YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 5, 2013

Kerry Washington, SCANDAL, and miscegenation

Kerry W in “Olivia Pope” mode

This blog is about actress Kerry Washington’s confusion about the primary fear of segregationists in both the antebellum North and South and then in the post-60s age of multiculturalism. The host of SNL November 2, 2013, complained that she was paired with a white president. Ms. Washington seems not to have understood that her sexual liaison with the white President was the scandal of SCANDAL.

On Monday November 4, the bean counters of NPR noted Ms. Washington’s appearance on SNL, noting that she was funny, and that it was scandalous that there was no regular African-American female cast member.  (See the “diversity” issue brought up here also: http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/03/snl-recap-kerry-washington-eminem/.)

It is indisputable that the fear of miscegenation was the great fear of Americans before bohemianism and bogus ‘anti-racism’ overtook American culture,  recent developments that have screwed up the formulators of affirmative action, who relied on blood and soil definitions of identity, as had their German Romantic forebears. What box to check when the applicant has “mixed blood”?

What follows is an excerpt from my book ms. that lays out the overpowering importance of “amalgamation” that infused even so advanced a city as antebellum Boston, home of abolitionism and such luminaries as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner.  By radical Enlightenment, I refer solely to intellectual freedom and human rights as limned in the Declaration of Independence and the First  Amendment to the US Constitution. (I call the Progressives conservative enlighteners, because they co-opted ‘science’ in the service of political stability and social cohesion, discarding the search for truth: although they gave lip service to it.)

[excerpt Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 2:] One distinguished proto-Progressive was Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the State of Massachusetts (1830-60), Herman Melville’s father-in-law and patron until his death. I have joined two of Shaw’s major decisions to suggest a leitmotif for the Melville Revival: the paradoxical Progressive gesture of simultaneous incorporation and encysting; we will see this process repeated as ambivalent Melville scholars elevate/reject Melville as Ahab, charismatic transmitter of radical Enlightenment.

[Proto-Progressive]Judge Shaw had decriminalized labor unions in his landmark decision of 1842, Commonwealth v. Hunt.[i] In Sarah C. Roberts v. City of Boston, 1849, however, Judge Shaw created the precedent for Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, the “separate-but-equal” doctrine that was not overturned until Brown v. Board of Education removed the legal basis for school segregation in 1954. Concluding the Roberts case, Shaw announced a unanimous decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court upholding the right of the Boston Primary School Committee to exclude black children from white schools as long as blacks were educated elsewhere. The Chief Justice explained, “The law had not created, and could not alter the deep-rooted prejudice which sanctioned segregation.” Undaunted, Charles Sumner, advocate for five-year-old Sarah Roberts and her father Benjamin, pressed on, accompanied by fellow abolitionists and integrationists, white and black. With the added support of sympathetic opinion in the towns, school segregation was outlawed by the state legislature and signed into law April 28, 1855. Prayed the New York Herald May 4,

“Now the blood of the Winthrops, the Otises, the Lymans, the Endicotts, and the Eliots, is in a fair way to be amalgamated with the Sambos, the Catos, and the Pompeys. The North is to be Africanized. Amalgamation has commenced. New England heads the column. God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!” [ii]

Propinquity alone must overwhelm blue blood; ring the tocsin! Not so for Captain Ahab as he took “Bell-boy,” the black child Pip, into his cabin: “Come! I feel prouder leading thee by thy black hand, than though I grasped an Emperor’s!” Melville and his revivers often diverged in their approaches to independent labor organization and its multifarious amalgamations; the labor question, in turn, is entwined with epistemology in an Age of Revolution. In the venerable centrist discourse (in use since the English Civil War) agreeable folks possessed qualities hitherto associated with race or ethnicity: moderates were good (Tory) Anglo-Saxons; extremists were bad (Hebraic) Anglo-Saxons, overtaken and infiltrated by radical puritanism–the source of all obdurate, selfish, polarizing and deceptive materialist influences. As introduced above, I use the term “corporatist” and “organic conservative” to characterize the triumphant ideology of postwar businessmen, federal bureaucrats and union leaders, the moderate men of “the vital center,” viny humanists all. Emulating the gradualism advocated by the eighteenth-century politician Edmund Burke, the corporatist ideologues presented their scientific socio-economic theory as progressive, i.e., updated and rectified liberalism. The claims of individuals would be balanced against the claims of community and tradition. A weak social democracy was the outcome, with the stipulation that the doctrine of abstract rights, a Jacobin innovation, was out of bounds.

The holistic “vital” vision would unify warring fragments. Spiritualized but fact-loving moderates were at odds both with materialists to their Left (such as the IWW and the Socialist Party, later the Communist Party and the anti-Stalinist liberal Left) and with materialists to their Right. During the Depression, the Left wanted independent labor unions, extensive government regulation of industry, and all forms of social security (including health insurance) to emanate directly from the federal bureaucracy; the market-oriented Right opposed all labor unions and all state regulation. (For the latter, “inefficient” national social security programs would undermine self-reliance, choice, and local control. At that time, some Progressives classified National Socialism as a racist movement of the Left, not the Right; indeed, during the 1930s Gerard Swope’s social democratic proposals, more extensive than Roosevelt’s, were greeted by Herbert Hoover as “fascistic.”)

