The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2013

The origins of “political correctness” (2)

political-correctness2[Update, 9-20-13: rules against “hate speech” were enforced by the institutionalized censorship in the movie industry long before the 1960s. “Entertainment” was sharply differentiated from “propaganda” or any movie that portrayed other countries unfairly. I.e., “Love” trumped “hate”. Amor vincit omnia. Thank you Will Hays and Joseph Breen, and lately, Loretta Lynch!]

The Paula Deen affair has returned the subject of “hate speech” and “political correctness” to the headlines. In part one of this sequence (https://clarespark.com/2013/06/23/the-origins-of-political-correctness/ and https://clarespark.com/2013/07/04/independence-and-the-marketplace-of-ideas/.) I tried to correct the widespread impression on the Right that “cultural Marxism” was responsible for what is considered to be an infringement on the First Amendment. Indirectly, I sharply criticized “paleoconservatives” for aligning themselves with such as Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby that blamed the imputed Jewishness of the German “Marxist-Freudian” refugees for gagging white, Christian Americans. (This was especially notable in Bill Lind’s piece on the origins of PC. See the dissemination of his line here: http://monroecountydailytest.blogspot.com/2011/06/politically-correct-attitudes.html. For more on Willis Carto see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willis_Carto).

In this blog, I will extend my discussion, taking into account 1. The hypocrisy of punishing Paula Deen for using the “N” word long ago while liberals deploy a racialist discourse that fails to criticize the very notion of “race”; and 2. The understandable confusion arising from the politics of the [Comintern initiated] “Popular Front” against fascism in the 1930s, wherein communists and New Deal liberals were seen as one coherent political entity, which they were not. Both were statists and bureaucratic collectivists, but whereas New Dealers were conservative reformers trying to stabilize capitalism, communists were revolutionary socialists, hoping to turn the world upside down.

First, the question of hypocrisy. Even before the Soviet coup, it was the progressive movement that dreamed up the notion of the hyphenated American in the nineteen teens (1916). Their purpose: to counter the then left-wing generated notion of proletarian internationalism with the notion of ethnicity. Out went the melting pot, and in came the hyphenated American, thanks to such as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen (the latter a teaching assistant to William James, the pragmatist philosopher).

(See https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/. The latter blog quotes Horace Kallen.)

American nationality was thus redefined. The syncretic melting pot American was out. The hyphenated Americans were in. There would be a mosaic or salad of grouplets, sharing the same capacity for love and compassion. Hence was born “multiculturalism” prefigured by the German Romantics as a weapon against rootless cosmopolitans. The very notion of the individual was erased, for “individualism” was associated with narcissism, selfishness, jingoism, and hateful big business, the latter allegedly disgraced during the Gilded Age. The “individual” was all Head and no Heart; such a demon atomized society, leaving in its wake the lonely crowd. He was the generic “Jew,” and was indistinguishable from the WASP elite.

As a further weapon against class politics during the Great Depression, the big liberal foundations adopted the notion earlier popularized by William James as cultural pluralism: that social conflict could be managed with better intercultural communication: there would be no problem with “compromise” if we understood each other better. Later progressives would see that abusive language hampered the rational state of mind that would allow warring parties to submit to mediation. Ralph Bunche saw through the intercultural strategy in his lengthy memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal (ca. 1938-1940), and was stigmatized as an “economic determinist” for his pains in Myrdal’s An American Dilemma (1944). (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Also https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.)

Thus the stage was set for Ivy League professors and big liberal foundations to bargain with troublemaking blacks during the late 1960s. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.) I have shown in this review of progressive politics that there was no critique of race or ethnicity, but rather an assault on the dissenting or “different” individual. Paula Deen was caught like a fly on flypaper, and no public figure has, to my knowledge, criticized the liberal media for hypocrisy, for it is they who persist in the racialist language of groupiness, and who believe that keeping the “N” word to oneself will solve major structural problems, e.g., the opposition of teachers unions to school choice and/or merit pay.

Second, the confusing Popular Front. Some readers were unconvinced by part one of this blog sequence. They persist in seeing a purely communist lineage for PC. For many on the Right, the boundaries between social democrats and communists have been blurred. For this, we can blame the Comintern that initiated the coalition of bourgeois parties and revolutionary parties from 1934 onward. But make no mistake: the Democratic Party remains a bourgeois party, making strategic gestures that only appear to be anti-racist, but this strategy will not bear close scrutiny as I argued above.

This passage from Hugh Thomas on Spanish politics at the time of the Popular Front (1934) may help to explain why there are divergent views on the origins of political correctness:

“At this time, with the shadows of war and fascism alike growing, the Soviet Union had a good reputation in Spain as elsewhere among Left and progressive people. The great Russian experiment did not yet seem to have betrayed its ideals. Thanks to an extraordinary programme of propaganda and unprecedented secrecy, the facts of agricultural collectivization were as yet unknown, and the persecution of Trotsky not understood. The communist party was to claim that they were responsible for the pact of the Popular Front which fought the Spanish general elections of February 1936. But it required little prompting for the socialists to adopt the salute with the clenched fist and bent arm (originated by German communists), the red flag, the revolutionary phraseology, the calls to unite in the face of international fascism demanded throughout the world by communist parties. ‘Anti-fascism’ and ‘the Popular Front’ were becoming powerful myths, almost irresistible to those who both loved peace and liberty and were impatient with old parties. Equally important on the Right were the myths of empire and national regeneration. The appearance in the Cortes elected in 1933 of a fascist and a communist was a portent and a warning.” (p.117, The Spanish Civil War)

In Thomas’s account, communism and social democracy bled into one another, thanks to the [preventable] polarization in Spain. Extend that bleed to Europe and to the United States, and you have the impasse of today.  Bereft of history, but armed with groupiness, the First Amendment becomes an item in the arsenal of demagogues where “ignorant armies clash by night.”

Paula Deen is road kill.

Paula Deen

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May 16, 2011

Questions for education reformers

Bernard Mandeville’s most famous work

I have been corresponding with Eva Moskowitz,  a leader in NYC education reform. She is involved with the Charter School movement (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_schools), and has a well-researched critique of the “therapeutic” culture that has distorted our education system since the late 19th century, most recently in the emphasis on “self-esteem” in the multicultural curriculum. Her book illuminated for me some of the “progressive” precursors to New Age thinking, a psychology cult that is particularly strong in California, and which is both silly and dangerous.

What follows are some of my initial thoughts about obstacles to reforming our schools, with some special attention to the charter school movement, though that is not the focus of this blog. I have included links to earlier blogs on this website.

1. Fragmentation of the professions:  because of the way that college education evolved, the holistic “philosophic” approach of such thinkers as Bernard Mandeville (an influence on Adam Smith) or Locke or other enlightened thinkers has gone out the window. None of the greats would have looked at schools in a vacuum. See for instance my notes on Charles Sumner (https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/) or my posting on Walter Lippmann (https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/).
For instance, can we talk about schools without a consideration of the welfare state and its particular policies? Or the aim of many “liberals” who seek “stability” and “social cohesion” at the expense of learning how to master life skills? And what about those religions that teach submission to authority without ever distinguishing between legitimate authority and arbitrary authority? In a pluralistic society, are vouchers the only solution to the problem I have posed? Are some religious schools enemies to an intellectually vigorous polity?

2. Is teaching a profession, or are teachers workers? When I was in school (first round, mid-50s), the burning question was whether or not teachers were a profession. In medieval times, there were artisan guilds that strictly enforced the quality of their product and there were tight restrictions regulating entry into the guild. But teachers unions do not aim for a better product (do they?) but seem to be focused on protecting teachers from measurement. Are teachers like factory workers in the 19th century? I don’t think so. Charter schools are reforms within the public education system, and were the offspring of Albert Shanker of the AFT.  Should the teachers unions be broken, or can charter schools fire incompetents and reward energetic and effective teachers?

