YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 9, 2013

LINCOLN (the movie) as propaganda

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

Apotheosis of Lincoln and Washington 1860s

How they did it:

First, detaching Lincoln from the (Hamiltonian) Republicans to reattach him to (Jeffersonian) Jacksonian Democrats: the Andrew Jackson administration was famous for initiating the “spoils system” and by promising Democrats federal jobs as a reward for supporting the Thirteenth Amendment, Spielberg’s Lincoln affixed Honest Abe to the Jeffersonian faction. (Contrasting Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians is one route to  making sense of U.S. political history: see Stephen F. Knott’s book on the Hamilton myth.)

Second, the 2012 movie, with its positive portrayal of Lincoln, vindicated the power of the Executive branch today. There is a hidden link to New Deal propaganda, for progressives Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray recommended in their nationally circulated notebooks on “civilian morale” that FDR be joined with Lincoln and Washington, as strong leaders and father figures.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/, or https://clarespark.com/2011/09/29/the-abraham-lincoln-conundrum/. The latter takes up Bill O’Reilly’s efforts to render Lincoln as the pre-eminent healer, one like himself, the good father who is “looking out for you.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/30/eric-foners-christianized-lincoln/.)

Third, the unnecessary death scene linked Lincoln to Christ and to national redemption, a tactic that was effective in the North, but certainly not in the South.  See http://tinyurl.com/acbqkza on the religious response to Lincoln’s assassination, the paragraph possibly derived from Michael Rogin.

Fourth, by emphasizing the widespread Congressional resistance to the Thirteenth  Amendment, the impression reinforced the New Left line that racism is the overarching theme of American history, and that blacks are owed reparations. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. I do not intend to minimize the importance of “race” and “race relations.”)

Fifth, the flashback to the Second Inaugural Address, coming immediately after the assassination serves to bind the Nation as an organic entity. This is the most reactionary feature of the movie. In truth, we remain fragmented, and neo-Confederate flags still fly. By relying upon Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, Spielberg portrayed Lincoln as the moderate man who could unite warring factions, even within his own party. I.e., all conflicts are reconcilable. The irony is the American Civil War (the “irrepressible conflict”) as the primary locale for this “moderate” strategy of manipulation and compromise. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/, or https://clarespark.com/2012/11/19/abandonment-anxiety-and-moderation/.)

Sixth, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens was turned into a pragmatist, like Lincoln, not a wild-eyed ideologue like Charles Sumner. This was another reactionary move, designed to counter Stevens’s rehabilitation in the neo-abolitionist historiography. (See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/. There is much detail here on Sumner and Stevens as they fought to prepare the freedmen for economic and political independence.)

Seventh, the producer-director chose John Williams to score the movie. With the exception of some plausible period fiddle tunes, Williams looted Aaron Copland, except for George Root’s The Battle Cry of Freedom. Ignored was most popular music of the period in question. Also missing in action were Stevens’s and Sumner’s program for Reconstruction, too sizzling for today’s audiences. (On slanderous depictions of Sumner, and by extension Stevens, see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/.) Moreover, by focusing strictly on a narrow period of the Lincoln presidency, there was no opportunity to demonstrate land reform by some of the Northern generals (Sherman!) as they marched through the South.

Taken all in all, I can only suggest that the emphasis on the organic Nation, as led by the moderate men (delineated above), demonstrates how the South won the cultural battle for how we remember the American Civil War. Think of the stately brief portrayal of Robert E. Lee, riding away from Appomattox on his horse Traveler, preceded by  horrific shots of the Confederate dead in Petersburg, Virginia.  That the 2012 LINCOLN movie was done skillfully and under the radar speaks to the propaganda skills of the better Hollywood producers and directors.

