YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 18, 2016

Materialists v. organic conservatives

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Thinkstock digital image

Thinkstock digital image

The most common question I get from readers is “what do you mean by ‘organic conservative’ versus ‘materialism’? I tried to explain here and elsewhere (https://clarespark.com/2015/01/23/what-is-an-organic-conservative/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/09/08/what-is-a-materialist/.

These antitheses may be associated with some as “science” versus “religion” or Democrat versus Republican, but these terms are not necessarily opposites (e.g., “moderates” may be New Dealers/Big Government advocates).

For instance, a materialist may be someone who focuses on the reliability of our senses with implications for eventually finding objective truth.

Put simply, a materialist is not necessarily a revolutionary socialist, for “dialectical materialism” is a Hegelian mystical conception, not to be confused with the empiricism of John Locke. And materialists may be religious, in the sense that they do not await for realistic contact with the world only as a heavenly reward for good behavior in this life.

Whereas organic conservatives may found in the Red-Green movement, or, perhaps surprisingly, among ‘traditionalist’ Burkeans: they do similarly rely on mystical bonds in order to achieve social cohesion. In many cases, mystics are on the lam from the machine, finding solace in idealized Nature.


Materialists like this writer find social cohesion/social peace, if at all, among individuals who share the same interests. A historian must look at all irreconcilable conflicts within the individuals, groups and/or institutions under study, whether these exist among sibling rivals, parents and children, men and women, economic groups, or nationalities. Few of us live long enough to master a ‘holistic’ view of the past, while part of that quandary is owing to the secrecy of those who wield power over others.

Unresolved is the existence of “race” as an objective division. Frantz Fanon and Ashley Montagu continue to confront one other, with “diversity” intended to validate [socially constructed] “race.” Cultural nationalists are convinced that all histories, including warfare, can be explained in terms of race and exploitation, while other [organic conservatives], like supporters of the United Nations, embrace unity in diversity, once known as e pluribus unum. I prefer the physical anthropologist Montagu who agrees with my dissertation adviser, Alex Saxton, that while physical variations are obvious, mental characteristics vary from individual to individual. This does not sit well with the propaganda disseminated by both political parties.

Racism is real, but “race” is a social construction; if you are a proud materialist, put those commas back!


May 14, 2016

The difference between communists and social democrats

technology dominating nature; painting by Bansky

technology dominating nature; painting by Bansky

I have just finished reading Isaac Deutscher’s much criticized biography of Josef Stalin. Although it has been criticized as an attempt to rehabilitate the Soviet dictator, I learned (or reviewed) a lot about Stalinism, especially as viewed by a Marxist-Leninist. (For a long but comprehensive essay in opposition to Deutscher see (https://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1950/09/deutscher-stalin.htm. I don’t agree with Schactman here; Deutscher’s notion of Stalin’s revolution from above was in response to the failure of communist revolution in the West. )

I am writing this blog because it is often difficult for conservatives unfamiliar with the USSR and generally down on progressivism, to tell the difference between different factions of “the Left” and the mass media won’t touch this subject, lest they reveal their own covert (?) “moderation” that places themselves in the sane middle, while their opponents are nuts.

Thus Bernie Sanders can pass himself off as a “democratic socialist” and run with the progressives, while implicitly denying that he is any kind of “extremist.”

No person educated in the basics of Marxism or Leninism would fall for this charade. I should not have to say this again, but Big Government is an elitist ploy by former laissez-faire capitalists to adapt to Red “proletarian internationalism” by a sharp move to the [populist] Left. See the explicit program of such as The Nation editor Oswald Garrison Villard in 1919, while Europe was in revolutionary turmoil. (https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/.)

The communists of the 1930s were largely Stalinists, believing that capitalism was oppressive and would inevitably be overthrown by the (conscious) industrial working class, led by the USSR. They were underground, professed to be pro-technology, anti-racist and anti-capitalist (but not always anti-American), and were deeply shocked by Krushchev’s “revelations” of Red hanky-panky during the Stalin era (which Deutscher pooh-poohs as an attempt to elevate Stalin’s successors).


All that changed with the turn toward agrarian nostalgia in the Maoist New Left, which elevated peasant revolts and was anti-imperialist. It is thus no accident that today’s Red/Pink Greens have seized upon the ostensibly bourgeois assault upon “Nature” as the centerpiece of their ‘revolutionary’ program, a program that Sanders (like Obama) endorses, for their anti-urban sentiments allege that the big, bad bourgeoisie were out to dominate Nature, and that “Nature” hath decreed that our species should be “rooted”.