3. On overcoming multiculturalism. See https://clarespark.com/2011/02/11/undoing-multiculturalism/. But there is another one that lays out the precursors to today’s institutionalized MC: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.  The remedy to MC, I believe, is the teaching of fact-based science, but also the history of “scientific racism.”That would uncover the racialist premises of MC. Moreover, it could clarify the difference between national identity based on a common set of laws (Gesellschaft), versus “national identity” based on group cultural character (Gemeinschaft and its exuded “Zeitgeist”). The latter is mystical and collectivist, the former is materialist and concrete. As I have shown in all my work, the German Romantics, from Herder to Hegel to Fichte, advocated a philosophy that led to state worship and ultimately laid the basis for the Nazi racial state. There was a big Herder revival in the Third Reich, while the new “race pedagogy” supposedly inspired by Franz Boas relied on Herder at the same time (1916) that Randolph Bourne was advocating hyphenated Americanism in opposition to the melting pot of the big cities.

4. On curriculum development and rigor. With the exception of some of America’s Founding Fathers, no elite has ever been unequivocally dedicated to an excellent popular education for all. The liberal foundations were organized to prevent revolution from below, even before the second world war. Redistributive justice (as opposed to commutative justice) was their mantra. They didn’t care about learning and uplifting the population to become responsible citizens in a democratic republic.  Enter social studies and the “progressive” rejection of the 19th century as dominated by heartless laissez-faire capitalists who mowed down everything in their paths.

A high school graduate who does not understand markets, monetary policy, accounting (including cost-benefit analysis) and competing economic theories cannot vote with wisdom or even defend her or his own interests. They will be prey to demagogues practiced in promoting conspiracy theories (e.g., antisemitism/”the money power”, “white skin privilege”) and diverting the masses from understanding how wealth is created and how economies expand.

Are today’s “experts” in child development competent to instruct the reformer about what is possible to teach at different ages? According to my correspondent, the “experts” discourage strong content at early ages. Speaking personally, I was hugely bored throughout my public school education. From at least the French Revolution on, European and American elites have feared the effect of mass literacy and numeracy, and did not sit idly back while new classes and individuals threatened them with dispossession. I am not writing this with my old red hat on. It applies to everyone. Compare contemporary American education with that of the education of European aristocracies. From early childhood on, they were made aware of world affairs, learned foreign languages, music, art history, read great essayists, poetry, and learned the art of managing the lower orders (politics). They detested America as the land of savages (i.e., those who had escaped their control and were rising to challenge them from afar).

The point of this last paragraph is to suggest that we are systematically underestimating the capacity of “ordinary people” to learn. There were many dumb aristocrats (see Disraeli  novels for a good yuk), and yet they managed to reproduce their rule through clever co-opting of threats from below. American elites did the same with the civil rights movement, fusing the integrationists with the black power militant types. The result? Victimology and the dumbing down of American education, with a spicy dash of primitivism—the rejection of Puritanism a.k.a. middle class values enforced by women, and the fantasy that [orgiastic] tribal societies unleashed the repressed instincts. There are critics from the Far Right who are tirelessly attacking American education for its shallow content; Charlotte Iserbyt is one of them. Like Nesta Webster, a fascist and antisemite (see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/20/jungians-on-the-loose-part-two/), for Iserbyt the enemy is “materialism,” an epistemology that she believes erases “free will.” Within such a pseudo-critical framework, fundamentalist to the core, it is impossible to teach history or science, and Iserbyt, for one, is hotly opposed to the charter school movement. Such persons should not be shrugged off as fringe critics, for a large part of the American electorate shares similar anti-intellectualism–it is the legacy of populism.

November 14, 2010

The ABC’s of Antisemitism

19th C. image of The Wandering Jew

[For an index to many of my blogs on antisemitism, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/.]

Antisemitism entails much more than a direct assault upon Jewish life. But as a multifaceted part of the imagination, certain aspects of this phobia emerge at different moments in the history of the West.  These notes are a crude, first attempt to locate particular aspects of modern antisemitism in the turning points listed below. I list them so that readers can identify certain tropes that evoke images of the Bad Jew* even when Jews themselves are not directly under investigation.

It is widely recognized that Jews have come to represent modernity in the eyes of their enemies, but the entire history of the West contributes to the power of the antagonism.

Legacy of Greek antiquity: gloom and narcissism. Narcissus was in love with himself, hence deaf to cries from community, self-destructs. Matthew Arnold famously contrasted gloomy Hebraism with the sweetness and light of Hellenism, a distinction that Herman Melville, for one, internalized.

Legacy of New Testament antisemitism: lucre-loving hence materialistic, demonic, legalistic and unforgiving (Shylock); Christ-hating hence antithesis to Christian love; carnal “Chosen People” seek subjugation of all non-Jews. The Jewish God is wrathful and genocidal, transmitting these characteristics  to his “chosen” ones. Hence, “Wall Street” under the guise of “wealth creation” is out to “slaughter” the (non-Jewish) “middle class.” A Jewified (modern, secular) world is infested with bloodsucking vampires. (I do not deny that many Christians have denounced this legacy, and now stand with Jews against antisemitism and against anti-Israel policies. See http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-jews-should-know-about-christians.html).

Legacy of Reformation: Protestants seen as Church-destroying Jews, and as such lack reverence for established authority. These Faustians focus on worldliness as opposed to other-worldliness. The Christian myth of the repentant, indestructible Wandering Jew takes hold (see https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/). Jews will always be alien, “a people apart,” even if they convert or are born into a family of converts.  They can never be rooted in the nation, no matter how assimilated they may appear to be (see the Nazi movie Der ewige Jude with its emphasis on the masked Jew).

Legacy of Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and market societies/capitalism: the innovating (mad) scientist seeking perfection and direct contact with reality (cf. the contrasting views of Plato, Matthew Arnold, Nathaniel Hawthorne). The Jew becomes associated with the rise of the moral mother (Locke says mothers imprint tabula rasa), and misogyny results as woman becomes the Jew of the Home, the voice of conscience: clinging, criticizing, and kvetching. Romantic poets are attracted to Prometheus and the Romantic Wandering Jew myth as limited revolt against philistine (Jewish) materialists and their “leveling,” historicizing (i.e., desacralizing) analyses of the Bible, of “traditional” social structures and ideologies, with their utopian mishegas.

Legacy of German Romanticism/Aufklärung: Jews are natural destroyers of the Volk, Gemeinschaft (the organic community mystically bound by language, blood and soil). Jew becomes incarnation of selfish individualism, universal ethics, and resistance to the national, ethical, racial state. In Germany’s case, Deutschland is chosen by Fate to purify the world of the “Jewish” idea of individual responsibility and free will. The German Romantic idea of “national character” (the primacy of ethnicity over class) takes hold in American universities during the late 1960s, but was already trotted out in the nineteen teens by Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen, in the latter case to oppose the rootless cosmopolitanism advocated by “proletarian internationalism.”

The Bolshevik triumph of October 1917. Antisemites often view all Jews as either communists or potential communists, latter-day self-righteous Jacobins bending human nature to make the new man and heaven on earth.** Even as conservative businessmen, Jews are agents of modernity, and modernity, having given birth to a new industrial working class,  spawned the likes of Marx and Lenin. Scholars of Hitler and the Nazis frequently neglect mentioning this crucial component of their antisemitism. Similarly, many Jewish scholars think it is irrational to conflate themselves as liberal capitalists with communists, whom they often vigorously oppose to protect social democracy.

Prominence of “Jewish” Communists in civil rights movement. It is no secret that persons of Jewish ancestry were prominent supporters of blacks in the civil rights movement–even during the 1930s, though with the rise of black nationalism, that relationship became strained to the breaking point. Although “Jews” who joined the Communist Party gave up their “particularist” Jewish identity to join “proletarian internationalism,” that renunciation means nothing to far right racists, whose antisemitism is intertwined with white supremacy. For them, Jews are not white people at all, but the red enemy who supports either the Democratic Party or some leftist variant. They may seize upon the supposedly “Jewish” Frankfurt School critical theorists as the source of decadence, though these same individuals (e.g. Adorno and Horkheimer) bonded with mainstream Protestant-progressive social psychologists, and abjured the “materialist” Enlightenment.

