The Clare Spark Blog

May 30, 2015

Constructing the moderate men with the classics

authors_rectThis blog is about tranquilizing our students through indoctrination: a kind of lobotomy of the imagination.

The Wall Street Journal, stomping grounds of the moderate men, features a “counter-cultural” summer reading list for high school kids in its May 30, 2015 edition (page A-13), clearly intended to cool out extremists of every stripe. Meet the author here: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2004/09/01/textbooks-where-curriculum-meets-child-exclusive-interview-gilbert-t-sewall (preceded last week by Peggy Noonan’s http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-trigger-happy-generation-1432245600).

Sewall advertises himself as a (sort of) conservative who opposes the radicalism of “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, going back to the “classics” with a small dollop of works likely to instill pride in (tempered) American individualism.

I suspect that Sewall’s agenda fits in all too snugly with earlier “moderates” whose project was to tame autodidacts, i.e., the barbarian hordes likely, through empiricism, science, and technology, to overthrow traditional elites. I have written about their efforts before on this website:

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/,  https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/.

Who are the enemy to the moderate men? Nietzsche, in his inimitable fashion, points the way in his first book (The Birth of Tragedy):

[Nietzsche:] Nothing can be more terrible than a barbaric slave class that has learned to view its existence as an injustice and preparing to avenge not only its own wrongs but those of all previous generations. Under such conditions, who would dare appeal confidently to our weary and etiolated religions, which have long since become “Brahmin” religions?” Myth, the prerequisite of all religion, has been paralyzed everywhere, and theology has been invaded by that optimistic spirit which I have just stigmatized as the baneful virus of society. [Compare to my next blog that quotes FN on “the Jews”: https://clarespark.com/2015/05/31/nietzsche-on-the-jews-and-non-aryan-christians/%5D

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

[Clare, cont.] So it is not surprising to see Voltaire’s Candide (with its counter Enlightenment-optimism message) on Sewall’s reading list.

What is missing from all these paeans to the classics? To be sure, they may be wonderful to read, but the biographies and sociopolitical commitments of the authors are all missing. Hence we can revel in the images and eloquence of the authors, but we have no idea of the deeper meanings of the texts, nor how incompatible social movements have appropriated them to twist their meanings.

That is the problem with the all of the humanities as taught today by either multicultural leftists or by the organic conservatives who called themselves “moderates” and have explicitly sought to enhance “social cohesion,” political stability, as achieved through the golden mean. (On the intentions of the New Critics see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.)

Without rigorous training in history, political theory, and economics, youngsters of college age are left without a beacon to light their way through these classic texts, however meritorious and appealing they may be as high cultural artifacts.

And even more likely, the poor preparation for reading anything at all with even a shallow understanding in our dumbed down, pseudo-civilization, suggests that a humanities education at any age is a waste of time and money.

keep-calm-and-study-humanities-13

September 21, 2013

Ad for Cambridge conference on the occult and spirituality

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Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

September 8, 2012

What is a materialist?

What is a materialist? This question cannot be answered without asking what is an organic conservative.  See https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, in which I give examples taken from my book on the Melville Revival. That essay takes patience and time, so I will attempt a more accessible account below.

This blog focuses entirely on what we mean by materialists and materialism, since the meanings of this term have proliferated, and are frequently deployed in partisan propaganda, but rarely with a definition of what the term signifies.

As a term of abuse, materialism refers to the excessive consumption promoted by free market capitalism, often viewed as a self-serving innovation of “the International Jew.” Leftists, whether of the Democratic Party or of the hard Left, believe that the desire for Things has taken precedence over Love thy Neighbor, and produced a loathsome narcissism, and worse, “bourgeoisifying” what should have been a revolutionary working class. Such love of material comfort, it is alleged, has only served to place the “rootless” individual into the iron cage of materialism (Max Weber), for such a one has emptied herself of “spirituality”.

