The Clare Spark Blog

May 23, 2014

Gentleman’s Agreement, Remains of the Day, “professionalism” and “prejudice”

tabudergerechten Who defines professionalism nowadays? In Melville’s The Confidence-Man (1857), “the Man from Missouri” casts a jaundiced eye on the soporifics offered by the herb-doctor. Should we not be equally skeptical? Should we not be more aware of elite resistance to modernity, a modernity that has elevated and emancipated ordinary people, including Jews, women, and labor from the “professionalism” that turns out to be yet another variant of servitude to the ambitions of arbitrary and irresponsible elites? Where are the social justice warriors when you need them?

After seeing the much-admired movie Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), I was curious to see how it might have departed from the best-selling novel. It turned out that Moss Hart’s screenplay stuck very close to the Hobson novel; moreover, both novelist and playwright were the children of Jewish immigrants; both married non-Jews, and Wikipedia reports that Hobson’s parents were socialists, while silent on Hart’s parents who are described simply as “English-born.”

It is worth noting that Hobson’s novel, like the movie, gets off to an agonizingly slow start as the hero, Phil Green, searches for an “angle” that will help him avoid the boredom of statistics and worked-over arguments regarding the Jewish problem. So, remembering that he had pretended to be of the working class in prior magazine exposés, in a Eureka! moment he decides to assume a Jewish identity. He is stunned and infuriated by the rejections he experiences and goes on to write a masterpiece of journalistic guilt-instilling that even converts his now-and- then genteel girlfriend away from silent disapproval to “action” in confronting “prejudice”. (Was this an anticipation of “the action faction” of the New Left?)
Peck-Maguire

Both novel and movie carried the same theme: antisemitism was a “prejudice” that was decidedly un-Christian. Such class disdain for “the Jews” interfered with the tolerance advocated by the Founders of the US, and with the internationalism promoted by FDR and his progressive supporters. Hobson’s novel paired anti-Negro racism with antisemitism as if they were variants on the same theme. I wonder if her parents were communists in the 1930s, because the CPUSA famously opposed both antisemitism and racism during the Depression, blaming such Nazi-like appeals to the mob on Republicans. Whatever Hobson’s motives might have been, she brought up, but was non-committal on the hairy question of Zionism and Palestine, a hot and controversial subject while she was writing her big interventionist and daring book. Such identification of “prejudice” with intolerance was an effective strategy for assimilating Jews for it cleared the way for “socially responsible capitalism” and later, the notion of hate speech and political correctness in order to assuage social conflict.

Then I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s postmodern tour de force The Remains of the Day. Like Gentleman’s Agreement, the screenplay stuck fairly close to the letter and spirit of the novel (though it made “Miss Kenton” somewhat anarchistic, a departure from the novel) , and like Hobson’s novel, brought up the question of antisemitism in the British upper-classes (especially in the “Cliveden Set”, manifested in their misguided sympathy with the Germans: “gentlemen” do not abuse a defeated nation, and the Versailles treaty was un-sportsman like.

Powderham Castle/Darlington Hall

Powderham Castle/Darlington Hall

What I have written so far is easily gleaned by the attentive viewer and reader of these important works of art, but they do not address the theme of “professionalism” – a word that is repeated over and over in Ishiguro’s novel. Moreover, the theme of “professionalization” is one major focus of cultural histories that take on the trendy theme of “institutionalization.” What these studies leave out is the observation that hierarchies breed deceit, arguably the theme of Melville’s “Billy Budd.” Postmodernist critics (academics) who have praised Ishiguro’s skillfully wrought novel do not bring up the problem so obviously tormenting “Stevens” the butler of Darlington Hall, perhaps because such an emphasis would cast doubt on their internalized allegiance to their own masters.

This morning’s NPR offering waxed indignant over the Koch brother’s alleged control of economics and related fields in the University of South Florida’s colleges. It was suggested that without such “conservative” bribes, there would be no crisis of objectivity in the university system, as if today’s pacifying postmodern professoriate in the humanities adhered to the search for truth. Click on the illustration below and see what standards evaluate today’s “professionals.”

professionalism

Among the sources consulted:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Z._Hobson
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentleman’s_Agreement
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moss_Hart

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February 22, 2014

Healthy Skepticism

noimageThis blog is about healthy skepticism versus the sort of philosophical skepticism that is blatantly nihilistic and/or reactionary. In writing this piece, I am immersed in rereading my favorite passages in Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857). Like most of his other works, the theme of the book is protest against the rule of the moderate man of the Enlightenment. Even another “Captain Ahab” makes an early, but brief appearance as a wooden-legged scoffer at the masquerades of the multiform confidence men who dot the book. These con artists are shape shifters, and include “Black Guinea, the herb doctor, the cosmopolitan, and more. The theme is “No Trust.”

What we are to distrust (says Melville) is the moderate Enlightenment theme of cosmic benevolence, and the very idea of progress from pre-industrial to market societies, where everyone wears a mask (role-playing) and bamboozles his or her victims. I remember the art critic Harold Rosenberg lauding this particular Melville text in the late 1940s, perhaps as his sour response to the weakly resisted Holocaust, the latter surely an example of an absent deity and the depraved indifference of humanity writ large. He read the text with understanding of its allover trajectory of nihilism and abandonment in an empty universe. Such are the ways of nihilism, a popular artistic theme in the immediate period following WW2. What do I think of this trend, still extant today? davidhume To a large extent, we are all prisoners of our particular families, personal and world histories. I will give “the new historicists” that. What is the engaged citizen supposed to do, given the imprisonment in specific contexts? Should we all turn ourselves into the figure of Pierrot, the spectator, who comments, but with blood on his hands because of his passivity? (For a picture of Picasso’s immobilized seated Pierrot of 1918, and a collage linking antisemitism and misogyny see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/.) Melville went back and forth on this question: sometimes roaring as the unmasker of frauds, sometimes soothing himself with reveries that returned him to the perfectly happy family.

[David Hume on moderation, History of England, Vol.8, pp 310-311, jousting with Locke:] “The Whig party, for a course of near seventy years, has, almost without interruption, enjoyed the whole authority of government; and no honors or offices could be obtained but by their countenance and protection. But this event, which in some particulars has been advantageous to the state, has proved destructive to the truth of history, and has established many gross falsehoods, which it is unaccountable how any civilized nation could have embraced with regard to its domestic occurrences. Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter, have been extolled, and propagated, and read; as if they had equaled the most celebrated remains of antiquity. And forgetting that a regard to liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subordinated to a reverence for established government, the prevailing faction has celebrated only the partisans of the former, who pursued as their object the perfection of civil society, and has extolled them at the expense of their antagonists, who maintained those maxims that are essential to its very existence. But extremes of all kinds are to be avoided; and though no one will ever please either faction by moderate opinions, it is there we are most likely to meet with truth and certainty.”