*By “Bad Jew” I do not mean a non-observant Jew as judged by orthodox Jews, but rather the antithesis of the Good Jew who is considered “useful” to European ruling classes, or who joins with upper-class businessmen as “socially responsible capitalists.” Hence the Good Jew is accepted insofar as s/he is “assimilated.” For more, see my blog Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews. https://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/.

**Crane Brinton, the influential Harvard historian characterized the Jacobins as possessed by “Hebraic fury” and in their self-deceiving, fanatical, revolutionary virtue, were allied to Calvinism. This link between the angry God of the Old Testament Jews and Calvinism is often applied to puritanism in general by organic conservative scholars. It is entirely ahistoric, for there is no one brand of puritanism. For a case study of how colonial puritans have been lumped together and stigmatized as persecuting, see https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/blog-index-to-anne-hutchinson-series/.

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

Samuel Hirszenberg, 1899

December 18, 2009

Assimilation and citizenship in a democratic republic

 

 

from the S-M collection, UCLA

I have just finished reading a recent book by Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America  (Harvard UP, 2004). If Kaufmann’s reading of U.S. history is correct, then almost everything on this website is either mistaken or misguided. But I don’t think so. What his book  does is replicate the same Harvard line that I experienced there in the Graduate School of Education: that “sub-cultures” were the unit for sorting out people. Moreover, it promotes the “multiculturalism” that I have reported repeatedly as deceptive and confusing: it purports to be anti-racist, but maintains a racialist discourse. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

     In the case of Kaufmann’s book, he generally underreports or misreports his sources in the service of anti-imperialism, cultural relativism, internationalism, affirmative action, and the United Nations, while lauding the comfort of multiple group affiliations and the irreplaceable warmth of ethnic ties and local color. Taken together, American identity is a “mosaic” in the same sense that Horace Kallen meant (see below), though at times he distances himself from such organicist formulations. 

 At no point does the author define his terms, and though he is a sociologist, well-acquainted with such distinctions as the rooted versus the rootless cosmopolitan, or gemeinschaft versus gesellschaft *, he does not confront the problem of citizenship in a democratic republic: i.e., the necessity for the individual to vote from a standpoint of knowledge, rationality and deep immersion in the policy issues that will determine the course of her life. At no point, does Kaufmann, himself the product of mixed ‘races’, rank the West or the politically libertarian heritage of Britain as possibly superior to competing political arrangements. Hence assimilation for him is simply a rupture with the family of origin and submission to the hegemony of an alien ethnic group (I think he means the Hebraic Protestants of New England), rather than the absolutely imperative reconfiguration of what we think of as family loyalty in a situation where emancipation from the dead hand of the past is a possibility. As I have said before here, either we teach the critical processes necessary for popular sovereignty or we turn tail and return to an oligarchy masked as democracy. (See my blog on the Southern Agrarians and their role in reconstructing the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s. https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/)

     The book’s most alarming rewriting of history is the account of the melting pot, seen as the forced imposition of WASP hegemony until some key figures in the early 20th century—John Dewey, William James, and Jane Addams—introduced what he calls “Liberal Progressivism” (or what I have termed elsewhere corporatist liberalism). Added to the Progressive juggernaut, Kaufmann (self-described as a “mutt”) makes much of the soiled “individualist-expressive” line of Greenwich Village, tarred by its love for the “exotic” “bricolage,” but still acting against the dreary old WASPs. But hold on, a choppy and embarrassing U.S. history will have a happy ending if we adjust to “liberty” (undefined) and “equality” (undefined) in the context of a feast of ethnic preferences, with no one ethnicity dominating.

    Here is an excerpt from  Hunting Captain Ahab that contradicts Kaufmann’s presentation of Horace Kallen’s theory of cultural pluralism as directed against “Anglo-conformity” and ethical universalism: [Kaufmann:] “… Kallen expressed his political vision of America as a ‘democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind’ (Kallen 1924: 123).” Contrast this claim (Kaufmann, p.155) with my use of the same Kallen publication of 1924 and the great ideas (Adam Smith’s homo economicus and the specter of proletarian internationalism/solidarity) that Kallen was refuting with his Lamarckian assertions.

[Hunting Captain Ahab excerpt:] The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal rights to every individual citizen. The new social psychology was ’sanely’ designed to wrest the concept of individuality from individual persons to groups: races, ethnicities and business corporations.[i]   There might be no commitment to civil liberties in the practice of corporatist intellectuals had not the bloody repression of oppositional political speech during the first two decades of the twentieth century apparently propelled workers and their allies toward socialism, forcing moderate conservatives to forestall revolution in the disillusioned lower orders after the Great War by incorporating libertarian ideals and subversive writers. But the inspiring enlightenment rationalism of John Locke, Condorcet, and the Founding Fathers [ii]   was vitiated by the racialist Progressive discourse derived from German idealism and the ideas of J. G. Von Herder, the hyphenated Americanism promoted after 1916 that advocated antiracist social and educational policies persisting today as “multiculturalism.” [iii]   Horace Kallen’s Culture and Democracy in the United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples (1924) [iv]   linked blood and soil determinism with anti-imperialism, boldly asserting an eighteenth-century völkisch social theory against materialist class analysis, proletarian internationalism, and war:

[Kallen:] The experiments on the salamander and the ascidian, on the rat and the rabbit, make a prima facie case, the importance of which cannot be seriously questioned, for the inheritance of acquired physical traits. The experiments upon the white mice make an even more significant case for the inheritance of acquired “mental” traits (29). …The American people…are no longer one in the same sense in which the people of Germany or the people of France are one, or in which the people of the American Revolution were one. They are a mosaic of peoples, of different bloods and of different origins, engaged in rather different economic fields, and varied in background and outlook as well as in blood…The very conception of the individual has changed. He is seen no longer as an absolutely distinct and autonomous entity, but as a link in an endless historical chain which is heredity, and as a point in a geographical extent involving political, economic, social organization, and all the other factors of group life, which are his environment (58-59).

 …The fact is that similarity of class rests upon no inevitable external condition: while similarity of nationality has usually a considerable intrinsic base. Hence the poor of two different peoples tend to be less like-minded than the poor and the rich of the same peoples. At his core, no human being, even in a “state of nature” is a mere mathematical unit of action like the “economic man.” Behind him in time and tremendously in him in quality, are his ancestors; around him in space are his relative and kin, carrying in common with him the inherited organic set from a remoter common ancestry. In all these he lives and moves and has his being. They constitute his, literally, natio, the inwardness of his nativity, and in Europe every inch of his non-human environment wears the effects of their action upon it and breathes their spirit (93-94)…Americans are a sort of collective Faust, whose memories of Gretchen and the cloister trouble but do not restrain the conquest of the new empire, and perhaps, the endeavor after Helen (265). (my emph.)[end Kallen quote]

[Hunting Captain Ahab:] Researchers would not examine unique individuals with highly variable life experience, capabilities and allegiances: more or less informed individuals making hard choices in shifting situations that were similarly available to empirical investigation, reporting their findings to anyone who cared to listen and respond. For many “symbolic interactionists” or “structuralists,” “society” or “the nation” was a collective subject composed of smaller collective subjects or “sub-cultures”: classes, races, ethnicities, and genders; these collectivities each possessed group “character” expressed in distinctive languages; we communicated solely through the mediations of symbols or “institutional discourses,” and badly. The dissenting, universal individual (the mad scientist) had been swallowed up, while at the same time the conservative reformers claimed to protect or restore individuality in their rescue of deracinated immigrants. Such confusing policies, I believe, are a futile attempt by planners from the right wing of the Progressive movement to impose a sunny, placid, crystalline exterior upon social actors–both individuals and groups–riven by unrecognizable but seething inter- and intra-class conflicts.[v]   Although Progressive “corporate liberalism” has been derided by recent populists and New Leftists, its critics have not brought out the organicist sub-text, which, curiously, many radical critics carry but do not seem to see. Melville as Ahab and other dark characters diagnosed the demented character of ‘moderate’ social nostrums;[vi]   his conservative characters blinkered themselves for the sake of family unity. Why this semi-visible racialist discourse on behalf of a more rooted cosmopolitanism was deemed indispensable to many Progressives is one theme in my book. The construction of the Jungian unconscious as site for Progressive purification and uplift is further developed below as I draw a straight line between some aristocratic radicals of the 1920s and their New Left admirers in the field of American literature. [end book excerpt]

