The Clare Spark Blog

June 24, 2015

Hate speech, revisited

John Gast: American Progress, 1872

John Gast: American Progress, 1872

I have written many times about “hate speech” tracing its origins to the liberal establishment which had several big reasons to institutionalize the demand for politeness: 1. The ideological impulse to explain the rise of Nazism/race riots to rabble-rousing new mass media (https://clarespark.com/2015/05/16/what-is-hate-speech-and-where-did-the-notion-come-from/); 2. The belief that speech creates reality (derived from Plato and the social democrats who suppressed material explanations for social conflict; 3. The notion originating with internationalists that conflicts can be resolved with better communication (and the warring parties subjected to “neutral” mediation on behalf of the ethical state/UN, of course).

It is a common error on the Right to attribute the notion of hate speech (a.k.a. political correctness) to communists hiding under every bed and in every college classroom. What most fail to do is to face squarely the history of expansion in the United States, performed at the expense of Amerindians, slaves and Mexicans. Patriotism in the interests of national unity or Manifest Destiny is the preferred alternative, even if, in some quarters, the Civil War is still raging, with some Midwestern and Southern whites holding on  to the symbols associated with the good old lost cause.

Here is the irony of attributing hate speech and PC to the Reds. It was mostly New Leftist professors who, with anti-imperialist zeal inspired by the 60s-70s antiwar movement, invented “whiteness studies,” in the process failing to follow the lead of the Old Left that made class the category that mattered most to the revolution. You would think that such careful analysts writing in the tradition of Marx would have foregrounded the objective study of class, but no, they followed Lenin and Woodrow Wilson in the spirit of internationalism, ignoring the fictional categories of “race” and “ethnicity.” (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/ and https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/, but even Alexander Saxton, my dissertation director, a proudly unreconstructed Stalinist, yielded to his contemporaries in promoting “whiteness studies,” as if all white people either all had the identical economic interests, or were hopelessly and permanently racist. (Saxton was especially disappointed in the white working class, apparently.)

KKK

This has put me, the director of the Yankee Doodle Society, in a quandary. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the composer Joseph Byrd and I reconstructed antebellum American popular music in the sentimental tradition, using the original lyrics, without expunging the N word. We produced one recording for a local company (Takoma), focusing mostly on Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work, and George Root, but then got a corporate and then several government grants to produce not only the music of these and other composers agreeable to the middle class, but also we reconstructed the cultural context of such music. We ended up with a set of six-sided LPs and a mammoth 10 and a half-hour documentary played on Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles three times, all unexpurgated, unlike recent reconstructions of Stephen Foster that simply erase the “hate speech.”

The music by itself was distributed by Musical Heritage Society for ten years, and during that time, I got an offer from a Neo-Confederate distributor who would have been willing to cut us in on the profits. I never answered his letter.

The fact is that further distribution of these materials, which are unique and brilliantly performed by top musicians and actors, could lead to abuse by racist groups. As long as I can’t control the context, I hesitate to release them, for minority groups in this country have enough to contend with, without further insults dredged up from the American past.

hate-speech2

What would you do in my place? I am sitting on several boxes of recordings that should be heard, but not by irredentists of any stripe or locale.

Iwantmydaddy

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August 16, 2014

Ferguson MO, Masters of Sex, and the dilemma of the white liberal

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

[For my first take on this series, see https://clarespark.com/2013/10/22/masters-of-sex-and-70s-feminism/%5D

By an odd coincidence, the last episode of Showtime’s hit series Masters of Sex (10 August, 2014), took on the problem of race relations in St. Louis Missouri at the same time that the suburb of Ferguson was exploding in looting and confrontations between “militarized” police and blacks.