Minimalist architecture and design addressed the froufrou of excessive ornamentation with a return to simplicity, even austerity. And neoclassical austerity is the preferred style of communism and related ideologies interested in high quality mass production that would re-spiritualize the irreligious urban masses. (One branch of feminist art addressed such austerity as typical of the male sensibility, and produced in reaction, pattern painting. Some of its leading artists have been Miriam Schapiro and Joyce Kozloff, notwithstanding their liberal or leftist sympathies. I could have added Judy Chicago to this group, in her rehabilitation of painting on china or embroidery, once considered to be crafts practiced by women, and demeaned accordingly.)

Joyce Kozloff image

Materialism as empiricism, as a route to knowledge known to some Greek philosophers, was mostly a product of the Reformation and then the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, but even a materialist like Hobbes warned against the untrammeled search for truth as a dangerous “passion.” (Catholic scholars have pointed out that much science was developed by medieval monks, and they are right.)

The German Enlightenment of the 18th century was reactionary as it undermined “materialism” with its mystical notion of national character and Zeitgeist or “the spirit of the age.” Society was held together by mystical bonds of blood and soil, but Herder, the chief proponent of “national character” arranged his different societies in a hierarchy that favored Germans and ancient Greeks. See https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.

To conclude this short blog, a materialist historian looks at the evidence of this world, although with a skeptical eye, for we understand that we are capable of misreading primary sources, and that primary source materials are themselves sometimes wrong or distorted by diarists, the records of courts, etc. (Or primary source materials may be hidden by secretive tyrants, an ongoing problem for historians and the better journalists.) We also tend to look to similar material interests as a route to social solidarity, not to mystical bonds that are posited by the organic conservatives (e.g. populists/progressives asserting “the public interest” over the ever-selfish “individual”). And the latter mystics are found all over the political spectrum.  To see “things as they are” is no easy matter, and beware of those experts who abuse “evidence” to please a client or an institution or a political party. For more on this point, see (https://clarespark.com/2013/12/13/culture-wars-religion-and-the-neurotic-historian/.)

Note: My use of the Bauhaus and its neoclassical underpinnings (mystical) are derived from Barbara Haskell’s essay in the catalog to the recent exhibition of Lyonel Feininger’s career in Germany and America. See  http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/LyonelFeininger. Haskell explains that the Bauhaus (Feininger was a member) attempted to revive the medieval unity of arts and crafts, i.e., as a restoration of spirituality. This was a powerful insight for me.

September 26, 2009

NEA, NEH, and state worship

Friedrich Meinecke

Readers of this blog might profit from an earlier one: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/04/unfinished-revolutions-and-contested-notions-of-identity/. What follows is the mission statement  for the NEA and NEH. I have emphasized in bold face those items that demonstrate a fear of a science-driven market, hoping to use the arts and humanities (i.e. art as a substitute for religion) to moderate narcissism and to impose order on a dog-eat-dog modern world: i.e., history, insofar as it is solely “materialist” (fact-based) cannot illuminate either past or present, nor is it wise or a guide to an (orderly) future. Government funding of the multicultural arts and humanities seems to me to be directed toward state worship. What is not spoken is intellectual independence as a value in itself and as a route to discovery, apart from any contribution to social cohesion. The Renaissance notion that the individual has dignity and power is the essence of “humanism.” Do you find these qualities in the protocols? Is “multiculturalism” (the “democratic” recipe du jour) really intended to “empower” minorities or is it a sophisticated form of social control?

   First I present the mission statement of NEA and NEH, then provide quotations from Friedrich Meinecke, J. G. von Herder, and Fichte to demonstrate the intellectual lineage of government funding for the arts and humanities. That lineage is German Romanticism and its counter-Enlightenment thrust. But that genealogy also rejects or “moderates” the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolutions–all seen in undiluted form as the precursors to “totalitarian” ideologies.

NATIONAL FOUNDATION ON THE ARTS AND THE HUMANITIES ACT OF 1965, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS APPROPRIATIONS AS OF FISCAL YEAR 2006, AND RELATED LEGISLATION

20 U.S.C.

§ 951. Declaration of findings and purposes

The Congress finds and declares the following:

(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.

(2) The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the

humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative,

are also appropriate matters of concern to the Federal Government.

(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology

alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of

scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the

past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster

and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities,

designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of

their technology and not its unthinking servants.

