

[Dr. C.G. Jung diagnoses wasteland maladies, 1946:] As I said before, the upheaval of mass instincts corresponds to a compensatory move of the unconscious.  Such a move became possible because the conscious state of the people had become estranged from the natural laws of human existence.  Because of industrialization, large parts of the population became uprooted, and they were herded together in large centres.  And because of this new form of existence–with its mass psychology and its social dependence upon the fluctuations of markets and wages, an individual was created who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible…Germany…is by no means the only nation threatened by this dangerous germ.  The influence of mass psychology has spread far and wide.  It was the individual’s feeling of weakness, and indeed of non-existence, which was compensated by the upheaval of hitherto unknown desires for power…Nothing but materialism was preached by the highest intellectual authority….Hitler…was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities.  He was a highly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic individual, full of empty childish fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or guttersnipe.  He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this is another reason why they fell for him.[5]

The Christian legend of the Wandering Jew framed a Nazi multi-media event because Julius Streicher, chief organizer of Der ewige Jude, had correctly identified the time-tested bedtime story that puts the (hypercritical Jewish) mind to sleep: the preferred social theory for stress-managers seeking to distinguish their materialism and order from the chaos-producing delusions of “the Jews”: Jewish carnality, legalism, blindness and bigotry.  Like their Christian predecessors, (pagan) Nazis defined themselves against Jewish arch-refusers and murderers of the Good Father.[6] Nazis would expose ruthless, rootless cosmopolitans and coin-clippers to protect gentle, rooted, and upright workers and peasants from the deceptions of the confidence-men.  Julius Streicher, the martyred, peace-loving good father invited German children to avenge and rescue him before the next onslaught of Jewish sadism and murder.  Raul Hilberg quotes from “a typical Streicher speech to the Hitler youth” of June 22, 1935:

[Streicher:]     “Boys and girls, look back to a little more than ten years ago.  A war–the World War–had whirled over the peoples of the earth and had left in the end a heap of ruins.  Only one people remained victorious in this dreadful war, a people of whom Christ said its father is the devil.  That people had ruined the German nation in body and soul…[The rise of Hitler meant] the human race might be free again from this people which has wandered about the world for centuries and millenia, marked with the sign of Cain.

Boys and girls, even if the people say that the Jews were once the chosen people, do not believe it, but believe us when we say that the Jews are not a chosen people.  Because it cannot be that a chosen people should act among the peoples as the Jews do today.

A chosen people does not go into the world to make others work for them, to suck blood.  It does not go among the peoples to chase the peasants from the land.  It does not go among the people to make your fathers poor and drive them to despair.  A chosen people does not slay and torture animals to death.  A chosen people does not live by the sweat of others.  A chosen people joins the ranks of those who live because they work.  Don’t you ever forget that.

Boys and girls, for you we went to prison.  For you we have always suffered.  For you we had to accept mockery and insult, and became fighters against the Jewish people, against that organized body of world criminals, against whom already Christ had fought, the greatest anti-Semite of all times.” [7]

In the same issue of The New York Times that mocked “the exposition on the Eternal Jew” (11/9/37, 15), a front-page story datelined October 8, Berlin, reported that chaplains in the armed forces had warned the government that as a result of Nazi antichristian policies “the nation as a whole is now divided into two opposing camps.”  The people would fight for Germany, the chaplains predicted, but “with little confidence in their leaders.” This apparent legitimacy crisis (surely part of an ongoing need to promote the Nazis as the true humanitarians against the rival claims of both Christians and Jews) is part of the context in which we might consider the (public)[8] unleashing of Julius Streicher.  In George Mosse’s opinion, Streicher (who had been forced to withdraw his May 1934 Der Stürmer, a special issue on the blood libel or ritual murder) had initially been viewed as harmful to the “respectable” image of the Nazis.[9] Writing in the same vein, Robert Wistrich believes that conservative nationalists made distinctions between good and bad Jews: After their accession to power in 1933, Nazis were somewhat checked by the coalition with Hugenberg, von Papen, von Neurath and Schact (who would be ousted in the late 1930s, and who believed that radical anti-Semites should be curbed by Hitler to protect “useful” Jews).[10]