Kerry femme fatale mode

Kerry femme fatale mode

                [i]  10. See Philip Foner, History of the Labor Movement In The United States, Vol.1 (New York: International Publishers, 1947), 163-64. Foner was discussing the Whig pretense that their party served the interests of independent workingmen using suffrage to remedy their grievances. Shaw’s decision had made it legal “to organize and bargain collectively” (but with “enough leeway” to be gutted by “reactionary judges”). In 1839-40, seven leaders of the Boston Journeymen Bootmaker’s Society had been indicted and found guilty for conspiracy, the bootmakers having made rules that would have excluded non-members from the craft. It was argued that they maliciously intended to destroy the plaintiff’s business; Shaw was reversing a Municipal Court decision that had held the Bootmakers’ regulations a conspiracy, enforced or not. Foner quoted Shaw’s opinion: associations could “adopt measures ‘that may have a tendency to impoverish another, that is, to diminish his gains and profits, and yet so far from being criminal and unlawful, the object may be highly meritorious and public spirited. The legality of such an association will therefore depend upon the means to be used for its accomplishment. If it is carried into effect by fair or honorable and lawful means, it is to say the least, innocent, if by falsehood or force, it may be stamped with the character of conspiracy.’ ” Shaw had drawn a clean boundary between honorable and dishonorable social action; Melville would be interrogating Shaw’s distinction in his most disputed texts: what if the fair and honorable were always punished, while the rascals were deemed “innocent”?

                [ii] 11. See Leo Litwack, North of Slavery (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961), Chapter 4 for a full discussion of the conflict. The Roberts case was argued by Charles Sumner before Shaw’s court, Dec. 4, 1849. Melville began writing Moby-Dick in 1850.


January 2, 2013

Culture warriors and the Enlightenment

enlightenment[My most comprehensive treatment of this vexed subject is here: https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.]

Bill O’Reilly, the most popular history writer in America today and the dominant draw in cable news, has announced to his millions of viewers that he will accelerate his assault on “secular-progressives” and implied that he expects to win the culture wars for “traditionalists” like himself. He has started his campaign because he believes that the breakdown in family structure (i.e. the absent father in minority and other poor families) is the primary cause of dependency on the redistributionist welfare state.

What O’Reilly fails to see is that many, if not all, of his secular progressive enemies are as much committed to the organic society as is he, for they are often moderate men given to “compromise,”  and thus healers of every conceivable rift in the “body politic.”

As I have demonstrated on this website and in my book on the Melville Revival, there was not only one Enlightenment, but two streams of thought contributing to what O’Reilly calls “secular progressivism.” One stream watered the New Deal, while the other fed the notions of free market capitalism as explicated by Hayek and the Friedmans, to name a few.

Take Peter Gay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gay) , whose volumes on the Enlightenment energized the fields of cultural history, social history, and the history of medicine, sub-fields of history that lean toward the organic society (the class collaboration furthered by the New Deal and other conservative reformers), though that is not generally seen, as these academics are a tightly knit group that fends off “mechanical materialist” intruders, who deny, say, the notion of Zeitgeist as formulated by such counter-Enlightenment figures as Herder and other German Romantics. And yet in his Freud For Historians (Oxford UP, 1985), Gay distances himself from such mystical formulations as Zeitgeist.

Here is what Peter Gay wrote in the second volume of his massive tome The Enlightenment: An Interpretation Vol.II: The Science of Freedom (Knopf, 1969):

“There was nothing new in the philosophes’ perception that society is a fabric with interdependent, interacting parts:* what they did that was new was to take this perception as a justification for their own importance. After all, if progress is infectious, then to teach truth, expose error, and inculcate confidence—and all this, of course, the philosophes were sure they were doing—was to spread reason and shed light over large areas, even in unsuspected places. Thus the philosophes enlisted the enlightened atmosphere of their day in the service of their movement.” (p.25, “The Spirit of the Age, ” my emph.)

I quote Peter Gay because I want to distinguish between what I call the Conservative Enlightenment and the (materialist) Radical Enlightenment. The former type is covertly Burkean, emphasizing continuities with the past through “interdependence” and (implied) deference to Platonic Guardians, while the latter was a rupture with the past. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/.)  The American Constitution was one such rupture, especially as its original favoritism toward white males was rectified by the antislavery and voting rights for women amendments.

What is at stake in these competing notions of Enlightenment is the conception of the autonomous individual, capable of standing apart from passions, from families, from tribal associations, to read the world (reality) and hence to make decisions as an independent citizen. Such a one can throw off the conception of “national character” or group mind that [collectivist] Peter Gay supports through his rhetoric and his reverence for “the secular social conscience” (p.39), Kant and other German thinkers. The notion of Zeitgeist is imaginary, like the widely used term “cultural climate,” or, to use Peter Gay’s scientistic language “enlightened atmosphere.”