(5) It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement,

assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the

arts by local, State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations. In

doing so, the Government must be sensitive to the nature of public

sponsorship. Public funding of the arts and humanities is subject to the

conditions that traditionally govern the use of public money. Such funding

should contribute to public support and confidence in the use of taxpayer

funds. Public funds provided by the Federal Government must ultimately serve

public purposes the Congress defines.

(6) The arts and the humanities reflect the high place accorded by the American

people to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual

respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.

(7) The practice of art and the study of the humanities require constant dedication

and devotion. While no government can call a great artist or scholar into

existence, it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to help

create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought,

imagination, and inquiry but also the material conditions facilitating the release

of this creative talent.

(8) The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely

upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded

upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a

leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit.

(9) Americans should receive in school, background and preparation in the arts

and humanities to enable them to recognize and appreciate the aesthetic

dimensions of our lives, the diversity of excellence that comprises our cultural

heritage, and artistic and scholarly expression.

(10) It is vital to a democracy to honor and preserve its multicultural artistic heritage

as well as support new ideas, and therefore it is essential to provide financial

assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work.

(11) To fulfill its educational mission, achieve an orderly continuation of free society,

and provide models of excellence to the American people, the Federal

Government must transmit the achievement and values of civilization from the

past via the present to the future, and make widely available the greatest

achievements of art.

(12) In order to implement these findings and purposes, it is desirable to establish a

National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities. [end, mission statement]

 These items respond to 1. A particular aristocratic interpretation of the appeal of fascism/Nazism to one-sided technocrats and technical workers who are not “spiritual” (i.e., Nazism, like Communism, was atheistic, hence materialistic).

     [from Hunting Captain Ahab:] The concept of ethnopluralism could redirect and absorb the class resentments of the potentially explosive redundantly educated–the “disillusioned” worker or petit bourgeois, overtrained (in technology) and underemployed in the Depression, who had been spotted by other conservative intellectuals as shock troops for fascism between the wars. The famous historian Friedrich Meinecke’s postwar explanation for “the German catastrophe” resonates with the ruminations of earlier organic conservatives:[i]

[Meinecke:] “It often happens nowdays…that young technicians, engineers, and so forth, who have enjoyed an excellent university training as specialists, will completely devote themselves to their calling for ten or fifteen years and without looking either to the right or to the left will try only to be first-rate specialists. But then, in their middle or late thirties, something they have never felt before awakens in them, something that was never really brought to their attention in their education–something that we would call a suppressed metaphysical desire. Then they rashly seize upon any sort of ideas and activities, anything that is fashionable at the moment and seems to them important for the welfare of individuals–whether it be anti-alcoholism, agricultural reform, eugenics, or the occult sciences. The former first-rate specialist changes into a kind of prophet, into an enthusiast, perhaps even into a fanatic and monomaniac. Thus arises the type of man who wants to reform the world.

   Here one sees how a one-sided training of the intellect in technical work may lead to a violent reaction of the neglected irrational impulses of the spirit, but not to a real harmony of critical self-discipline and inner creativeness–rather to a new one-sidedness that clutches about wildly and intemperately…A technical calling, however, does not necessarily precede the world reformer’s intemperance. Men with hot heads, ambition, and an autodidactic urge for advancement, when forced into the technically normalized working conditions of the present day, may easily lose their inner equilibrium in the conflict of the spirit with the world about them and flare up in a blaze. The petty painter and quarellist Hitler, who once had to earn his scanty bread in construction work and in the course of it whipped up his hatred of the Jews into a general philosophy of world-shaking consequences, is a case of this kind (36-37).”

    In the transition from Homo Sapiens to Homo Faber, Meinecke explained, we had lost the integrative powers of religion:

[Meinecke:] This was no specific spiritual force, but a spiritual need springing from and existing for the totality of the soul, and called upon to preserve the inner community of the life of men and to knit the ties between the simple workingman and the cultured man of developed individuality (38).”