Although the headline in The New York Times wryly noted that Streicher was “twitted” by Goebbels after his opening speech at the 1937 festivities,[11] Streicher was no common pornographer or cranky extremist; he had already joined the ranks of those American and European Social Darwinist cultural historians, anthropologists, moralists and purity reformers who designed expositions and museums to uplift the masses and promote progress through science and technology. [12] And like his predecessors in the exposition and museum worlds, Streicher’s objective was avowedly eleemosynary: by annexing the well-worn and venerable Christian myth of the Wandering Jew, a story long accorded respectful treatment by European “greats,” perhaps Streicher thought he could demonstrate to nervous Germans that Jews were never “useful,” and that Jews, not Nazis, were the divisive forces, parasites and decadents hindering the blossoming of the “people’s community.”

Julius Streicher and other curators barraged audiences with “historical material”[13] while at the gala opening ceremonies, actors buttressed “the moral of the exposition” with the testimony of Luther, Bismarck, Goethe, Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg and an abridged Merchant of Venice to prove that Jewish dirt was fatal to blood everywhere, that a race of Shylocks would never be satisfied until it had extracted its pound of flesh.  The contemporary press reports of “Der ewige Jude” I have found in English give only tantalizing glimpses of Streicher’s X-rated method of adult education in physiognomy and prophecy:

[Press clips follow:]  Twenty rooms of the exhibition show “Jewish” noses, ears and lips a foot wide.  A wall is hung with immense photographs of Charlie Chaplin, Max Baer…Mr. Litvinoff, Stavisky, and others, with inscriptions like “Are these Englishmen, Americans, &c.?  No, Jews.”  In one room reserved for the foreign press is a huge poster reading, “How the English press is directed by Jews.”  Another room shows a replica of a Masonic lodge.  Only adults are admitted to the exhibition. [Manchester Guardian, Nov. 9, 1937, 14].

Jews who have contributed to Germany’s fame and prestige and to the service of humanity are pilloried, among them Heine, Mendelssohn, Borne, Einstein, Walter Rathenau, and Albert Ballin. [The [London] Times, Nov. 9, 1937, 15].

Julius Streicher, Nazi anti-Semitic leader, opened the exposition on “the Eternal Jew” here today with the statement that Jews are “children of the Devil” and with a threat “to bring to an end the reputation of eternal life possessed by this race of world criminals.”  The democratic form of government, which Herr Streicher also regards as criminal, he attributes to Jewish influence….The exposition contains historical material and citations from the Talmud and other works designed to prove that Jews are instructed to cheat and murder their non-Jewish neighbors. [New York Times].

[Julius Streicher, “the notorious Jew-baiter”:]  The Jew is a mongrel race mixed with the blood of Negroes, Mongols, and Nordic people.  They are the incorporation of the sin against the blood and destined never to work creatively.  The Jewish people at all times were the destroyers of good….Bolshevism is the most brutal revelation of this Jewish desire to rule the world. [Manchester Guardian].

The Times account (like the New York Times) played off the extremist Streicher against the moderate and gentlemanly Dr. Goebbels, whose blood curdled upon viewing a film “showing the Jewish method of ritual slaughter,” but who nevertheless reassured the 3,000 present (including leading Party men) that “the exhibition was not a ‘demagogic or propaganda one,’ but if they as Nazis, and consequently as anti-Semites were to bring together all the material they had against the Jews, this, he thought, would be rendering the world a service.”  The reporter did not measure the full extent of Nazi beneficence, particularly in Streicher’s inspired grasp of the demand for euthanasia latent in the myth of the romantic Wandering Jew, the guilty victim who would prefer to be put out of his misery: Nazis would have preferred not to have done it, as one S.S. Officer testified at Nuremburg:

