YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 26, 2014

What is critical thinking?

critical-thoughtEmbedded in the sharply polarized debates between political parties is a great slugfest on the teaching of US history. Many on the Right want a “patriotic” curriculum, while the Left insists that the Right is determined to abolish “critical thought” that the Leftists believe they uphold, without blemishes.

Neither Right nor Left is monolithic in its ideology, so this blog will focus on “critical thought”—how it is defined by the contemporary “Left” and how some elements of “the Right” feed into the most damaging “leftist” fantasies about a presumably monolithic “cowboy” Right mostly located in the Midwest (Texas) and the still wild, wild West, by which they mean Utah and Arizona, not of course the famously “Left Coast.”

By “critical thought” the Left, inspired by German philosophy, means negative critique of what is common institutional practice in the bourgeois West (i.e., the capitalist countries: the US, Western Europe, and Russia). The US is singled out for especially harsh criticism: deploying the categories invented by progressivism and the New Left version of Marxist-Leninism, our country is essentially imperialistic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, and ecocidal. Hence post-60s textbooks, influenced by identity politics, focus on those aspects of Western expansion: industrialization, and urbanization that exterminated and otherwise bullied non-whites, workers, women, and unspoiled Nature herself. (Think the references to Zinn and Chomsky in Good Will Hunting). Their remedies range from class struggle to the band-aids of progressivism: statist regulation, welfare statism, and conflict-resolution techniques to prevent the more drastic remedy of socialist revolution. Gone are the days when ‘liberals’ called themselves moderate conservatives or conservative reformers. ‘Liberals’ do not want to be confused with their “fascist” enemies: the Republican Party, even as many ‘liberals’ ape the most elitist and reactionary ideologies in the history of Western civilization, through multiculturalism, eschewing anything so gross as the rootless cosmopolitan, at home wherever s/he wanders.

By contrast and sometimes in reaction to this mandated negativity about the American past, many elements of the Right glorify the Founders and the original Constitution, resist the notion of a “living Constitution” that social democrats (‘liberals’) prefer, and campaign for school vouchers that will fund religious schools. Charter schools are dicey, for they may be covers for “secular progressivism” that some conservatives mistake for communist infiltration/atheism, all the while insisting that the Constitution was divinely inspired, and anyone who denies that is leading our children to perdition.

So much for our polarized competing ideologies as the election season looms upon us. What follows is my own definition of critical thought, gleaned from experience in graduate school, from interacting with a broad public on the radio, and on social media.

First of all, it is very hard to separate ourselves from family, friends, or peer groups in school or in the workplace. Most of us would prefer to preserve existing attachments, no matter how damaging to our understanding of ourselves and the increasingly dangerous and impenetrable world. Hence Obama’s appealing promise of “transparency” of government under his administration. That is a hot button to push, for it resonates with our deepest wishes to develop our individuality—without drowning.

Second, it takes a long time to figure anything out. Most of the problems facing the electorate and our children take years of close study to comprehend without a large dollop of prejudice or wish-fulfillment. Only an independent income and a willingness to stand alone yields the time and will to seek the truth. So we escape into sports, easy to comprehend conspiracy theories, or reliance on celebrities in academe or in the media to do our research for us, and we follow them, happy to have found a community of the  well-informed and like-minded, no matter how bogus.

But let us assume that we are so ‘monomaniacally’ driven (like Captain Ahab) as to solve problems for ourselves, to have our own perspective, that we actually make time and renounce some mindless activities that divert our attention.

My own approach to critical thought entails figuring out those “facts” that are in dispute. This is no easy task, when most people are captives of ideology where all controversies are settled, and where “facts” and “opinions” are mistaken for each other. When queried on this point by a Facebook friend who denied that facts were in dispute, I gave as examples, 1. the insistence by some “moderate men” that “extremists” (i.e., abolitionists and ‘fire-eaters’) caused the Civil War; and 2. That American Cold Warriors exaggerated the Soviet military threat (this was a claim of the Stalinoid Left). The reader will supply her own examples from everyday life, for whether or not there is a “war on women” is a hot subject today.

More often than not, differences in what facts are real, and what are factoids, are resolved through “virtuous expediency” to preserve social cohesion. This world is “soaked in lies” said Melville speaking through one of his narrators in his novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852), and condemning the moderate men and his own family secrets. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/.)