Today, the cultural climate that alarms Bill O’Reilly (e.g. the “culture of violence”) has taken on the agency once attributed to the individual. But such culturalist formulations go well with the corporatist liberal/communist notion of “social engineering.” Fix the “cultural climate,” bring back the moderate, healing good father (Lincoln, JFK, O’Reilly), and such events as the Newtown massacre will end, and we shall indeed live to see the best of all possible worlds.


*Compare Gay’s formulation to that of Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob, and Lynn Hunt: “Historians cannot comprehend all the variables bombarding a single event. Human beings participate in a dense circuitry of interacting systems, from those that regulate their bodily functions to the ones that undergird their intellectual curiosity and emotional responses. A full explanation of an event would have to take into consideration the full range of systematic reactions. Not ever doing that, history-writing implicitly begins by concentrating on those aspects of an event deemed most relevant to the inquiry.” (From Telling the Truth in History, Norton, 1994, p.253)

April 1, 2012

Secularism and the Affordable Care Act

I asked my FB friends what they thought the word “secular” meant, and got a number of responses suggesting that it meant one thing: atheism.

It appears that the culture wars have done their job: to most of the responders, “secular” signifies atheism, which may indicate narcissism, nihilism, and amorality to them. But in its older meaning, pre-culture wars, “secular” simply referred to matters of this world, as opposed to other-worldliness in religions that emphasized heaven and hell. But more significantly, secularism is a political science term that refers to the separation of church and state, meaning that no religion has priority over others, and that no religion is the established state religion. In the U.S. we enjoy religious pluralism. But triumphalist religions have managed to minimize the Founding Fathers’ commitment to the separation of church and state. And culture warriors such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich have turned “the secularist” into the bogey man, insisting that the Constitution, like the Declaration of Independence before it, was divinely inspired, rather than the institutionalization of natural rights. But read the Federalist papers and see that Hamilton puts ultimate authority in the people, which is another word for popular sovereignty. Just as (later) in the French Revolution, power, knowledge and virtue had passed from Kings and Church to the People, who would then comprise the red specter to this very day, at least in the U.S. The U.S. Constitution was written to create a strong and effective national government, and owed its inception to epistemological materialism and to the Enlightenment. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/09/02/spinoza-as-culture-critic/.)

Alexander Hamilton was a church-goer, but to his most venomous critics he was not just a bastard-upstart, a foreigner, and a monarchist; he was a crypto-Jew, i.e., a variant of the anti-Christ. Recall that the Reformation convulsed Europe, with protestants (of many stripes) being defined as heretics by the outraged Catholic Church, who went on to purify their practice in the Counter-Reformation, a development that went on to censor such as Spinoza and other freethinkers at a time of burgeoning literacy among the lower orders.  (See Radical Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel’s 2001 book on Spinoza and censorship throughout Europe following the underground publication of his works; there is now a shorter work published in 2009 treating the Radical Enlightenment and the roots of democracy. But I view J. Israel as a social democrat and doubt that we have the same genealogy for democracy and free thought, since my vanguard includes such as Hayek, von Mises, and the Friedmans, but not Maynard Keynes.)

For decades, I have followed the academic assault on empiricism, medicine, and psychiatry (including the “historicizing” and discrediting of all of the mental health practitioners, Freudian and non-Freudian alike). Doctors do not share any one religious or non-religious orientation, but they do focus their training on healing the sick, which means studying the human body in various states of health, trauma,  and disease. Theirs is a secular profession, but one that finds itself in conflict with those religions that see sickness and health as dispensations from God, as part of God’s plan for the individual and for the world. Thus we find unresolved and perhaps unresolvable conflicts over such practices as abortion, contraception, abortifacients, embryonic stem-cell research, and assisted suicide in the terminally ill.

I find it odd that in all the publicity over the Affordable Care Act that these culture war issues have not been emphasized, yet the cost of medical care and what is covered or excluded is related to larger conflicts over appropriate professional intervention in the processes of life and death. Not surprisingly, much of the opposition to the ACA comes from the religious Right that correctly fears government-run “death panels” or other instances of rationing (see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/29/james-pagano-m-d-on-affordable-care-act/). They are not paranoid in this respect. In an ironic coalition, God-Squads and Doc-Squads may find themselves on the same side.

Illustrated: Top: Jonathan Israel, Middle: Spinoza toy; Bottom: Joel Strom DDS, organizer for www.docsquads.org.

January 15, 2012

Prometheus Bound, but good

Rubens's Prometheus BoundThis blog responds to a heated interchange this last week over whether Republicans or Democrats were more “anti-science.” I complained bitterly about the foolish framing of the question, but since few non-scientists may understand my own indignation, I thought I had better explain.

There is no such thing as a “science” that encompasses all the worldly, materialist efforts to grasp the facts of life and death, thence to intervene to enhance life and forestall death. What the electorate is debating is the power of ultraconservative evangelical Protestants and Catholics to roll back the achievements (or, in their views, atrocities) of the modern world, a modernity that is held responsible for decadence and mass death, owing to the mistaken notions of progress and “enlightenment;” a secular wasteland that is gleefully responsible for “the death of God,” or, failing that, banishing Christian symbols from public space. Such a dive into the muck betrays “life” itself.  In other words, the question regarding “anti-science” serves culture warriors in both political parties and is intrinsic to the current polarization.