Q. Do you wish to say that they (i.e., Jewish victims) soon reconciled themselves to what awaited them?  A. That is how it was.  For them it was as if human life had no value.  Those people either had some experience of their own or did not recognize their own inner values.  Q. In other words, they went to their deaths joyfully?  A. I would not say “joyfully.”  They knew what awaited them.  They had been told.  They reconciled themselves to their fate.  That is the peculiar character of those people in the east.  I would say that the nerves of men who took part were torn to pieces.  They were more depressed than those who had been condemned to be shot.” [14]

Ahasverus (or Cartaphilus), the Wandering Jew, the shoemaker who cruelly refused Christ, had been condemned by Him to wander the earth until the Second Coming, to “Tarry till I come.”  The story of Ahasverus (resonant with both the Christian myth of the repentant Adam [15] and with the ambivalent representation of Cain in early Jewish thought [16]), had been recruited to the side of order since the thirteenth century (and especially after the Reformation): the repentant Wandering Jew was the witness to the historical fact of the Incarnation and an implicit reproach to lower-class religious skepticism and obduracy.[17] After the French Revolution, the French poor associated the Church with reaction and applauded both Napoleon and the Wandering Jew, now a defiant hammer-swinging little man (and once again the unregenerate Cain), the bearer of political liberty and its associated artisanal or proletarian anti-clericalism and rationalism.[18] Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, later Yeats) identified ambivalently with the Wandering Jew, the fully feeling, fully thinking adolescent Self, an incorruptible independent creature who would never yield to the duplicities of the Fathers, who would never sell out.[19] Writing in the mid-1840s, and synthesizing the opposed variants of the myth, the popular novelist and conservative reformer Eugène Sue made the Wandering Jew and the Wandering Jewess symbols for the oppression of labor and of women, but the Wandering Jew brought cholera in his wake, moulded everything he touched and longed for death.  By the 1920s and 30s, the Wandering Jew symbolized not only the dispersal, endurance and passive (yet threatening) character of the Jewish people, but the alienation of the modern artist,[20] indeed of modern man; for James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, Bloom was the “victim predestined”: immolated, consenting, sad, still, silent.  It is fitting that on July 19, 1937, four months preceding the appearance of Der ewige Jude in Munich, the infamous exhibition of Degenerate Art (timed to coincide with the Great German Art Exhibition) signaled the death throes of modernism in the Third Reich.

Melville scholars have rarely seen the Ahab/Cain/Wandering Jew connection.[21] They are aware, however, that Benito Cereno and Billy Budd were translated into German and published in 1938, that Nazi censors accepted these stories into the House whose visual arts were judenrein–purged of cultural Bolshevist cubism, expressionism and Dada–the House that sponsored heroic vitalism [Grosshans, 1983], and that refused “problematic and unfinished work” [Hinz, 1979, 9]; furthermore Melvilleans have been told by Charlotte Mangold that Frederich Schönemann, an American Studies scholar at the University of Berlin and director of the first Melville dissertation in Germany), was a German patriot hostile to United States democracy.[22] Nevertheless, Mangold’s disturbing opinions and research, like Melville’s Jewish problem, have generally been evaded, denied, minimized, or misunderstood, perhaps for the very good and simple and obvious reason that “the Melville problem” is “the Jewish problem,” indeed, as Julius Streicher made emphatic, “democracy” (i.e., America) is the Jewish problem.

For the conservative narrator of Clarel, Hebrew fanaticism was carried in the Judaised Christian Nathan’s Puritan blood; I suspect that Melville identified with all his brainy Jewish characters and Wandering Jews (including Ahab, Isabel, Margoth, Nathan, and Mortmain) but postwar cultural politics must have made it nearly impossible to mention, let alone analyze, Melville’s Jews.  The Melville scholars are not uniquely weak or cowardly; rather, we are dealing with a cultural taboo: thou shalt not make comparisons between the structures and cultures of “the western democracies” with Nazi or Stalinist “totalitarianism” lest thou exude the odour of pushy and meddling atypical English radical puritans/ un-American ‘Jewish Marxism”, yet nothing is more American than the lusty empiricism, materialism, and libertarian hankering for democracy, self-knowledge, and self-management that I understand the radical liberals to have been advocating, values that have been transmuted into their opposites by organic conservative promoters of Anglo-American cultural hegemony.