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

D.W. Griffith Lincoln 1931

BIBLIOGRAPHY (highly recommended)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs6cIi_mKfg Adlai Stevenson reads text of Copland “Lincoln Portrait” (1942) 15 minutes and well worth comparing the Lincoln of the “fiery trial” with the Lincoln of the Spielberg movie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Portrait  (1942)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_(2012_film) , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution,

http://tinyurl.com/avdpq2x (James McPherson’s review of Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln)

http://tinyurl.com/b7kh6ak (Michael Rogin essay on D. W. Griffith and racism in American culture)

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

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Lincoln_(film)

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July 1, 2010

The New/Old (anti) Americanism

Thomas Dixon, The Ku Klux Klan

This blog has a simple purpose: to distinguish between the ugly nativism (sometimes called 100% Americanism) that characterized an earlier America and that deserves to be repudiated, and the anti-Americanism propagated by the New Left and that reached its apogee in the election of Barack Obama, for some an act of reparation for the sins of white supremacy. For these and others the Obama presidency is the supreme outcome of the multiculturalism that New Leftists found agreeable in their long march through the institutions, including not only academe, but the mass media.

Everyone knows who the villains were as they flourished in the early twentieth century. Here are a few names that are most notorious:  Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, Henry Pratt Fairchild, William McDougall, Henry Ford, and the novelist Thomas Dixon, author of the The Clansman and the screenplay for Birth of a Nation (enjoyed and praised by Woodrow Wilson in its White House screening).  After all, nativists argued, it was their ancestors who had tamed a continent in covered wagons, killed hostile Indians, fought the Civil War and blocked Reconstruction—that period of “misrule.” Dixon (see his fascist Flaming  Sword of 1939 and equally bizarre earlier novels) went so far as to argue that the Southern Scots-Irish race had fought and were decisive in the Revolutionary War against Britain, and their later descendants paternally protected the freedmen until nosy red unreconstructed Yankees tried to educate them, unleashing sexual chaos upon the land, and in the process killing good middle-class white folk.  Nativist propaganda helped pass the Immigration Act of 1924, and many a professor (John Higham for instance) made his reputation denouncing these bigots, while younger scholars  were training their students to despise the American past, finding it essentially racist, patriarchal, ecocidal, and capitalist/imperialist. That meant that American “identity” was demonic, we were all infected, and hence all American institutions must be denounced, and if possible, dismantled, with reparations delivered to all non-whites, here and everywhere.  Even the abolitionists were motivated by greed, it was alleged (and it is still argued). Enter “whiteness studies.” Exit a view of American history that looked to its promise, its freedoms, its largely successful (though co-opted) labor, feminist, and civil rights movements, and achievements in raising the living standards of millions.*

It was not just that all the “isms” (Indian removal, slavery, racism, etc.) were contested at the time when these events and institutions existed, but that capitalism (especially as manipulated by “the [accursed] Jews” ) was seen as the root cause of American evil, especially by organic conservatives masked as “progressives.” (Where is Charles Sumner in our historiography? See https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/, for an analysis of the contrasting rhetoric of such liberals as Sumner with that of Woodrow Wilson and other organicists whose view of governance is paternalistic and evocative of the unreconstructed Southern plantation owner.)

To conclude: the nativists reacting to mass immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mentioned above were politically defeated and marginalized (though some paleoconservatives are still noisily active). The New Left, however, though they were supposedly anti-Stalinist, taught and still teach a view of the U.S. that is identical with Stalinist and Nazi anti-American propaganda, for example that “Zionists” control America, and that “institutional racism” still exists under its maleficent aegis, as if a jewified, trigger-happy John Calhoun had just been elected as the President of a slavocracy. Now it is time for a more realistic view of the American past, neither idealizing it nor casting it into the pit.

*I left out environmentalism for two reasons: first, it has been infiltrated by communists and/or hippie-ish “deep ecologists”; second, I think the situation is even worse than most think, but then I have a strong science background (was instructed in ecology at Cornell). It is my impression that we don’t know enough about our impact on the environment to press ahead at the industrializing pace we have to date. And if America has failed in this respect, so has the rest of the planet.

Thomas Dixon II

October 22, 2009

“Identity” and “Race”

Image (66)Several comments on my Facebook page raise questions that require more space than is available there to answer. They refer to 1. Jews as “the Chosen People”; 2. whether or not there is a cohesive “Jewish” identity; and 3. a suggestion that Jews might share a common genetic inheritance.