And why not embrace the manipulative moderates, rejecting Locke and empiricism as Hume did, to his everlasting glory in the political ruling class? Few of us have the inner strength and indomitable will to escape the prisons of our contexts, to strip ourselves and our institutions of pretense. And so we fail. Back in the days when I was friends with leftists, I remember reading that it was the task of each generation to determine what was possible, given the times, to accomplish something that would advance human liberation.  I still think that is a noble aspiration, and grown-up too, for only chiliasts and other apocalyptic thinkers and actors would imagine immediate utopian outcomes to our efforts at understanding the world with a modicum of accuracy. The point of this blog: to be skeptical of pretenses to expert knowledge, but, after much investigation, to make a stand for empiricism and  self-discovery, for human mental and physical health, even though present pressures and future developments could render our decisions flawed and ignorant. But not to succumb to utter nihilism, as Melville did during a difficult period in his own life, lived in a transition from a pre-industrial world to a new world that seemingly rewarded only frauds and phonies.

[From Moby-Dick:] “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.  Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.  Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

     Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?  For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life.  God keep thee!  Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”(Northwestern-Newberry edition, 363-364). Has Ahab seized the narration, or is it the survivor/spectator Ishmael who warns against knowledge of the self that could estrange him from the family of origin? Or is the narrator saying that to discover that we don’t know ourselves is an unbearable horror?

Pierrot can and should bend the bars of his prison to escape, at least for the moment. We should know when we bite our tongues, and forgive ourselves for not always speaking or writing what we most deeply feel and think. I feel an Ishmael writing here.

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

Lipschitz, Pierrot Escapes

February 7, 2014

Herman Melville on the [materialist, solitary] “backwoodsman”

possumMelville’s chapters on “the metaphysics of Indian-hating” in The Confidence-Man (1857) are often cited to defend multiculturalism and to instill liberal guilt for the fate of “les pauvres Peaux-Rouges.” This is a typical error of ideologues who rip pages out of context to appropriate an eminent writer to their cause du jour.

Not long ago, I wrote about Sydney Ahlstrom’s influential history of religion in America, pointing out that the frontiersman was his bête noir, “the anti-intellectual” bad boy of US history. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/.) But see how Melville (speaking through the skeptical Man from Missouri/”Coonskins”) describes this same archetype: the frontiersman’s sin is primarily a deficiency of deference to his betters, a mood Melville might embrace or reject:

“The backwoodsman is a lonely man. He is a thoughtful man. He is a man strong and unsophisticated. Impulsive, he is what some might call unprincipled. At any rate, he is self-willed; being one who less hearkens to what others may say about things, than looks for himself, to see what are things themselves. If in straits, there are few to help; he must depend on himself; he must continually look to himself. Hence self-reliance, to the degree of standing by his own judgment, though it stands alone. Not that he deems himself infallible; too many mistakes in following trails prove the contrary; but he thinks that nature destines such sagacity as she has given him, as she destines it to the ‘possum. To these fellow-beings of the wilds their untutored sagacity is their best dependence. If with either it prove faulty, if the ‘possums betray it to the trap, or the backwoodsman’s mislead him into ambuscade, there are consequences to be undergone, but no self-blame. As with the ‘possum, instincts prevail with the backwoodsman over precepts. Like the ‘possum, the backwoodsman presents the spectacle of a creature dwelling exclusively among the works of God, yet these, truth must confess, breed little in him of a godly mind. Small bowing and scraping is his, further than when with bent knee he points his rifle, or picks its flint. With few companions, solitude by necessity his lengthened lot, he stands the trial—no slight one, since, next to dying, solitude, rightly borne, is perhaps of fortitude the most rigorous test.

…Whatever the nation’s growing opulence or power, does it not lackey his heels? Pathfinder, provider of security to those who come after him, for himself he asks nothing but hardship. Worthy to be compared with Moses in the Exodus….he rides upon advance, as the Polynesian upon the comb of the surf.” (Chapter XXVI)

Herman Melville went back and forth on the American mission, sometimes lauding his countrymen as the Chosen People, sometimes criticizing them as reckless killers–hence the wild divergences of interpretation as to his politics. But in the case of the backwoodsman, quoted above, I have no doubt that deference to illegitimate authority was ever Melville’s overwhelming concern. He may have had discovery anxiety, but in the end, he pushed through it, “Ishmael” may have survived, but “Ahab” kept returning to unmask the confidence-men. No wonder Henry A. Murray and Charles Olson, in their private notes, accused him of being a Jew or Hebraic.

CMcover

February 5, 2014

Joe McCarthy and the warrior spirit

McCarthy shaded by Cohn

McCarthy shaded by Cohn

I asked a historian of communism and anticommunism what books to read regarding the dread figure of Joe McCarthy, and got this assessment of M. Stanton Evans’s Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies (Three Rivers Press, 2007) that presented an exhaustive new biography of the demonic Senator from Wisconsin: it was too sympathetic to McCarthy, said this academic whose judgment I respect.  Perhaps he is correct: I don’t know.

This blog is about how an independent scholar views the wreckage of the academic literature on the infamous anticommunist. I write because furious accusations against former allies have at times roiled the Right, though leftists and moderates have no doubt as to the beastliness of the bully, drunk, and wild man of the Midwest, along with his unsavory associates, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine. The proposed National Standards for the teaching of US history emphasized the plague of “McCarthyism” that presumably created a climate of fear and suppressed dissent until the nirvana of the 1960s and the widespread protest of the Viet Nam war. The fight over McCarthy’s veracity and character is tied up with the propriety of the US entering the Viet Nam conflict, a matter that continues to engage the field of diplomatic history.

As I have noted many times on this website, the blandness of academics in the humanities rubs me the wrong way. Even many “radicals” are conformist and timid– seemingly afraid of their shadows, lest they cast doubts on their earnestness in the eyes of the affinity group that maintains their careers. I speak from extensive experience.

Return to McCarthy and his latest champion: the journalist M. Stanton Evans. Perhaps to maintain his credibility, Evans was not reluctant to criticize the Senator for errors of judgment, for instance in attacking George Marshall and James Wechsler, superfluous targets in McCarthy’s attempts to uncover communist and fellow traveler infiltration of US policy circles, especially the State Department that “lost China.” But in order to discredit the Evans book, should not a historian go back to his sources and show that Evans misread or otherwise exaggerated their significance? That could take years unless a platoon of advanced graduate students is in tow. A “liberal” English professor wrote to me indignantly that Evans, a native son of Indiana, was sure that fluoridation of water was a communist plot, and that Evans was probably a Klansman.