This blog is about the double bind white liberal writers are trapped in, given the particular history of race relations in the US. Should they rescue the black population from bigotry  (e.g., Huckleberry Finn, Intruder In The Dust, affirmative action/multiculturalism/whiteness studies) or is it up to blacks to save themselves (e.g., the Black Power movement “by any means necessary”)? (For my blogs on the black power movement see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/15/index-to-black-power-blogs/)

In the last episode of Masters of Sex, Courtney Vance plays Dr. Charles Hendricks, the head of Buell Green, a “Negro” hospital in St. Louis, who has hired the twice disgraced William Masters, expecting him to carry out (Vance’s) specifically “integrationist” project. But Dr. Masters doesn’t see that convincing his white patients to follow him to a dubious neighborhood in the era of segregation is not his, but Hendricks’s priority, a point missed by the Los Angeles Times recap (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-masters-of-sex-recap-racial-tension-flares-at-bills-new-hospital-20140810-story.html.) Masters tells Hendricks that he has his own battle ahead in pursuing his tabooed research on the physiology of sex, while handing off to his mistress the task of persuading his old patients off to follow him to an all black hospital. Virginia, stereotypically enough, is more emotionally attuned and hence more manipulative than he is. The last shots show “Hendricks” leaving in a huff, for the second time pulling down a flyer that Virginia Johnson had put up, soliciting volunteers for the sex study that she and Bill had initiated, and that is, like her, “ahead of her time.”

Disgusted "Hendricks"

Disgusted “Hendricks”

[Earlier in the episode, Masters had shown himself to be unusually empathic with blacks by chastising his reactionary wife “Libby” for forcing her black maid to wash her hair (under the delusion that “Coral” had brought lice into the house). She half-heartedly apologizes to Coral’s protective ‘boyfriend’, who classifies her with hopelessly insensitive “white people.” Yet both Bill and Virginia are seemingly floored by the request to adjust their priorities, putting militant integrationism ahead of their sex project.]

The producers and writers of Masters of Sex are nothing if not present-minded, inventing situations and characters that are the essence of political correctness. Seizing on snippets of the real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration and then their ultimately failed marriage (divorced in 1992), the creators populate their series with assertive women struggling against the odds, repressed authoritarian males, closeted lesbians, tormented homosexuals pretending to be straight then seeking “conversion,” aging women, prostitutes, oppressed but passive-aggressive blacks, outspoken blacks—all characters who have starred in the social movements of the 1960s and 70s; the target audience is presumably fascinated by the transformations they believe they have wrought via their activism.  

But with the presence of the ardently integrationist “Charles Hendricks” (who sees himself as a pioneer like William Masters) Showtime has placed itself in a political quagmire, for the American polity (both Left and Right) has no idea how to proceed in the romantic project of making up for generations of slavery, then Jim Crow. The real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration is interesting enough, but present-mindedness (judging the past through the lens of present mores) is the real spoiler. Like the shows on HBO, Showtime delivers soft porn and the frisson, whatever literary merit surfaces now and then (and it does in the episode where, through Virginia’s skillful extraction, Bill exposes his relations with his cold, abandoning father).

(PS. I could find zero pictures on the internet showing angry confrontations between Libby, Coral, or her ‘boyfriend’ Robert (really her half-brother as we will discover in episode 6), even though these tense encounters are in the script of episode 5. Real life does not imitate art.)

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

July 21, 2013

Minding antisemitism

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:43 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

helen-thomas-sculpturejpg-0a917266978723d4_largeToday on Fox News Sunday (7-21-13), Chris Wallace, one of the “moderate” voices of the Fox News Channel, noted that just deceased Helen Thomas, who famously exclaimed that “the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine,” was remembered favorably as a gutsy journalist and path breaking [feminist] who put hard questions to American presidents, notwithstanding that outburst.  (See this news item indicating support from some “Arab Americans” : http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2010/08/detroit_links_holocause_surviv.html. )

It has been my view that antisemitism and/or hostility to the Jewish state have been consistently underestimated in its effects on politics and on human personalities. For instance, many blacks believe that George Zimmerman, the shooter of the young black man Trayvon Martin, is a Jew. Not much has been made of this astounding belief in the [misnamed] “African-American community,” with the exception of some entries on Facebook. See https://clarespark.com/2013/07/20/obamas-intervention-7-19-13/.

To me, the airbrushing of Helen Thomas, plus the canard that George Zimmerman is a Jew (i.e., the enemy of young black males)  suggests that “whiteness studies” or “white skin privilege,” are frequently understood as the rule of the Jews, even though some “whites” deny that Jews are white people. Such are the wages of populism, an ideology that may inhabit every color in the political spectrum.