Everyone who reads this website knows that I have written extensively about “multiculturalism” or “rooted cosmopolitanism” as a way of slipping the once discredited notion of “race” back into the discourse of politics. Multiculturalism, I have shown, is not the same as religious pluralism (the outcome of the separation of Church and State), but rather an administrative (bureaucratic) response to raucous riots and related developments in the urban politics of the mid- to late 1960s. As I argued in this article for History News Network, http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html, multiculturalism, taken to be the higher tolerance and respect for “diversity,” is a strategy that resegregated individuals and groups who were on the road to integration, or to use the older terminology, multiculturalism smashed “the melting pot.”  The latter was a notion that America would create a new man, one that led the way for older societies in its solidarity as a democracy with contributions from all its immigrants (and later, freedmen: see Charles Sumner’s speeches on the brotherhood of humanity, elsewhere on this site). Multiculturalism, I have been arguing, is above all, collectivist and irrationalist, in that it not only collapses the unique individual into a “race” or “ethnicity,” but insists that what scientists deem to be “facts” are bogus impositions on “the Other,” that in fact  [!] there are group facts incomprehensible to those not sharing the same group identity. Or, as the Foucauldians claim, institutional power creates knowledge, and “science is a swindle.”

Out the window went all the “unfinished revolutions” that I have blogged about earlier this year: the radical Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution. (For how this played out at Pacifica Radio, see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/, also “Storming Pacifica” in the same month.) For co-existing with all these “revolutions” are the powerful reactions by elites threatened with dispossession or inconvenient regulation. Scientific racism and the related 19th C. theory of “polygenesis” were staples of the aristocratic Right, while the best the Left could do was to oppose “racism” as the creation of imperialism, and in a related move, to advance the “Lamarckian” idea that social engineering would create changes in the germ plasm of living things so that “perfectibility” was not just utopian, but a realizable possibility. (But to the Leninist Left, anti-imperialism was not racist, but rather the righteous protection of “communities” under threat from the West. See the Lenin/Stalin-Rosa Luxemberg debate on the national question. My summary is probably too crude to do justice to the debate, but I stand with Rosa L. on this point.)

I am reviewing these positions as a prelude to dealing with points one, two, and three above.

1. With wealth-creating innovations in finance (starting in the late 17th century), came a renewed hostility to the love of filthy lucre, long associated with “the Jews.” “The Chosen People” was interpreted by those who stood in the way of these financial innovations to connote the intent of “the Jews” to turn all Christians into their servants and slaves. Their imitators in the later period deployed the Old Testament to “prove” that Jews were inherently militaristic and bigoted toward all other religions, instructed by their terrifying God.  Erased was the dominant conception of  tikkun olam, the idea that chosenness was an obligation to repair injustices committed by oneself, thence to make reparations (atonement) to the victim of one’s wrongdoing. Michael Lerner and his “peacenik” followers have transformed this individualized interpretation of Judaism, collectivizing it, and insinuating in the process that their way is the God-mandated path toward peace in the Middle East. Whether Jews are religious or secular,  possibly more than any other factor, the ethical obligation of tikkun (as understood by liberals) tends to lead individual Jews upon a path where “society” is uplifted. Most American Jews find the statism of the Democratic Party to be their natural home, while others find Adam Smith and neoliberalism to serve their ethical aims more effectively. I have never personally encountered Jews who believed themselves to be God-Chosen to lord it over all other groups. Even Budd Schulberg’s cynical Sammy Glick was not a typical Jew, but rather, in the author’s analysis, the product of the impoverished, narrowly orthodox Jewry of the  Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Sammy was brutally knocked around by non-Jewish toughs.

Hitler adopted the Chosen People line for his Aryans, partaking of both definitions described above: The Aryans/Nordics would be top dogs, but their mission was essentially ethical, in that they were doing “the Lord’s work” in annihilating race-hating Jews from the planet. (“The Jews” were the “anti-race” par excellence; he must have been thinking of their rootless cosmopolitanism.) Quite the nature lover, that one. In his second “secret” book (1927?), he envisioned a global union of racially pure volkisch states, dominated of course by the master race.

2. Is there a cohesive Jewish identity? If one means that there is a sense of solidarity between all Jews, then the answer is obviously not. One need only look at the debates between Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists in the 1930s and  early 1940s, as the destruction of European Jewry was in progress, while the world looked on with mostly indifference or relief.  Look around and talk to observant Jews who view with contempt or pity the “assimilated” or “self-hating” Jews who, in turn, reject any but the slightest Jewish identification whatsoever. This point needs no further elaboration here, except to note that Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock comes to mind: curiously, both his chief Palestinian and Jewish characters share the same hostile narrative of Israel’s founding.