*Gemeinschaft refers to a “community” bound together by mystical bonds such as those of “race,”  in the case of multiculturalism, a “mosaic” of mutually tolerant communities, to use Kaufmann’s formulation. Collectivities, not individual persons, have “individuality.” By contrast in a rational state (Gesellschaft), the state exists to protect all its citizens, and individual persons have enumerated rights and duties. (Charles Sumner was defending this kind of state when he argued against slavery.) See the article cited above for a brief discussion of Toennies and his followers, critics of the rational state in favor of the mystical one. (see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. ) 

 NOTES.

[i]   A clipping preserved by Carey McWilliams is revealing in this regard: Woodruff Randolph’s editorial in the Typographical Journal 9/4/37, protested recent right-wing offensives; the headline read “Incorporate Unions? Step Toward Fascism, Says ‘Typo’ Secretary.” Randolph contrasted the business corporation “partly a person and partly a citizen, yet it has not the inalienable rights of a natural person” with “A labor organization [which] is organized to do in numbers what each may do individually under his inalienable rights.” Carey McWilliams Papers, UCLA Special Collections, Box 14.

[ii]   James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America, Chapter 2. Ceaser differentiates among the Founders, arguing that Jefferson’s political rationalism existed in tension with received ideas on race; the overall effect was to replace political science with natural history as the guide to sound government. Condorcet, the most comprehensively democratic philosophe, the champion of internationalism, popular sovereignty, public education, feminism, and progress, and enemy to separation of powers and checks and balances (as ploys of elites to subvert democratic will), was annexed to the conservative enlightenment to give liberal credibility to the New Deal elevation of the executive branch of government over the legislative branch. See J. Salwyn Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (N.Y.: Octagon Reprint, 1978, orig. pub. 1934, repub. 1963), 276-277: “Security for both capital and labor is essential if freedom of enterprise is to survive…Responsibility in government can be more efficiently maintained by giving more authority to the executive, who would wield power, not as an irresponsible dictator, but as a democratically chosen official responsible to a legislature whose essential function would be to act as the nation’s monitor. Progress has been the peculiar heritage of liberalism to which it must be ever faithful in order to survive.” Condorcet joins Paine and Jefferson as fodder for the moderate men of the vital center.  [Added 3-20-10: I may modify this footnote after I read Frank Manuel’s book Prophets of Paris. I am especially concerned about whether or not Condorcet embraced Rousseau’s notion of general will, a notion that I oppose.]

 

 [iii]    I am using 1916 as a milestone in the promotion of ethnopluralism because of the publication of the Randolph Bourne article, “Trans-National America,” and a now forgotten book by the head psychologist of the Boston Normal School, J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916). The latter introduced Herder as the precursor to Franz Boas and advocated the new “race pedagogy.” There was no ambiguity about the welcome counter-Enlightenment drift of German Romanticism in this work. For Andress, the German Romantic hero was a rooted cosmopolitan, fighting to throw off [Jewish] materialist domination to liberate the Volksgeist. In 1942, Herder was presented as a Kantian, pantheist, cosmopolitan and quasi-democrat, even a supporter of the French Revolution in James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing, Vol. 2, 33-138, especially 137.

Some more recent intellectual historians are rehabilitating Herder along with other figures of the Hochklarung, similarly held to be avatars of the freethinking emancipated individual. In his talk at the Clark Library symposium “Materialist Philosophy, Religious Heresy, and Political Radicalism, 1650-1800,” (May 1, 1999) John H. Zammito declared that Herder’s philosophy (the demolition of mechanical materialism?) cleared the way for the further development of natural science in Germany. The key figure for these scholars is Spinoza, his pantheism the apex of “vitalist materialism.” Margaret C. Jacob, author of The Radical Enlightenment, 1981, was organizer of the conference, but we are using the term with differing assumptions about scientific method and what, exactly, constitutes the radical Enlightenment.

     [iv] Horace M. Kallen, Culture and Democracy in The United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples, (N.Y: Boni and Liveright: 1924), recognized in Alfred E. Zimmern’s review in The Nation and the Atheneum, 5/17/24, 207, as a shift away from Lockean environmentalism toward hereditarian racism, however (benignly) characterized as “a cooperation of cultural diversities”; Zimmern linked Kallen’s pluralism to that of William James. He did not mention Randolph Bourne’s Atlantic Monthly essay of 1916, “Trans-National America.” See also Robert Reinhold Ergang, Herder and the Foundations of German Nationalism, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1931), Chapter III. On the explicit and implicit antisemitism/Counter-Enlightenment in Herder’s position, see p. 92: “The Hebrews ‘were a people spoiled in their education, because they never arrived at a maturity of political culture on their own soil, and consequently not to any true sentiment of liberty and honor.’ ” There it is, the Big Lie of rootless cosmopolitanism. See p.95 for the basis of Herder’s anti-French revolt: Rousseau’s Contrat social is not the force that binds a nation, but nature’s laws of blood and soil; Nature, not Culture creates interdependence; for Herder there is only Nature and all history is natural history; environmentally acquired characteristics are inherited by the corporate entity.

[v]    See for instance, Louis Filler, Randolph Bourne (Washington, D.C.: American Council On Public Affairs, 1943). The Council was a Progressive organization producing pamphlets during the war and promoting cooperation between capital and labor. Louis Filler (also a Nation writer) explained why Randolph Bourne, espousing an orderly “international identity” for America and explaining war as an outgrowth of nationalism, had been wrongly deemed as irrelevant to the youth of the 1930s; we need Bourne today.

    Filler explained, “Alien cultures, Bourne declared, brought new forces and ideas to American life. [Those bossy, snobbish Anglo-Saxon assimilationists who controlled everything, so] discouraged retention by immigrants of their Old World heritage did not thereby create Americans. Filler quotes Bourne: They created “hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” Moreover: “those who come to find liberty achieve only license. They become the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see in our slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the vacuous faces of the crowds on the city street. This is the cultural wreckage of our time, and it is from the fringes of the Anglo-Saxon as well as the other stocks that it falls. America has as yet no compelling integrating force. It makes too easily for this detritus of cultures. In our loose, free country, no constraining national purpose, no tenacious folk-tradition and folk-style hold the people to a line.”

   What would be done about such a state of affairs? [Filler:] “America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men. To seek no other good but the weary old nationalism–belligerent, exclusive, inbreeding, the poison of which we are witnessing now in Europe–is to make patriotism a hollow sham, and to declare, that, in spite of our boastings, America must ever be a follower and not a leader of nations.” Do not, therefore, denigrate any culture that has driven stakes into the American soil: do not, certainly, term it un-American: “There is no distinctive American culture.” Do not, above all, set up American material achievement as a token of American fulfillment: “If the American note is bigness, action, the objective as contrasted with the reflective life, where is the epic expression of this spirit?” We were patently inhibited from presenting in impressive artistic form the energy with which we were filled. The reason was that we had not yet accepted the cosmopolitanism with which we had been endowed. Americans of culture could be made of the Germans in Wisconsin, the Scandinavians in Minnesota, and the Irish and Italians of New York. “In a world which has dreamed of internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been building up the first international identity (76-78)…[Bourne’s] ideas, his experiences, the warp and woof of his personality were not necessary to a generation that believed it had discovered impersonal economic laws that (properly applied) would at last bring about a settlement of human affairs (133).” Filler is obviously writing against the Red Decade.