Here is my index on antisemitism. It has a paragraph at the end that summarizes my view of modern antisemitism. https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/. This is the closing paragraph:

It is a misconception to think that a person’s views toward individual Jews tests their antisemitic views one way or another. A-S is above all, a theory of history, most recently a reaction to the “disruptive” effects of modernity, and an identification of the source of Evil. Most or all antisemitism is racist, for no matter how assimilated a person of Jewish descent may be, that person retains mental, physical, and moral attributes attributed to “the Jews” considered as a collective entity. Of these, none is more pernicious than the notion that all “Jews” partake of the Old Testament God as read by non-Jews, most famously by Voltaire (whose admirers were possibly angrier at Christianity, the offshoot of Judaism). That deity is domineering, militaristic, and genocidal, looking out solely for his “Chosen People.” One would think that such a powerful set of misconceptions would be corrected in the schools and in the mass media, but no. For in a highly populated globe, the masses must be controlled, and there is no more potent poison, directing popular anger away from abusive elites, than antisemitism: our innermost desires for truth, for a relatively accurate inventory of our past, is stigmatized as disintegrating to “the family.” So despite occasional hand-wringing over “the Holocaust,” antisemitism is still poorly, even crudely, understood by most, if not all, trained intellectuals. (For a related blog that pits the middle ages against modernity see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/28/bibi-and-the-human-nature-debate/,)

Code Pink supports Helen Thomas

Code Pink supports Helen Thomas

July 2, 2013

Groupiness, group-think, and “race”

EyeshapesThe close attention that the media are giving to the George Zimmerman trial in Florida is being justified by reporters because the verdict may trigger civil unrest in the form of “race riots.” Thus it is assumed that politicized “blacks” and “Hispanics” are potential mobs, like guns cocked and ready to shoot.

Yesterday I asked some Facebook friends what they thought “race” and/or “racism” meant.  I got some intriguing replies (several amazed me), that will be answered here.

First and foremost, no Russian revolutionary deployed the notion of “race” to divide their capitalist enemies. Marx had some nasty things to say about Jewish money and hucksterism; he was also demeaning about “the idiocy of rural life.” Lenin, influenced by J. A. Hobson, took up Hobson’s  anti-imperialism and, like Hobson, blamed wars on a ring of international Jews in finance and the media. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/.)

In his own imagination, Lenin was defending the colonized victims of capitalist imperialism, and many a New Leftist or post-colonialist, sought to defend “the Other” from the depredations of evil white people in Europe and America. (On formulations of “the Other” see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.) As good Marxist-Leninists they were “anti-racists”.  Until the New Left period, communists were ardent foes of “racism” along with antifascist liberals like Julian Huxley who sought to criticize the assumptions of racism and even ethnicity. (See We Europeans (1936). Huxley and Haddon argued that the original meaning of “ethnos” signified a given population, with no intimation of group characteristics transmitted through heredity.

Which brings me to “racism” as it was taught to me in graduate school. Everyone knows that physical variations in skin color and susceptibility to diseases characterize different human groups as they have evolved.  But “racists” take that further: they create a hierarchy of “races” in which they claim that each race has particular mental capacities, emotional, and moral characteristics that pertain to every individual in that “race.” (For Herder’s counter-Enlightenment project in developing the notion of the rooted cosmopolitan see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/. Such thinking, amplified throughout the 19th Century and afterwords, led straight to Hitler and the notion of the racially pure “organic nation” or “people’s community.”)

The notion that communists of any sect put “race” above “class” as a way of predicting the future is ludicrous. It was certain liberal and New Left American historians, contemplating the expansionists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who collapsed “class” into “race.” The U.S. field is still divided over this matter, with a very few still admitting class struggle to the classroom, while others prefer “racial” struggle to explain the horror of “American identity.”  (Gender and Nature got added to that model, sometime during the 1970s. See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. It is true that some leftists applauded “whiteness studies” in order to conform to Leninism. Why the Left  has not outed black supremacist doctrines as advanced by James Cone puzzles me, for “black skin privilege” is a contradiction in their social theory. See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/. )

Blueeyedwhitedragon

There was a time when people threw around the word “race” to signify any group of people, for instance, the English race, the French race, or any other group. Throughout this website I have criticized the notion of national character, which can only be valid to a limited extent, i.e., owing to the laws and traditions of any particular people or peoples in this oddly fractured world that is often divided up by diplomats into internally incoherent “nation-states” as spoils of war.

