YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 11, 2013

What do liberals want?

power1This question was asked by Roger L. Simon 10-10-13, on Facebook, perhaps flummoxed by the conduct of Congressional Democrats and POTUS. I will try to answer that question, but in no particular order.

First though we must distinguish between anticommunist social democrats and those hard Leftists who have joined the progressive movement and who may formulate many of its political and cultural positions. This separation is not easy to determine, as even the communist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote like a social democrat in his last books. These are Popular Front tactics, and “liberals” today are more likely to be the “moderate conservatives” of yesterday, or, as I call them, “corporatist liberals.” (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/. This is the only link to prior blogs that  I will include in my overview of today’s pseudo-liberals.)

The POTUS appointment of Janet Yellin suggests Keynesian economics will rule the Fed. Even Maynard Keynes would not have approved of the promiscuous use of his demand-stimulus measures today; it was intended for the Great Depression, and many countries indulged in the bureaucratic collectivism that he sponsored during the 1930s. But Lord Keynes was a conservative economist, a point lost on today’s journalists, especially Paul Krugman.

To answer Roger L. Simon most directly, liberals advocate “social justice” through the welfare state. Since American history is a horror story as “liberals” tell it through their command of the textbook industry and school curricula, reparations are in order. Hence the preferential treatment for Green corporations, affirmative action, and separatist cultural studies departments, including “whiteness studies.”

The term cultural studies requires unpacking: Liberals abhor “the melting pot” that ostensibly turned out lookalike robots fashioned by Fordism, but advocate the furtively racialist notion of multiculturalism and the hyphenated American. The intent is to defame classical liberalism as racist, while promoting their racialist discourse as emancipating. Cultural relativism (distorted beyond recognition from its Enlightenment intent) has dissolved empiricism and science along with universally comprehended facts and cultural syncretism.

In practice Liberals have lengthened the Popular Front against Republicans. The Communist Party of the 1930s first abhorred the “social fascists” of the New Deal, but then adopted the Comintern–generated Popular Front against fascism, circa 1934-35. As late as the end of the red decade, CP writers (especially Stalinists) were blaming big business for Nazism, thus appealing to the strong (often anti-Semitic) populism and isolationism that characterized the US after the Great War. Oddly, movement conservatives sympathetic to small business are often equally anti-elitist, giving much needed ammunition to the failed Democratic Party that swears allegiance to the New Deal and the welfare state. Bereft of sound economic arguments (the New Deal failed), many liberals pursue social/cultural issues with as much zeal as movement conservatives. For instance, Democratic pols nail the Right’s supposed “war on women,” and put great energy into abortion rights, gay marriage, and “secularism.” It is my own suspicion that aggressive atheists are either agents provocateurs or convinced leftists seeing all religion as the opiate of the masses.

Many liberals don’t mind Jonah Goldberg’s best-seller Liberal Fascism. But his tirade against “the nanny state” conflates paternalism with maternalism, and in effect makes American Progressives the inspiration for European fascism. This was a mistake on Goldberg’s part, as a few academics noted, but who pays attention to these characters nowadays? The final effect is to make real American proto-fascism invisible.

Fascists opposed the labor movement and the Soviet experiment, and the forms fascism took in Europe were distinctive and historically specific. They were all movements of the Right, even though Hitler and Mussolini shared a populist past above all opposed to “laissez-faire capitalism,” and those aspects of modernity that emancipated the imagination and gave voting rights and free public education to the dreaded lower orders.

What corporatist liberals do NOT want, besides communism: Since the liberal base is composed of incoherent constituencies with widely differing demands, they cannot form a rational set of ameliorative changes. They are trapped in time, beholden to discredited ideas such as Wilsonian internationalism and the organicist rhetoric of the political family/nation.

The ideologies I have described are tackled in depth throughout this website and understood by many authors on the right, and I can only wonder why PJM’s ex- CEO Roger Simon is ever at a loss to explain “what liberals want.” Women may not know what they want in all cases, but as a writer himself, Simon must know that his opponents want to obliterate the very notion of the individual and to substitute collectivist categories for how we think of our unique, irreplaceable selves and the world. The “liberal” “will to power” (often discussed on the internet) is not power for its own sake, but “power” for well-meant, but finally utopian, objectives, as ”…experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny…..” (Thomas Jefferson, http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch18s11.html) .