[vi] Cf. David Leverenz on the “Ugly Narcissus,” Ahab: “He certainly is not afflicted with contradictory or discontinuous role-expectations. But he does start to experience a desire for [sadomasochistic] fusion, previously blocked by his obsession.” In Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 294.

December 17, 2009

Assimilation in a democratic republic

 
 
 
 

from Steadman Thompson's notebook/collage

 Please go to https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/ for a cleaned-up copy of this posting.

I have just finished reading a recent book by Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America  (Harvard UP, 2004). If Kaufmann’s reading of U.S. history is correct, then almost everything on this website is either mistaken or misguided. But I don’t think so. What his book  does is replicate the same Harvard line that I experienced there in the Graduate School of Education: that “sub-cultures” were the unit for sorting out people. Moreover, it promotes the “multiculturalism” that I have reported repeatedly as deceptive and confusing: it purports to be anti-racist, but maintains a racialist discourse. (See my article, http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. See also the two blogs on Arne Duncan’s statism. )

 

    In the case of Kaufmann’s book, he generally underreports or misreports his sources in the service of anti-imperialism, cultural relativism, internationalism, affirmative action, and the United Nations, while lauding the comfort of multiple group affiliations and the irreplaceable warmth of ethnic ties and local color. Taken together, American identity is a “mosaic” in the same sense that Horace Kallen meant (see below), though at times he distances himself from such organicist formulations. 

 At no point does the author define his terms, and though he is a sociologist, well-acquainted with such distinctions as the rooted versus the rootless cosmopolitan, or gemeinschaft versus gesellschaft, he does not confront the problem of citizenship in a democratic republic: i.e., the necessity for the individual to vote from a standpoint of knowledge, rationality and deep immersion in the policy issues that will determine the course of her life. At no point, does Kaufmann, himself the product of mixed ‘races’, rank the West or the politically libertarian heritage of Britain as possibly superior to competing political arrangements. Hence assimilation for him is simply a rupture with the family of origin and submission to the hegemony of an alien ethnic group (I think he means the Hebraic Protestants of New England), rather than the absolutely imperative reconfiguration of what we think of as family loyalty in a situation where emancipation from the dead hand of the past is a possibility. As I have said before here, either we teach the critical processes necessary for popular sovereignty or we turn tail and return to an oligarchy masked as democracy. (See my blog on the Southern Agrarians and their role in reconstructing the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s. https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/)

     The book’s most alarming rewriting of history is the account of the melting pot, seen as the forced imposition of WASP hegemony until some key figures in the early 20th century—John Dewey, William James, and Jane Addams—introduced what he calls “Liberal Progressivism” (or what I have termed elsewhere corporatist liberalism). Added to the Progressive juggernaut, Kaufmann (self-described as a “mutt”) makes much of the soiled “individualist-expressive” line of Greenwich Village, tarred by its love for the “exotic” “bricolage,” but still acting against the dreary old WASPs. But hold on, a choppy and embarrassing U.S. history will have a happy ending if we adjust to “liberty” (undefined) and “equality” (undefined) in the context of a feast of ethnic preferences, with no one ethnicity dominating.

    Here is an excerpt from  Hunting Captain Ahab that contradicts Kaufmann’s presentation of Horace Kallen’s theory of cultural pluralism as directed against “Anglo-conformity” and ethical universalism: [Kaufmann:] “… Kallen expressed his political vision of America as a ‘democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfection of men according to their kind’ (Kallen 1924: 123).” Contrast this claim (Kaufmann, p.155) with my use of the same Kallen publication of 1924 and the great ideas (Adam Smith’s homo economicus and the specter of proletarian internationalism/solidarity) that Kallen was refuting with his Lamarckian assertions.

[Hunting Captain Ahab excerpt:] The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal rights to every individual citizen. The new social psychology was ‘sanely’ designed to wrest the concept of individuality from individual persons to groups: races, ethnicities and business corporations.[i] There might be no commitment to civil liberties in the practice of corporatist intellectuals had not the bloody repression of oppositional political speech during the first two decades of the twentieth century apparently propelled workers and their allies toward socialism, forcing moderate conservatives to forestall revolution in the disillusioned lower orders after the Great War by incorporating libertarian ideals and subversive writers. But the inspiring enlightenment rationalism of John Locke, Condorcet, and the Founding Fathers [ii] was vitiated by the racialist Progressive discourse derived from German idealism and the ideas of J. G. Von Herder, the hyphenated Americanism promoted after 1916 that advocated antiracist social and educational policies persisting today as “multiculturalism.” [iii] Horace Kallen’s Culture and Democracy in the United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples (1924) [iv] linked blood and soil determinism with anti-imperialism, boldly asserting an eighteenth-century völkisch social theory against materialist class analysis, proletarian internationalism, and war:

[Kallen:] The experiments on the salamander and the ascidian, on the rat and the rabbit, make a prima facie case, the importance of which cannot be seriously questioned, for the inheritance of acquired physical traits. The experiments upon the white mice make an even more significant case for the inheritance of acquired “mental” traits (29). …The American people…are no longer one in the same sense in which the people of Germany or the people of France are one, or in which the people of the American Revolution were one. They are a mosaic of peoples, of different bloods and of different origins, engaged in rather different economic fields, and varied in background and outlook as well as in blood…The very conception of the individual has changed. He is seen no longer as an absolutely distinct and autonomous entity, but as a link in an endless historical chain which is heredity, and as a point in a geographical extent involving political, economic, social organization, and all the other factors of group life, which are his environment (58-59).

 …The fact is that similarity of class rests upon no inevitable external condition: while similarity of nationality has usually a considerable intrinsic base. Hence the poor of two different peoples tend to be less like-minded than the poor and the rich of the same peoples. At his core, no human being, even in a “state of nature” is a mere mathematical unit of action like the “economic man.” Behind him in time and tremendously in him in quality, are his ancestors; around him in space are his relative and kin, carrying in common with him the inherited organic set from a remoter common ancestry. In all these he lives and moves and has his being. They constitute his, literally, natio, the inwardness of his nativity, and in Europe every inch of his non-human environment wears the effects of their action upon it and breathes their spirit (93-94)…Americans are a sort of collective Faust, whose memories of Gretchen and the cloister trouble but do not restrain the conquest of the new empire, and perhaps, the endeavor after Helen (265). (my emph.)[end Kallen quote]

[Hunting Captain Ahab:] Researchers would not examine unique individuals with highly variable life experience, capabilities and allegiances: more or less informed individuals making hard choices in shifting situations that were similarly available to empirical investigation, reporting their findings to anyone who cared to listen and respond. For many “symbolic interactionists” or “structuralists,” “society” or “the nation” was a collective subject composed of smaller collective subjects or “sub-cultures”: classes, races, ethnicities, and genders; these collectivities each possessed group “character” expressed in distinctive languages; we communicated solely through the mediations of symbols or “institutional discourses,” and badly. The dissenting, universal individual (the mad scientist) had been swallowed up, while at the same time the conservative reformers claimed to protect or restore individuality in their rescue of deracinated immigrants. Such confusing policies, I believe, are a futile attempt by planners from the right wing of the Progressive movement to impose a sunny, placid, crystalline exterior upon social actors–both individuals and groups–riven by unrecognizable but seething inter- and intra-class conflicts.[v] Although Progressive “corporate liberalism” has been derided by recent populists and New Leftists, its critics have not brought out the organicist sub-text, which, curiously, many radical critics carry but do not seem to see. Melville as Ahab and other dark characters diagnosed the demented character of ‘moderate’ social nostrums;[vi] his conservative characters blinkered themselves for the sake of family unity. Why this semi-visible racialist discourse on behalf of a more rooted cosmopolitanism was deemed indispensable to many Progressives is one theme in my book. The construction of the Jungian unconscious as site for Progressive purification and uplift is further developed below as I draw a straight line between some aristocratic radicals of the 1920s and their New Left admirers in the field of American literature.