I tend to view the hatred of McCarthy as a class problem. McCarthy, the son of a farmer, was an Irish Catholic who was never part of the Northeastern Ivy League-generated establishment of moderate men. Indeed, his “populist” energy and support was diminished by UC Berkeley political scientist Michael Rogin, who made the influential judgment that agrarian populist constituencies cannot account for “McCarthyism”, but rather that “traditional conservative elites” backed the Senator. (Rogin did not distinguish between moderate conservatives–i.e., liberals, and the more disreputable type.)

Well of course. Agrarian populism was dead at the time that McCarthy entered the Senate, having been co-opted by the progressive movement at the beginning of the 20th century.  While reading Evans, it occurred to me that the focus on the changing of the guard in 1952 that elected Eisenhower and threw out the Truman administration, was crucial to the drama that followed, one leading to McCarthy’s televised fight with the Army and his subsequent censure and early death. For Evans sees the moderate Eisenhower at odds with McCarthy and his mission. The new president was tied to the New Deal state, as was the Truman administration before him.

It seems to me that McCarthy and his followers were analogous to the current breach between Tea Party conservatives (small business men and white workers) and “the Republican establishment”.  It is also the case that the Midwestern, Southern, and Western “cowboys” were the targets of wrathful professors in the Ivy League, who blamed frontiersmen and other “expansionists” for the rape of the land and non-whites in their helter-skelter rugged individualist advance against Indians,, Mexicans, and Nature (see https://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/). It is the 21st century, and only the names have changed.

I cannot explain the transformation of myself from conforming good girl and obedient wife and daughter to the libertarian/classical liberal iconoclast evident on this website. It was probably my years at Pacifica radio, where I strongly bonded with a diverse audience of autodidacts, and I continue to feel that my relative privilege and leisure allow me to seek and relate my research and reading without retaliation from a peer group of academics. “Win or lose, one must fight” said a human rights activist of my acquaintance.  The warrior spirit is socialized out of academia, though subtly and sometimes invisibly to outside observers. It was a shock for me to go from wild and wooly Pacifica to the decorum and silence of my fellow graduate students in U.S. history, who,  in order to get a job, did what they were told.

I don’t know enough from the various McCarthy biographies I have read to account for his persistence and downfall. But I do know that there are more “moderates” on the Right than is generally acknowledged, and that valiant seekers of truth are hard to come by. Read Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857): “NO TRUST” by which Melville meant not to be taken in by illegitimate authority–especially those unregulated characters elevated by the Industrial Revolution.

And don’t miss this important essay by historian Harvey Klehr: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/harvey-klehr/setting-the-record-on-joe-mccarthy-straight/. A more recent article is http://reason.com/blog/2014/04/22/four-great-myths-of-the-mccarthy-era, authored by Jesse Walker (an anarchist when I knew him). Finally, there can be no reliable biography of Joseph McCarthy until his papers at Marquette University are unsealed. See http://www.marquette.edu/library/archives/Mss/JRM/JRM-main.shtml.

americaundercommunism

November 3, 2012

The social work of Progressives

Anna Andlauer

Review: The Rage to Live: The International D.P. Children’s Center Kloster Indersdorf 1945-46. By Anna Andlauer, transl. and revised by Tobe Levin. (E-book, 2012, ISBM 978-1479322893) (Originally publ. in German as Zurück inse Leben. Das international Kinderzentrum Kloster  Indersdorf 1945-46, Antogo Verlag, Nuremberg, 2011.

 Since this harrowing and yet optimistic book is a tribute to the unsung heroic social worker Greta Fischer, primarily for her work in Germany on behalf of UNRRA (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNRRA) ,  I begin this short review with an overall look at progressive/postmodern views of the human psyche and social organization. We shall see that though the author nods to Anna Freud as major proponent of the lifelong benefits of a tight mother-infant bond (p.173), the general approach of the Kloster Indersdorf D.P. Children’s Center was “behavior modification” toward the goal of “physical health and the beginning of a moral and spiritual rehabilitation” (p.160, quoting Greta Fischer, p.161). The notion that Anna Freud would have approved of the appropriations of her work for the encouragement of either ego psychology or behavior modification is misguided. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Freud.  Did Anna Freud ever recover from her depression and/or her inner conflicts?

Anna Freud

Which raises crucial questions about the overall ideology guiding the immense field of “social work,” especially given the triumphalist tone of Anna Andlauer’s book, which tells the stories of hundreds of severely traumatized displaced children, uprooted during World War 2 (many of them Holocaust survivors), but identity politics inform Andlauer’s view of recovery, and she uses the code words we associate with that ideology: a healthy “identity” is understood as “rootedness,” hence a reconstituted self is maintained through renewed contact with native language and local cultures. Indeed, Andlauer provides numerous photos of individual survivors of varied nationalities, smiling broadly and showing their names in placards covering their presumably healed hearts, but she is less enthused about the value of “assimilation”, for the youngsters who made it to Palestine/Israel and various kibbutzim are mildly criticized for accommodation to a “sabres”[sic]  identity (p.167). Especially troubling to this reviewer is the notion of “resilience” as applied to these survivors, given to the “rage to live,” notwithstanding watching or learning about the destruction of their entire families, then the deplorable waiting for the Western Democracies to either allow them into their countries or to go to the newly constituted Jewish State.

With respect to “behavior modification,” although that term is not used until the last pages of the book, we understand that cleanliness, medical treatment for scabies, lice, and infectious diseases, family-style meals, plentiful food, different china for different courses, vocational training for farming and other “trades,” behavioral boundaries intended to return the often aggressive youngsters to traditional  notions of order, plus contact with kindly but firm and trustworthy mentors listening to the children’s stories (over and over), presumably prepared the deeply traumatized children for a healthy adjustment to life in either their countries of origin or in the few societies that allowed them entrance (for the Jews, Palestine/Israel, or the U.K., Canada, Australia, and the U.S.).

Another project of the Kloster Indersdorf Displaced Persons Center was to reverse “Germanization” in those children who had been performing forced labor either in Germany or in the Third Reich’s occupied zones. It is unclear what this means: were some of the children not only replacing their original mother tongues with German, or was it necessary to de-Nazify them?  I have asked the translator for the original German word, and am awaiting her response. This is no minor point, for the overall project of “identity politics” is indistinguishable from Nazi Blut und Boden racialist theories. [Added 11-4-12: Tobe Levin tells me that the original German word in Andlauer’s text was Germanisierung. The Wikipedia gloss of this word explains that under Nazi rule, this conception signified the extinction of all other languages (e.g. Polish), as an outcome of Nazi expansion for the purpose of Lebensraum. Hitler, writing earlier in Mein Kampf, rejected the notion that other races could become German. In my own research, I found that in Hitler’s second “secret” book, he called for a global völkisch form of social organization, without racial mixing. Compare to völkisch multiculturalism as social policy.]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_work

Here is the Wiki quote that aligns “social work” with the major tenets of postmodernism, multiculturalism, and the contemporary writing of cultural or social history: “The International Federation of Social Workers states, of social work today, that

‘social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development, social theory and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes.’”