January 24, 2013

Culture wars and the secular progressives

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Walter Hudson has written an essay for Pajamas Media ( http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2013/01/15/whose-morality-is-it-anyway/) touting religion as the sole building block of social order, the only belief system that prevents “evil.”  Hudson, like many other believers, holds Communists (and by implication, “secularists”) responsible for wanton killing and mass death, perhaps of the kind we have seen at such locales as Newtown, Connecticut, or in the underreported incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as perpetrated by Nehemiah Griego (the fifteen-year-old killer, whose father was a local pastor and reportedly  liberal).

It is true that communists have inveighed against religion as “the opiate of the masses” that holds workers in bondage to a fantasy at best, or terrorizes them at worst (with threats of eternal hell), but Hudson’s privileging of religion as the sole source of morality is repugnant to me. I am one of the dread secularists, which puts me in the same category as those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, that forbade any established state religion. It is cultural pluralism that has enabled diverse immigrant groups to come to America, and protected them from forced conversion to a state religion. Has Hudson forgotten that “equality under the law” was a salutary innovation that protected all of us from murder and from what Hudson regards as “evil” in general?

But worse, Hudson’s essay negates the Enlightenment, which removed truth, absolute authority and “virtue” from Kings and established Churches, instead investing knowledge, power, and (potential) virtue in the People and their political institutions.  This disestablishment of monarchs and clergy was laid at the feet of the rising bourgeoisie (themselves the children of the French Revolution), who were then attacked by both the deposed monarchists of the ultra-right and future hard leftists. The new popular freedoms were associated by the ultras with the Cult of Reason (symbolized by Marianne), cannibalism, and a host of other horrors, including parricide and deicide.  And so Mary Shelley wrote her famous Frankenstein;  or the Modern Prometheus, while Herman Melville fretted about his own Promethean impulses throughout life. (For more on this theme see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/.)

Much of what Hudson has written is directed at Ayn Rand, her followers, and “Objectivism” in general.  I conclude that it is the “atomized” individual (along with free market society) that is his target. This so-called “atomized” individual was also the target of the moderate men, the Progressives who hoped to stave off Red Revolution through a compassionate welfare state, that would stop just short of turning the world upside down,  and would co-opt religion in the service of those buzz-words “social cohesion” and “political stability.”

Not all moderate conservatives believed that modernity and capitalism would lead to widespread mayhem. See for instance the social thought of Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, whose moral code embraced all of humanity, and most particularly slaves and then the freedmen, while his bosom enemies sought to return the freedmen to new forms of bondage after the Civil War. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/ )  Sumner was a visionary, and for his sacrifices to humanity at large, he has been assailed as a carrier of Jewish blood by his major 20th century biographer.


If Walter Hudson and those who agree with him want to improve morality, he should come down on the authoritarian family and all those institutions that fail to educate their children to the obligations of citizenry, or those families who believe in demonic possession as the explanation for mental illness. We need more science in our thought patterns, and less regression to pre-capitalist forms of authority, authority that cannot be made legitimate through any appeal to Reason as embodied in the laws, laws that men and women of all colors fought for and formulated out of an abundance of experience.

January 5, 2013


common-core-standards-turtleSegments of the Right are correctly worried that the reading of government pamphlets will displace the classic works of English and American literature as currently taught in the schools. Some, including Pajamas Media and Fox News imagine that such “classics” as Orwell, Huxley, and Hemingway will disappear from the curriculum in favor of progressive propaganda as disseminated by the CORE STANDARDS, sometimes called Common Core.

What these popular rightist media fail to understand is 1. that for the standards to be enforced in every classroom, government surveillance would have to accomplish what may be impossible; i.e., a form of terror; and 2. that statist progressives have long dominated the teaching of literature and the humanities in general, twisting texts to elevate the “moderate” solution to social conflict. What these progressives want, like fascists before them, is acquiescence to state directives and the obliteration of extremism, whether the hotheads targeted are communists on the Left or laissez-faire capitalists on the Right.

Hence, the rightists and liberals who look askance on the wide state support for the Core Standards, fail to teach their followers how to recognize ideology in the arts, particularly those aspects of the humanities that appropriate past cultural artifacts for present-day partisan purposes. No political faction is innocent in this culture-deadening scenario.