Scientism versus science.   In my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, I made a distinction between the Radical and Conservative Enlightenments. The Radical Enlightenment (a 16th century development that educated and raised the morale of “the lower orders”) was co-opted by anxious elites fearing the leveling tendencies of science and its alleged worship of the Goddess of Reason. These “moderate conservative” elites formed the progressive movement, and used “scientific management” to forestall servile revolts, arguing that free markets, left unregulated, would generate mobs who would abolish private property tout court. Similarly, social psychology was harnessed to the New Deal, using statistics and other scientistic (i.e., pretending to scientific method) strategies to get a consensus behind the ever more powerful federal government and the authority of the presidency.  I call this co-opting of “science” the Conservative Enlightenment. The social bonds it advocates are based on mystical bonds between leaders and the led, not upon the convergence of real interests within groups. Such are the methods espoused by the troops of the allegedly “pro-science” Democratic Party.

Science versus Magic. Scientific method, i.e., relying on material evidence and following facts wherever they lead, does not come naturally to a growing child. As an infant and toddler, and even into adolescence, magical thinking will dominate the psyche. Seeing “things as they are” may be fraught with fear, pain, and conflict. In my own examination of Herman Melville’s writing, I have seen the anguish with which the idealizations of childhood are relinquished. His kaleidoscopic imagination, that constantly reconfigures the world we think we see, so apparent to readers who have gone that route themselves, is generally suppressed in the scholarship, or dismissed as “incoherence,” or as a pre-Freudianism that is easily dismissed as bogus, carnal, and hence “Jewish.” Melville himself never resolved his inner war between science and religion, at times demonizing his “dark” Promethean characters, including “Margoth” an apostate secular Jew, who bears comparison with Twain’s Yankee.

Dialectical materialism versus materialism. Realism and naturalism in the arts have gotten a bad rap because of their association with the marxiste notion of dialectical materialism. The latter is a form of Hegelianism that banishes the real world in favor of an unalterable march toward communism/the reign of Spirit, a march supposedly led by the politically-conscious working class, but in practice, guided by intellectuals. These same intellectuals decry (undialectical) “materialism” as atomization and hyper-individualism of the most hateful “bourgeois” variety. I have been called that atomic bomb by more than one Leninist. As culture critics, they purportedly espouse “realism,” which for them consists of unveiling the mystifications of the bourgeoisie, pulling back the curtain to expose exploited masses and wily magicians in the urbanized land of Oz. Where these mystical anti-mystics go wrong is in their condemnation of the Promethean bourgeoisie, a class that relies on science and technology to improve the world and the life chances of its inhabitants.

Science is not dogma, and is constantly self-correcting in the collective criticism of the community of scientists (unless they are bought off by patronage). But that is not the view of those relativists who now study the history of science in order to discredit is as “essentially, a swindle.” (See https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/ or https://clarespark.com/2010/01/03/this-witch-is-not-for-burning-science-as-magic/.)

In the world of true science, quacks are driven out, and commonly held beliefs subject to alteration in the face of new evidence. Would that our political culture were as discriminating in extruding frauds.


December 12, 2009

Switching the Enlightenment: corporatist liberalism and the revision of American history

Flyer for a 1993 talk with added notes by CS

[Added 12-17-09: see related blog https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/, also https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.

[Update: By the free-standing individual, I do not mean a narcissist incapable of seeing beyond his long and crooked nose, but a rational person aware of his/her responsibilities as a citizen in a would-be democratic republic. The policy of “multiculturalism” as currently envisioned by both Democrats and “moderate” Republicans confers terminal irrationality on the lower orders, leaving them to the tender mercies of an oligarchy.]

The blogs on this website comprise a series of focused studies on the modern practice of the historian’s craft. Their unifying theme is the attempt by “interdisciplinary” scholars to discredit the tools upon which historians have depended since the mid-nineteenth century, specifically archival research and the critical evaluation of sources in the interest of a relatively objective reconstruction of the past. Leopold von Ranke is dead, having been supplanted by classroom activists opposing the “essentially imperialist, racist, and patriarchal historical project” of this country” [Spanos]; such (essentialist) labeling cannot be sustained with empirical evidence, hence scientific method is under assault by cultural historians of science. This campaign by scholar-activists was not a post-1960s novelty, as some critics aver [Kimball].

Social psychologists and sociologists allied with the 1930s Popular Front against fascism, before, during, and after WWII, transformed the democratic Enlightenments, analyzing their ideologies as protofascist, and presenting their own vision of the paternalistic organic society as “genuine liberalism” [Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality].

I call this group the “corporatist liberals.” In their hands, “scientific” history morphed into “cultural history” [Carolyn Ware]; the Jeffersonian “melting-pot” (as publicized in Israel Zangwill’s play of 1908) was reinterpreted as forced assimilation to the materialist culture of a bourgeois liberal WASP elite [Filler]; and the conception of the free-standing, self-managing American citizen dissolved into the individual-in-society, molded by “cultural” context, and possessing group (ethnic or racial) identity, hence bearing “group facts” that were incomprehensible to other races or ethnicities [Robinson].

