YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 4, 2017

Ambivalence on Independence Day

Monday evening July3, 2017, Charles Krauthammer held forth on American history and its transformation since the 1960s when New Leftists began their long march through the institutions, now dominating US history, emphasizing America’s “sins.” His remedy: conservatives should copy the New Left project by entering academe, but with a different emphasis (I doubt that he was serious in suggesting a higher conservative birth rate.)

Krauthammer didn’t specify how US history should be taught, and here is my recommendation for a more mature approach.

When I was in history graduate school at UCLA, we were taught that there was a mighty debate on “present-mindedness.” [“Present-mindedness” signifies reading our current values into the past, which the better historians resist. It is even scandalous that New Leftists were sent up the ladders by (guilty liberal?) senior faculty at the Ivy League schools.]

Ironically, it was the demonstrably racist Woodrow Wilson who might have most inspired the progressivism of Charles and Mary Ritter Beard to write a massive popular history in 2 volumes, The Rise of American Civilization, publ. 1927, coming off the First World War. The Beards were not ambivalent, condemning even the Constitution as an elite plot against the people.

Not so Herman Melville, who lauded the sublime, vanguard project of the new American nation. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.) He even wrote in a letter that “The Declaration of Independence makes a difference.” And yet, Melville struggled with ambivalence most of his adult life, an internal fight that has escaped most of his revivers including Charles and Mary Beard.

I view ambivalence as a normal human emotion, and most appropriate to modernity on America’s birthday. The Founders celebrated liberty at the same time as many feared the too-excitable, too eager to govern, electorate. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/, most obvious in Madison’s Federalist #10.)

What Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist, might have stated on Tucker Carlson’s show is that ambivalence is a widespread and normal human emotion—That we need not succumb to excessive super-patriotism, nor should we bow down to America-hating and flight.

Here’s to mixed-emotions on July 4, 2017. Happy Birthday, America, always becoming and never entirely fixed.

May 6, 2013

The New Left activist scholars

activist_scholarshipIt was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).

But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own.  I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).

Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For some estimates of the HBO treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/. I saw the movie as another bow to the Popular Front that formulated interwar and postwar conflicts as ‘the People’ vs. ‘Fascism.’ ).

But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.

Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much.  I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)

Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.

Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices.  I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.

As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars  down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.

Join us

I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)

Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

December 22, 2012

My “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and Eric Hobsbawm

Oppositional_Defiant_Child_ODDToward the end of his autobiography (Interesting Times), the recently deceased ‘most important historian in the world’, Eric Hobsbawm, showed his contempt for the American Constitution, writing “Forced into the straitjacket of an eighteenth-century constitution reinforced by two centuries of talmudic exegesis by the lawyers, the theologians of the republic, the institutions of the USA are far more frozen into immobility than those of almost other states in 2002.” (p.409)

During the last month or so, I have read all of Hobsbawm’s famed tetralogy, his grand synthesis of world history from the French Revolution to the 1990s. As one exegete (Gregory Elliott) of Hobsbawm’s intellectual development claims, EH’s Marxism no longer lauds Marx as prophet of revolution, but rather as analyst of the disastrous globalization perpetrated by the bourgeoisie. To put it plainly, Hobsbawm adapted to the Leninist anti-imperialist moment approved by the younger Leninists. These avatars of “social justice” dominate the humanities today, including history, sociology, comparative literature, art history, etc. (For one blog on Hobsbawm related to this one, see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/.)

As I have written previously, few would admit to being a Stalinist any longer, but Lenin’s anti-imperialism remains untarnished among not only the “hard left” but among Democratic Party activists. In other words, the Popular Front lives on, with the cooperation of George Soros (Interesting Times, p.310), Oliver Stone and his facilitators at Showtime or HBO, most movie and television celebrities, the professoriate at the better universities, and all progressive media. None of them, to my knowledge, has come out against anti-Zionism. Nor, I would guess, would any of them find anything objectionable about Hobsbawm’s depiction of the frigid American Constitution, deemed insane by the greatest historian ever, as numerous obituaries aver.

It is most curious that Hobsbawm the internationalist par excellence, not only remained a Communist all his life, but that he presents himself constantly as a “Jew”, but “anti-Zionist,” as anti-sectarian, as the avatar of Popular Front politics, as one for whom national loyalty and identification are out of date; rather, he divided the world up between fascists and anti-fascists. It is obvious from his writings that America, like Israel, like those Republicans (or a few centrist Democrats) who think that the Constitution was a good idea and still relevant and worth enforcing, are on the Wrong Side of History.

Some definitions are in order: Popular Front tactics were devised by the Comintern to trick New Dealers and other social democrats into supporting the Reds. The latter came out as “anti-fascists” in a broad oppositional front to Hitler and Franco around 1935. This tactic supplanted the “sectarianism” of the Third International, that defined New Dealers as “social fascists.” Hobsbawm wrote his books against “sectarianism” by which he meant not only the disastrous comrades from 1928-1934 (who allowed Hitler to prevail), but anything that smacked of Trotskyism or New Leftist go-it-alone operations. (Perhaps Pop Front politics are not relevant, for EH mentions Kondratiev waves to explain the weakness of capitalism, and such an economic theory would lead him to what he and others deem to be “democratic socialism.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Schumpeter.)