The first nine references (very alarming)  below lay out the controversy over the Core Standards, which threaten to diminish literary texts in order to include readings in history and science. The professed aim of these “Standards” is to prepare high school students for life and work in the modern world. But the authors of the Core Standards neglect to acknowledge that the works chosen from history and science are likely to reinforce as true and normal what are in fact policy initiatives of the evermore left-leaning and incompetent Obama administration.  The next six links are my own research, published and unpublished, on the consensus of the moderate men in the teaching of American literature with the goal of managing or obliterating class or gender conflict. Their mutual aim is the substitution of scientific, materialist history by an organicist discourse that reunites master and man/ President and the “middle class” (including “the working class”). In other words, the teaching of English is already ideological. (And on the left and liberal left, teaching is generally fiercely averse to anything that smacks of Freudian analysis, with its emphasis on ambivalence, ambiguity, and uncertainty.)

Poe's Raven

Poe’s Raven
















https://clarespark.com/2012/03/22/3760/ (The Great Dumbing Down in two parts)




November 25, 2012

The Tea Party and the Greens

American Progress, 1872

This blog responds to a blog on Pajamas Media, that has been revived today: http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/10/16/6-green-lies-threatening-to-starve-you/

Tea Party activist, Walter Hudson, has written a blog for Pajamas Media that asserts this provocative claim: “Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.”  Moreover, Hudson makes it explicit that the protection of the wilderness by the national government, is the rule that makes all his other scenarios abhorrent, even threatening as the road to mass starvation.

(Hudson was first motivated to write his blog by an LA Times article that transmitted the agenda of the National Resources Defense Council, as follows:  Curbing global warming, creating the clean energy future, reviving the world’s oceans, defending endangered wildlife and wild places, protecting our health by preventing pollution, ensuring safe and sufficient water, and fostering sustainable communities, but Hudson foregrounds the wilderness as [non-sacred] space to be sold to private interests.)

While it is true that the Green movement of the 1960s and 1970s was taken up by hard leftists as a rational entry into apparently unrelated social movements, the wholesale rejection of basic science that Hudson’s blog and many of the ensuing comments demonstrates, is not only alarming to me, but if representative of the new direction of the Republican Party, would likely result in a permanent statist regime in the United States, for we defy the immutable laws of science at our peril.  Sadly, most of us do not even know what they are, and yet we vote for, or oppose, environmental legislation that will determine the future of our species and all of life on Earth, and the journalists and bloggers we read are rarely trained in the relevant sciences, but they do abhor the “nanny state” as an unmerited intrusion on individual rights.

I have long criticized the term “nanny state” as absurd and sexist, proposing instead the term “watchbird state” (see https://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/). No one has been more critical of illegitimate state power than I have been.  However, it is also true that American power was initially built on 1. Relatively unspoiled Nature that would be ruthlessly exploited and abused by many settlers as they industrialized and moved on West; and, later 2. The European wars of the 20th century that left America as the only great power still standing.

Thus “American exceptionalism,”so defended by segments of the Right, has the possibility of arrogance attached, unless it refers solely to a rational Constitution that encouraged a meritocracy (along with protection of the general welfare), but keep in mind that the “self-made” millionaires in finance and industry of the 19th century benefited from the virgin land, a rapidly expanding population of immigrants,  and during and after the Great War, from the errors of American rivals in Europe and elsewhere.

There are branches of “ecology” that appeal to mystics and to the counter-culture, for the promise of interdependence and harmony that some ecologists, especially deep ecologists (Kirkpatrick Sale was one such popular publicist), is attractive to those who imagine Nature as an inexhaustible source of nourishment, with adherence to “deep ecology” as a permanent return to the Breast or Womb. These constituents will not agree with Herman Melville, who famously described beauteous Nature as concealing “the charnel house within.” Similarly, there have been upper-class primitivists who idealized the social relations of indigenous peoples everywhere, imagining, with Diderot, that their preferred natives enjoyed freedom from puritanical (i.e. mother-imposed) strictures that excessively restricted sex and aggression. The point is to avoid “splitting” the conception of Nature as either entirely benign or entirely threatening, for Melville was possibly influenced by his resentment of a domineering mother.

I have been reading right-wing publications for many years now, and sense that many of its constituents do not possess a rational assessment of any authority whatsoever. It seems that some don’t want to be pushed around, even if the pushing is for their own good and that of their children.  This is infantile conduct.