Image by Hannah Yata

Image by Hannah Yata

Nothing worse than a “rootless” cosmopolitan; and here their “multicultural” argot agrees with post-WW2 Stalin about to embark upon a second Holocaust. The only point where today’s social democracies agree with communism (Russian style) is in their ever more obvious anti-Semitism.

January 6, 2016


Damian Gordon slideshow image

Damian Gordon slideshow image

(Update 1-8-16: This is NOT an anti-religion blog. My point is that secular, pluralistic societies are notorious for undermining the claims of particular religions.)

The agitated response to the claim by N. Korea that it had tested an H-Bomb reminded me of Eisenhower’s seminal 1961 farewell speech warning of a [godless] “military-industrial complex.” The heart of progressivism lies in this warning: that the Bomb unleashed powers that heretofore were reserved for the deity. The (moderate conservative) remedy is love in the service of international understanding, i.e., multiculturalism, cultural relativism, and the prophetic vision of Woodrow Wilson that eventuated in the United Nations (preceded by the League of Nations).

That is the overarching message of Carroll W. Pursell Jr.’s Readings in Technology and American Life (Oxford UP paperback, 1969).  The running theme in this solely “progressive” roundup of source readings was prefigured by historian Friedrich Meinecke’s explanation for the rise of Hitler: technology, unharnessed by the moderating power of religion, would raise a race of monster technicians from the lower orders, unimpressed by elite leadership. (The German historian’s analysis is found here: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/.)

Make no mistake: Pursell is a devoted progressive, hence not hostile to the rule of experts (a salutary effect of professionalization in the applied sciences): experts who would be motivated by such dodgy and indefinite notions as a knowable “public interest,” the planning state, and “service” (a.k.a. “duty”). What Pursell is pitching is Conservative Enlightenment in the service of Big Government. (Radical Enlightenment leads to free market economics, not bureaucratic collectivism. See https://clarespark.com/2015/12/29/milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-1962/.)

Where would godless technology lead in a secularizing society? To the rule of robots with selected human features? If we feel ourselves turning into mindless machines, perhaps we should look to the apparent benefits of conformity to rules handed down by “experts,” not to advances in our particular understanding of the material world we inhabit.


August 27, 2014

The imagination going dark

cannibalferoxBefore I left for a summer jaunt, I reread George Fitzhugh’s CANNIBALS ALL! (1857), a defense of slavery as a benign institution, especially as compared to the voracious capitalism and radical politics he claims to have witnessed in the industrial revolution.  What makes this work important is hardly its timeless wisdom or exhaustive research into the historical record, but the stunning fact that C. Vann Woodward, the foremost (liberal) historian of the South, wrote a lengthy preface for its republication in 1960.

Why would a liberal resuscitate such a relic in the mid-20th century? Woodward doesn’t tell us, but it is a good bet that Fitzhugh’s enemies and his were cut from the same cloth; that Fitzhugh’s reactionary cooking the history books to make all slaveholders throughout the West and the American South the best of patriarchs: religious, classically educated, family oriented, agrarian, and never, never turning slaves into throwaway commodities as the materialistic, science driven Northern laissez-faire capitalists were allegedly doing. Woodward undoubtedly saw Fitzhugh as the model New Deal liberal, paternalistic, agrarian, and statist, avant la lettre.

On the airplane that took me back and forth from the East I saw three movies, one older, two recent: Brazil, Divergent, and Transcendence. Before that, I had leafed through a large art history book, heavily illustrated, entitled Symbolism at my son’s house. I feel that I am drowning in postmodernist negativity regarding science, technology, “positivism,” and the modern world, for all these works were retreats into the Dark Ages, mysticism, and even postmodernism (even Christopher Nolan, who has a conservative following,  is awash in ambiguity and subjectivity–not all of which is bad.)

The Symbolist painters of the 19th century were lyrical and visually extravagant, carrying forth many of the themes developed on this website—escapism into a re-enchanted world: primitive, pagan, nature-loving, risqué, often Catholic. But the movies I watched on the airplane were typical film noir: As the Erudite want to take over the world (Divergent) choosing their version of “human nature” as justification for their oppressive and divisive leadership (compare to Fitzhugh’s hated abolitionists and utopians), the Abnegation faction that currently rules is under threat but ably defended by young misfits who see through the traps set by the (Űbermenschen). The symbolism is obvious to the audience: the rationalists have carved up the human personality according to the division of labor that Fitzhugh too criticized as dehumanizing.

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

The Isle of the Dead (1884)

It is this division of labor that has turned the lights out all over Europe and America, de-skilling honest craftsmen, and corrupting the new industrial working class, once the projected saviors of humanity, with cheap and abundant consumer goods.