   Martin Dies and James Conant, along with other American Progressives, had been similarly alarmed by the rupture in human history, a rupture that had prompted the desire for a complexly developed individuality in previously “simple” workingmen; hotheads and ambitious autodidacts were to be cooled out through incorporation into an organic community; special attention would be paid to suppressed metaphysical desires, unpredictably erupting in misguided attempts to reform the world. With class, the materialist analytic category par excellence, translated into the soulful völkisch discourse, the irrationalism of Conservative Enlightenment watered the growing field of social psychology, a developing discipline ever alert to the monomaniacal propensities of the one-sidedly educated and upwardly mobile protofascist middle class. [end, book excerpt, Hunting Captain Ahab]

     And earlier, the German theologian and founder of cultural anthropology, J.G. von Herder explained his counter-Enlightenment, anti-materialist views on patriotism and sacrifice: “Do We Still Have the Public and Fatherland of Yore?”:

“…do we yet have the fatherland, the love of which will move us to the unselfish sacrifice of our selves; do we yet know the passion of the ancients to court the fatherland’s love, its honor and reward, as the patriot’s finest garland?–Whoever entertains noble feelings even for those above him, whose heart beats warmly in his breast for his brother, who seeks to be a link in the chain of the whole, and is so joyfully, will not answer no to this question.

    Only a Helvetius, who claims to find only selfish urges in man; a Mandeville, who transforms us into mere bees; a Hobbes, who inscribes hostility upon each man’s forehead; a Machievelli, who creates that monster of a despot who sucks the blood through tax collectors, vampires, and ticks; only these base and cold misanthropes deprive us of the gentle sentiment of patriotism; and each rotten soul that tears itself away from its fatherland and after the Ptolemaic scheme of the world makes the self’s terrestrial clod the center of the whole, will deprive itself of this gentle sentiment.—

…If one should take away from a monarch, from an empress, the sweet awareness of laboring for a fatherland, of caring for subjects as children, what would he be but the image of Machiavelli, what should she be more readily but the mechanical queen bee of Mandeville? If one should take away the invigorating thought of the fatherland from a judge, from an authority who must sacrifice private business to the public weal, who exhausts himself and surrenders the advantage of the family and personal pleasure to the benefit of the whole, is it to be wondered at when such a one, instead of petty laurels, dons the green Jew’s cap, when such a one, instead of holding court, goes out to dig where no one will notice for gold and ecclesiastical treasures?…[1]

 2. These items respond to the liberal foundations’ beliefs that racial and ethnic conflict could be moderated through better communication, not changes in the funding of scientific education or political organization by those with grievances concerning the unequal application of the law.  [The Ralph Bunche Papers contain his indignant protests that upper-class foundations were oblivious to the material conflicts that perpetuated racism and kept blacks in their places. Such foundations offered better communication and inter-racial understanding instead of political and economic education for the downtrodden. I have published work on this topic.]

 3. These items echo the belief that there is no hierarchy in culture, that all diversities are equal, while, on the other hand, there is in fact a hierarchy of civilized expression that speaks to us today. (The greatest achievements of civilization has continuity irrespective of its meaning to those who created it. In practice, this privileges “Christian humanism” and a daisy chain of differing cultural expressions, each one rooted in blood and soil.)

 [J.G. von Herder, “On Diligence in the Study of Several Learned Languages,” 1764:]  That flourishing age is gone when the small circle of our earliest ancestors dwelt round the patriarchs like children round their parents; that age, in which, in the simple and noble message of our revelation, all the world was of one tongue and language. Instead of the burden of our learning and the masks of our virtues, there reigned rough, simple contentment. Why do I sketch a lost portrait of irreplaceable charms? It is no more, this golden age.—-

   As the children of dust undertook that edifice that threatened the clouds, the chalice of confusion was poured over them: their families and dialects were transplanted to various points of the compass; and a thousand languages were created in tune with the climes and mores of a thousand nations. When here the native of the Morn glows under a blazing noon, the rushing current of his mouth streams forth a heated and emotive speech. There, the Greek flourishes in the most sensuous and mild of regions, his body–in Pindar’s words—is bathed in grace, his veins pulse with a gentle fire, his limbs are charged with sensitivity, his vocal instruments exquisite; and thus there arose among them that exquisite Attic tongue, Grace among her sisters.