Then there is the laborious task of sorting out competing narratives, noting which arguments are based on documentary evidence (which may also be misleading, not only forged but subjective, such as letters and diaries). I have been reading a compendium of Nazi institutional practices, defending the authors’ notion of the Third Reich as a “racial state” to which all was subordinated to protect the notion of a [purified Aryan] “people’s community.” What makes this book The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 by Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann (UK: Cambridge UP, 1991) so helpful to critical thought is its detailed account of changing social policies and its awareness of competing narratives on the same subject. The chapter on women in Nazi Germany was especially revelatory, with some painful comparisons between Nazis practices and conservative religious groups that were “anti-Nazi.”

German-Family

Armed with concrete facts and precedents in actually existing authoritarian societies, the reader may see through the demagogic politicians who will represent themselves, in true knightly fashion, as the rescuers of women, non-whites, nature, and the school curricula. [For Wikipedia’s classification of types of criticism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varieties_of_criticism. I find many of these examples ideological, but feel most comfortable with “scholarly criticism” though the example of Mike Davis as an exemplary scholarly critic is hilarious.]

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September 24, 2014

Are “liberals” control freaks?

Control_FreaksA few days ago one of my FB friends, an intelligent and educated scriptwriter and novelist, posted a photo claiming that all liberals were not only evil, but were interested in controlling every aspect of our lives. I see the same sort of collective condemnation frequently on Facebook, emanating usually from conservatives, even from  neocons who should know better, having once been either [moralistic] leftists or [moralistic] social democrats.

This blog seeks to counter all-inclusive claims that demonize the opposition.

Do Americans believe in the devil? An alarming number of Christians do (80%), compared to Jews (17%). The Devil is nowhere to be found in Judaism, so I am assuming that uneducated Jews, perhaps engorged with pop culture, comprise the shocking figure of 17%. See http://washingtonexaminer.com/57-believe-in-the-devil-72-for-blacks-61-for-women/article/2536055. (On the conception of Satan as evil inclination in Judaism, see http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm.) This is a worrisome number, for belief in the Devil signifies disbelief in science and what used to be called “empiricism” but it is now stigmatized as “materialism.” And “materialism” is associated with [demonic] communists, a corrupt working class, and even “secular progressives” who are anything but red, but rather “moderates” or “moderate conservatives.”

Belief in the devil is a catastrophe for democratic republics that demand of their citizens that they rationally focus on those issues that confront them in this world, rather than abjuring “worldliness” in favor of fixation on “another world.”

Control freaks. The notion that liberals and leftists want to control everyone and everything is possibly a projection of authoritarian and conformist rightists, who bristle at the thought of being “forced” to do anything by the state. It is not as if there are no rational conservative intellectuals, but the latest tactic in the political wars advanced by a few pundits demands that they play dirty just like the enemy, grabbing mass culture away from the devious, demonic enemy.

Some conservatives, on the other hand, advise their fellow rightists not to smear liberalism as “evil” or “demonic” but to patiently explain liberal mistakes, especially with respect to economic theories. As for the fantasy of taking mass culture away from “Hollywood”, fat chance of that. As I have argued here before, movies and other mass media have always been populist, appealing not to an aristocracy but to mass resentments of any and all elites who are believed to be repressive—and demonic, like Jews, gays, and femmes fatales.

Populism comes in many flavors, spanning the political spectrum from left to right. Populists are always self-righteous and enraged, encouraging demagoguery and reverence for the Leader who stirs them, vaguely enough to encompass a variety of targets for their hate.

Anyone who has ever studied the progressive movement knows that the statists were paternalistic and in their own minds, deeply moral, hearts bleeding for the oppressed masses. “The People” of course were oppressed by Jew-ridden capitalism and puritanical Mothers seeking to expand their empires over feckless sons. Progressives, taking their lesson from the Good Kings of fictional yore, would vanquish “laissez-faire” economics, bad Jews and battle-axe females, to reinstate “social cohesion” and “political stability” through the re-imposition of mystical bonds between competitors in the marketplace and in the workforce. In other words, they were upper-class moralists and true gentlemen. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, or https://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

The overall aim of the progressive movement, then and now, was the uplift and cooling out of the proletarian immigrants. Believing themselves to be the only ones trained to rule (see the career of Henry A. Murray of Harvard), they had no qualms about imposing self-control on themselves and others in order to restrain “greed” in their opposition on “Wall Street”. Nothing as vulgar and/or distruping as the nouveaux riches, so the Old Money (especially in New England) lived modestly and eschewed “conspicuous consumption.” I.e., they controlled themselves as examples to the consumerist masses, a tic that the Left copied in their zeal to stigmatize the anti-revolutionary working class that wanted material goods over red revolution.