*Organic conservatives may be found among those reacting to the French Revolution and who populate today’s paleoconservatives, or may be found among “progressives” professing “multiculturalism.” For these conservatives, social bonds are mystical, not based on a community of material interest. [Added 3-28-12: At the time I wrote this essay, I had not yet encountered the works of von Mises, Hayek, the Friedmans, and other classical liberals.]

NOTES.

[1] The British Press and Jews Under Nazi Rule (London: Oxford U.P., 1964): 51.

[2] Purging the Jewish Marxist materialists would restore natural i.e., racial, unity, a theme Mosse saw in American conservatism and Gaullist France.  See George Mosse, Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich (New York: Schocken, 1981).

[3] In the blood-libel against the Jews, it is claimed that Jews murder Christian boys at Passover to mingle their blood with matzohs.  Speaking at UCLA April 6, 1990, the distinguished folklorist Alan Dundes (and author of an anthology on the Wandering Jew) took sharp exception with my alternative historical explanation for the persistence of the blood-libel against the Jews in European culture since the twelfth century, and which dramatically accelerated during the nineteenth century.  Dundes told his audience that he was disturbed by this “folklore of evil,” responsible for hundreds of deaths, and an embarrassing blot on the normally benign and charming body of culture he studies.  But Dundes could only explain it as a response to Christian guilt over the cannibalism of the Eucharist, psychodynamically as “projective inversion.”  For Dundes as for other conservatives, art and folklore alike float free from contaminating family and related social conflicts.  As Dundes told us, one variant of the blood libel has a temptress wheedling a young boy to enter a garden, where he is murdered; its resemblance to the lesson of the Fall is clear enough, but Dundes was firm in not drawing comparisons to that all-purpose cautionary tale or to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which it also resembles.  Throughout I have placed such “evil” in the narratives of antidemocratic propaganda responding to rational threats from below, not untestable unconscious conflicts.

[4] Cf. Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978).  Sontag rightly criticizes organicism as demagoguery, but she flogs consumerism, psychoanalysis, apocalyptic revolutionaries and the Romantics from the point of view of the higher (liberal) moderation, science, and rationalism.  By describing cancer as “Other” she misses the crucial point: its stealthiness and masquerade are connected to democracy and the People.

[5] C.G. Jung,”Individual and Mass Psychology,” Essays on Contemporary Events (London:Kegan Paul, 1946): xiii-xv. Originally broadcast on the BBC, Nov. 3, 1946.

[6] My description of Nazi anti-Semitism (as indebted to traditional Christian anti-Semitism) is a composite of characteristics drawn by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide (New York: Seabury Press, 1973) and Robert Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1986): 151.  But Wistrich, while emphasizing the claims Nazis made in the name of Enlightenment, still classifies Hitler as a “monomaniac” assisted by a bureaucratic society (121).  Ruether’s book is especially valuable for her identification of the Jewish stereotype with social criticism/ madness, and her argument that the patristic church fathers of early Christianity had already formulated the anti-Semitism we tend to associate solely with the scientific racism of the nineteenth century. But the analysis lacks a materialist dimension, perhaps because she is a pluralist and does not want to implicate German Romanticism in the story of genocide.

[7] Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (New York: Harper Colophon paperback, 1979): 12.

[8] See Max Weinreich, Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes Against the German People, 1946, op.cit. 50-53.  Weinreich reported that Streicher had been invited to several innovative scholarly meetings in Berlin and Munich (1936-38) engaged in a scientific, activist, interdisciplinary study of the Jewish question, and not as a reporter or witness but as a respected leader and valued participant: History, politics, and science, past and present, were to be spiritually and holistically fused (but until 1938, away from the public eye).  This of course puts Streicher and the Nazis in the mainstream of European conservative culture, not in the lunatic fringe.