The corporatist liberals (led by Talcott Parsons and his circle at Harvard) fostered postwar definitions of fascism and nazism that looked retrospectively at “the puritan” (including the moral mother expanding her empire) as not only a dangerous American type (the narcissistic, hot-headed and cold-hearted imperialist), but “romantic puritans” were precursors to Hitler (reconstructed as a hyper-capitalist) and his genocidal policies: it was a straight line from New England antinomians to today’s right-wing militias [Brodhead, Bercovitch].

I believe my synthesis is original. Scientists and mathematicians (e.g. Paul Gross and Norman J. Levitt) have protested the postmodernist misunderstanding of science, while other historians (e.g. Windschuttle) are dismayed by “the killing of history” by the post-60s generation, but have not identified the possibly controlling sub-text of cultural histories explaining the rise of fascism/nazism: Fascism, abetted by science and technology in the hands of the upstart middle-class, the culturalists argue, demonstrates the failure of “mass politics,” i.e. popular sovereignty. This synthesis has already been introduced in my book on the Melville Revival, but requires further elaboration.

Writing on behalf of the American Historical Association in 1939, Carolyn Ware (married to New Deal economist Gardiner Means) advised that the cultural historian should not “rest upon the prescription of the scientific historians to let the facts speak and to be guided wherever the material may lead.” A particularist definition of tolerance was central to corporatist liberalism in the early twentieth century. Progressive social psychologists disseminating national programs of “civilian morale” in 1940-41 posited group diversity and advised the inclusion of minorities in government planning processes: Working toward common goals, while utilizing the special qualities of _different_ ethnicities, would serve social harmony. Such tolerance removed the threat of “rupture” by excluding the intellectual engagement of diverse belief systems with each other, a “moderate” strategy advanced by the Tory historian David Hume in the mid-eighteenth century as he contemplated unbalanced extremists: repressive Catholics and fanatical puritans, the latter seduced by the Old Testament and its “eastern poetic” or “eastern prophetic style”: Crusading puritans were all-too-given to the dictates of individual conscience, primary source research [reading the Tindal Bible], and unbounded curiosity [Hume, Vol.3]; while Catholic censorship was similarly disruptive as it created martyrs. Hume’s middle way, the promotion of rooted cosmopolitanism, is usually associated with the voelkisch thinker J.G. von Herder, and persists today as multiculturalism/ethnopluralism.

Following the tenets of romantic nationalism, all members of the same “ethnic” or “racial” group share inherited group character and economic interests– a corporatist formulation that compels dissenting individuals to submit to “the community” as defined by its natural leader(s) [Robinson]. But there is also a Left critique of cultural nationalism, asserting the socially constructed character of ethnicity, seen as a post-Enlightenment phenomenon [Sollors, 1989]. Other antiracist critics, following Elias and Foucault, attribute nationalism and genocide to the Enlightenment or “modernity” [Bauman]: “bourgeois liberals” fortified by science and panopticons, they say, emerged to assume the command posts of culture, and in the “civilizing process” [Elias] ruptured the bonds of traditional communities, erasing folk knowledges and proclaiming all non-adherents to their middle-class notions of technological rationality as “deviant.”

Moreover, while complaining that nationalism mystifies class antagonisms, postcolonialists have collapsed the analytic category of “class” into “race”;  “whiteness studies” confer a corporatist unity upon all white people or “the [imperialist] West.” While apparently rejecting “imagined communities,” these scholars deploy a communitarian discourse, embracing cultural pluralism, now corrected and updated as “dynamically emerging group identit[ies]” [Sollors, 1986, 279]. In practice, progressive cultural historians and literary scholars support identity politics.

The liberal component of the corporatist liberal ideology, then, consists in the tolerance of “diverse” groups with their unassailable “points of view.” The hyphenated Americans co-exist under the rubric of American nationality, as long as each group eschews the triumphalism Hume and his admirers ascribed to moralizing puritans or Catholics. Functionalist comparisons of Hebraic puritans with nazis served the objective of social “equilibrium” by removing the rationalist presence from the ethnopluralist “mosaic” or “symphony.” The multiculturalists were necessarily antisemitic, insofar as Jews, like radical puritans, interpreted “We the People” as an entity that resisted irrationalist methods of social control in their search for “a more perfect union.” This is a key point, for the social scientists and philosophers I am criticizing were irrationalists, rewriting American history to serve the higher goal of social cohesion in a pluralist society [Lynd, Allport, Murray, Murphy], reinterpreting the legacies of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson as precursors to the activist New Deal state [Becker, Clark], and similarly “integrating” potential bomb-throwers while relegating scientific method to a bounded sphere of influence distant from, and lower than, the humanities [Broughton], or, in cultural studies of science, going so far as to relativize scientific facts themselves as produced solely by institutional context in order to maintain a power elite [Biagioli].