“Madame Mirage”

This was my Rosh Hashanah blog. As long as the majority of Americans persist in believing in the devil or other forms of irrationality, I remain howling in the wilderness, a Jew till the end of time.

July 31, 2013

The nefarious “cultural Marxists”

CulturalMarxism[Update 1-5-16: progressive jurist Felix Frankfurter was already praising balanced expertise and lamenting the effects of mass media on the people in 1930, long before the Frankfurt Institute refugees came to the US.]

There is a Facebook page “Smash Cultural Marxism.” One must wonder why a handful of German refugees, many with Jewish ancestry, are getting blamed for the sharp turn toward statism in the Democratic Party.

I have written before about this terrifying cohort.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.  Also https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/.

Even if you are a fashionable behaviorist and loathe Freudian ideas, the Adorno blog establishes that his idea of the ever-so-balanced (pseudo)Freud suited the Harvard social psychologists who were proponents of psychological warfare in the interests of “civilian morale.”  Such as Adorno and Horkheimer achieved fame because they blamed the Enlightenment and bureaucratic rationality for Nazism and the Holocaust. How convenient for the Harvard cohort that also called a halt to the Enlightenment (see  https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).

As refugees from Nazism, the critical theorists were vocal about the causes of Hitler’s rise to power, and their indictment of mass culture and by extension, technological society, were understandable. For instance, Erich Fromm blamed working class authoritarianism for the failure of the German working class to deliver a socialist revolution. In the end, all the Frankfurters had explanations for the rise of Hitler, and to a man (whoops! I forgot Hannah Arendt), they blamed “mass culture.” Adorno, that elitist, went so far as to condemn American jazz.

I don’t know of a German refugee whose ancestors were Jewish who identified in any way with Judaism. They were first and foremost philosophers in the German Idealist tradition. Still, some of the ideas of Herbert Marcuse remain useful today in decoding authoritarianism in our political culture. I refer to “repressive tolerance” and “repressive desublimation.”

Repressive tolerance simply states that the social critic loses when s/he allows the opposition to define the terms of debate. Thus, the analysis of propaganda and/or the “rules” of combat allow us to see through authoritarian statists of every stripe, but especially the tricks of the pseudo-moderate men–as delineated in the mass-circulated materials written by Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray, that were nationally circulated to other progressives, ca. 1941. (See link above.) [Update 12-27-13: It is true that Marcuse was writing from the Left, but such libertarians as Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate in The Shadow University (1998), ignore the collectivist, top-down discourse of the moderate conservatives who shaped current conceptions such as the neutral state and ethnicity/’race’ in the early years of the 20th century. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, for the gentlemanly approach to social control of subversive elements. No analysis of academic freedom and the origins of political correctness can proceed without those actions of “moderates” who imposed an organic conservative vocabulary on American institutions–all of them.]

Repressive desublimation argues that the loosening of sexual morals benefits consumerism, in which self-worth is defined with respect to mass media definitions of sexual attractiveness and glamour. One would think that conservatives critical of hyper-sexuality in pop culture would welcome such a critique.

Or take Norbert Guterman’s and Leo Lowenthal’s manual for identifying right-wing agitators, Prophets of Deceit (1949). I read it twice and modified my own self-presentation on the radio accordingly. Some of their guideposts that stick in my mind are as follows: 1. The agitator confides personal “secrets” to the target audience to bind them more closely; and 2. The agitator exaggerates the hurdles that were necessary to overcome in finding the audience: he or she is in physical danger for revealing the secrets s/he is confiding to the target audience; and 3. The agitator wants your money.

While I reject the German Idealism of the Frankfurters, the study of propaganda, of images, and of deceptive language that they favored, are indispensable tools for historians, journalists and all others who would protect liberty and freedom of speech.