Multiculturalism, as I have explained ad nauseum, is covertly racist while pretending to be anti-racist.  MC is groupiness at its most lethal. Anyone can spot a hater, but the racialist discourse of progressives is harder for most people to decode.  Beware of “professionals” whether these be social psychologists, teachers, textbook writers, or other advocates of groupiness, for they look not into the minds and emotions of unique individuals, but make broad generalizations about group minds and group-think.  Compare Freud to Carl Jung and you get the picture. Freud dealt with suffering individuals; Jung with racially-specific archetypes. One was a would-be healer, the other a quack, whose occasional formulation of universal archetypes was a sop to his liberal followers. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/05/10/jungians-rising/. )

Such quackery could kill us all. We are one species, and humanity (though we may differ in how we view conflict or how we identify the source of evil) is objectively linked together, forever.  

brownwhitehands

March 31, 2012

Nell Painter’s History of White People

Rather than summarize the scope of Nell Painter’s book, I ask you to read this review by a sympathetic colleague. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/books/review/Gordon-t.html?pagewanted=all.

As  Linda Gordon’s NYT review makes clear, Nell Irvin Painter, a much honored historian, has written The History of White People (Norton, 2010), directing this synoptic intellectual/cultural history to a popular audience, hence biting off too big a chunk of history. Not so surprisingly, Professor Gordon, a well-known left-feminist, does not launch an ideological critique, for she shares the same social democratic/New Deal belief system. Gordon is a noted historian of the welfare state and feminist issues, but since she is of the same faction as Painter, she could not identify the slant of Painter’s book, which mocks the notion of cultural syncretism and the melting pot in favor of a salad bowl or multiplicity of American identities, defined in terms that rooted cosmopolitans would recognize: see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/).

Briefly, Painter reiterates the left-progressive (but not Marxist*) story of American identity, one defined in racial terms: American identity, the echt example of Manifest Destiny masquerading as universal messianic liberator, was in fact racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, etc. Howard Zinn could have written this book, and did. American identity is nowhere related to the revolutionary character of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or to the uniqueness of the conception of popular sovereignty—a notion of popular participation that would require several centuries and bitterly fought conflicts to be worked out, and even then, thanks to the unhelpful interventions of many progressives like Painter and Gordon, was undermined by boundaries to education established by corporatist liberal elites and their allies and pets, the teachers unions. For a chronology see https://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/.

The corporatist liberals are a movement of patricians who attached themselves to “intercultural understanding” as a solution to looming class politics from 1900 on, and who were especially threatened in the 1930s, when materialist analyses were prominent and popular. (See my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/. Ralph Bunche and other anti-racist blacks—especially Abram L. Harris–writing in the materialist tradition and in opposition to German Idealism, are absent from her book, along with such as white antiracists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens and many abolitionists, also Anglophiles in the sense that they celebrated libertarian ideals.)

In Painter’s account, New England Puritans were the bad guys whose ancestors framed the Magna Charta (dissed by Painter), and whose descendants were (with the exception of Ruth Benedict) nativists associated with the Republican Party. All other Americans (obviously blacks, but also non-Aryans) were  their victims.  But recent trends in intermarriage have blurred the sharp racial lines that were established by “scientific racism.” The latter is an ideology forged in Germany and England, and then eagerly taken up by American Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt and those she associates with him, Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant  [although Zangwill dedicated his The Melting Pot to TR]. Into the brew add a host of American eugenicists and evil statisticians, who not only persecuted Appalachian whites and ethnic groups from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, arbitrarily designating themselves (the WASPS) as the natural elite and true white people, but originated, avant la lettre, some of the most repellent Nazi practices and beliefs.