In one part of my book on Herman Melville and his 20th century revivers, I included this excursus that delineates the organicist methodology underlying contemporary theories of pedagogy and psychiatry: https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/. (This was a controversial inclusion to the late Roy Porter, the famed historian of science, medicine, and psychiatry, himself torn between materialist and idealist pictures of the human psyche, but I finally brought him around, or perhaps wore him down.)

To complete this compressed survey of Anna Andlauer’s book, I remind the reader of Herman Melville’s bitter chapter on the interactions between the Invalid Titan and the “herb-doctor” in The Confidence-Man (1857). Melville’s relatives were impatient with his own brooding and prolonged suffering, probably adding to his malaise. It is ever so much more comforting to believe that all psychic wounds, no matter how profound, can be healed and managed with positive thinking and other progressive nostrums. One of the more entertaining ones is appended below.

Appendix: Henry A. Murray advises FDR, 1943:

[Dr. Henry A. Murray, Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, advises FDR, October 1943, on the best ways to apply the lessons of (patrician) psychoanalysis to the postwar treatment of the German people:]

It can be predicted that we will find the German people profoundly humiliated, resentful, disenchanted, dejected, morose, despairing of the future. Accustomed to obeying an arbitrary external authority, they will have no dependable inner guides to control behavior. There will be a wave of crime and suicide. Apathy will be wide-spread. Having passed through a period of intense unanimity and cooperation, Germany as a social system will fall apart, each man to suffer pain and mortification in private.

Disorganization and confusion will be general, creating a breeding ground for cults of extreme individualism. A considerable part of the population will be weighted down by a heavy sense of guilt, which should lead to a revival of religion. The soil will be laid [sic] for a spiritual regeneration; and perhaps the Germans, not we, will inherit the future.

It is assumed that the Allies will demilitarize Germany, will insist on efficient guarantees against future conspiracies, will take steps to liquidate the Junker Class, will prevent rearmament and the misuse of raw materials. As Dr. Foerster has said: a soft peace for Germany will be a very hard peace for the German people, delivering them to the Prussian caste who led them astray.

Nothing permanent, however, can be achieved by such measures alone. What is required is a profound conversion of Germany’s attitude: abandonment of the idea (1) that they are innately superior; (2) that they are destined to govern the earth; (3) that there is no human law or authority higher than the good of the German State; (4) that power is to be admired above everything; and (5) that Might makes Right.

In treating the Germans psychologically we must realize that we are dealing with a nation suffering from paranoid trends: delusions of grandeur; delusions of persecution; profound hatred of strong opponents and contempt of weak opponents; arrogance, suspiciousness and envy–all of which has been built up as a reaction to an age-old inferiority complex and a desire to be appreciated.

Possibly the first four steps in the treatment of a single paranoid personality can be adapted to the conversion of Germany. In attempting this we must not forget that the source of their psychic sickness is wounded pride.

3.(a) First Step.-The physician must gain the respect of the patient. (i) Individual paranoid.– Paranoids cannot be treated successfully if they are not impressed (consciously or unconsciously) by the ability, knowledge, wisdom, or perhaps mere magnetic force, of the physician. Special efforts must sometimes be made to achieve this end, since paranoids, being full of scorn, are not easy to impress.

(ii) Germany. The regiments that occupy Germany should be the finest that the United Nations can assemble – regiments with a history of victories, composed of tall well-disciplined soldiers commanded by the best generals. Rowdiness and drunkenness should not be permitted. The Germans should be compelled to admit: “These are splendid men; not the weak degenerates (democratic soldiers) or barbarians (Russian soldiers) we were led to expect.” The Germans admire orderliness, precision, efficiency.

3. (b) Second Step. The potential worth of the patient should be fully acknowledged. (i) Individual paranoid.-The indwelling burning hunger of the paranoid is for recognition, power and glory–praise from those he respects. This hunger should be appeased as soon as possible, so that the paranoid thinks to himself: “The great man appreciates me. Together we can face the world.” It is as if he thought: “He is God the Father and I am his chosen son.”

(ii) Germany.– Germany’s countryside, its music, historic culture, and monuments of beauty should be appreciated and praised. The army of occupation should manifest intense interest in the culture of Old Germany and complete indifference to all recent developments. The troops should be instructed and coached by lectures and guide-books covering the district they will occupy. They should be told that the war is not won until the heart of the German people has been won.

Germans of the old school should be hired to teach the German language, to guide the soldiers on tours of the country and of museums, to teach native arts and skills. Concerts should be arranged, omitting pieces that have been specially favored by the Nazis. Editions of books burned by the Nazis should be published and put on sale immediately.

All this will serve a double purpose. It will provide education for our troops and occupy their time; thus helping to maintain morale. Also the submerged inferiority feelings and resentments of the Germans will be alleviated.

3 (c) Third Step.Insight should be tactfully provided, a little at a time. (i) Individual paranoid.– Very gradually, step by step, the patient is enlightened as to his own paranoid mechanisms. Pride in being uncriticizable and always in the right must be gradually replaced by pride in being able to rise above his own mechanisms and criticize himself, pride in being strong enough to admit some weaknesses and erros [sic]. He should be made to understand that he has been victimized by unconscious forces which gained control over his proper self. During the course of these talks the physician should freely confess his own weaknesses and errors, the patient being treated as an equal.

(ii) Germany. The last ten years of German history should be interpreted as a violent infectious fever, a possession of the spirit, which took hold of the people as soon as they gave ear to the false prophets of Fascism.

A series of articles, editorials, essays and short books should be written now by Germans in this country (Thomas Mann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Foerster, and others), aided possibly by suggestions from psychiatrists, to be published in German newspapers and distributed soon after the occupation. They should be therapeutic essays essentially- perhaps signed by a nom de plume as if written by a minister, physician, or writer in Germany.

Not too much should be said in any one paper; but, in time, the lies, delusions, treacheries and crimes of the Nazis should be reviewed objectively and in historical sequence. The German people should be made to understand that the world regards them as unwitting and unhappy victims of instinctual forces. The Allies should be magnanimous enough to admit their own errors and misdeeds.

3. (d) Fourth Step. The patient should be insociated in a group. (1) Individual paranoid. Having attained a measure of satisfaction by winning the respect and friendship of his physician and then having gained some insight and control, the patient is ready for group therapy. Later, he can be persuaded to join outside groups. Gradually he must learn to take his place and cooperate on an equal basis with others. The group he joins should have a goal.