I have no doubt that antisemitism accounts for the continued blaming of “cultural Marxism” for “political correctness” and anti-Americanism in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ including the internal links. Look to the pseudo-moderate men for the threat to “American culture,” not to the “secular progressives” who represent emancipation from the dead hand of illegitimate authority. (For instance, Henry A. Murray of Harvard, one of their affinity group, argued for the return of the moderate father, for an authoritarian father would drive the children into radicalism. Such a perfectly moderate father (like the Good King or Platonic Guardian) was of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)

Bill Donahue

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.

domestic-violence-400x258

*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)

January 2, 2010

Jottings on the culture wars: what are they?

Ad, Harvard Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 2009

[Added July 6, 2013: There is massive confusion on what the culture wars are about. Bill O’Reilly pits “traditionalists” against “secular progressives” as if either group was internally coherent; while David Horowitz views [anti-Western] whiteness studies as making a “melodrama” that may explain the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin debacle ( http://tinyurl.com/l5wgmrl).

This essay tries to unpack the culture wars by analyzing the confusing and unsettled sociology that has polarized America. Some of my questions interrogate  both sides in the “culture wars,” rejecting the emphasis on culture to the exclusion of history, political science, and social theory.  (My own views tend toward the classical liberal: thus I am one of those “secular progressives” denounced as enemies to Easter Bunnies and Christmas trees.)]

It is true that politics are messy, by contrast, sociology as the product of German Idealism, is not.  Look back to Herder, Goethe and their successors who promoted a rooted cosmopolitanism. Their identity politics are tied to the utopian longing for stable national (or international) identity where its mosaic bits assume a beautiful pattern, stretching and yawning perhaps, but not confused, not switching, not turning on each other.  With the mosaic in place (i.e., all “ethnic” groups embraced and expressing themselves, but monomaniacs/socially irresponsible capitalists cut out), hostility/prejudice will become irrational: “inclusiveness” and state regulation will have removed rational sources of disaffection. [1]

The identity that matters to enlightened “moderates” equates “totalitarianism of the Left and Right” leaving pluralistic “liberal” democracy as the emancipated, yet irrationalist, alternative.  However, the antifascist pluralism they represent is not the liberalism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie (the classical liberals) but a shattering of what is stigmatized as the Egotistical Sublime (Ariadne’s enthusiasm for labyrinths, or the long view of history.).  Following conservative sociologists (e.g., Max Weber, a German patriot and supporter of the Weltkrieg), their social world is packed into separate categories: political, economic, and the cultural, yet the latter has a life of its own that cancels the politics and economic interest; human competence is dissolved into Negative Capability, at best, grasping only fragments.  The New Pluralism-without-Snakes-and-Spiders merges the individual with its “ethnic (multicultural) communities”–all joyously “fused” in the state (or is it the Great Chain of Being? or nowhere at all? is the state both there and not there?): a totally mystical “public interest” in societies with antagonisms between the owning classes and those dependent on them, the latter with nowhere to go.  This corporatist liberal “web and woof” is the spiritual hammock supporting us against “totalitarianism” of both the Left and Right. 

Where do the left-populists and social democrats fit in?  How can there be anti-racist politics while thinking in racialist terms?[2]  All the questions I have raised are intertwined with the larger debate over epistemology: Heraclitus vs. Bacon and the empiricists.  How do ordinary people, responsible for exercising the duties of citizenship, relying upon observation, study, and experience, know that their actions and judgments are not the products of a flawed methodology?

This blog, like others on this website, addresses the contemporary crisis in the humanities, a feverish condition said by some Rightists to have been imposed by Gramsci, Lukács, Frankfurt School critical theorists such as Adorno and Marcuse, and New Leftists who have taken the strategic heights in education and social policy.  With the ascendancy of Reagan republicanism, revisions of the literary canon and the history curriculum generated by multiculturalism, feminism, and black nationalism have been seen by some conservatives as mindless new developments leading to resurgent antisemitism and neofascism.  I share their concerns, but many conservatives cannot defend their own records nor can they reform the reformers, for they have not situated curriculum reform within the problematic of “democratic pluralism” and its vicissitudes (e.g. Lipset’s and Raab’s  The Politics of Unreason (1970), a venue created by “pragmatic” conservatives long before the “tenured radicals” of the 1960s generation began their “Left” stampede).[3]