 

 


[i] A clipping preserved by Carey McWilliams is revealing in this regard: Woodruff Randolph’s editorial in the Typographical Journal 9/4/37, protested recent right-wing offensives; the headline read “Incorporate Unions? Step Toward Fascism, Says ‘Typo’ Secretary.” Randolph contrasted the business corporation “partly a person and partly a citizen, yet it has not the inalienable rights of a natural person” with “A labor organization [which] is organized to do in numbers what each may do individually under his inalienable rights.” Carey McWilliams Papers, UCLA Special Collections, Box 14.

[ii] James W. Ceaser, Reconstructing America, Chapter 2. Ceaser differentiates among the Founders, arguing that Jefferson’s political rationalism existed in tension with received ideas on race; the overall effect was to replace political science with natural history as the guide to sound government. Condorcet, the most comprehensively democratic philosophe, the champion of internationalism, popular sovereignty, public education, feminism, and progress, and enemy to separation of powers and checks and balances (as ploys of elites to subvert democratic will), was annexed to the conservative enlightenment to give liberal credibility to the New Deal elevation of the executive branch of government over the legislative branch. See J. Salwyn Schapiro, Condorcet and the Rise of Liberalism (N.Y.: Octagon Reprint, 1978, orig. pub. 1934, repub. 1963), 276-277: “Security for both capital and labor is essential if freedom of enterprise is to survive…Responsibility in government can be more efficiently maintained by giving more authority to the executive, who would wield power, not as an irresponsible dictator, but as a democratically chosen official responsible to a legislature whose essential function would be to act as the nation’s monitor. Progress has been the peculiar heritage of liberalism to which it must be ever faithful in order to survive.” Condorcet joins Paine and Jefferson as fodder for the moderate men of the vital center.

 [iii]  I am using 1916 as a milestone in the promotion of ethnopluralism because of the publication of the Randolph Bourne article, “Trans-National America,” and a now forgotten book by the head psychologist of the Boston Normal School, J. Mace Andress, Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator (New York: G.E. Stechert, 1916). The latter introduced Herder as the precursor to Franz Boas and advocated the new “race pedagogy.” There was no ambiguity about the welcome counter-Enlightenment drift of German Romanticism in this work. For Andress, the German Romantic hero was a rooted cosmopolitan, fighting to throw off [Jewish] materialist domination to liberate the Volksgeist. In 1942, Herder was presented as a Kantian, pantheist, cosmopolitan and quasi-democrat, even a supporter of the French Revolution in James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing, Vol. 2, 33-138, especially 137.

Some more recent intellectual historians are rehabilitating Herder along with other figures of the Hochklarung, similarly held to be avatars of the freethinking emancipated individual. In his talk at the Clark Library symposium “Materialist Philosophy, Religious Heresy, and Political Radicalism, 1650-1800,” (May 1, 1999) John H. Zammito declared that Herder’s philosophy (the demolition of mechanical materialism?) cleared the way for the further development of natural science in Germany. The key figure for these scholars is Spinoza, his pantheism the apex of “vitalist materialism.” Margaret C. Jacob, author of The Radical Enlightenment, 1981, was organizer of the conference, but we are using the term with differing assumptions about scientific method and what, exactly, constitutes the radical Enlightenment.

     [iv] Horace M. Kallen, Culture and Democracy in The United States: Studies in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples, (N.Y: Boni and Liveright: 1924), recognized in Alfred E. Zimmern’s review in The Nation and the Atheneum, 5/17/24, 207, as a shift away from Lockean environmentalism toward hereditarian racism, however (benignly) characterized as “a cooperation of cultural diversities”; Zimmern linked Kallen’s pluralism to that of William James. He did not mention Randolph Bourne’s Atlantic Monthly essay of 1916, “Trans-National America.” See also Robert Reinhold Ergang, Herder and the Foundations of German Nationalism, (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1931), Chapter III. On the explicit and implicit antisemitism/Counter-Enlightenment in Herder’s position, see p. 92: “The Hebrews ‘were a people spoiled in their education, because they never arrived at a maturity of political culture on their own soil, and consequently not to any true sentiment of liberty and honor.’ ” There it is, the Big Lie of rootless cosmopolitanism. See p.95 for the basis of Herder’s anti-French revolt: Rousseau’s Contrat social is not the force that binds a nation, but nature’s laws of blood and soil; Nature, not Culture creates interdependence; for Herder there is only Nature and all history is natural history; environmentally acquired characteristics are inherited by the corporate entity.

[v]  See for instance, Louis Filler, Randolph Bourne (Washington, D.C.: American Council On Public Affairs, 1943). The Council was a Progressive organization producing pamphlets during the war and promoting cooperation between capital and labor. Louis Filler (also a Nation writer) explained why Randolph Bourne, espousing an orderly “international identity” for America and explaining war as an outgrowth of nationalism, had been wrongly deemed as irrelevant to the youth of the 1930s; we need Bourne today.

    Filler explained, “Alien cultures, Bourne declared, brought new forces and ideas to American life. [Those bossy, snobbish Anglo-Saxon assimilationists who controlled everything, so] discouraged retention by immigrants of their Old World heritage did not thereby create Americans. Filler quotes Bourne: They created “hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws, without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” Moreover: “those who come to find liberty achieve only license. They become the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see in our slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the vacuous faces of the crowds on the city street. This is the cultural wreckage of our time, and it is from the fringes of the Anglo-Saxon as well as the other stocks that it falls. America has as yet no compelling integrating force. It makes too easily for this detritus of cultures. In our loose, free country, no constraining national purpose, no tenacious folk-tradition and folk-style hold the people to a line.”

   What would be done about such a state of affairs? [Filler:] “America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men. To seek no other good but the weary old nationalism–belligerent, exclusive, inbreeding, the poison of which we are witnessing now in Europe–is to make patriotism a hollow sham, and to declare, that, in spite of our boastings, America must ever be a follower and not a leader of nations.” Do not, therefore, denigrate any culture that has driven stakes into the American soil: do not, certainly, term it un-American: “There is no distinctive American culture.” Do not, above all, set up American material achievement as a token of American fulfillment: “If the American note is bigness, action, the objective as contrasted with the reflective life, where is the epic expression of this spirit?” We were patently inhibited from presenting in impressive artistic form the energy with which we were filled. The reason was that we had not yet accepted the cosmopolitanism with which we had been endowed. Americans of culture could be made of the Germans in Wisconsin, the Scandinavians in Minnesota, and the Irish and Italians of New York. “In a world which has dreamed of internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been building up the first international identity (76-78)…[Bourne’s] ideas, his experiences, the warp and woof of his personality were not necessary to a generation that believed it had discovered impersonal economic laws that (properly applied) would at last bring about a settlement of human affairs (133).” Filler is obviously writing against the Red Decade. (I don’t have Filler’s little book in front of me, but I believe most of these words are his, perhaps with interjections by Bourne.)

[vi] Cf. David Leverenz on the “Ugly Narcissus,” Ahab: “He certainly is not afflicted with contradictory or discontinuous role-expectations. But he does start to experience a desire for [sadomasochistic] fusion, previously blocked by his obsession.” In Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 294.

November 13, 2009

Supermen wanted: early “Freudians” and the Mob

Image (90)

William Blake, Laocoon

What follows is an excerpt from chapter 7 of my book, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001, 2006).

[Publius, Federalist #10:] “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principle task of modern legislation and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government….

“If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interests both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” (my emph.)