Hobsbawm’s position is puzzling, for during the halcyon Pop Front days, the Stalinist New Masses wrote favorably about the progressive bourgeoisie that had developed the progressive forces, empowering and presumably radicalizing the new working class. But the Leninist anti-imperialism line changed all that: no matter how regressive, any anti-Western movement in what used to be called the Third World was seen as a Good Thing, no matter how brutal and backward the society in question. Edward Said pushed this line and thousands of academics cheered. Even feminists who should have known better.

Perhaps I am suffering from “oppositional defiant disorder” for taking issue with the British Leftists who have, in my experience, invaded America, for they dominated UCLA and other top schools while I was in graduate school during the 1980s and early 1990s. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oppositional_defiant_disorder.) Surely, my shrink at UCLA (once a forensic psychiatrist in Massachusetts) thought that I was irrationally defiant in not knuckling under to authority, for he told me that after I had received the doctorate, much to his relief (or surprise?). As I have confessed before, it was confided to me by one in the know that my numerous critics referred to me as that “hysterical feminist.” Which was odd, for I viewed myself during those years as an old-fashioned Marxist, annoyed by the right-wing social democrats on the faculty who were sponsoring separatist ethnic and gender studies, and who were patently oblivious to the conflicts engendered by class position. But they did focus on “inequality.” I was chastised and mocked in private and public for deviance, for thinking that white male professors should catch up on their reading and integrate the latest scholarship on women and minorities. (For a partial index to my research on mental health theories see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/18/blogs-on-mental-health/.)


Since then, I have rejected any particular political alignment, favoring the stance of the independent scholar, faithful to archival research and criticizing other historians for departing from the objectivity once lauded by scholars writing in the humanist tradition.

Meanwhile, watch out for the British Leftists. They can impress an American reader, for they are highly acculturated, display their cultural capital promiscuously, and can mislead the unwary reader into thinking that they are other than a cult, a guild characterized by Eros und Bund, and speaking mostly to each other, their impressionable students, and apparently POTUS and his appointees. See https://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/. (I learned about Eros und Bund from the late George L. Mosse, the prolific historian of popular culture in the Third Reich and in pre-Nazi Germany. Almost all  his books are fascinating, though I deplore his debt to German Idealism.)

August 14, 2012

Sex, drugs, and my birthday

Clare circa 1972

The website has now lumbered past 175,000 views since I started it circa summer 2009. My family is thunderstruck that so many are interested in this bookworm’s research, but I suspect that many of the visitors expected another kind of blog, if I can judge by those coming from such sites as Pajamas Media. I think they want to feed their anger and frustration, as opposed to looking at ideology and the often confusing history of political coalitions: for instance, numerous viewers went to the index to my blogs on “Pacifica Radio and the Progressive Movement”( https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/) but only about 25% of them read even one of the blogs. Those who regularly come to my Facebook page have more inquiring minds and are much better gauges of how well the website is doing. And they regularly contribute material about which I was either ignorant or inattentive.

Indignation can be productive when it leads to closer examination of policy issues, but is depoliticizing when it goes no further than venting. We might even suppose that this sort of obsession with scandalous “inside dope” packs a sexual charge, a form of sexuality that is sadistic and addictive. I have seen it on numerous websites, and it is not confined to either Left or Right. Worse, trolls are everywhere; give me a real skunk any time: at least they announce their true nature.

I don’t have “inside dope” other than what I get from close readings of texts, or learned in my years at KPFK radio, or in graduate school at UCLA, where I witnessed the domination of Stalinists, Stalinoids, Trotskyists, and postmodernists, “up close and personal.” Even the feminists were more left-wing than feminist. Oddly, I was labeled “that hysterical feminist” even though at that time (1983-1993), I was more of a Marxist than anything else: that is, I could see through the postmodern “moral relativism” and nihilism of the pseudo-Left, and favored class analysis over sorting people out by gender or race. When I raised objections to separatist ethnic studies or women’s studies in favor an integrated approach to the writing of history, tenured professors would scream out loud, make odd gestures with their hands, or call me a racist. It was Pacifica Radio all over again where, on one of my last appearances, my defense of the Enlightenment and the life of Reason elicited charges that I was a CIA agent or worse.

Arnold Bocklin Medusa

So why was I called (behind my back) “that hysterical feminist”? I would guess that a woman standing up to the orthodoxies put forth by prominent professors and other famous intellectuals (of either gender) was too evocative of Gorgons and Medusas. If there is a “war on women” it is an ingrained fear of the independent, curious mind—one that is not gender specific. I stand with that human impulse, and with every writer or artist who goes her own way.  “To life!”