As an artist and scholar familiar with some of the history of antidemocratic propaganda, psychological warfare, and censorship, I am disappointed and impatient with the scholars who have taken part to date.  I see mostly polarization and self-righteousness, little self-criticism or generosity or insight: more feints among different factions of counter-Enlightenment vying for the vanguard position, each waving the banner for humanitarian values and methodological sophistication.  I see little robust intellectual confrontation between radicals, liberals and conservatives.  And the wars rage on and on, spurred by the dubious appropriations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and chaos theory.[4]  Underneath the chatter and jargon and ad hominem insults to colleagues and to humanity at large, the questions of greatest importance to our survival lie buried; no reform strategies can be formulated without answers, and the questions are susceptible to empirical investigation:  Is there or is there not inevitable class exploitation in bourgeois democracies? Can social democratic reform remove what the revolutionary left insists are structural antagonisms?    Are contracts between persons, corporations, and nations contracts at all if one party is coerced by the other?  And who shall adjudicate disagreements if the weaker party balks?  If many people are oppressed, how shall they organize themselves to redress grievances, or should we breed a race of supermen?  Are modernization and industrialization really destroying the planet?  If so, what, if any, mass activity could halt or reverse the destruction?  What are the responsibilities of families, schools, corporations and the media in providing the critical and emotional tools to understand and ameliorate our worsening condition?  Have they ever done so?

Here come the masterless men. As hitherto orchestrated and conducted, the culture wars have diverted attention from these life-and-death issues, as perhaps they were intended to, as they have always done.  Nor have conservatives admitted the source of their anxieties: the tender moment of late adolescence when young people are separating from families of origin and lacking family responsibilities that later on might discourage political radicalism.  Conservative social psychologists applying the lessons of psychological warfare are alert to the power of modern fiction in making subversive notions attractive and acceptible.  Take the case of Herman Melville and his “elusive” or “ambivalent” texts, which though apparently conservative or reactionary, have aroused the energies of expert propagandists of the Right who fear his effect on young readers. For instance, some noted psychological warriors have explained how radical messages may be smuggled into harmless appearing fantasies, making stressed readers more receptive to new ideas, ideas they would normally reject as alien if encountered in an explicitly political context:

“…Of crucial significance may be those who are under strain, ambivalent, at once torn between loyalty to patriotic values and to the new values being offered by the communicator.  Such a segment may be a crucially important target, and it is necessary to understand the nature of its ambivalence and the implications for psychological warfare possibilities.  While such a segment is drawn to the new values, its allegiance to the old is made more compulsive by guilt feeling evoked by its attraction to the new.  Among such a population we should expect strong ritualistic conformity which would serve to deny evidences of hospitality to the alien values.  Beneath this ritualism, however, we should also expect to find the repressed side of the ambivalence, the side which represents a disposition to espouse the new values.

Research is now needed on the readiness of individuals under strain to accept communications which represent both the expressed and the repressed sides of their ambivalence.  It has been suggested that such individuals will reject any overt statement of the repressed side; but that they may pay attention if the repressed value is expressed in fictional form, so that it may be received on the level of fantasy, thus protecting the receiver from the need to decide whether or not he believes, or is willing to accept, such a conflicting value.  It is our belief that research along lines such as these would have far reaching operational usefulness for psychological warfare.” [5]

 [Clare:] Such sophisticated machinations at the highest levels of government suggest why apparently harmless cultural artifacts as the novels students read in high school and college can fluster vigilant ideologues.

Blunted tools have brought us to the current impasse over teaching methods, curriculum, and standards.  We are besieged by crazy-making, historically incorrect specters of our own fully feeling, fully thinking selves: The modern artist as slipping Titan, the obsessive Faustian autodidact, the obsequious romantic lover, the miscegenating rootless cosmopolitan, the vindictive muckraker.  Their unpardonable sin is the bad news that uncontrollable curiosity and unbalanced temperaments have shoved in our faces: there are or may be class antagonisms that cannot be reconciled by conservative reform, i.e., by negotiation and adjustments that do not severely threaten the economic interests of ruling classes.  So the hyper-individualistic “materialistic” Jew is converted to “the [idealist] new historicism”and disappears into “community” as defined by others; the judenrein center finds itself ensconced in the administered state.[6]

1930s intellectuals sometimes called this condition fascism; today it is more benignly labeled ‘multiculturalism,’ and is touted as the remedy for prejudice, scapegoating, and intolerance.  As social policy its longevity has been guaranteed by state, foundation, and university funding.  To speak against it incites accusations of Right-wing racism and worse.  Don’t bother applying for a CPB grant or a job in public broadcasting if you disdain the multicultural narrative of world history as racial/ethnic conflict, the genocide and ecocide perpetrated by “white males” or “the West”–a sad story that new textbooks, curricula, and television or radio programs celebrating “diversity” will bring to a happy end.