3. The non-Jewish perception of “the Jews” or of individual “Jews” is historically specific. There are no pure races; liberals and leftists in the 1930s mounted a campaign to demolish such notions. But there is a common theme among groups who feel that their solidarity (i.e. property)  is under attack–the fear of “miscegenation.” Of all the negative themes in American popular culture, this phobia seems the most potent. See for instance, the hysterical passages in Thomas Dixon’s novels, especially The Flaming Sword, that imagined educated blacks as THE danger to the white race (whites meaning specifically the Scots-Irish who, for Dixon, were the true American patriots and fighters who won the American Revolution). Indeed in Dixon’s fantasy, the Southern Negroes, formerly the grateful recipients of paternalism, who then migrated to the North (where presumably they were educated) comprised 50% of the Communist Party! This book is the most chilling example of a native American fascism that I have encountered.

[Illustrated: an advertisement from an upscale magazine I received in 1990: the caption reads “A rare and fine Continental biscuit bust of a Blackamoor. Circa 1840….” The price was not quoted. Besides the “primitive” love of luxury and decoration, the position of the lips is suggestive of a willing sexual availability.]

September 15, 2009

Making mobs with bad words and concepts

Few have left comments on my blogs. I take this personally. One friend tells me that my views are too unorthodox, even though I look at class interests, which should at least elicit some response from the left and from left-liberals. The same friend tells me that I use too many big words. What is a big word or a big concept today? Here are some words in common use that few fully understand, though they throw them around in political speech in the media and in schools, with the consequence that we create mobbish political emotions, not thoughtful individual citizens, teaching each other how to think like participants in an advanced democracy, or, better, a constitutional republic:

1. FASCISM. It seems that both statists (the “big government” Left) and anti-statists (conservatives, small businessmen, and libertarian economists) are “fascists” if we are to look at signs at protest demonstrations, whether these be tea-parties or antiwar demonstrations. How many of us, if asked what is meant by the corporate state, would know how to describe its ideology and institutions? Does journalist Jonah Goldberg know, whose Liberal Fascism is popular on the Right, but to me is a scandal? [Why is it a scandal? Because he is tarring social democrats with the fascist brush, even though he makes the disclaimer that of course we have free speech here, so he is really only nailing the American Progressives for their production of the nanny state, eugenics, and other crimes against humanity that had parallels in states we abhor. As I have said earlier (https://clarespark.com/2009/09/09/preventive-medicine-and-preventive-politics/), state investment or state sponsorship does not necessarily imply state control, and the arguments against any form of “statism” are often mounted by those authoritarians who fear losing control of their children to such theories as science, evolutionary biology, or evidence-based medicine, including psychiatry.* Why do we not all know about Hayek and Rose and Milton Friedman as they call for both a public and private sector? OMG, I must be a neoliberal.]

2. NATIONAL CHARACTER. I could have substituted “group mind” for this. Why do few pundits, in academe or in the media, squash this absurd formulation? It is true that a set of customary laws, or religious pluralism can create a large segment of the population bound by common cultural patterns (such as skepticism toward arbitrary authority in America), but those who devised the concept had collectivist mentalities, and were hostile to dissent and the very concept of the individual as a person with rights, not merely duties to a presumably like-minded “community.” [See prior blog “The Fallen Flesh Brigade (repaired).”]

3. MODERATE. One of the first books I read on psychological warfare was by a forgotten social psychologist, Ellis Freeman, author of Conquering the Man in the Street (Vanguard Press, 1940). It was about organicism through the ages, starting, as I recall, with Plato and ending with fascism and Nazism. It was a primer for me on how to do sykewar (or recognize it), and the strategy I remember best is “flogging the dead horse.” In this one, you call yourself a moderate, and everyone wants to be such a balanced person, though no one knows exactly what you mean by it. Unless you get down and dirty by specifying concretely what the conflict is that you are supposedly moderating, you are appealing to a fictional feel-good word, not to a specific policy proposal or tactic that can then be criticized on its merits. Richard Crossman also wrote a book along these lines: Plato Today (1938). The organic conservatives (the pseudo-moderate men) are those protofascist historians who don’t write materialist history, but write history as a subset of poetic natural history. (See for instance my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/, or https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/, retitled “Manifest Destiny or Political Liberty?”) They may be avowed “anti-racists” but their discourse is racialist; i.e., they believe in group character transmitted through heredity and rootedness in a specific environment. The enemy is the rootless cosmopolitan, that unreliable and uncontrollable wanderer.