   The Romans, sons of Mars, spoke more forcefully, and only later gathered flowers in the garden of Greece to embellish their tongue. More masculine yet is the speech of the martial German; the sprightly Gaul invents a skipping, softer language; the Spaniard gives his own an appearance of gravity, though this be merely by means of echoes. The languorous African mumbles weakly, waning away in broken tones, and the Hottentot, at last, loses himself in a stammer of gibberish. So this plant transformed itself according to the soil that nourished it and heaven’s breeze, that quenched its thirst: it became a Proteus among nations. [Note that Herder has a hierarchy, unlike the multiculturalists who invoke him.]

    If thus, each language has its distinct national character, it seems that nature imposes upon us an obligation only to our mother tongue, for it is perhaps better attuned to our character and coextensive with our way of thinking. I may perhaps be able to ape haltingly the sounds of foreign nations, without, however, penetrating to the core of their uniqueness.

…[However, through commerce] state policy links languages together into a universal chain of peoples, and precisely in that way they also become a great bond of learning. So long as the scattered crowd of scholars is not governed by a monarch who would set one language upon the throne of the ruins of so many others, so long as the plans for a universal language belong among the empty projects and journeys to the moon, so long will many languages remain an indispensable evil and thus almost a genuine good.[2]

4. These items strongly suggest that the arts and humanities, funded by the government, bind the citizen spiritually to the State, and discourage an excess of “Egotism.” Through rooted cosmopolitanism, we, like the German Romantics, spin the divinity out of the nation, and sacrifice ourselves for the higher good, a gesture which is not submission, but an expression of national character.

  [Germans, the sole inventors of “philosophy” and Fichte resolve the conflict between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, 1806-7:] “The patriot wishes that the purpose of mankind be reached first of all in that nation of which he is a member. In our day this purpose can only be furthered by philosophy (Wissenschaft). Therefore philosophy and its widest possible dissemination in our day must be the immediate purpose of mankind, and no other purpose can or should be fixed for it.

   The German patriot wishes that this purpose be attained first of all among the Germans and that from them it spread to the rest of mankind. The German can desire this, for in his midst philosophy has had its origin and it is developed in his language. It may be assumed that in that nation which has had the wisdom to conceive philosophy there should also rest the ability to understand it. Only the German can desire this, for only he, through the possession of philosophy and the possibility given thereby to understand it, can comprehend that this is the immediate purpose of mankind. This purpose is the only patriotic goal. Only the German can therefore be a patriot. Only he can, in the interest of his nation, include all mankind. Since the instinct of Reason has become extinct and the era of Egotism has begun, every other nation’s patriotism is selfish, narrow, hostile to the rest of mankind.

The Germans as the Urvolk, the original people, have learned to regard the state and the nation with truly religious spirit. Not in the manner of tyrants who preach religion as a cloak of despotism, urging submission, but in the manner of freemen who have learned to love their nation. For “a nation is the totality of all those living together in society, continuing its kind physically and spiritually, living under a special law of  the development of the divine out of itself.”  This law of development produces national character….The state must find its chief task in the education of its citizens for these higher ends.[3]


[1.]  Friedrich Meinecke, The German Catastrophe, trans. Sidney Fay ( Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), 36-38. Though he is writing after World War II, Meinecke’s analysis is typical of other organic conservatives. Similar identifications of the class base of fascism were made by Harold Lasswell before the war, and CIA-affiliated social scientists during the 1940s and 50s. George Mosse built an entire academic career on the claim. Cf. the mid-nineteenth century views of Radical Republican Charles Sumner, who vigorously advocated an excellent popular education for all American

[2.] Johann Gottfried Herder, Selected Early Works 1764-1767, ed. Ernest A. Menze and Karl Menges. Transl. Ernest A. Menze with Michael Palma (University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State UP, 1992), 29-31.

[3] Ibid., 61-62.

 [4.] H.C. Engelbrecht, Johann Gottlieb Fichte: A Study of his political writings with special reference to his Nationalism (N.Y.: AMS Press, orig. publ. 1933): 98, 117-18.    