Although “Left” and “Right” have been internally at loggerheads over this social policy, all parties agree that insurgent blacks, women, and gays of the New Left initiated and now preside over the new wave of reform.  Before that (the early 1970s), an unbroken, unchallenged master narrative of Western progress is said to have reigned in academe and the media.  For the hard Right, the narrative was rational, unified and benign; for the hard Left (including anti-imperialist whites, people of color, and women, but not materialists), the narrative was entirely malignant; for the “moderate” critics straddling both positions, the narrative was contradictory and ambiguous, but would be resynthesized with the vigorous new blood and perspectives of the hitherto excluded, the better to launch a really Enlightened non-Marxist New New Left.[7]

My work takes none of these idealist positions, but seeks to document some of the major thinkers and social movements that promoted cultural policies coinciding with their perceived class interests.  No materialist has publicized the history of multiculturalism or “identity politics,” a history which cannot be deciphered without recalling competing prewar definitions of fascism, protofascism, and antifascism.  Hence I reject as ideologically distorted previous attempts to periodize the culture wars.  I suspect that the media, publishing, and academe are structurally precluded from describing the origins of this dispute for fear of damage done to the reputations of most postwar “liberal” intellectuals, whether positioned on the Left, Right or Center.  Nobody wants to say he has been successful by conforming to pseudo-democratic institutions, in some ways indistinguishable from their analogs in Germany and Italy before 1945; nobody wants to admit he is suffering from a massive failure of nerve.

CultureWarrior

     So-called multiculturalism is a reactionary ideological offensive that  confused individuals with groups and suppresses economic explanations for conflict and change in favor of cultural anthropological ones.[8]  As a manifestation of German Romanticism, it was an aesthetic theory buttressing a political structure: an irrationalist völkisch “aristo-democracy” (Herder).[9]  The German Romantics and their popularizers in England and America, men like Carlyle and Emerson, waved their supple poetic individuality, unique, yet imperceptibly diffused into race and nation and time itself as Schlegel had advised.  The aristo-democrats were the blooming correctives to the dessicating “mechanical” rationalism and universalism that had undergirded popular sovereignty for the seventeenth-century political theorist of constitutional democracy, John Locke.  In the eighteenth century, Piranesi would visualize this Lockean world in a series of engravings, his nightmarish urban spaces/prisons.  Lord Byron counterattacked with Lockean Prometheans, images of indomitable humanity: fatherless, yet kind, ameliorative and intellectually fortified.  In the later nineteenth century, Piranesi’s desolate, gigantic scenes of torture would reappear in James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, the City ruled by numeracy and literacy personified in Melencolia, the Queen patterned after both Dürer’s famous image of writer’s block, and George Eliot, Thomson’s contemporary, the realist novelist, author of Felix Holt, Radical.

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

NOTES.

[1] For cultural nationalists, the mosaic represents “self-reliance” as expressed in economic autarky, the unit being the ethnic nation.  Such organization would make it difficult for workers to unite across “ethnic” or “cultural” lines. By biological determinism, I do not mean that the followers of Herder had a materialist understanding of the natural sciences. As John Crowe Ransom or Eric Voegelin understood the völkisch idea of a national culture, there would be a spiritual uniformity in a people who had interacted for a lengthy period with their specific material environment, evolving into a balanced relationship with nature and each other. This was the point of T.S. Eliot’s famous remark (1933) about limiting the number of freethinking Jews in the interest of local stability. See Ransom’s crucial essay “The Aesthetic of Regionalism,” AR Vol. 2 (Jan 1934): 290-310, for an elucidation of scientistic localism that infuses contemporary concepts of multiculturalism and compare to Herder’s concept of nationality as described by Eric Voegelin, The History of the Race Idea (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989).

[2] Until I read the political sociologist Eric Voegelin on the history of the race idea, I did not understand this point. Voegelin rejected the concept of “race” as too materialist because of its biological implications. Instead he embraced Herder’s seminal idea of cultural nationalism.