Reasonable persons can differ on the role of the federal government versus more local entities versus individual choices, or even on whether or not global warming is man-made and reparable,  but what cannot be neglected is a rigorous education in the sciences, starting from the first grades onward.  As long as education is held hostage to persons with an anti-science agenda, we are digging our own graves.

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.

August 14, 2012

Sex, drugs, and venting

Clare circa 1972

The website has now lumbered past 175,000 views since I started it circa summer 2009. My family is thunderstruck that so many are interested in this bookworm’s research, but I suspect that many of the visitors expected another kind of blog, if I can judge by those coming from such sites as Pajamas Media. I think they want to feed their anger and frustration, as opposed to looking at ideology and the often confusing history of political coalitions: for instance, numerous viewers went to the index to my blogs on “Pacifica Radio and the Progressive Movement”( https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/) but only about 25% of them read even one of the blogs. Those who regularly come to my Facebook page have more inquiring minds and are much better gauges of how well the website is doing. And they regularly contribute material about which I was either ignorant or inattentive.

Indignation can be productive when it leads to closer examination of policy issues, but is depoliticizing when it goes no further than venting. We might even suppose that this sort of obsession with scandalous “inside dope” packs a sexual charge, a form of sexuality that is sadistic and addictive. I have seen it on numerous websites, and it is not confined to either Left or Right. Worse, trolls are everywhere; give me a real skunk any time: at least they announce their true nature.

I don’t have “inside dope” other than what I get from close readings of texts, or learned in my years at KPFK radio, or in graduate school at UCLA, where I witnessed the domination of Stalinists, Stalinoids, Trotskyists, and postmodernists, “up close and personal.” Even the feminists were more left-wing than feminist. Oddly, I was labeled “that hysterical feminist” even though at that time (1983-1993), I was more of a Marxist than anything else: that is, I could see through the postmodern “moral relativism” and nihilism of the pseudo-Left, and favored class analysis over sorting people out by gender or race. When I raised objections to separatist ethnic studies or women’s studies in favor an integrated approach to the writing of history, tenured professors would scream out loud, make odd gestures with their hands, or call me a racist. It was Pacifica Radio all over again where, on one of my last appearances, my defense of the Enlightenment and the life of Reason elicited charges that I was a CIA agent or worse.

Arnold Bocklin Medusa

So why was I called (behind my back) “that hysterical feminist”? I would guess that a woman standing up to the orthodoxies put forth by prominent professors and other famous intellectuals (of either gender) was too evocative of Gorgons and Medusas. If there is a “war on women” it is an ingrained fear of the independent, curious mind—one that is not gender specific. I stand with that human impulse, and with every writer or artist who goes her own way.  “To life!”

(Illustrated: a photo of Clare after a prank. I wore a Berkeley-generated Karl Marx sweat shirt, along with rhinestone drop earrings to an Ed Ruscha opening on La Cienega Blvd. during the early 1970s. It was a comment on Ruscha’s letter paintings, including his patronage, and I don’t think he appreciated the joke, though some of his visitors did.)

June 3, 2011

Neo-isolationists and the Jewish Problem

Here is a comment from a Pajamas Media reader, responding to Debra Glazer’s article (6-3-11)  regarding an Orange County, California Jewish organization that has been  funding anti-Israel propaganda:

[Comment from “Nickel”:]  “It is time for the Jewish community to clean its’ own house before the looming war in the Middle East asks thousand(s) of young Americans to die fighting to help protect Isreal [sic]. The majority of Americans are willing to fight to defend Israel but not if those that are funding and organizing the destruction of Israel and the destabilization of the entire Middle East are also part of the recognized Jewish American community. Communism is not a religion it is a mental disorder and it is about time the Jewish community world wide purged its members.”

Here is the comment I left in response to this one and to another one that referred to “Jew-haters” among Jews:

[Clare:] Not all American Jews are “Jew-haters.” Recall that the major period of Jewish immigration to the U.S. lasted a short time, starting in the last few decades of the 19th century and stopped by the 1924 Immigration Act, a law that reacted to presumably communistic “Polish Jews.” Many immigrants were poor and lived in tenements and worked in sweatshops. Their descendants, thanks to the Jewish tradition of respect for education, experienced astonishing upward mobility, but that mobility was limited by a WASP elite, so that Jews were successful in the professions and in the new culture industry (radio, film, television) that WASPS spurned. In order to succeed many assimilated to the populist-progressive movement and its attendant statism (including the legitimating of labor unions), while others (especially during the Depression) became activists on the Left. The situation is now changing as the Islamic threat is obviously making headway. I hope that the comments above are not repeating common antisemitic tropes, such as the belief that Jews are a people apart. There is no “world wide” Jewish community or “Jewish Americans” with the power to purge its members. Jews are scattered, and often at odds with each other. Here is one of many blogs that takes up these matters: https://clarespark.com/2011/05/20/the-mentalist-melville-blake-and-israel/. [end comment, slightly corrected]