The efforts of the corporatist liberals resulted in the erasure or marginalizing of some key figures in American history, who, notwithstanding diverse political goals, all shared the same, now often proscribed, Hebraic i.e., libertarian opinions and empiricist methods of analysis: that society was a collection of _individuals_; that the liberal state protected the human rights of every individual  by guaranteeing equal treatment and opportunity; that public education of high quality was indispensable for the attainment of popular sovereignty and the informed conscience; that the marketplace of ideas must not be bounded; and that American nationality consisted in the ongoing emancipation from illegitimate authority through appeals to reason.

Such emancipation was unthinkable without scientific method (empiricism), institutional transparency and accountability, and ethical universalism. The Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark website, then, has been devoted to libertarian figures whose motives and achievements have been denigrated either as causes of avoidable and catastrophic civil conflict (Hutchinson, Sumner), or as conniving elitists, arrayed against “the People” (Lippmann, Bunche) in postwar corporatist liberal accounts of their careers.

I. Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38). While noting irreconcilable conflicts of interest between factions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the corporatist liberal critics of Hutchinson and her followers blame her for intransigence and lack of moderation. She may also be viewed as a representation of the newly emerging free market, personified as an intruder by adherents to the moral economy of pre-capitalist societies [Toennies].

II. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was one possible model for Melville’s indomitable moral crusaders, Captain Ahab and Pierre. The main precepts of Sumner’s political principles were all publicized before Melville completed the writing of _Moby-Dick_ (mid-1851): equality before the law, integrated schools, and rejection of slavery on both moral and legal grounds (with the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution as precedents), along with the political struggle against the Slave Power as continuation of the American and French Revolutions. Sumner was defamed by contemporaries as Hebraic, monomaniacal, and a moral terrorist [Donald]; Sumner joins Melville’s Captain Ahab as advocate of the republican messianism that has in turn been linked to Hitler and the Master Race.

III. The Romantic Wandering Jew as emblem of antisocial science and empirical history, e.g. in Melville’s “geologic Jew” Margoth. Rival interpretations of the antebellum decades and the postwar basis for national unity are traced in the formulations of mechanical materialists (inheritors of the Enlightenment) versus those of organic conservatives, both in Melville’s texts and in accounts of civil conflict and its avoidance, by Melville’s contemporaries and the generation that followed.

IV. Walter Lippmann’s interwar writings on propaganda and the media have been misconstrued by Noam Chomsky and his followers as advocating “the manufacture of consent.” Their accounts of “spinmeister” Lippmann as master manipulator are contradicted by Lippmann’s constant reiteration of the pressing need for fact-finding in advanced industrial societies where competing truth-claims required evaluation by non-policy making experts, given the specialized knowledge produced in advanced industrial societies. The elitism of peer review would be mitigated by citizens allowed a rigorous scientific education.

V. Ralph Bunche’s political thought in the 1930s as related by recent cultural historians, who have either rebuked him as “too white” or claimed that he converted to Black Power late in life. Bunche headed the field research team for Gunnar Myrdal and the Carnegie Corporation in the preparation of _An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy_ (1944). It was Bunche who instructed the Swedish economist in the precepts of “the American Creed”: America’s core values (democracy, rationalism, progress) were those of the Enlightenment, however resistant some Americans undoubtedly were to the full realization of equality for its black population. Myrdal, allied to corporatist liberals, rejected Bunche’s empiricism, deploying Bunche and his Howard University colleagues (“economic determinists”) as the red specter that would be unleashed were Southern segregationists to resist political and economic reform. Bunche, initially inspired by his evangelical Protestant grandmother, was writing in the radical puritan tradition, unlike Myrdal, praising the abolitionists, and confronting antisemitism in black nationalist (Garveyite) leadership and elsewhere; whereas Myrdal suggested (in the endnotes to his book) that Jews were the most egregious exploiters of ghetto Negroes.

VI. Parsonian functionalists have linked laissez-faire capitalism/unregulated markets to Hitler and the policies of the Third Reich [Kershaw, 2000, 67], ignoring the degree to which numerous societies, including nazi Germany, resorted to bureaucratic collectivism to manage interwar economic crises. Such attempts to distance New Deal policies from statist management in the dictatorships led to distorted accounts of Hitler’s appeal and the rise of nazism, for populists and progressives in America and in the NSDAP similarly attacked the rule of “finance capital” as the source of division and decadence in “the people’s community” or in various peoples’ communities. This study traces the intellectual history of multiculturalism (including its implementation as policy) from Herder to the present (e.g. Andress, 1916), to demonstrate that Parsonians have attempted to eject market-expanding puritans from the American landscape by linking the Enlightenment with Hitler’s terror state and supportive “fascist Republicans.” Hence Hitler was assigned stereotypical Jewish attributes in the wartime and postwar analyses of the functionalists (e.g. Henry A. Murray, 1943), as was America: the materialist Hitler, like the Chosen People, was a cynical swindler of the masses he purported to rescue from their oppressors [Bramsted, Kershaw, 1987, 3]. Moreover, nazism and Zionism are often linked: Zionism is alleged to be “essentially… voelkisch” [Noll, 75]. Presumably the proto-nazi American psyche would heal through proofs that puritan mad scientists [Hawthorne] had led the cynical, gullible mob to ruin [Arendt].