[9] But see Ian Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983): 162. “…Streicher’s newspaper Der Stürmer associated the Christian Communion with Jewish ritual slaughter, an allegation which brought a storm of outrage from Evangelical (and Catholic) pulpits.”  Kershaw’s point was that Protestants who had supported Hitler were becoming disillusioned as they realized that the Nazis were attacking Christianity tout court; there could be no rival source of cultural identity to undermine German nationalism or single-issue politics.  The theme of disillusion, resistance, and disapproval among the working-class and petit-bourgeoisie is developed throughout Kershaw’s book, an attempted corrective to overly irrationalist interpretations advanced by conservative scholars stressing propaganda blitzes or national character to explain “the Holocaust.”

[10] Wistrich, 1986.  There seems to have been a change in 1937-1938; Kershaw’s and Mosse’s (or Wistrich’s) emphases might be seen as complementary.  Cf. Ernest K. Bramsted, Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-45 (Michigan State U.P., 1965) noted a turning point in Goebbels’ propaganda themes between 1935 and 1938; newly apocalyptic imagery responded to the London Times complaint in 1935 that Nazis and Bolsheviks were similar: Goebbels retorted that parasitic Jewry, the “son of Chaos” was the source of the Bolshevist disease (379-383).  Or, Goebbels had broken the triangular view of the Spanish Civil War: two parties and the “neutrals”: “For the first time the image of a rejuvenated and German-sponsored Europe was projected, as the vision of a better world to come.  Goebbels contrasted the wicked deeds of the archfiend of the martyred in Spain with the fata morgana of a better Europe–a technique which he was to employ again and again in days of war to the very end of the Hitler regime” (164). But Hitler came to power with just such claims: the Sun-God would bring a new dawn to Germany and leave the rubble of the Jewish-Marxist night behind; a view that élite theorists suppress in their attempt to render Hitler as a romantic.  There should be a detailed study of the origins and conception of Streicher’s Wandering Jew exhibition; I am taken with the striking coincidence between the intensified anti-Semitism and anti-modernism of the Nazis in 1937, C.I.O. labor movement militancy, and the mounting anti-Ahab/Melville offensive in the United States.

[11] The headline copy was “Streicher Opens Anti-Semitic Fair/ Democracy is Jewish Device, He Warns at Munich–He is Twitted by Dr. Goebbels”.

[12] Robert W. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: visions of empire at American international expositions, 1876-1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

[13] Streicher and Goebbels both appealed to facts: Regarding Streicher’s speech and Goebbels’ response, the Times wrote “‘There are still nations believing in the Jews’s divine mission and proud of their democratic government.  For those who know, however, this much-famed democracy of Western states is a measure of the Jew’s power.  History will open these nations’ eyes.’  The exposition contains historical material and citations from the Talmud and other works designed to prove that Jews are instructed to cheat and murder their non-Jewish neighbors.  A photograph of Mayor La Guardia of New York has been placed in a hall devoted to “international Jews.”  Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels indicated in a speech delivered after Herr Streicher’s that the Nazi leaders are not wholly unaware of a certain humorous element in Herr Streicher’s fanaticism.  Smiling at the high priest of anti-Semitism, Dr. Goebbels said: “Our critics answer us with the assertion that the Jews also are human beings.  Now, as a matter of fact, even Party Comrade Streicher will grant that the Jews are human beings.”  The audience of 3,000 laughed, but the sally failed to amuse Herr Streicher, who continued to stare stolidly at the back of the hall.”

It is most peculiar that the Western press could have separated Goebbels from Streicher; in the spring of 1937, Goebbels propaganda department distributed a pamphlet to students and party leaders, calling for the recapture of “a lost identity” (to overcome the skepticism and despair of an industrialized world).  The late Israeli historian Uriel Tal wrote, “political faith needs an anti-hero,” a scapegoat, a devil.  Indeed it was the Jew who “having been a degraded sufferer for ages” was supposed to make the myth somewhat tangible and acceptable.  Through the “universal conspiracy of the Jew” as well as the “defilement of his blood” the Jew brings about “the systematic decomposition of the Aryan race and the Germanic Folk.”  In “Political Faith” of Nazism Prior to the Holocaust (Annual Lecture of the Schreiber Chair of Contemporary Jewish History, Tel Aviv University, 1978): 19.  But would such appeals have had any impact unless they benefited individuals and social classes in material ways?