To elaborate on these points: the comment I quoted reiterated common antisemitic tropes,  that could be applied to collectivist rhetoric in the description of other minority groups. There is no such thing as a world-wide Jewish community. The phrase “Jewish Americans” is part of the ethnic nationalist/ multiculturalist project that separates out the hyphenated Americans from regular Americans. (On assimilation see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/02/glossary-to-some-terms-in-dispute/) now retitled “The Mass Culture Problem.”

The notion that Jews are so organized that they can purge their “communist” members reflects the myth of the all-powerful  International Jew.” Moreover, and most importantly, persons of Jewish descent who become communists renounce any ties to a Jewish identity and marry themselves to proletarian internationalism. The fact that they are still considered to be Jews is an example of “scientific racism.” “The Jews” remain defined by others because of a widespread  belief in the inheritance of racial character.

After decades of genteel antisemitism, finally, there are Jews in the Republican Party. Upper class Americans, until the Shoah, excluded all but a few Jews from their corporations, playgrounds, and secret societies in the Ivy League, not to speak of the imposition of race-based quotas in the better colleges’ admission policies. And while the “progressive”  patricians invented the New Deal and multiculturalism (with the aid of useful assimilating Jews), they neglected to put antisemitism in their reformed civil rights-inspired curricula, though a few schools sponsor “Holocaust Studies” while at the same time, further peace studies and conflict-resolution, ignoring all irreconcilable conflicts, especially those between Israel and its Arab and Iranian neighbors.

My last observation on “Nickel’s” comment: he is almost sounding like Patrick Buchanan, Ron Paul, or earlier, Charles Lindbergh in his famous America First speech, delivered on September 11, 1941 in Des Moines. “Lindy” was arguing against American involvement in a world war to save the Jews.*  Similarly, the Nazi propaganda campaign emphasized world war 2 as started by “the Jews” who were out to exterminate the German people.

“Nickel” has not gone that far, but in his racialist assumptions, he has made a disturbing linkage between the existence of Israel and all the other tumults in the Mideast, either caused or aggravated, one might assume, by the existence of the [expansionist?] Jewish state. Has Israel asked for Americans to sacrifice their lives to save them? Was the second world war an enterprise through which Americans saved the Jews of Europe? I don’t think so.

* [excerpt from Lindbergh’s speech:]”It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.

Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.

Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to  involve us in the war.

We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.” [end Lindbergh excerpt]

Did you get that, gentle reader? Jews and the New Deal [a.k.a. Jew-Deal] are alien and unassimilable to the true America.

February 20, 2011

Are we still fighting the Civil War?

[Added 2-26-2011: I have finished reading David Blight’s book, quoted below, and now have a better idea of the obsessions of Blight and his academic cohort at Yale and Harvard. They are hostile to modernity, for that signifies the rule of capital, machines, and materialism. The white working class is nailed as part of the Herrenvolk democracy that they decry. So Charles Sumner, notwithstanding his reputation as a great man and friend among 19th century blacks, has to go, for he was a modernizer. Blight is clearly a Populist sympathizer and entirely “anti-imperialist,” and though not a Marxist, his version of U.S. history is identical with that of Soviet critics of the U.S, and he may be viewed, overall, as a cleaned-up Reverend Wright.  So although Blight is fiercely critical of the South, his hostility to modernization ironically aligns him with Southern organic conservatives similarly opposed to markets and the modern world. The South did win the Civil War, ideologically speaking. ]

Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg

This blog is about flawed historical analogies and the appropriation of the Civil War for partisan ends. Writing in Pajamas Media, a non-historian Rand Simberg rejected the usual analogies being tossed about in the media between the uproar in Wisconsin and Egypt or the Spanish Civil War, but chose Gettysburg, forcefully making the point that the unionized state workers were more correctly seen as slaveholders with the citizenry of Wisconsin in a position analogous to those of slaves.  I for one found this comparison to be not just distasteful but disturbing, as are many other analogies that are politically motivated, and often used as a short cut to analytic understanding of a specific conflict. Indeed I wrote about another distasteful analogy in a recent blog: https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/.