(ii) Germany. If Germany is to be converted, it is of the utmost importance that some strong and efficient super-government be established as soon as possible, providing a new world conscience, that her people can respect. As said above, Germans must have something to look up to – a God, a Fuehrer, an Absolute, a national ideal. It can not be a rival nation, or a temporary alliance of nations. It must be a body – a strong body with a police force–which stands above any single state. A supranational symbol would eventually attract the deference that is now focussed upon Hitler. Lacking such a symbol, many Germans will certainly fall into a state of profound disillusionment and despair. At the proper time Germany should be insociated as an equal in whatever league or federation of nations has been established.

From here on the therapy of a single paranoid personality fails as an analogy, principally because the German people will not be in the position of a patient who comes willingly to the physician’s office. The Nazis will be in no mood to be educated by their enemies. Furthermore it would be very presumptuous of us to try it. The most that the Allies could do would be to close all schools and universities until new anti-fascist teachers and faculties had been recruited. The greatest problem will be in dealing with a whole generation of brutalized and hardened young Nazis. (Perhaps exhibition games of soccer, football, lacrosse and baseball between American and English regiments would serve to introduce ideas of fair play and sportsmanship; but much else must be done – by German educators).

For the conversion of Germany the most effective agency will be some form of world federation. Without this the Allied victory will have no permanently important consequences.[3]

(For how I contextualized Murray’s report on the website see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/20/jungians-on-the-loose-part-one/.)

January 31, 2012

The Numbers Game, sadism, and the Decline of Magic

The “real” John Murrell

One of the virtues of the progressive movement in America was the increased deployment of statistics (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistics). Before that, the political culture could rely on wild claims about the nature of the opposition, without deploying expert-developed “scientific” charts and graphs to prove a point. (Not that economists use the same sets of numbers or rely upon identical economic models.)

The reason I bring it up today, is the ongoing appeal of gory stories about the American past that I have found in both fiction and in the writing of history. While reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), I came across his account of the bandit and slave-stealer, “Murel,” but this turns out to be a heavily embellished “tall tale,” according to Wikipedia’s entry on “John Murrell (Bandit).” One cannot discount the public appetite for stories depicting in graphic detail dismembering, disemboweling, decapitations, defenestration, flogging, gouging, cannibalism, vampirism, and every atrocity known to our evil species. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and White-Jacket may appeal to the sadomasochist public more than we know.

After reading about the disgusting “Murel”, I was about to apologize for my reproach to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, for if Murel could perpetrate his massive crimes, why not the horrid characters who murder each other on the borderlands of the Southwest, described by McCarthy?  To be clear, I doubted that records existed that would have matched McCarthy’s imagined violence with real events, especially since McCarthy, unlike the poet-historian Paul Metcalf, did not give a note on sources for the history he purported to represent. The reader may object “but he never said it was history.” That only  makes matters worse to me, for if not grounded in fact, then the author is playing to blood lust in the reader, and to be frank, so does Mark Twain. Why anyone thinks of him as primarily a jolly humorist is beyond me. His work rather suggests a violent, antimodern and misogynistic imagination, larded with a huge dollop of cultural pessimism, (not to speak of internal contradictions). I don’t know how much Life on the Mississippi was influenced by Melville’s synoptic look at industrializing America, also located on the great river, The Confidence-Man, His Masquerade (1857), but the bleakness and accounts of mercantile fraud are common to both. And the Wikipedia article that surveys the many uses of statistical reasoning quotes Mark Twain as a nea-sayer: statistics were damned lies. Here is a sample from chapter nine of Life on the Mississippi that demonstrates a mixture of pride in mastering the technique of piloting a steamboat, but then lapses into regret that the world has been disenchanted by [science]:

[Mark Twain:] “…The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparkingly renewed with every re-perusal. The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on its surface (on the rare occasions when he did not overlook it altogether); but to the pilot that was an ITALICIZED passage; indeed, it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals, with a string of shouting exclamation points at the end of it; for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that ever floated. It is the faintest and simplest expression the water ever makes, and the most hideous to a pilot’s eye. In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.

Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river! I still keep in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it, every passing moment, with new marvels of coloring.

I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river’s face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling ‘boils’ show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the ‘break’ from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark.

No, the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?” [End, Twain excerpt]

[Clare:] Many a romantic author (e.g. Wordsworth) has enunciated the same sentiments: “Science”  has disenchanted the world.  Melville made the same complaint in his journal (1857-58), this time blaming the loss of poetic imagination on the higher Biblical criticism. During my graduate school training in history, I remember one tendency among the cultural historians to deplore “fact fetishism.” Such a nosy search for hard evidence was held to be a symptom of feminization, hence the decline of masculinity. The “feminist” demand for “no secrets” was outrageous (again, see Melville’s fear of being caught by the probing female gaze). Similarly, many conservatives rail against “the nanny state.” Are the real men all “lighting out for the territories?”

November 25, 2011

Gaskell’s Mary Barton and the road to family values

Numerous Victorian novelists and other artists lamented the switch from cottages ensconced in small farms and supported by home-based industry (e.g. hand-loom weaving) to the degradation resulting from  material inequality in such industrial cities as Manchester. Foregrounded was the heartlessness of its money-mad nouveaux riches and the potentially savage new industrial working class.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, the sentimental, melodramatic Mary Barton (1848) marks yet another milestone in the march toward social democracy and the paternalistic welfare state, but this time, with an explicit view of the unifying power of religion that explains its appeal to social conservatives in industrializing Britain. Gaskell is ideologically linked to the critique of class warfare that blames the rising bourgeoisie and the “cash nexus” for urban poverty and mayhem. Look to Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present, Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, or the Two Nations, then Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke with moral reform (the purified Heart) as the preferred solution to violent class struggle of the type imagined by Mrs. Gaskell. It was novelists such as she who lamented  material inequality in such industrial cities as Manchester, attributing it to the heartlessness of the frivolous, hard-hearted, self-absorbed glitterati of the day.

For a detailed plot summary see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Barton. Gaskell is no Jane Austen, celebrating accomplishments, learning, and wit in her middle-class heroines.  Rather, it is the selfless heroism and the capacity for a regenerated heart that characterizes the golden-haired seamstress Mary Barton. Mary makes the transition from vanity in her beauty and the delusion that Harry Carson, the flirtatious and caddish only son of a local mill owner, might marry her, to a super-heroine. She braves and survives the most awful dangers and trials in order to exonerate her true love, a working class hero, James Wilson, from the verdict of murder of her phantom lover, a crime actually committed by Mary’s widower father John Barton, an embittered worker who acts under orders from a mysterious Union man from London, organizing and enraging the recently laid-off starving workers from Carson’s factory.