(Illustrated: a photo of Clare after a prank. I wore a Berkeley-generated Karl Marx sweat shirt, along with rhinestone drop earrings to an Ed Ruscha opening on La Cienega Blvd. during the early 1970s. It was a comment on Ruscha’s letter paintings, including his patronage, and I don’t think he appreciated the joke, though some of his visitors did.)

March 26, 2011

“Race,” Class, and Gender

Alexander Saxton, ca. 1948

One Facebook friend (a neocon) has asked me to justify the current emphasis on “race, class, and gender” throughout the curriculum. He believes that the Battle of Gettysburg (i.e. military history) has been squashed in the general stampede toward relevancy. It happens that when I was program director of Pacifica’s Los Angeles radio station, KPFK-FM, I initiated a resolution that was adopted by all the other program directors and then ratified by the National Board of the Pacifica Foundation, that all programmers in our network should be responsible for educating themselves in the history of minorities, women, and labor, understanding that we were to attempt new syntheses that other, more constrained, journalists were not likely to emulate.  I did the same when I was in graduate school at UCLA, and encountered stubborn resistance to the identical resolution I proposed while representing all the graduate students in the University of California system. This blog is about what I meant, why I advanced this proposal, and how other academics and journalists have dealt with the issues I raised.

1. Why I did it in the first place. All in my generation and in the one following were deeply affected by the civil rights movement and by the turmoil on the campuses of the major universities in opposition to the Viet Nam war. Had I not been a science major, laden with mostly science classes, perhaps I would have learned something about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow in college, but I did not. Even in graduate school, academic study of race in America was mostly centered around two debates: First, did slavery pay? And two, did slavery destroy the black family and to what extent did slaves revolt, resist, or accommodate to their condition, with lingering effects into the present? Since then (the 1980s) a massive amount of work has been done in these fields, though I have complained about black nationalism as controlling these studies, and hold to that view today, as my prior blogs have demonstrated.

Moreover, the 60s movements and the feminist movement were intertwined. I had never thought that there was anything particularly odd about the socialization of women until I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in the early 1970s. I cannot count on any man to fully understand the subjugation of women unless he is particularly enlightened and has daughters (especially if he has no sons). The gay rights movement too has focused our attention on gender socialization and power between the sexes. My early socialization has not yet been repaired, to my sorrow.

2.  Race, class, and gender at UCLA Department of History in the 1980s onward.  As I have written previously on this website, the left-liberal professors with whom I studied often collapsed class into race, following the historian Edmund Morgan, who had been much affected by the 1960s movements for native American rights and civil rights in general.  With the exception of a Trotskyist professor, class struggle was no longer the engine of history, it was racial struggle that was front and center. The feminist professors were generally progressives (i.e., statists), which could mean straight-up communism or social democracy.  Even labor historians bought into the new social history, and attributed the failure of socialism in America to cultural reasons, mostly attributing its flaws to white working-class racism and/or embourgeoisment.  Although my dissertation director, Alexander Saxton, thought that “race,” unlike class, was “socially constructed,” he still wrote books about working-class racism and “the white republic.” Everyone was hostile to the “consumerism” that afflicted “mass culture.” Luckily for me, my dissertation topic was the revival of Herman Melville’s reputation between the world wars (thank you, Alex! a “proletarian novelist” in his pre-academic life), so that led me into European intellectual history and away from an obsession with heterosexual white male supremacy. I became extremely interested in the massive transformations in politics that followed the invention of the printing press and the gradual spread of mass literacy and numeracy. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.) This focus emancipated me from reliance on class, race, and gender as the explanation for everything and, with a new alertness to the construction of the 20th century humanities curriculum, I soon found myself deep into the history of racial theory and the origins of multiculturalism. “Race” was indeed socially constructed, and a racialist discourse dominates cultural history today, blotting out conflicts of interest having to do with both class and gender, each of which is a material fact. (In this respect, Saxton and I were in complete agreement.)

3. Is class of any relevance? For communists and populists alike, class is everything, and whole upper-class lives may be darkened with fears of servile revolt or, in “the lower orders,” deep, roiling unfocused anger at such targets as Wall Street and the rich in general.  (Antisemitism can be found in rich and poor alike: for the wealthy, Jews are innovators and troublemakers, stirring up revolt and class hatred: Christian love is the antidote for “Jewish” hate. For the poor, Jews are often the agents of modernity that uprooted them from an idyllic, communal, agrarian past and abandoned them to the lonely crowd. )

However, no historian can ignore concrete class interests in describing continuity and change. My (male) reader who objected to “race, class, and gender” was worried about military history and diplomatic history, and I would add international relations in general. Very few individuals in any period of history are so brilliant and versatile as to be able to form a comprehensive history of even one significant event, taking all variables into account.  It is true that international relations and diplomatic history require intensive study and special training  (and even then, the fields are filled with factions that despise each other). But to deprive oneself of crucial analytic tools (i.e., class interest, views of race and national character, or gender roles and socialization in a given historical moment), is to etiolate one’s own grey matter as one undertakes the daunting task of writing history and constructing new and better syntheses. [This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.]

Alexander Saxton as I knew him

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