Is it any wonder that nearly all our sci-fi movies are set in murderous, visually degraded, crazy-making cities, and that popular entertainment has gone dark and mobbish? For in olden times, there were heroes capable of slaying the monsters who stalked the land. Those days are gone forever, except in the imaginations of the younger filmmakers who, like Nolan, has his characters (apparently) join forces with eco-terrorists who confuse science with The Bomb. (Were Orwell alive today, he would see himself as a prophet, for the social democrats have inverted freedom and slavery. Don’t confuse the tenets of social democracy with communism, for the communists viewed technology and science as emancipating for toiling humanity.)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Jen Liu (2006) featured in Environmental Impact show (2014)

Nowadays, we have the dubious choice of eating or being eaten, dreaming in our pop culture of unpolluted Nature, meditating upon “whole foods.”

June 15, 2013

Decoding Les Miserables and the superhero

les_miserables_ver11One of the first distinctions taught me by Alexander Saxton, my adviser at UCLA (and confirmed by other scholars) was that a drastic transformation had taken place between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the wake of the American and French Revolutions: that the politics of family and deference to one’s “betters” had given way to “mass politics,” symbolized most famously by the log cabin campaigns of Andrew Jackson and his successors in the Jeffersonian agrarian tradition. Federalists (like Washington and Hamilton) were out and democrats were in, even if they held slaves and adored Sir Walter Scott’s romances.

This point is lost on those who blame mass politics and mass culture (both supposedly appealing to the irrational mob) for all the dictatorships of the 20th century. Among these was George Orwell, whose Nineteen Eighty Four is unintelligible without taking into account the new technology that enabled the successful snooping of Big Brother. Similarly, the Frankfurt School critical theorists blame technology and bureaucratic rationality (i.e., modernity as controlled by irreligious mass culture) for the Holocaust.

Nor without “traditional” fear of the undeferential masses can we understand the turn toward the classic tradition advanced by Robert Maynard Hutchins and his ‘moderate’ colleagues, who, as early as 1939, hoped to reinstate deference to a natural aristocracy to defeat the atheistic reds, as well as the latter’s despised campaigns against racism and antisemitism,  and their glorification of the common man. Today these [red or pink] villains are called “secular progressives”–perhaps a code word for “the Jews.”  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/.)

I have spent the last several weeks plowing through Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), a melodrama so appealing that it was adapted for both stage and film. What I most strongly take away from this monstrosity of a tale/sermon/philosophical treatise/military history is Hugo’s attempt to make himself, the reactionary Romantic, the true superhero of the tome. It is he who kills off his rival in fatherly strength and determination, Jean Valjean at the end, leaving himself, the author, as the major survivor. On display throughout are Hugo’s ostentatious learning, deference to God as the prime mover of human events, the efficacy of a change of heart in redeeming criminals, ingenious plotting, and detailed descriptions of the Paris poor, their furniture, rags, songs, and schemes including early nineteenth century French insurrections/émeutes. The epic novel is a reproach to Prometheus and his Enlightenment offspring, though many of its images are poetic and memorable. [For more on Hugo and the Prometheans see https://clarespark.com/2013/08/13/victor-hugos-93-and-condorcet/.]

"Victor Hugo en mage"

“Victor Hugo en mage”

Hugo, no less than Jean Valjean threading his way through the treacherous Paris sewers with the wounded lawyer Marius on his back, is navigating his way between monarchism and republicanism, taking us back to the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church advanced the higher law that invariably trumped earthly “pettifoggers.”  Amor Vincit Omnia. Ask Robert Maynard Hutchins and the other pseudo-moderate men.

British production

British production

It is so ironic that during last year’s Tony Awards (referring to 2011 productions), members of the Broadway musical adaptation of Hugo’s novel, presented themselves as revolutionaries and republicans singing “One Day More” (http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/lesmiserables/onedaymore.htm)  as if the author, without ambivalence,  favored republican principles and the mass politics that enabled them in Europe and America.  Hugo was no Marat, no ami du peuple. Rather, the escape artist (like both Valjean and Thenardier) was torn between his parents whose politics were opposed to one another. Hugo chose absolutism, not the stern Hebraic demand to choose inside a dualistic world.*

But don’t tell that to the post 1960s back-to-nature generation, like Victor Hugo, those stalwart enemies to “jewified” modernity, held to be masked, ambiguous, and unintelligible (with the exception of geniuses like himself). For many, Les Misérables is the Communist Manifesto of social democracy, but with a variation. It appears that God and the State have merged. The State, assuming the status of a deity, is the author of human events. The Good King is back, and the Good King is a superhero. (For a related recent blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/.)

*I am indebted to Steve Chocron for this point about Judaism and the necessity constantly to choose the right path when all choices are fraught with ambiguity.

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