Gaskell does not offer a material solution to the class struggle; rather she looks to religion and Christian family values, as in these lines from Chapter 37. The bereaved father, Mr. Carson, wishes “…that none might suffer from the cause from which he had suffered [i.e., vindictive class warfare]; that a perfect understanding, and complete confidence and love, might exist between masters and men; that the truth might be recognized that the interests of one were the interests of all, and, as such, required the consideration and deliberation of all; that hence it was most desirable to have educated workers, capable of judging, not mere machines of ignorant men; and them bound to their employers by the ties of respect and affection, not by mere money bargains alone; in short, to acknowledge the Spirit of Christ as the regulating law between both parties.”

Enter the aversion to studies of political economy and the dread economic determinism that guided the institution building of such American Founders as Alexander Hamilton. This was not the preferred education for either labor or their employers, though Gaskell herself understood that English competition with European manufactures was a factor in the unemployment that is the backdrop of her novel.

It was only nine years later that Melville’s novel The Confidence-Man, His Masquerade was published. Its most memorable words: “NO TRUST.” At the same time, his competition was singing “Home, Sweet Home.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home!_Sweet_Home!) (If Wiki redirects you, just go with it. Some detail is really there, but not with all the lyrics. I might dig them up and add to this blog.)

January 15, 2011

Healing, Trauma, Mystery

Jared Loughner's backyard shrine

I have closely followed the media coverage of the Tucson massacre and listened intently to the President’s speech at the U. of Arizona. Much praise was heard throughout the punditry for his message of healing (including Fox News!), and though he separated uncivil speech from the actions of the (unnamed) “shooter,” still his message was received as “spiritual” and gave a sense of closure to many listeners (probably the press who longed to move on). (Meanwhile, many of my Facebook friends viewed the event as a campaign speech and a circus.) The point is that the President fortified his centrist credentials in the eyes of many.

    If you have followed my blogs on this website, you will know that I have been verbally apoplectic over the notion that “moderation” can “heal” irreconcilable conflicts, whether they are within ourselves or out in the world. The word “trauma” was rarely heard over the air waves or in the blogosphere this week, though clearly the numerous victims were traumatized, and though faith may help some of the victims and their families “heal”, I remain skeptical. Wounds may heal. Irreparable losses and deficiencies in families or in our political actions may not, notwithstanding the promises of professional “healers.”*  In my view, conflicts can often be managed; sometimes they are not manageable.

     There is now talk of “toning down” the more raucous talk-radio hosts: Obama warned us not to “turn on each other.” I’m all for that as a civilized person and opponent of all forms of demonization, since the Devil is not a character who inhabits my psyche or anywhere else in my belief system. But I wonder about the social function that the “haters” perform in society in helping others vent their rage, rage that has many possible causes: coming back from war, endless bullying in school without intervention from the authorities, horrible incidents in childhood and a general lack of knowledgeable, responsible parenting. I have written endlessly here, too, of my opposition to apocalyptic thinking that is so typical of demagogues–no matter where they stand on the political spectrum. The constant invocation of irreversible environmental changes, for instance, is a form of terror, and one can only speculate about how such talk distorts our political culture. In the case of “climate change,” propaganda can be so extreme that a pause to consider scientific evidence pro and con is forestalled because we become invested in one outcome or the other, just to defend ourselves against the worst case scenario. The alternative to either idealizing the effects of technical progress or of turning back to an imagined  Golden Age is the intensive labor of investigation and hard thought.

   I have also written about “mystery”–another concept invoked by the President last week, when he said we would never understand what the shooter was feeling (or words to that effect). The notion of limited human understanding is sometimes appropriate, but more often comes with a strong attachment to those religions that emphasize the weakness of the human sensorium, and the limited understanding that will be repaired in paradise or the underworld for the deserving (Plato speaking through Socrates!). Actually, we know quite a bit about mental illnesses of the extreme forms, and there are treatments available for such sufferers, while pathbreaking research proceeds apace and needs our support. In my view, the President missed an opportunity when he did not name Jared Loughner and his parents as victims in the massacre, for he could have opened a national discussion of social policy in the various states regarding treatment or institutionalization of the hopelessly mentally ill, including the shame attached to all kinds of emotional problems. Indeed, it is widely held that only (sex-obsessed, carnal, worldly) Jews believe in or practice psychoanalysis and related therapies. We don’t give enough weight to the power of antisemitism itself to induce what historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style.”

   To sum up: the rift in our country was not created by the language used or abused by politicians and pundits. Two economic philosophies face one another and only empirical investigation of the most stringent kind will support the arguments of either the proponents of progressivism or the proponents of libertarianism/laissez-faire/the self-regulated free market. Let us hope that our country eschews the demagogic comforts of conceptions like “healing” the permanently traumatized, and that we adhere to the most precise and rigorous investigations–no holds barred– of what ails us.

*Recommended reading: Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man (1857), the scene in which the Invalid Titan confronts and strikes the Herb Doctor. There is no doubt where Melville stood on the permanence of trauma, nor is there any doubt that his family resented his suffering and inconsolability.

November 6, 2010

Moderate Men Falling Down

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Diderot statue in Paris, image publ. 1884

[Most of the following is an updated and revised version of a radio talk I gave on Pacifica Radio in the early 1990s, hence the reference to an article in The Nation edited by Julian Bond and Adolph Reed, Jr. It is not about the concept of balance or moderation as envisioned in The Federalist, or elsewhere in the writings of Alexander Hamilton or his 19th century admirer, Charles Sumner.]

This blog is about the concepts of balance, point of view, and cultural relativism as deployed by radicals, conservatives, and cultural nationalists. It is above all on the bogus notion of “moderation” as a feel-good answer to all conflict. “Moderation” is usually attributed to the rational mediator (like the supposedly neutral state) that stands above the crazies fighting on the ground. It is this superior, ever-balanced individual who through artful manipulation and inner poise, brings the fighting factions to their senses. I am not making this up.

I. How my thought has evolved. In graduate school, I wrote an essay “Who’s Crazy Now?” I have been trying to develop an approach to a materialist psychoanalysis, by which I do not mean the chemistry of the brain as it responds to primarily family-induced messages (although that kind of approach is crucial), but more, a diagnosis that situates personal conflicts and troubles in the larger setting of twentieth-century history and politics. This interest is an outgrowth of my doctoral dissertation on the revival of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick, neglected at his death in 1891, but reportedly resuscitated after 1919. As I demonstrated in my published book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent State UP, 2001, 2006), I discovered that the historic figure Herman Melville had been mostly erased by numerous key Melville scholars; that a fictional character had been erected in his place, but not as an icon of American literature; rather as a cautionary tale; a warning that Ahab-style romantic revolts destroy social order and lead to a loss of mental balance; i.e., Melville, on balance, was at best, an odd duck, “off the track” as Lawrence Clark Powell told me; at worst a psychotic, alcoholic, wife-beater, and confidence-man; his character Captain Ahab a prefiguration of Hitler and Stalin. Today, Moby-Dick is sometimes cited by Canon Warriors as a white male text oppressive to women and minorities; or Melville’s belated recognition after 1919 is cited as an example of cultural relativism: 20th century readers were hip where Melville’s contemporaries were not. In my view, American writers with ultra-democratic (i.e., antiracist) sympathies have never been unambiguously promoted in élite universities; that Melville as he was to himself, has not been canonized as many assume.