[14] See Stanley Rosenman, “The American Nazi and the Wandering Jew,” The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol.39, No.4 (1979): 363-368, quoting from the Nuremburg Military Tribunal testimony of S.S. Colonel Paul Blobel, 363.

[15] Hyam Maccoby, “The Wandering Jew as Sacred Executioner,” The Wandering Jew: Essays in the Interpretation of a Christian Legend, ed. Galit Hasan-Rokem and Alan Dundes (Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1986).

[16] Ruth Mellinkoff, The Mark of Cain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

[17] See Uriel Tal, Christians and Jews in Germany (Ithaca and London: Cornell U.P., 1975): 16 on post-Reformation class anxieties.  Tal describes two strategies to deal with the corroding skepticism fostered by persistence of the obdurate Jew: one should either convert them or humiliate them so that their “abject state” testified to “the triumphant religion of Christianity.”  My distinction between Good Jews and Wandering Jews fits Tal’s categories (but he does not name the Wandering Jew myth here).

[18] Champfleury, “French Images of the Wandering Jew,” The Wandering Jew, 1986.

[19] See Erik Erikson’s influential wartime theory: Hitler was not the good father but the big brother who would never yield to the duplicities of the fathers.  I suspect that Erikson has applied the romantic Wandering Jew myth to Hitler (a motif throughout this study).

[20] Edgar Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali: Jewish Stereotypes in English Fiction (Stanford: Stanford U.P., 1960): 302-303.

[21] See for instance, Wyn Kelly of Stanford University, “Melville’s Cain,” American Literature (March 1983): 24-40, who attempts to classify  variants of the Cain legend, 31, but there is no mention of the Wandering Jew in her text or references (nor in Sontag’s work, although she knows that Jews were blamed for cholera and other plagues).

[22] See Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich (N.Y.: Pantheon, 1979);  Henry Grosshans, Hitler and the Artists (N.Y.: Holmes and Meier, 1983); Charlotte Weiss Mangold, Herman Melville in German Criticism From 1900 to 1955 (University of Maryland diss., 1959): 109, fn 2.  Mangold (and other Melvilleans) should have more fully identified Schönemann. Max Weinrich’s index in Hitler’s Professors, op.cit. (282) identifies him as an important Nazi scholar in the following entry: “[b.] May 30, 1886. Instructor, Harvard U., 1913-1920. Professor of North American Civilization, U. of Berlin. Author: “Der Anglo-Amerikaner und das Judentum,” Wk II (1942); “Das geistige Geschichte Amerikas,” NSMon, October, 1942, 657-666; “Hintergrunde und Tendenzen des USA-Imperialismus,” Völk und Reich, 1942, 697-706; Die Veinigten Staaten von Nordamerika (Berlin, Junker und Dunnhaupt, 1943, 160).”

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?

August 24, 2009

“‘The People’ is an Ass” (or a “Herd”?)

A Piranesi “prison”

Prior blogs have touched upon the lineage of so-called multiculturalism, a reactionary ideological offensive that confused individuals with groups and suppressed economic explanations for conflict and change in favor of cultural anthropological ones. As a manifestation of German Romanticism, it was an aesthetic theory buttressing a political structure: an irrationalist völkisch “aristo-democracy” (Herder). The German Romantics and their popularizers in England and America, men like Carlyle and Emerson, waved their supple poetic individuality, unique, yet imperceptibly diffused into race and nation and time itself as Schlegel had advised.