[Overman Committee Report, Revolutionary Radicalism, 1920:] “If the great forces which have been set in motion are not checked and the movements redirected into constructive and lawful channels, the country faces the most serious problems that it has had to meet since the establishment of this Republic…It is time that we awoke to the fact that the lack of religious and moral training which distinguishes this generation has given full swing to the baser instincts. What can be done to re-create right standard [sic] of right and wrong, of subordination of private to public good; to stimulate mutual understanding by frankness and the application of new standards of justice and mutual confidence. Knowledge of the facts is the first step in dispelling distrust. This knowledge we aim to suggest in this part of the report.”

[Publius, Federalist #10, cont.:] “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than in a particular member of it, in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district than an entire State.”

[Revolutionary Radicalism, “Epilogue”:] “In this rapid survey of a new and important educational idea we have carried Marja, the immigrant girl, from king and caste-ridden Europe to America, the land of hope and opportunity. We have seen her struggle with an unknown tongue and with ways of life unfamiliar to her. In the end we see her transformed, reborn–no longer foreign and illiterate, but educated and self-respecting. Later she will marry and her children, though they may have traditions of another land and another blood, will be Americans in education and ideals of life, government and progress. It was been worth while that one man has broken through this barrier and made the road clear for others to follow.

“All real education has the development of discipline as its basis. Poise, self-control and self-esteem are characteristic of the well-ordered mind, and the growth of these in the industrial worker makes for efficient service and better wages. Gradually there is an awakening of social consciousness–the awareness of one’s place in society and the obligations such membership entails upon the individual in respect to the group or racial mass, with a constantly developing sense of one’s personal responsibility in all human relationships.

“In conclusion, the higher significance of this work means that we must descend the shaft and share the lives of those that dwell in the lower strata–the teeming populations that never see the stars or the green grass, scent the flowers or hear the birds sing–the huddled, hopeless foreign folk of the tenements. We are living in the Age of Service, and are growing into a conviction that life is not a matter of favored races or small, exclusive social groups, but embraces all humanity and reaches back to God. To those of prophetic soul comes a vision of the day that haunted Tennyson when

‘The war-drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled/ In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.’ ” [i]

[Marianna speaking, in “The Piazza,” 1856:] ” …An old house. They went West, and are long dead, they say, who built it. A mountain house. In winter no fox could den in it. That chimney-place has been blocked up with snow, just like a hollow stump.”

Laocoön sighs softly, advised Lessing. Conservative social theorists responding to the Age of Revolution formulated a model of reason and balance that was objectively mad in its project to impose order upon the doubly bound; for James Madison “popular government” was both there and not there. Were the non-propertied interests to become the new majority, “the spirit and form of popular government” would be preserved even as the wicked majority was “dispersed” by rational and virtuous citizens better attuned to “the public good.” Speaking through Isabel and Marianna,[ii] Melville had identified authority as strange and wandering; his literal history of a permanently wounded, wild and wooly psyche was intolerable; Melville could not be a quasi-lunatic fending off madness fostered by mixed-messages, but the prophet of social dissolution.

Disillusion with the idea of Progress supposedly explains Melville’s sudden acceptability in the twentieth century; it was Melville’s all-too-graphic disintegration, though, that frightened his critics. His (apparent) corrective flights to corporatism were promoted by Nietzschean radicals such as Van Wyck Brooks or Lewis Mumford defining themselves against a mechanistic and alien mass culture. In concert with the Frenchman Gustave LeBon, Dr. Wilfred Trotter (1872-1939) had earlier laid out the premises and ambitions of a rectified Freudian “mass psychology” that could intervene in the headlong rush to oblivion, for “the so-called normal type of mind” “being in exclusive command of directing power in the world, is a danger to civilisation.”[iii]

Trotter’s influential essays, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, first published in Sociological Review in 1908 and 1909, were updated and reprinted to comment upon the Great War in 1919, then brought out by Macmillan in fifteen printings by 1947. Freud, according to this “sometime Honorary Surgeon to the King,” though the architect of “a great edifice” was bringing “a certain harshness in his grasp of facts and even a trace of narrowness in his outlook” along with a pervasive and repellent “odour of humanity” (78, 80). “The Freudian system” had developed “a psychology of knowledge” rather than a “psychology of power”; what was needed was an unveiling of “the sources of a director power over the human mind” so that “the full capacity of the mind for foresight and progress” could be developed (93, 94). Trotter addressed an elite audience sharing his belief in instincts and will power, understanding that war is “a contest of moral forces” and heeding his call for a “practical psychology,” mobilizing “science” to achieve “a satisfactory morale…[which] gives smoothness of working energy, and enterprise to the whole national machine, while from the individual it ensures the maximum outflow of effort with a minimum interference from such egoistic passions as anxiety, impatience, and discontent.”

Methods and standards of elite recruitment and performance would have to change; old leadership “types” of “a class which is in essence relatively insensitive towards new combinations of experience” were unfit and obsolete (56); radical doctrines could be redesigned to fit new conditions:

[Trotter:] “If the effective intrusion of the intellect into social affairs does happily occur, it will come from no organ of society now recognisable, but through a slow elevation of the general standard of consciousness up to the level at which will be possible a kind of freemasonry and syndicalism of the intellect. Under such circumstances free communication through class barriers would be possible, and an orientation of feeling quite independent of the current social segregation would become manifest (269-270).”

Thus “true progress” will replace “oscillation” and wars will cease:

[Trotter:] The only way in which society can be made safe from disruption or decay is by the intervention of the conscious and instructed intellect as a factor among the forces ruling its development…Nowhere has been and is the domination of the herd more absolute than in the field of speculation concerning man’s general position and fate, and in consequence prodigies of genius have been expended in obscuring the simple truth that there is no responsibility for man’s destiny anywhere at all outside his own responsibility, and that there is no remedy for his ills outside his own efforts. Western civilization has recently lost ten millions of its best lives as a result of the exclusion of the intellect from the general direction of society. So terrific an object lesson has made it plain enough how easy it is for man, all undirected and unwarned as he is, to sink to the irresponsible destructiveness of the monkey… No direction can be effective in the way needed for the preservation of society unless it comes from minds broad in outlook, deep in sympathy, sensitive to the new and strange in experience, capable of resisting habit, convention, and other sterilising influences of the herd, deeply learned in the human mind and vividly aware of the world (my emph., 6, 7, 266, 267).”

For Van Wyck Brooks, Melville was a fog-horn, not a role-model for Trotter’s New Mind-Manager; that honor went to his best friend Lewis Mumford, the source of “human renewal” poetically aligned with William Morris: “He had caught in England the last rays of the morning glow of William Morris’s poetic socialism, and he was to remain a vitalist in a world of mechanists, behaviourists, determinists, Marxians and so on.” Melville’s appeal to youthful cynics of the “lost generation was limited” whereas

“Lewis… knew that the optimists of the machine had forgotten that there was madness and night and that mankind had mystery to contend with, coexisting with universal literacy, science, and daylight, and why, because they ignored the darker side of the nature of man, they had been unprepared for the catastrophe that followed. He could see why it was that a grimly senescent youth confronted the still youthful senescents of the older generation, and having, along with Emerson and Whitman, read Pascal and Saint Augustine, he was fully able to enter their state of mind. Writers like Melville and Dostoievsky, with their sense of the presence of evil, had fitted him to grasp the post-war scene, the disintegrated world in which humankind, convinced of its inadequacy, ceased to believe in its own powers of self-renewal…[W]ith his feeling for the inner life, he was convinced that the problem of our time was to restore the lost respect for this. For Western man had forgotten it in his concentration on the improvement of the machine. In a world obsessed by determinism, the human person must come back to the centre of the stage, he said, as actor and hero, summoning the forces of life to take part in a new drama.”