What was the particular threatening character of Melville’s writing to the Ivy League professors who managed his reputation and attempted to control readings of his texts? I have concluded that Melville’s unmasking of phony liberals, of duplicitous authority, was his most terrifying gesture; moreover that he identified double-binds in modern institutions that made it impossible to please authority whatever he did. Given the ideological need to carve clear channels between the free West and slave East after the Bolshevik victory of 1917, Melville’s clear-eyed portraits of unfree “Ameriky” and whacko genteel families could not be tolerated. Melville, financially and emotionally dependent on a conservative Democratic family, of course, had to blacken up, to take the point of view of frontiersmen, common sailors, non-whites, and working-class women to describe the madness of upper-class authority. Here is Melville’s character Pitch, a “hard case” from Missouri, confronting “the herb-doctor” in The Confidence-Man (1857):

“…’You are an abolitionist, ain’t you?’

[Herb-doctor:] ‘As to that, I cannot so readily answer. If by abolitionist you mean a zealot, I am none; but if you mean a man, who, being a man, feels for all men, slaves included, and by any lawful act, opposed to nobody’s interest, and therefore, rousing nobody’s enmity, would willingly abolish suffering (supposing it, in its degree, to exist) from among mankind, irrespective of color, then I am what you say.’

‘Picked and prudent sentiments. You are the moderate man, the invaluable understrapper of the wicked man. You, the moderate man, may be used for wrong, but are useless for right.’

‘From all this,’ said the herb-doctor still forgivingly, ‘I infer that you, a Missourian, though living in a slave state, are without slave sentiments.’

‘Aye, but are you? Is not that air of yours, so spiritlessly enduring and yielding, the very air of a slave? Who is your master, pray; or are you owned by a company?’…. (Ch.XXI)

So Melville, as Pitch for instance, wrote under a mask, but one easily penetrated by the alert reader; thus the need for college teachers to guide student readers who might be emboldened and inspirited by Melville’s willingness to separate from illegitimate authority, to walk away from the Big Lie of the perfectly happy family, either on ships or in domestic sanctuaries: in Melville’s “hard case,” this was the notion that groups with opposing economic interests could be harmonized without coercion. Contrary to the prevailing notion (Ishmael’s) that Melville/Ahab was unbalanced and a bad example to questing youth, I have argued that Melville achieved the balance and poise that follow an accurate reading of the institutions in which he functioned; that at his best, he was a superb historian and critical sociologist, assessing with empathy and compassion both the opportunities and limits of contemporary institutions. I have described the conflict between Melville and his 20th century Revivers as a battle between radical liberals and conservative liberals to control the terms of science, democracy and Enlightenment. The conservative Enlighteners have used key ideas of the radical Enlightenment to switch “the lower orders”: those artisans and scientists who were increasingly educated (often self-taught) to challenge traditional, hypocritical authority that claimed to act in the public interest while serving mostly themselves.

Because two key Melville revivers (Charles Olson and Henry A. Murray) were active in government psychological warfare during World War II my research branched out; I began a systematic study of how fascism, Hitler’s psyche, and mass death were explained to a broad public before, during, and after World War

II. To my horror, I discovered that Hitler was often read as an unbalanced Romantic artist/savage Hebrew prophet/bearer of Baron Rothschild genes, America was characterized as a country of proto-Nazis/Bad Jews by public intellectuals I have characterized as the aristocratic radicals (enemies to the rising middle-class and “feminized” Victorian culture). Many of these figures proclaimed that Hitler, the diabolically powerful and persuasive artist, was able to switch normally stolid, conservative Germans (little men like himself) into romantic radicals through brilliantly conceived propaganda (inspired by American advertising, according to Lukács, 1952); meanwhile Hitler was said to be dripping with contempt for the masses he had cynically swindled; Mein Kampf is frequently cited (but rarely quoted) to substantiate Hitler’s embrace of the Big Lie. There is no textual evidence either in Mein Kampf or Hitler’s wartime Table-Talk to verify this claim; on the contrary, that Hitler, the good father, ever presented himself as the fearless seeker of truth, defining himself against Jewish/ Marxist big liars intent on leading German social democratic workers to division and the disaster of global tyranny (that of finance capital), while his völkisch revolution would deliver unity, harmony, equilibrium, and stability once Jewish cosmopolitans and unnatural Jewish institutions (Wall Street, mass media, money, the study of political economy) were purged. Small but key words in the chapter on War Propaganda have been mistranslated in ways that make it harder to see Hitler’s fear of complexity (multi-causal historical explanations), ambiguity and lack of closure to the problem of defining what is real or what is understood. Specifically, the critical tools of modernity: history and critical sociology blurred boundaries in ways that terrified him and made him lose his balance; criticism of authority made him feel he was sinking into the mire.

Understanding the key concepts of cultural/moral relativism and balance can decode discussions of social policy as they pertain to the reform of school curricula, public media, and arts funding alike. Hitler’s ideology bears disturbing resemblances to that of American corporatist liberals (like FDR) and theorists of group or ethnic identity who have been promoting multiculturalism in public education and the media since the 1920s (not since the tenured radicals of the 1960s began their rampage, as most conservative critics claim). I begin with the concept of point of view, or cultural relativism.

III. The idea of contrasting points-of-view, or relativism was advanced by the revolutionary bourgeoisie challenging the alleged rationalism and superior morality of corporatist rulers. In the 17th and 18th centuries John Locke and Denis Diderot attacked feudal élites who conflated their interests with those of the lower orders or who failed to practice what they preached. Taking the point of view of the people, the radical liberals demanded one set of rules for rich and poor; one universal standard of morality. Similarly, 19th century anti-imperialists like Melville, speaking from the point of view of the Marquesans massacred or exploited by French and English colonizers, attacked the arrogance and complacency of the civilized West who treated the islanders as savages, while behaving savagely themselves. (Melville did not embrace savagery, but called upon the missionaries to live out their professed Christian values of equality and dignity for all.)