4. MIDDLE-CLASS. Do you remember when this term was either mocked as absurdly vague and too comprehensive to be descriptive, and at best, referring only to status, as if class was a ladder? No, you are too young. Today, our President uses it to refer to what used to be called the WORKING-CLASS. Now like it or not, there was and is such a thing as an industrial worker, and to conflate such workers with owners of small businesses, or members of the service sector, or bureaucrats, is meshugah to use my favorite word when I am very frustrated.

5. WHITE MALE SUPREMACY. Here is another example of political degeneracy in the spread of “whiteness studies.” It rests on a view ofAmerika” as one marauding individual, raping the environment, slaughtering Indians, grinding the faces of the [non-white] poor, and performing patriarchy on hapless females. It is the chief arrow in the quiver of cultural nationalists who really do behave like fascists under the banner of “self-determination,” but who are given a pass by guilty liberals. That is why this entire series of blogs has been devoted to combating the premises of multiculturalism, which is not the same as the non-discriminatory equality of opportunity that we strive for in a secular state. And of course the term “white supremacy” conflates the entire white working-class with the worst nativists who really did hate Jews, immigrants from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, blacks, Mexicans, the Chinese, and anyone who did not “build this country” and cross the plains in covered wagons, or earlier, defeat the British. (For a prime example of the type, see anything by Thomas Dixon, author of The Klansman, and a champion of the Scots-Irish, the true American Heroes. Now there was a true American fascist, see his Flaming Sword.)

6. FREEDOM. Need I elaborate this one? Years ago, I heard a famous leftist explain to an art student that freedom was yielding to the laws of historical necessity. And what was historical necessity? Ask any dialectical materialist, or Leninist for that matter as he attempts to co-opt the authority of science. For Herder (mentioned above) freedom signified freedom from the French language in favor of the German vernacular–the native language that would create a people’s community, the Volk, so as to express the natural Zeitgeist. The same goes for “the oppressed” who long to be free from “the West,” the banks, big business, white people, men, you name it. Social historians believe that they are striking a blow for freedom when they study “the people” instead of “literary sources” (by which they mean the documents that describe the actions of elites, whether these are diplomatic records, memoirs and diaries, high culture, or anything else that powerful people create). But for any thoughtful, introspective person, it is always ambiguous to separate “structures” from “agency”–how do we know when we are exercising free will or whether we are reacting to inherited qualities or events from the past or present that shape our preferences?

When I refer to intellectual freedom in these blogs, I usually mean the freedom of access to all primary source materials that could help us reconstruct the lives of others assessing them as friends or opponents. Whether or not we have access to our own interior lives is the subject of literature and its allied psychotherapies. If Melville, speaking through his character Captain Ahab, couldn’t figure out the free will-fixed fate conundrum, how can any of us? We need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Now that is a form of freedom I can live with. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

7. Rugged individualist. For a Democrat or a leftist, this is the worst thing you could call someone. It means a Randian and randy selfish money-mad s.o.b. who lacks compassion, will cheat you out of house and home and senior medical care. In fact, such a one is exactly what our Constitution protects. But the rugged individualist was erased in the 1930s in favor of “the individual-in- society.” For these collectivists, we are all embedded in our historical context, and any hope of relative autonomy and objectivity is the blackest of propaganda. For details, see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/.

*A psychiatrist friend explains it this way: “Non-evidence based medicine is when a doctor or other health care provider orders a test or prescribes medicine for which there is no peer reviewed evidence to support the practice.  Some think it is equivalent to off-label prescribing but there can be evidence for some of that but it has not reached legal standards. Some of it clearly harms patients or at the least deprives them of recommended treatment options.”

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