When I was considering my doctoral dissertation, I had to defend the idea of comparing the 19th century family of Herman Melville with the situation of academics in the humanities writing after 1919.  Some members of my committee insisted that I had to choose, but I held fast to my interest in both the humanities curriculum as it had been revised between the 20th century wars, and in the ways in which Herman Melville coped with his own family—a family more conservative in most ways than he was, given his life experience as a common sailor and then a form-challenging romantic artist. So I looked around and found that some sociologists considered such violations of strict historicism (the incomparability of individual historical events with one another; i.e., history never repeats itself) to be permissible in the case of a “functional group.” With respect to Melville’s family group, if the purpose of the family was socialization into a particular ideology, with similar relations of the “children” to parental authority, and if this socialization could be shown to be arguably identical with that of academics in elite universities during the decisive phase of the Melville “revival”, then I could be on solid ground. In both cases, archival research strongly indicated that cognitive dissonance abounded, or to put it my way, both institutions inflicted double binds on their members: There could be no conflict between Truth and Order. Melville faced this contradiction head-on in his fiction, while his revivers suppressed it, turned him into a moderate man like themselves,  and got sick or extremely depressed while studying and writing about Melville.

In the blog linked above, I objected to the notion that Americans should “work through” their treatment of black slavery and their promotion of the slave trade just as the Germans had been urged to “work through” the Nazi past, specifically the Holocaust.* I queried a former professor of mine about the propriety of the comparison, and in his answer he ended a long exposition comparing the brutalities of the persecution of the Jews and the slave trade and slavery with the adjuration that the effects of slavery were still with us, implying that the Holocaust and antisemitism were something of a dead letter—a problem already solved.  If that was his implication, I cannot agree.

I got a better understanding of the latter’s mind-set when reading a fascinating cultural history of how the Civil War was memorialized through 1865-1913. The book is Yale Professor David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Johns Hopkins UP, 2001). In this passage, Blight summarizes the situation that apparently motivates an entire generation of activist historians who cut their teeth during and after the civil rights movements of the mid-1950s onward, and who were inspired by the massive contributions of my Cornell professor. Referring to a number of Congressional hearings looking into activities of the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in March 1871, Blight wrote:

“These public hearings are a unique testament of how law and order collapsed in many areas of the South, and to the shuddering brutality of many white Southerners toward blacks and many whites judged to be complicitous with the Yankee conqueror. They are America’s first public record where ordinary freedmen, public officials, poor white farmers, Klansmen, and former Confederate generals came before federal officials and described, or evaded, what the war had wrought—a revolutionary society that attempted forms of racial equality without the means or ultimate will to enforce them against a counterrevolutionary political impulse determined to destroy the new order. The hearings were designed to produce prosecution and justice. Some justice was achieved, but the reconciliation that the country ultimately reached ironically emerged through avoidance and denunciation of the mountain of ugly truths recorded in those hearings.” (p.117)

An entire generation of cultural historians has not only corrected the record, but has taken unto itself a grand piece of the conscience of the nation insofar as it supports big government programs or black studies programs (with a black nationalist flavor) to instruct the unregenerate nation. Ironically, some of these same historians have tended to view Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, proponents of land reform to start the freedmen on the road to capitalist independence, as extremists, as too harsh or even paranoid in their critiques of the old South/the Slave Power/unrepentant rebels (see my conference paper, https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.)

In other words, their hearts are in the right place, but having been focused upon a piece of history that has been at least partly transcended since the civil rights movement of the 1950s and onward, they appear to me to remain invested in the cruelty of white people—a series of injustices that seems to them never to have been fully repaired, and which crowds out those antislavery Americans who rejected big government bureaucratic and collectivist remedies for a divided nation.  It remains to be seen whether this cohort will ever see school choice (as Joel Klein has advised) as a road to “social justice” for inner city schools.  Are our public schools everywhere, but especially in still backward cities and towns practicing a kind of bondage to ignorance, a bondage that can be compared to slavery? Now that is an analogy I can live with.