Mumford had deepened his prewar “liking for brass buttons, music and drums” with “the consciousness of evil”; newly balanced he could steer clear of shallow optimists and sour apples alike, the latter including Melville and “Wilson, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Hemingway and Cummings”: no vitalist renewal in either corner. It was Mumford and his circle, less innocent, but no less confident, who had guided orphans through the mine-fields of modernity; Melville, however salutary as a corrective to rationalist naiveté, was not a proper dramaturg, but an Isabel: the madness, night, and mystery “humankind” (imagined as one organism) “had to contend with.” Brooks distanced himself from his Harvard teacher Irving Babbit’s bullying, negativity, sectarianism, and disdain for “the desire for the masses for their place in the sun”; still, Brooks was grateful that Babbitt and Harvard had introduced him to “the writings of Renan, Taine, and above all, Sainte-Beuve, who had almost all the qualities I admired so greatly…How enlightening were Saint-Beuve’s phrases about the master faculty,–the ruling trait in characters,–and families of minds, with his “group” method in criticism and his unfailing literary tact, his erudition subdued by the imagination. How wonderfully he maintained his poise between the romantic and the classic.[iv]

Similarly, Floyd Dell, novelist, poet, and associate editor of The Masses, was appalled by “intellectual vagabondage,” a symptom of “shell-shock” that followed the collapse of idealism after the war. Hoping to clear away the rubble of ugliness and chaos he saw in modernist renderings of “the unconscious” drawn from Freud, Dell (ambivalently?) recommended [ego psychology] as a new source of order:

“The scientific activities of mankind, unlike its imaginative activities, have not suffered from shell-shock; and we do not find the students of the human mind rejoicing in the chaos of the “unconscious” as an excuse for their failure to form a good working theory of it. On the contrary, we find that the “unconscious” is to them no chaos at all, but a realm in whose apparent disorder they have found a definite kind of order; in fact, they have been enabled by what they have found in the “unconscious” to correlate and explain all sorts of bewildering and painful discrepancies in outward conduct, previously inexplicable; they have created an intelligible and practically demonstrable theoretic unity out of just those aspects of human life which have for fictional and other artistic purposes seemed in the past a hopeless jangle of contradictions. And finally, they actually undertake therapeutically the task of bringing harmony, order and happiness into inharmonious, disorderly and futile lives. The imaginative artist need not be asked to “believe” in this; it may appear as alien to his own tasks as belief or disbelief in the new theory of electrons. But it is significant that such fiction as has undertaken to use these new concepts in the interpretation of life has met with no wide response from the intelligentsia–while on the contrary such fiction as has enriched its data with mere confusing and terrifying (one might say “bloody and stinking”) disjecta membra of psycho-analytic research, has had the reward of our enormous applause and admiration. It is evident that we, at this moment in history, do not want life to seem capable of being interpreted and understood, because that would be a reproach to us for our own failure to undertake the task of reconstructing our social, political and economic theories, and in general, and in consonance with these, our ideals of a good life.[v]

The moderated neo-classicism of New Humanism was growing in influence in the late 1920s; its practitioners were viewed by left-liberals as allied to political fascism, not just the “literary” variety.[vi] In the case of radical Floyd Dell, we see an abuse of scientific method typical of the conservative “Freudians” I am discussing: “the unconscious” may not disclose ugliness and chaos, the “bloody and stinking” gobbets of memory that revolted him. Science and art are good only when they order and fully explain experience, building morale for social reconstruction: axe the pessimists. Dell does not ask whether the “vagabonds” he criticizes are accurately depicting economic contradictions (which may or may not be relieved), but blames the victims for childishness and social irresponsibility, as if the eternal conflict between “the individual” and “society” were the sources of “romantic” pain and ambivalence, not revulsion against hypocrisy and the quietism of upper-class allegiance. The “disillusionment” theory for the Melville Revival seems part of the arsenal of conservative mind-managers defending themselves against history, materialism and critical Reason by promoting mystical notions of national character and group mind, with passions of “egoism” (i.e., distance from “the folk”) postulated as the source of social friction and decay.

The aristocratic radicals were responding to the Bolshevik Revolution, an undeserved triumph perpetrated by returning exiles, intellectuals opportunistically seizing power amidst the chaos of impending defeat. And wars are made by hidebound and greedy old fogies who misshape the national character by enforcing state worship: “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne famously protested. Brooks, Mumford and Murray, writing in this great tradition of Progressive reproach, were pasting a piece of Melville to their projects while lengthily railing against the evils of “machines.” Like Trotter, they believed (mechanistically) that a tiny elite of Supermen could rescue the masses from themselves.[vii]


[i]               12. N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York(Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 2014, 2201, 3136-3137.

[ii]               14. Marianna is the sad seamstress (another Isabel) who tells the narrator of “The Piazza” that her “strange fancies” (as the narrator defines them) “but reflect the things.” The Jungian critic E.L. Grant Watson, a contributor to London Mercury, inverted Isabel’s identical point in “Melville’s Pierre,” New England Quarterly 3 (Apr. 1930): 195-234, praising Pierre as HM’s greatest book; I know of no correction to this revealing gaffe in the Melville scholarship, though Watson is frequently mentioned. On p.207 Watson characterized Isabel’s “collective unconscious” as transmitter of the “strangely demented people” that Melville’s Isabel clearly identified with real world authority during her stay in the [unnamable institution/asylum]. Stanley T. Williams was an editor of NEQ.

[iii]              15. Wilfred Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 94. The scientistic “Publishers’ Note” to the 1947 edition reads: “The aftermath of the Second World War, bringing with it the application of Atomic Energy and the need to prevent aggression (an indulgence now realised to have within its reach the power to do even greater harm to civilisation)–these are the considerations either at the front or the back of everyone’s thinking. In Europe they apply to the Peace Settlement yet to be made with Germany, and the future part to be played by her strange and able people…[Trotter’s] conclusions can be tested by the evidence of two great wars. Incidentally, they offer one explanation of the German political and social mentality which the British and the American mind find so incomprehensible.” The O.S.S. explanation for the rise of Hitler, as purveyed by Murray, for instance, was rooted in a similar organicist theory of history, with its notions of national character and group mind. Trotter’s publishers, Macmillan, avid disseminators of Anglo-American culture, also published Richard Chase’s Jungian study of Melville in 1949. Other publishers of Trotter’s book include T.F. Unwin, The Scientific Book Club, and Oxford University Press.

[iv]              16. Van Wyck Brooks, An Autobiography, Foreword by John Hall Wheelock. Introduction by Malcolm Cowley(New York, Dutton, 1965), 407-410, 125-26. See Meyer Schapiro review of Mumford, The Culture of Cities, “Looking Forward to Looking Backward,” Partisan Review (June 1938): 12-24, for analysis of Mumford’s reactionary organicism.

[v]               17. Floyd Dell, Intellectual Vagabondage (New York: Doran, 1926), 247-249 (Doran published Weaver). See Daniel Aaron, Writers on the Left (New York: Oxford Univ. Press paperback, 1977), 102-107 for discussion of Dell’s and Joseph Freeman’s critique of bohemian symbiosis with puritan middle-classes, the babyishness of the bohemian rebel. Such magisterial critiques of romantic infantilism ignore the real hypocrisies and incompatible demands and expectations that have driven “bohemians” into flight and withdrawal. Dell’s interest in Nietzsche, Ignatius Donnelly, G.K. Chesterton and Ezra Pound bears looking into.

[vi]              18. Daniel Aaron, Writers On The Left, 233-243. And see photographs at UCLA Special Collections of D.H. Lawrence and Frieda in the Southwest, 1922-1923: Lawrence in tie and (usually) three-piece suit, Frieda above him, framed in a black window; elsewhere always dressed in ethnic clothing, Indian or Mexican, earth mother and duende, i.e., Isabel.

[vii]             19. See The Van Wyck Brooks-Lewis Mumford Letters: the record of a literary friendship, 1921-1963, edited by Robert Spiller (New York: Dutton, 1970), passim. Henry A. Murray said he hoped that I would be able to solve the problem of violence and war, since he had failed (Interview, Nov. 4, 1987). Matthiessen denounced the Nietzschean Superman as protofascist while maintaining his reverence for the genius of poets who would, through adherence to organicist aesthetic theory, revitalize and unify culture; see discussion of American Renaissance, below, keeping in mind the taming of “Marja.”

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