[3] See the tone set by Roger Kimball, Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Education (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1990): “…the men and women who are paid to introduce students to the great works and ideas of our civilization have by and large remained true to the emancipationist ideology of the sixties” (xiv)…a new form of thought control based on a variety of pious new-left slogans and attitudes (xvi)…The denunciations of the “hegemony” of Western culture and liberal institutions that are sounded so insistently within our colleges and universities these days are not idle chatter, but represent a concerted effort to attack the very foundations of the society that guarantees the independence of cultural and artistic life–including the independence of our institutions of higher education (xviii).”  The radical canon includes Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (7); quoting Schiller, Kimball praises dissent and complains that the tenured radicals now occupy the moderate center (188-89).

Few have challenged Kimball’s periodization of the “P.C.” debate, nor are the “radical” challenges to the canon seen as élite initiatives, in which a folkish idea has been co-opted and nervously managed by the corporatist liberals on behalf of social stability.  See for instance Gregory S. Jay, “The First Round of the Cultural Wars,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/26/92, B 1-2: The move toward multiculturalism emanated from academic “have-nots” after the 1960s.  Also the militant Heterodoxy, edited by David Horowitz and Peter Collier, Vol.1, #1, “PC Cover-Up,” which argues that left-over Stalinist progeny, 1960s veterans of the New Left, are fighting a rear-guard action which “must be fought to conclusion”: the future of America hangs in the balance.  The writers decry the apocalyptic mentality of “the Left,” chiliastic originators of twentieth-century brutality. [added 1/5/2010: since I wrote this note, I have tended to share the Horowitz-Collier sense of urgency, especially after studying the vogue for Maoism on the Left and chiliasm on parts of the Right.]

A similar urgency informs a more recent debate on PBS (McNeil-Lehrer, 10-26-94) between Lynn Cheney, former head of NEH, and Professor Gary Nash, director of the UCLA National Center for History in the Schools which has produced a curriculum guidebook for grades 5-12 (flexible and adaptable to local conditions and preferences, according to New York Times, 10-26-94, B-8).  Cheney charged that the forces of political correctness have triumphed in the historical profession, and are destroying belief in a flawed, but on balance, great nation; Nash defended his guidebook as “a revolution” in the teaching of history, which will deemphasize “dates, facts, and names” in favor of critical inquiry into an evolving history which is always “provisional and contingent,” sensitive to the presence of women and minorities (labor not mentioned in the TV program, though Nash’s Urban Crucible celebrates the role of radical artisans in the American Revolution).  When charged by Cheney with denigrating all wealth (but not that of an African king) Nash contrasted Carnegie with Rockefeller.  Both Cheney and Nash say they want a critical approach to US history; both agree that a revolution is in progress. Joyce Appleby, president of the American Historical Association sees the culture wars as the chief struggle of our times (conversation with the author).

[4] See Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994) for a spirited attack on such appropriations and all anti-Enlightenment tendencies in the humanities.  The authors (who seem sympathetic to sociobiology) suggest that scientists may go their own way, teaching the humanities themselves if the present situation is not remedied.

[5] John W. Riley, Jr. and Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr., “Research for Psychological Warfare,” A Psychological Warfare Casebook, ed. William E. Daugherty and Morris Janowitz (Johns Hopkins U.P., 1958): 543.

[6] I am adopting the formulation of generic fascism as a centrist social movement that has obliterated liberalism, forcing agreement between the goals and interests of capital and labor, as suggested by David Stephen Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society 1931-81 (University of Manchester Press, 1987).

[7] For the latest example of the moderate position, see Todd Gitlin, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars (N.Y.: Henry Holt, 1995).

[8] If ethnic and gender studies were organized to deal with populations as they have been historically defined by others and often themselves, then there would be no objection from anti-racists.  Such programs need not ignore class issues, nor need they mythologize in search for glorious ancestors.  However, these programs were institutionalized in response to status group politics, and tend to reinforce biological determinism by their very organization.  As I have argued at public meetings, the separation of gender and “racial” issues in special programs has served as an excuse for “regular” curricula to ignore the needs expressed by previously excluded groups to see society and history as a whole.  See David A. Hollinger, “Postethnic America,” Contention 4 (Fall 1992): 79-86, for an interpretation that superficially resembles my own; however, he does not look to the possible structural incapacity of our society to respond to the social democratic reforms he proposes, or the structural antagonisms that make “common ground” a utopian wish or a tactical compromise.

 

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