*In further reading by academics with similar mind sets, I see that I have missed the point: the persons I criticize here are anti-materialists, and write history through the prism of religion, and also epistemological idealism. They believe in “identity” politics, and through appropriate “working through” followed by reparations, believe that a more positive national identity can be achieved. But first, one must acknowledge the atrociousness of the past, repent, undergo a change of heart, and then redemption is possible. This kind of history writing, focusing on myth and symbols, is foreign to me as an epistemological materialist and advocate of secular modernity. Not surprisingly, their anticapitalist, anti-machine mentality, is as ferocious as any academic dare put down on paper.

May 23, 2010

Some dirty little secrets

Claire Berlinski, Ph.D.

During the last few weeks, an exceptionally portentous fight has broken out owing to a recent long and juicy article in the Spring 2010 edition of City Journal by Claire Berlinski. This essay was angrily dissected in several rebuttals by Ron Radosh in Pajamas Media, and by others on the Humanities Net internet site, the History of Diplomacy (H-Diplo). The conflict concerns whether or not both academic historians and their reading public have been fully informed of documents surreptitiously copied from the closed archives of the former Soviet Union, and now under wraps in Russia. Berlinski’s initial article, A Hidden History of Evil, reported that historians in high places had ignored the documents made available by researcher Vladimir Bukovsky (once an inmate of a Soviet psychiatric hospital) and Soviet dissident Pavel Stroilov, the latter in exile in London. First noting the world-wide obsession with Nazism (neglecting even more numerous Soviet atrocities), the opening paragraph ends with this remark: “The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.” Moreover, in her concluding paragraphs, she speculated that utopian theories had more appeal than we have admitted; hence she concludes that there is broad resistance to exposing the crimes of the now-darkened Gorbachev and his predecessors: “Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.”

In the process of formulating his set of responses claiming that the not-so-sensational “Top Secret” documents were either already known to reputable scholars, or were understandably not commercially appealing to publishers, Ron Radosh contacted leading figures in Soviet Studies, including Jonathan Brent, Mark Kramer, and John Earl Haynes, in effect putting them all on the spot, whereupon they described in detail what had been translated and where (most of) the materials could be found. The Radosh piece concluded that Berlinski’s argument was so weak as to be unpublishable. Berlinski then replied to Radosh, sticking to her guns. Radosh fired back again, while today City Journal, defending its reputation as a reliable conservative publication, published a long series of comments by leading figures in the imbroglio. Having placed this riposte on her Facebook page, Berlinski stated that she would no longer be involved in “petty” squabbles of this nature, reiterating a statement that she had made in her second article in response to Radosh. (All these publications are posted on my Facebook profile. For other significant comments by scholars, see the archives of H-Diplo.)

Although curriculum formation in the interwar and Cold War periods is my field of interest, diplomatic history and primary sources in the Russian language are not in my skill set, but I do know many of the participants in this now polarized debate, owing to my research into the Cold War Melville revival and long association with leftists and, more lately, neoconservatives. I am struck by several matters having to do with censorship:

1. The institutional constraints on all historians, including professional and emotional investments in earlier publications regarding the facts of still controversial subjects, i.e., I am told on good authority that historians are not given to revising the earlier work that made their reputations, even when new contradictory sources appear; if true (and it sounds accurate to me), this is an unbearable fact; and

2. Berlinski’s suspicion that [social democrats and today’s Communists] are ideologically incapable of confronting the full horror of the Soviet past, an opinion that finds resonance in her supporters; and

3. The vexed issue of “American exceptionalism” as fought over in the Texas textbook wars. (For a review of Joan Hoff’s book on the Faustian character of U.S. foreign policy, see this review by diplomatic historian Thomas M. Nichols: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-IX-23.pdf.) This last point may be the most relevant context that explains why the fight between Berlinski and Radosh has taken on such a high profile and is being hotly argued, for Cold War revisionist historians such as Joan Hoff remain in the saddle, and we are witnessing major backlash from conservatives. (By revisionists, I refer to the 60s generation that argued that U.S. imperialism, as embodied, for instance, in the lout Joe McCarthy, was responsible for the Cold War.)

These interests of mine are too big to flesh out in a short blog, but I do want to comment on a brief interchange regarding the fracas between two Facebook friends of Berlinski’s, whose names I have chosen to withhold. The back and forth seemed to come at me out of nowhere. Indeed, I nearly fell over when I saw this:

[commentator #1] “The dirty little secret in this issue which no one EVER talks about, is the, let’s call it coincidence, between the disproportionate involvement of Jews in the Marxist movement in the past and currently and the disproportionate number of Jews in academia and the media elites seems to bring any investigation of the evils of communism to a shuddering halt.