In sum, corporatist liberals rejected an eighteenth-century conception of the liberal nation based, not on hyphenated Americanism–a congeries of rehabilitated “Others” and their repentant ex-persecutors– but upon a shared project: the cooperative search for truth and amelioration. Such an enlightened quest did not repudiate the past, thus alienating ex-slaves and immigrants from their cherished ancestors, but rather furthered understanding of the choices that shaped prior institutions and beliefs, without idealization of leaders or the led.

By substituting cultural (i.e. irrationalist) interpretations of history for empirical studies of the political and economic conditions (including their contending ideologies) that facilitated the rise and maintenance of fascist dictatorships, ethnopluralist progressives switched the Enlightenment and undermined an appropriately critical and functioning democratic polity.


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September 3, 2009

Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?

de Chirico imagines Apollinaire

The poet Apollinaire once wrote that he was more interested in what divided men than in what united them, and most of all, he said, he wanted to know what gnaws at their hearts. That sentiment remains uppermost in my thoughts, especially at this time when the U.S. is confronted with a health reform bill that proposes funding for preventive medicine and mental health services, even though there is zero agreement among practitioners as to what constitutes sound protocols in either of those fields. All my prior blogs have addressed this problem (see the entries on panic attacks, sadomasochism, social psychologists defining civilian morale and preventive politics or psychoanalyzing Hitler, embedded antisemitism, the Pacifica memoir, etc.).

Whatever I have learned throughout my long life about the human heart and its tangled emotions, the most original contributions have been gleaned from very close reading, particularly during the many years spent with Herman Melville (1819-1891), both as  man and writer. One reason that Melville has been claimed by readers and propagandists with incompatible politics is his constant switching from one point of view to another, changing sides or positions with breathtaking speed.  As I have argued throughout my book on the so-called Melville Revival, he never feels safe or at home wherever he may be on the questions that agitated the American nineteenth century–Jacksonian political styles and mass politics, westward expansion and Indian removal; abolitionism, Civil War, and Reconstruction; angry de-skilled artisans and a potentially mutinous new working class; evolution and the higher Biblical criticism; nascent socialism in Europe; naval discipline; and the growing power of women in the family–especially in their role as moral reformers, to a degree, displacing paternal authority.

[From Hunting Captain Ahab:]  The switches from one unsafe prospect to another are diverting. As “White-Jacket” (1850), Melville abruptly rejected the piecemeal reform he had just been advocating: his proposed ban on flogging could not end injustices meted out to enlisted men whose class interest in pacifism was “essentially” opposed by glory-seeking officers. White-Jacket fatally defined the situation that class collaborationists, fascist and antifascist alike, have ever attempted to render invisible:

“…can men, whose interests are diverse, ever hope to live together in a harmony uncoerced? Can the brotherhood of the race of mankind ever hope to prevail in a man-of-war, where one man’s bane is another man’s blessing? By abolishing the scourge, shall we do away with tyranny; that tyranny which must ever prevail, where of two essentially antagonistic classes in perpetual contact, one is immeasurably the stronger? [i]

Moreover as the black cook “Fleece” pointed out in Moby-Dick, “the sharks” did not care to be converted. Such “dark” perceptions were dangerous but essential to a morally ambitious artist faithful to social reality. If moral reform is only a blast of hot air, then structural transformation is on the agenda.

[i] 19. Quoted by H. Bruce Franklin, The Victim As Criminal And Artist, 39. Franklin uses this passage to make a claim for Melville as primitive communist. In Chapter XVI of his unpublished biography, the Progressive Henry A. Murray revealingly distorted the passage, minimizing Melville’s description of a structural antagonism. Rather, Melville is describing point of view as dependent on one’s place in the hierarchy: “War, for example, which offered officers their only opportunity for glory, was anticipated more eagerly by them than by the seamen.” Although Harvard professor Alan Heimert has identified Ahab with John Calhoun, neither White-Jacket nor Ahab condones coercive harmony. However, noting the differing interests of sailors and officers does not make Melville a Marxist. Cf. John Calhoun’s defense of slavery as a positive good: “…there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other…There is and always has been in an advanced stage of wealth and civilization, a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict.” Quoted in Frederick Jackson Turner, The United States 1830-1850 (New York: Norton paperback, 1965), 197. [end book excerpt]

In my last blog, I distanced myself from the postmodernists, particularly those who rejected modernity and Enlightenment as elevating the protofascist “mob society” to use Hannah Arendt’s famous term. Melville, in one of his many personas, could do that too, perhaps because he suffered from double-binds that seemed specific to a science-driven world that was challenging the traditions that once made people feel at home in their skins. Astonishingly, in all my reading in the cures offered to “neurotic” or “nervous” patients from the late nineteenth century on, I found no recognition of the conflicts that Melville himself had identified throughout his oeuvre, but most blatantly in his “crazy” novel, Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), which I view as Moby-Dick brought home to the family, with the writer Pierre as analog to Captain Ahab, two of Melville’s traveling company of Prometheans.