The aristocrats counter-attacked with the accusation that middle-class morality associated with political analysis was a form of jacobin tyranny: individual moral reform (understood as control of “the passions” or “a change of heart”), not political reform, was the medicine of choice; democratic “politics” was a recipe for disaster. Today’s conservative liberals have indeed drawn a straight line from the English revolutionary puritans through jacobins through English Chartists and abolitionists, feminists and Bolsheviks to Nazism. When superstar cultural critics like Fredric Jameson talk about “middle-class hegemony” they are arguing in this aristocratic, counter-Enlightenment tradition. Moreover, the aristocratic radicals often say they are anti-imperialists: rules and standards of the Western Enlightenment are not universally valid and have destroyed non-Western cultures. Their target is especially the animal called bourgeois individualism or subjectivity, with its practices of freethought and due process institutionalized in the state as the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The aristocratic anti-imperialists claimed that it was élitist to hold non-Western societies to the same standards. No less than choppers of rain forests, we Western intellectuals were destroying diversity and difference; the universalist claims of science were a swindle by absolutists with an ungovernable will to power.

Non-Western cultural nationalists defending traditional hierarchical societies have seized upon this argument because it makes themselves (petit-bourgeois intellectuals) look like emancipators from the tyranny of the dread white male. Instead of narrative history grounded in empirical, archival research, we now get “theory,” cultural anthropology and the new historicism: one point of view is as valid (or invalid) as any other, for we are all embedded in our historical context, utterly shaped by rules and structures, unable to stand back from the system or outside of our bodies to make an objective assessment of our situation; moreover particular societies are incomparable and finally unfathomable to strangers: the past (rooted in a multiplicity of historicist individualities) has become radically Other. Informed by the irrationalists following the linguistics professors, we learn that misperceptions make history: for the semioticians, it is not humanity that shapes its world, moved by describable social institutions and social forces, but language that acts (or interacts): tropes that go bump in the night.

IV. Balance is what keeps us steady, prevents our falling down, helps us to cope with a confusing and often hostile world filled with rival claims for truth and justice. If we are cultural relativists/multiculturalists, what are the consequences for the desirable quality of balance, that is, proportion, poise, completeness, coherence in our bodies and in our pictures of controversial issues and events? Co-existence is not necessarily a route to balance. Balance disappears as a concept when competing ideas do not engage each other and slug it out. Because corporatist liberals have cynically accommodated to cultural nationalism, their social policies now advocate proportional representation in a mechanical way, as if cultural groups, each blaring its message, will somehow fill in a meaningful pattern to guide social action. Meanwhile, for many in the policy making elites, race or ethnicity has replaced class as the telling social division that matters. However, this position is strenuously opposed by some other conservatives, who want interest group politics to be based on class, not ethnic, differences; that is, in their theory of balance (one derived from the 18th C. political theorist, Montesquieu), economic interest groups, like the different branches of government, will normally vie with one another, clash, and compromise to achieve social harmony and wise social policy–the system of checks and balances. A sane, mature individual will accurately perceive his economic interest, but also be balanced, that is, conciliatory, willing to compromise; will not insist on the possible existence of irreconcilable antagonisms between groups that cannot be wished away (especially in times of economic downturn). Cultural nationalists and conservatives with class analyses have clashed recently over the issue of affirmative action or other ameliorative social reform: Shall these be implemented by classifying their beneficiaries by class or race? (see The Nation, edited by Julian Bond and Adolph Reed, Jr.)

What would a classically liberal concept of balance look like? How would a feeling of balance be achieved? We start with an analysis of the institutions in which we are asked to function or support (the family, the media, schools, corporations, markets, governments). How is power distributed, how are conflicts identified and resolved, how is authority legitimated, i.e., tested and made accountable by all its members? Second, we are unremittingly self-aware: how do we resist idealizing authority and other love objects? What do we do with the disillusion that inevitably comes when the return of repressed facts confront and puncture our dreams and fantasies? Do we turn cynic and despair of earthly happiness and amelioration? Or do we adjust our expectations and time-lines for social change; perhaps conceive of a new set of tasks and institutional transformations to achieve a safer, more peaceful, friendlier world? What unbalanced qualities are brought out as a function of our class position: arrogance, resentment, anti-intellectualism, sadomasochism, a penchant for muckraking (as opposed to institutional analysis), paranoia, etc? I am of course describing a life-long social process; but one which could lead to “balance”; that is, a relatively undistorted picture of society and ourselves which of course will probably not depict equilibrium, stability, and social harmony (the neo-classical ideal). However, we may feel balanced, that we are standing on solid ground, because we have a relatively clear, demystified picture of our situation and can defend our interests appropriately; we do not have unrealistic expectations of loved ones, bosses and co-workers because we understand the range of behavior that our institutions call forth and tolerate, that hamper our well-meant interventions; we thus may better assess whether personal or institutional reform (or both) is indicated. But to exercise this degree of critical evaluation, children and young people must be allowed to develop the quality that aristocrats have stigmatized as bourgeois subjectivity, the so-called narcissistic “I”/eye willing to separate from arbitrary authority, to walk away from a humiliating relationship.

By contrast, Hitler’s Big Lie was the touting of a “rooted” people’s community of cultural homogeneity which therefore possessed balance, harmony, and equilibrium; Hitler (like other “radicals” identified with natural aristocracies but loving the masses) attempted to deprive the people of a materialist history, sociology and psychoanalysis: the critical tools that would help them to distinguish between heaven and hell, freedom and slavery, romantic caresses and Tory flagellation.

V. How balance and relativism have been coopted. America is understood to be the inheritor of the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment; co-option occurs when radical ideas are apparently incorporated, then turned against the lower orders whom they proposed to empower. Thus “balance” and “relativism” came to mean something different than their [classical liberal] Enlightenment originators intended. In today’s news organizations, balance is said to be achieved when two sides of a question are included: in practice this may mean a “crossfire” in which two more or less hysterical people (one from “the Left,” one from “the Right”) have their say, as if there were not a world of facts out there to be gathered and evaluated, with existing pictures of “reality” revised and reconfigured to make our analyses of events more coherent and comprehensive, guided by factual accounts that all or most sentient beings can agree upon (however much effort that may entail).

To sum up: organic conservatives have transmuted an initially challenging idea of the radical liberals: that a different point-of-view (sometimes called cultural relativism) may expose the class biases in our leading definitions of truth and justice. We may achieve a less prejudiced, more balanced perspective on people and events. This emancipating insight has been turned against the radical liberals; for the cultural nationalists/separatists, “point-of-view” remains, but balance has disappeared; similarly, for many of today’s anti-liberal “postmodernists” there can be no agreement or even empathy between individuals and groups: we are terminally trapped in radical subjectivity and the elusiveness of meaning in language; ethnic (or gender or party) differences translate into unbridgeable gaps in perception. It is no wonder that Michael Kinsley and John Sununu yell past one another on CNN. Is it not the case that as a culture, more and more we have lost our balance, perhaps even the memory that such a quality exists or should be desired in a democratic society?

Diderot’s 18th C. Encyclopedie

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