The same people have no problem correctly criticizing the Governor of Virgina for his inability to recognize the unmentioned slavery that underlay his celebration of Confederate month.”

[commentator #2] “There was also a disproportionate number of Jews in anti-communist political writing and theorizing… and I would guess a disproportionate number of Jews who are writing about the evils of hiding communism’s sins.

And I doubt the academics who are Jewish who are active in the “the commies meant well; let’s move on to other things” are motivated by any wish to protect Jews from scrutiny. Many people of that tendency are also anti-Israel; it’s a way they can prove that they have transcended petty ethnocentric concerns.”

[#1]”…you’re right. You are guessing. And since the field of “anti-Communist political writing” is such a tiny percentage of political writing by the elites, that just goes to prove my point.

I have been part of this scene for 50 years and I am not guessing. You might as well face it. If it makes you feel any better, there were also a way disproportionate number of Jews against Nazism.

There is nothing wrong with the inescapable fact that our ethnic heritage heavily influences us, except trying to ignore it. It is this kind of bald intellectual dishonesty that pollutes the entire field.

I assure you being a descendant of several Confederate generals makes me look at the Battle Flag and hear Dixie differently than you….

If I had been living in the Pale of Settlement getting whacked by the Tsarist Cossacks on a regular basis, I would have been an eager Communist Party member too and I my pride in the ideals of that revolution might have taken generations to wash through my family.” [end FB excerpt]

I should begin by saying that #1, descendant of Confederate generals, regards himself as “a Zionist” (in a message to me). Notwithstanding his support for Israel, he both blames and does not blame Jews in academia and in the media for the ostensible cover-up of these eye-opening Bukovsky-Stroilov materials. The Jews cannot help being influenced by their “cultural heritage.”  Moreover, Jews are “disproportionately” involved in controlling educational media, Hollywood, and publishing, as well as disproportionally involved in “the Marxist movement.” The Jews (though not in the majority) are so powerful that they have sealed our lips, except for his. This claim reminds me of a book written by UC Santa Barbara professor Albert S. Lindemann, Esau’s Tears: The Rise of the Jews and Modern Anti-Semitism (Cambridge UP, 1997). Lindemann considered himself a friend of Jewry, yet his statistics could be deployed to buttress the argument of  #1, or for that matter, the notorious Kevin MacDonald (author of a trilogy ending with Culture of Critique). Jews had too much power after their emancipation (look at the omnipotent Frankfurt School!). Could not such claims imply that the Holocaust was rational, given the pushiness of the Western European Jews, and the nature of the Jew-polluted Soviet regime (and here I refer solely to MacDonald, not Lindemann, though some may find the implications of Esau’s Tears troubling).

What #1 and other readers may not wish to see is that membership in Marxist-Leninist organizations meant the renunciation of religion and nationalist identities of any kind, and after the late 19th century, that meant compulsory anti-Zionism. One enlisted in the internationalist brotherhood of proletarians: there, and only there, was the seat of loyalty, forget cultural heritage. For anyone to assert that Marx, the open antisemite (though leftists hotly deny this), was any kind of Jew is to imagine a racial essentialism that must trump the cultural inheritance that #1 postulates in his own case and to that of a group he has not studied, but believes he understands and is sympathetic toward. Yet, even such a friend to the Jews as Paul Johnson in his history of the Jews refers to persons with Jewish parents as Jews, even though they have renounced any “particularist” (i.e., non-internationalist) identity. This can only mean that Jews are a race, not a religion or persons devoted to a particular set of moral values. Yet Johnson refers to the Soviet officials of Jewish background as “Non-Jewish Jews.” Of course, in his defense, antisemites don’t make these fine distinctions because they are ardent believers in racial character, which can never be thrown off.

If there are any dirty little secrets to be found here, it is the fact that “Jews” are not powerful enough to control either Hollywood, or the media, or academe, or Wall Street (I threw that last one in, don’t blame #1), and especially can they not control their mothers. Ideology and/or the profit motive, yes. Jewish power and solidarity? You have got to be kidding or a born-again populist. Start reading every entry on this site starting May, 2009.

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