The aristo-democrats were the blooming correctives to the dessicating “mechanical” rationalism and universalism that had undergirded popular sovereignty for the seventeenth-century political theorist of constitutional democracy, John Locke. In the eighteenth century, Piranesi would visualize this Lockean world in a series of engravings, his nightmarish urban spaces/prisons. Lord Byron counterattacked with Lockean Prometheans, images of indomitable humanity: fatherless, yet kind, ameliorative and intellectually fortified. In the later nineteenth century, Piranesi’s desolate, gigantic scenes of torture would reappear in James Thomson’s poem The City of Dreadful Night, the City ruled by numeracy and literacy personified in Melencolia, the Queen patterned after both Dürer’s famous image of writer’s block, and George Eliot, Thomson’s contemporary, the realist novelist, author of Felix Holt, Radical. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/, and look for the passages on James Thomson.)

I have mentioned just a few instances of cultural conflict over accountability: the culture wars are fought over you and me, non-experts in an advanced, complex, and hierarchical, yet “democratic” industrialized society. Confident in the capacity of ordinary people to test their betters, Locke, like ourselves, was up against centuries of conservative antidemocratic propaganda on behalf of a tribal or feudal order where either Nature or arbitrary authority were taken for granted as immovable. Not surprisingly, social obligations (contracts) were vertical, links in the Great Chain of Being, not horizontal agreements between equals, each party theoretically free to walk away from a bad deal. Locke’s antagonistic contemporary, the proto-Tory Robert Filmer (d. 1653) summarized centuries of antidemocratic wisdom in his Patriarcha:

[Filmer:] “I know not how to give a better character of the people than can be gathered from such authors as have lived among or near to popular states. Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero and Sallust have set them out in their colours. I will borrow some of their sentences.

‘There is nothing more uncertain than the people: their opinions are as variable and sudden as tempests: there is neither truth nor judgment in them: they are not led by wisdom to judge of anything, but by violence and rashness, nor put they any difference between things true and false. After the matter of cattle they follow the herd that goes before: with envious eyes they behold the felicity of others: they have a custom always to favor the worst and weakest: they are most prone to suspicions, and use to condemn men for guilty upon every false suggestion. They are apt to believe all news, especially if it be sorrowful, and, like Fame, they make it more in the believing: when there is no author, they fear those evils which they themselves have feigned: they are most desirous of new stirs and changes, and are enemies to quiet and rest. Whatsoever is giddy or headstrong, they account manly and courageous, but whatever is modest or provident seems sluggish: each man hath a care of his particular, and thinks basely of the common good: they look upon approaching mischiefs as they do upon thunder, only every man wisheth it may not touch his own person. It is the nature of them: they must either serve basely or domineer proudly, for they know no mean.’ Thus do their own friends paint to the life this beast of many heads. Let me give you the cypher of their form of government. As it is begot by sedition, so it is nourished by arms: it can never stand without wars, either with an enemy abroad, or with friends at home. The only means to preserve it is to have some powerful enemy near, who may serve instead of a king to govern it, that so, that they have not a King over them, for the common danger of an enemy keeps them in better unity than the laws they make themselves.” [end Filmer quote]

The foil to all this irrationality is of course the reformed queen/king; the paragon of moderation has renounced absolutist, arbitrary rule for a limited, constitutional monarchy: one that protects the body politic from combative and divisive “special interests.” Unlike the Cool Head with the Warm Heart, Filmer’s “people” are the locus of selfish individualism; the people are incapable of solidarity without an external enemy; the ever-befuddled people lack the self-control to separate inner voices and impulses from the outer world; the people have no self-respect: they may be servile or, given a measure of authority, they will whip their charges to extract obedience; i.e., the barbaric, headlong people have neither the taste nor the capacity for gentleness or politeness. Let them have outlets for their characteristic sadism and masochism, as Geoffrey Gorer proposed in 1934; ‘tis better than the trap of romantic love. After the second world war Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism popularized the notion of protofascist “mob society”–both cynical and gullible–in terms that echoed Filmer. Similarly, Todd Gitlin has claimed that the mounting Right-wing critique of the new curricula is best understood as a frenzied hunt for new scapegoats after the Cold War was won in 1989; Gitlin asserts that the presence of the Other provides the only source of “national identity.”