July 4, 2009

Unfinished Revolutions and contested notions of “identity”

Professor Nicholas Boyle

[For a more recent blog on decadence see https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/.]

Anyone who has followed recent developments in history and politics should be amazed by the ubiquity of the term “identity”. What is not noted is the drastic transformation in the meaning of that word, and the implications are alarming for those who believe that civil rights (most especially the right of every individual citizen to challenge authority and to question the lines of interpretation handed down by all existing establishments as to “truth” or the causes of conflict) are intrinsic to an advanced democracy, such as the one we celebrate today, July 4, 2009. For as I have argued in all my published work and in various blogs and comments on the internet, the very concept of the free-standing, relatively autonomous individual is being systematically erased by antidemocrats or pseudo-democrats, who imagine themselves to be “anti-imperialists” and “anti-racists.” (I have written about the origins of multiculturalism and its racialist discourse in numerous venues, but here is one that tries to sum it all up: http://hnn.us/articles/4533, or see the version I posted here: https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, or try this more recent blog:https://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

What do I mean by unfinished revolutions? While in graduate school in history, as I learned about “the Age of Revolution” it dawned on me that none of the great transformations from the feudal world to the modern one, mostly in “the West” had been resolved. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were not simply about whether monarchs in Europe would adhere to Catholicism or Protestantism or Anglicanism (the “Elizabethan compromise”), but the key element–whether or not individual conscience trumped the authority of Churches and Kings–is still a hot topic today. Then came the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, and the warfare between science and religion proceeds apace, often disguised in “the culture wars.” What is at stake here is the universality of observed facts, but the new identity politics relegates such an affront to authority as crypto-fascism or imperialism. For these supposed freedom fighters, there are only group facts, incomprehensible to those not sharing the same (group) identity.  Now recall that the further liberalizing American Revolution, grounded in both the scientific revolution and left-wing Protestantism, established the “levelling” notion of equality before the law, along with meritocracy, as its founding principles (at least for propertied white males).

Hard by that unprecedented blessed event came the French Revolution (inspired in part by the American Revolution)  and its continued transfer of authority to citizens: Power, knowledge, and virtue now fled castles and cathedrals to repose in the breasts and brains of ordinary people, and, affirming the liberties that had been asserted in the preceding upheavals, appeared a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the elevation of the Prometheus myth, even in the principalities of Germany, as early Goethe and Schiller can attest (and before that, Spinoza in the seventeenth century Netherlandish revolt against Spain).

Lest anyone think that the traditional elites took these events, disastrous to their property and privileges, lying down, one need only read the outpouring of conservative Catholic and other organic conservative denunciations of the bloodthirsty Jacobins and their hideous progeny, progeny that includes Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. For the purpose of this essay, their most significant gesture was the erasure of “rights” in favor of “obligation” or “duty” to the ‘revolution, or ‘race’ or ‘nation’ or ‘community.’ Similarly, the individual observer, testing reality with her or his senses, then submitting facts to open-minded and curious others for confirmation, was beheaded or deemed “vile atheist” and mad scientist. Now “identity”, understood in my youth as a coherent sense of self, a sense of self that was antithetical to the fragmented and dissociated sufferer from paranoia or other mental illnesses, that notion of self was drastically transformed into “identity” as “national character”: a set of perceptions shared by all of the inhabitants of a nation-state or “race” –a population that formed a “community” with a specific Zeitgeist. This latter notion came down to us as Lamarckianism or a kind of blood and soil “environmentalism.” The eighteenth-century German theologian J.G. von Herder, the founder of cultural anthropology, got the credit for his “rooted” cosmopolitanism, supposedly an improvement over the atomized, narcissistic, world-destroying individual allegedly promoted by the dread liberals who preceded him in the English, American, and French Enlightenments. (On the perils of the Age of Reason or Utilitarianism, see the interchanges between Coningsby and Sidonia in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby.)