Along the way, Professor Painter, like other social democrats, presents herself as a sympathizer to the working class and to anarchists and communists absurdly hounded by the proto-Nazi Republicans in the riotous and strike-ridden year of 1919. (Readers of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will find some of the same miscreants, e.g., Margaret Sanger, only in his widely admired book, it is progressives who are the fascists and Nazis.) And yet, Painter does not recognize or acknowledge the German Romantic predecessors to multiculturalism and Nazism alike. Nor does the term “organic conservative” darken her palette. (See these take shape in the interwar period in numerous venues as I laid out in several blogs: https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, https://clarespark.com/2010/03/05/organic-conservatives-and-hitler/, https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/.  In other words, the progressives and Southern Agrarians were as enamored of “Anglo-Saxon” collectivist/corporatist categories as the uniformly racist Republicans she taunts throughout.

I do not know why Painter wrote this book unless it was meant to lure Reagan Democrats away from the Republican Party, back to the Democratic Party as it has evolved under President Obama. Her work reminds me of a common designation by 1930s Stalinists whereby all Republicans were Fascists, whereas the multicultural Soviet Union was the home to the most amply realized freedom of the individual.

One or two last words: Although Painter is hostile to antisemitism, she is not sympathetic to Israel, or to “Jews” who insist on “having the last word.” I did find her description of Hiram Powers’s “The White Slave” to be a useful key to identifying the erotic appeal of Katherine McPhee’s big number in the last episode of Smash. Dressed in white drapery, country mouse McPhee as Marilyn Monroe, is hounded to death and caged by her [Jewish?] masked promoters/fans, with her allure defined by whiteness and the chains (bars of the cage) that link purity, sex, and submission. But any hip feminist would have seen through that one.

Hiram Powers' White Slave

*Marx admired the American Civil War as one of the great world revolutions. His communist supporters, writing in The New Masses during the 1930s, admired America for having developed the productive forces that would make the transcendence of capitalism a practical possibility. In those days, one could find radicals who admired the bourgeoisie as a progressive class. The New Left, mesmerized by black nationalist militants and Afro-centrists like Nell Painter, scrubbed away that interpretation of U.S. history. I rather  like her paintings however.

"Plantains 3" Nell Painter

January 25, 2011

American Slavery vs. Nazi genocide

Paul Rusconi’s gloss on an Ed Ruscha image

[Added 2/13/11 and 2/18/11: I now have the book under review below, and it has an epigraph from Reinhold Niebuhr. The use of “evil” or “darkness” or “the Shadow” as a fundamental component of human personality is a notion from Manichaean religion (they also cite Jung) that strongly affected the corporatist liberal social psychologists tracked on this website. It tended to erase material motives for destructive behavior and “prejudice”, attributing such conduct as the projection of inner evil onto “the Other.” Moreover, the book (The Problem of Evil: Slavery, Freedom, and the Ambiguities of American Reform) is dedicated to David Brion Davis, who, following Niebuhr,  forthrightly has declared that it is the task of the historian to moralize about the American past. Furthermore, the editors (Steven Mintz and John Stauffer) say we not only confront our past, but we must overcome it. Given the approval of D.B. Davis to massive government programs, I must assume that a form of reparations is intended, and that this remedy is intrinsic to the social democratic teaching of American history and a sop to black nationalists. Added 2-16-11: In his polemic Moralists and Modernizers, Steven Mintz delineates two trajectories for antebellum reform movements. One trend encompasses the moralizing abolitionists and leads to the compassionate 20th century welfare state (presumably reducing “income inequality”); the other moralizers/modernizers are associated with laissez-faire capitalism and the Christian Right (hard-hearted Social Darwinists). Published by Johns Hopkins Press in 1995, the book is an intervention in the culture wars. I do not question the sincerity or remarkable accomplishments of these historians, but rather their implied acquiescence to the more extreme claims of the civil rights movement (in its black nationalist phase).]