A good teacher is supposed to state clearly the hoped-for outcome of a curriculum (and this website is a sort of syllabus), so here goes:

Ideally, readers of my blogs should be able to identify ambiguities or conflicts (reconcilable or irreconcilable) specific to modernity. These include the search for truth vs. (upper-class) Order; intellectual independence vs. unswerving loyalty to family or state; capital vs. labor (? I used to think that this was so); science vs. religion; and (“rootless”) cosmopolitanism vs. narrow “racial” or “ethnic” identification or “pluralism” as “rooted” cosmopolitanism.  To the extent that the pseudo-moderate men attempt to reconcile conflicts that may be irreconcilable, they place citizens in Orwellian double-binds:  inverting knowledge and ignorance, praise and humiliation, freedom and slavery. It follows that participatory politics and other processes intended to legitimate authority are stymied if these inversions operate inside us.  So we end up with unquestioned allegiance to a favorite pundit, and relinquish thinking for ourselves.

It is not my claim that no reforms should be advanced short of total structural transformation by which I mean a revolution in social property relations; it is a question of conceptual clarity.  Tactical compromises and coalitions are pointless unless located in the realm of the possible; utopian fantasies of unattainable social harmony lead to disillusion and perhaps despair followed by violence or apathy. Social conflict should be analyzed with a view to real difference of interest: ethnocultural or gender categories as the primary source of “identity” are not only essentialist; they mystify internal class conflicts in that group or gender or nationality and sink the dissenting individual (e.g., as modern artist or scientist).

Moreover, insofar as “identity politics” posit self-contained “communities” such categories deflect attention from interdependence with other groups and with nature.  But most crucially, the search for “identity” is an imperative formulated by reactionaries worried about “continuity” and “cohesion” in those modern societies that continually question authority; the modernists (deemed iconoclastic by their opponents) seek new forms of order that may “de-skill” kings and clerics.

How do competing “historicisms” alleviate or worsen the pressures of double binds? I contrast two of them: one is now dominant in the humanities, while the second one promises potential advance in our undercivilized war-ridden world.

A. Historicism as “blood-and-soil” pluralism or “ethnoculturalism” or “ethnopluralism”: the “identity politics” created by the pseudo-moderate men.  Defining itself against the New Unpredictability, i.e., the open-ended inductive methods of science, the new civil liberties and miscegenating “rootless cosmopolitanism” of the radical Enlightenment, ethnopluralism denies the existence of universal truths or ethical standards since there are only “group facts”; hence there can be no conflict between the independent thinker and the group.  These corporatist[1] thinkers (pluralists and cultural relativists) may attempt to restore a racially or ethnically homogeneous “community” which is innocently erotic, harmonious, pre-capitalist, myth-loving and patriarchal (i.e., ruled by the wisely integrative good father); free of the disintegrating Enlightenment (Hebraic, radical Protestant, technocratic, consumerist) intellect: everyone is protected, rooted and comfortable with her/his place and modest possessions, not tormented by the expectation of autonomy (which is caricatured as leading to anomie or the insatiable will-to-power or masochism).

B. Historicism as critical historical analysis. We should understand that the imagination has a social history that must be retrieved if we are to transcend the irrational politics of the past.  A critical history will not simply look at class, “race,” and gender in a static fashion to detect “positive” and “negative” images, or heroic myths, or gender/racial/ethnic archetypes, or instincts for “innate aggression” or “Thanatos.”  Rather, a critical history examines all the institutions that limit or expand opportunities and choices; people and their emotions are in motion, (partially) accepting or rejecting inherited narratives that diagnose difficulties and recommend solutions.  Even if some human characteristics are proven to be genetically transmitted, aggression for instance, it should be explained why some people seem out of control while others master their instincts in the interest of peaceful conflict-resolution: What are the ideological and environmental conditions that limit or expand choices?  Unlike some postmodernists or “new historicists,” I do not conclude that people are stamped or inscribed by discourses/ environments, even though individual and social conflicts are historically concrete and require site-specific contextual analysis.  Nor does this historicism automatically preclude comparisons and contrasts with institutions and conflicts in other cultures and earlier periods as some conservative cultural relativists would have it.

My final goal is the reclamation of the amelioration, critical thought and universalist ethics promoted by the Radical Enlightenment: Can there be a preformulated good myth, a “narrative of resistance” (Richard Slotkin), or is perpetual improvisation and the open-ended process of anti-mythic narrative (analysis, revision, and reconfiguration of past and present) the enlightened alternative to the Symbolist politics of the Progressives?  For example, their paternalistic “reform-or-ruin” prescription for preventive politics (Lasswell and Murray) does not remove, however gradually, what may be structural causes of conflict, hence is a form of psychological and political warfare, not the social and individual progress it wants to be.

I will end with some deathless words from Melville’s character, the abolitionist Father Mapple:

“Delight is to him- a far, far upward, and inward delight- who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges.”

In the context of this particular blog, the “sin” is yielding to another, however admired or adored, our critical capacities as citizens with both rights and duties.

[1] Corporatist does not refer to modern corporations and their power, but to the institutional style associated with  medieval Europe and the Christian-Platonic tradition.  It is the cultural style of the organic conservatives who believe that hierarchies are natural and beneficial; all diversity the gift of a perfect God.

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