Return now to the seventeenth century. Responding to the autocratic Filmer, John Locke adumbrated his concept of legitimate authority. In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke argued that monarchs were not beyond criticism, nor were the people so unbalanced that they could not assess their own interests and the performance of their protectors:

[Locke:] “The end of government is the good of mankind; and which is best for mankind, that the people should always be exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed when they grow exorbitant in their use of power, and employ it for the destruction, and not the preservation, of the properties of their people?
     Nor let anyone say that mischief can arise from hence as often as it shall please a busy head or turbulent spirit to desire the alteration of the government. It is true such men may stir whenever they please, but it will be only to their own just ruin and perdition. For till the mischief be grown general, and the ill designs of the rulers become visible, or their attempts sensible to the greater part of the people, who are more disposed to suffer than right themselves by resistance, are not apt to stir. The example of particular injustice or oppression of here and there an unfortunate man moves them not. But if they universally have a persuasion grounded upon manifest evidence that designs are carrying on against their liberties, and the general course and tendency of things cannot but give them strong suspicions of the evil intentions of their governors, who is to be blamed for it? Who can help it if they, who might avoid it, bring themselves into this suspicion? Are the people to be blamed if they have the sense of rational creatures, and can think of things no otherwise than as they find and feel them? And is it not rather their fault who put things in such a posture that they would not have them thought as they are? I grant that the pride, ambition, and turbulency of private men have sometimes caused great disorders in commonwealths, and factions have been fatal to states and kingdoms. But whether the mischief hath oftener begun in the people’s wantonness, and a desire to cast off the lawful authority of their rulers, or in the rulers’ insolence and endeavours to get and exercise an arbitrary power over their people, whether oppression or disobedience gave the first rise to the disorder, I leave it to impartial history to determine. This I am sure, whoever, either ruler or subject, by force goes about to invade the rights of either prince or people, and lays the formulation for overturning the constitution and frame of any just government, he is guilty of the greatest crime I think a man is capable of, being to answer for all those mischiefs of blood, rapine, and desolation, which the breaking to pieces of governments bring on a country; and he who does it is justly to be esteemed the common enemy and pest of mankind, and is to be treated accordingly.” [end Locke quote]

Yes, there are demagogues, but they would have no credibility were it not for the excesses of the rulers. Taken with his statements on natural law, it is clear that Locke is not protecting private property as unlimited personal aggrandizement, but the confiscation of lower-class property and labor by tyrannical rulers–a crucial distinction for those who view Locke as an image of Filmer’s people: the “possessive individualist” par excellence. The radical liberal ideal of one set of rules for rich and poor alike and the assumption of rationalism upon which the rule of law depended was a radical innovation; it remains an advanced position and belongs in the democratic tradition, notwithstanding efforts to brand Locke solely as a hypocrite and supporter of slavery.

Tories and Whigs crucially differed on the educational potential of “the people.” If Nature’s God was a democrat for the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century progressive bourgeois, organic conservatives reclaimed Nature for the aristocracy. In antebellum America, Filmer’s good fathers were models for socially responsible slaveholders contrasting their benevolent paternalism with the cruelty of northern laissez-faire capitalism and class struggle. Indeed, the distinguished historian of the South, C.Vann Woodward, a participant in the Martha’s Vineyard conference on “Racism and Education” (excerpted in my blog on Pacifica, Part One) revived the southern apologist for slavery George Fitzhugh to lobby for organic conservatism as antidote to today’s mass society. Filmer’s image of “the people” would be indistinguishable from “the unconscious” in the social psychology espoused by many in the twentieth-century Progressive movement–conservative reformers responding to the rapid growth of industrialism and class warfare that Northern victory in the Civil War facilitated. Mass “irrationality” remains the argument for the eternal rule of philosopher-kings operating “in the public interest” in bureaucratic collectivist societies. While Lockean ideas of the common good have been co-opted, Filmer’s theory shades upper-class secret machinations from the blazing eyes of the lower orders. The unresolved debate between Filmer and Locke frames the work of the Yankee Doodle Society; our models of human capacity determine our politics as we face “the mischief…grown general” on our endangered planet.

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