[This blog is not about the Civil War or its causes, but about the hijacking of American history by some leftists, who write like the militant black nationalists I encountered at Pacifica Radio, and that David Horowitz described at length in his Hating Whitey. The year  2011 could see a huge upsurge in articles about whether that conflict could have been prevented by better statesmanship, the causes and objectives of the war, what exactly happened in the war, and what was the course of Reconstruction. I have already written a research paper on Reconstruction and its interpretation by Herman Melville in his poem on Robert E. Lee. The link is here: https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.]

Here are two paragraphs from a book review by Miami University history assistant visiting professor Oleta Prinsloo, and posted on the NEH-funded Humanities-Net websites: “H-Civil War” and  “H-Slavery.” They are remarkable for their Doublespeak and unblushing partisanship. For while erasing historicism, they pretend to present examples of the historian’s craft. Instead of depicting the past as best they can using available sources, they proudly claim the role of activist scholars, specifically they aim to undermine the “conservative” idea of  American exceptionalism. Here are two paragraphs from the review:

“While the fashion in American history writing has been for historians to pretend to moral neutrality, (Steven) Mintz and (John) Stauffer argue that Americans cannot move forward (nor by implication can they honestly contemplate the significance of 9/11) until there has been a moral reckoning with the American past.  Mintz writes that “history without a moral dimension is antiquarianism” (p. 1).  Their undertaking is modeled on German writers since WW II who have tried to come to terms with the implications of Nazism on the past, an undertaking called _Vergangenheitsbewaltigung_.  Mintz defines the word as the “wrestling with the demons of German history through reflection, remembering, and moral reckoning” (p. 1).

“The editors chose the essays according to five criteria: the wrestling with a fundamental moral problem, the centrality of ideas or an ideology “to connect economic and political interests and the realm of ideas” (p. 2), . the recognition of culture as involving contests for power, the placing of the U.S. experience into larger processes of modernization, and the relation of slavery to an understanding of modernity.  Most of the essays contain themes prominent in history writing on slavery, abolition, reform, and freedom since the 1990s.  By historicizing evil, these essays work to undercut the conservative American exceptionalism interpretation of U.S. history.” [End, Prinsloo excerpt}

[Clare:] This entire project and its presentation as a foray into uncharted waters is simply astounding. American historians have been preoccupied with the problem of slavery from the inception of the discipline. To be sure, estimations of its character and the causes of the Civil War have been strenuously debated. But the first thing we learned in graduate school in U.S. history was not to allow our own distaste or horror at the institution (or any other individual or institution) to interfere with our representations of the American past. (The common tendency to project our own morality into past societies was described as “present-mindedness” and promoted by Howard Zinn.) However, not only are the historians mentioned in the review openly identified with the Left (another no-no for objective historians), they are 1. transmitting a well-known theme in post-60s history writing in a line suggested by Eric Williams and others that the filthy lucre derived from slavery made capitalism possible, that slavery, capitalism, and modernity are chained together and coterminous (as opposed to slavery being an archaic,  quasi-feudal institution, and its overcoming a triumph of the bourgeoisie that, in so doing,  laid the foundation for a prosperous new nation built upon free labor); and 2. entirely misrepresenting the theory of American exceptionalism.

What made America exceptional was the lack of a hereditary aristocracy with its rigid class system. After 1787-89, the U.S. could boast of  a “constitution of liberty” (Hayek)  that made it possible for any common person to rise in income and status. In other words, America offered a meritocracy that rewarded hard work and skill–it was a land of limitless opportunity for free white men, rights that were gradually extended to freedmen and women. Because America fought a civil war and then pursued an extended and still persistent civil rights movement, the sin of slavery was purified  by the blood of over 600,000 casualties (as some Christians saw it). And yet many “interdisciplinary” scholars continue to indoctrinate their students with the notion of “white skin privilege,” in some cases blaming the Jews for inventing the slave trade, a myth strenuously opposed by such as Yale professor David Brion Davis, a major scholar mentioned elsewhere in the review as if he were in their camp. This fashionable notion is further carried over in the post-60s representation of American national character, said to be imperialist, patriarchal, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal. Obviously, such crimes demand reparations or even revolution, and revolution is what I believe that some postmodernists/post-colonial scholars are advocating (I do not include D. B. Davis or his students in this group: they are likely strong supporters of the Obama administration). Do not delude yourself, dear reader, into thinking that such voices are only marginal in current history departments.