Not too long ago, I discovered that some of Herman Melville’s markings in one of his Bibles came straight out of Goethe’s two Wilhelm Meister novels (the first wild one, written before the French Revolution, the second “reverential” one, written late in life in reaction to the Terror and Napoleon), so I have been reading Goethe and Goethe biography and criticism. It turns out that one Nicholas Boyle, a most prestigious professor of German intellectual history and literature at Cambridge University in the U.K. had published two mammoth volumes on Goethe’s life and art, with a third volume promised. Boyle was so outraged by the French Revolution (an event that seems to have dampened the ardor of the Sturm und Drang German writers), that I suspected a conservative Catholic or Tory reading of that revolution. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Boyle had denounced the unforgiving Captain Ahab in another of his books (quoted below), and also admonished Ishmael too for homosexuality! Melville had written a gay and blasphemous book! My notes from Boyle follow, and I have included them here because he gives us a clue as to the real content of “identity” today as understood by its multicultural advocates. As I have proposed above, we are still fighting for the most basic of human rights as promised in the Declaration of Independence.

[my notes:] Nicholas Boyle, “A Catholic Approach to Literature,” Secular and Sacred Scriptures: A Catholic Approach To Literature, 2004, p.140 [IDENTITY]: Boyle writes, “Both sacred and secular literature involve the noninstrumental, nonpurposive use of words, and in different ways assert our freedom from the tyranny of functional, goal-directed thought and language: secular literature by using words to give pleasure and so enabling us to enjoy what is: sacred literature by using words to utter obligation, and so to give us our identity, not as beings who perform a function, but as creatures who know what ought to be.” P.141: “Even the wisdom books of sacred literature are expressions, however refined and derived, of the original obligation. Even Ecclesiastes, in which first-person utterance and the appeal to the author’s experience are so prominent, enjoins us ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’ (12:1)”

In other chapters (e.g. on Moby-Dick): for Boyle, “having and risking” is modern (false) identity. In this chapter, Boyle deplores the transition starting in 1200 A.D.  from a “feudal” world ordained by God to one ruled by money ( capitalism and imperialism). Boyle asserts that we have forgotten that wealth has its origins in work; we have forgotten our origins in God. A capitalist identity is therefore antithetical to the true Christ-infused identity. Hence, Boyle rejects the very notion of a “feudal” world, for the true world is not characterized by such (utilitarian?) categories. So political theory or structural analysis of economic institutions are off the charts!!! But wait, artists are good: Christ redeemed sinful man, and therefore artists can represent the world, conditioned though they may be by historical and linguistic context (cf. the New Historicism!), but (he implies) their work should participate in the ongoing work of redemption (of suffering?), for we are all in Christ and Christ is in us.

How does Boyle deal with antisemitic representations in literature then?  In his Goethe biography he passes over without judgment Goethe’s several nasty comments about Jews. In the book quoted above, Boyle finds pleasure in Dickens’ Fagin, a monster-victim who is, however, forgiven: pp.133-34: “Fagin is saved from being a stereotypical instrument of anti-Semitism and is raised into literature by our enjoyment of his monstrosity, and that is made possible as much by Oliver’s final prayer for him—Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (in which a direct vocative can be heard behind the gasp of sentiment)—as by the relish in the caricature when we first meet him, stirring the coffee in an iron pot and serving hot rolls and, of all things, ham to his ‘dears,’ while he inspects their pickings.”
Now, dear reader, if you have followed me thus far, you will understand that Captain Ahab’s unpardonable sin, for Boyle and for others who share his ideology, is Ahab’s/Melville’s (Jewish?) predilection for revenge. We may infer that Ahab doesn’t enjoy the Monster, or the idea that Might Makes Right, or that obligation sans “rights” is a source of pleasure. That Captain Ahab’s quest might be a symbol for all the unfinished revolutions of Melville’s time, revolutions that allowed a cat to look at a king, or ordinary people to educate themselves through study and reflection upon their experience, and who, moreover, might indulge themselves in the analysis of the institutions that controlled their lives, thence to participate meaningfully in government and self-government–such a reading cannot be allowed in an academy that called a halt to the Age of Revolution as it was once understood.  Happy Fourth of July. (For a recent blog on this  subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.)

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