What the reviewer reports in the excerpt above is even more outrageous in appropriating the German movement to “work through” its Nazi past in order to propose a similar breast-beating here.  This is tantamount to claiming that American history is Nazi-like in its essential character. I understand  that not all readers of this blog will make the same leap, but then they may not read between the lines as strenuously as I do.  I would argue that American scholars have not, as a group, worked through the antisemitism that pervades our particular political culture, especially in its populist variant. In his show of Monday January 24, Jon Stewart presented a lengthy segment quoting various Fox News personalities who apparently were comparing certain leftists as resembling Nazis in their rhetoric. This as his riposte to Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen’s accusation that Republicans were spreading “the big lie.” These guys–all of them–should spend more time in the groves of academe where the destruction of history is perpetrated daily, with little notice in the blogosphere or in the presentations beloved by the hipsters among us.

[Added 1-28-11, my response to criticisms by two history professors who subscribe to H-Net’s History of Antisemitism discussion group:

Dear list, the two negative responses to my blog https://clarespark.com/2011/01/25/american-slavery-vs-nazi-genocide/, were instructive on several grounds. I was reproached for criticizing activist scholars, and for ignorance of the last three decades of historiography, but there was also a criticism that I had abused my source by claiming that the American history of slavery was being compared to the history of the Third Reich.

Just today, I received an email from the UCLA Department of History announcing a meeting with activist scholars whose knowledge of history would illuminate the current debates on same-sex marriage. This was the department that awarded me the Ph.D., and while there I was immersed in social history, a sub-field beloved by New Left, Stalinist, and Trotskyist activist scholars, because it enabled the would-be historian to stand with the oppressed and generally support revolt by the lower orders we exclusively studied. One of their number, the prolific and powerful Gary Nash told his students straight out that study of “literary sources” (i.e., the writings of decision-makers and leaders in general) was by its very nature “elitist.” Thus Nash’s seminar on colonial America completely ignored intellectual history in favor of the study of slavery and native American wars instigated by the invading “whites.”

Needless to say, antisemitism was never discussed in seminars or in the numerous conferences staged by the U.S. field. It was my own study after 1986 that instructed me in the propaganda disseminated by Nazis* and Soviets regarding the control that Jews exerted over the United States.  Here is one example of Soviet propaganda, penned by Dmitri Volkogonov in _The Psychological War_ (1986):

“The capitalist mass media are greatly influenced by the Zionist circles.  For example, Zionist organisations in the United States control half its magazines, more than half of its radio stations, and a large number of press and radio bureaus abroad.  In other capitalist countries the picture is very much the same.  In addition to that, various Zionist organisations run more than a thousand publications in 67 countries.  This is where the military-industrial complex draws its ideological support. The capitalist mass media spread outright lies about socialism, create a climate of fear for the future, of gloom and doom.  The main idea of this vast system of disinformation is to prove that “socialism is bad” and the “free world” is good. This is how the capitalist mass media are waging the psychological war against the Soviet people, also against their own people whom the bourgeois radio centres feed with disinformation.  This is how opinions in the West are shaped when people are unable to understand the true state of things, when they think and act only under the influence of the extraneous forces that manipulate them.”

I do not find it a stretch to say that the more powerful history professors at UCLA were as explicit as Volkogonov in attacking the notion of the “free world.” True, they were not explicit anti-Semites, though Harold Cruse’s famous diatribe against “Jewish” Communists (_The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual_) was assigned in the seminar that introduced new grad students to the various sub-fields of U.S. history, and when I wrote a paper complaining about the invidious distinction Cruse drew between Jewish and gentile Communists to be disturbing, Nash passed off Cruse’s book as typical 1960s overstatement, suggesting to me that I was oversensitive to anti-Jewish smears (though I kept this thought to myself). If one wanted to study antisemitism, one became a Europeanist and/or studied with Saul Friedlander or joined the [anti-Zionist] Jewish Studies program initiated while I was still a graduate student. The U.S. field in the Department of History was ideologically judenrein.

Notwithstanding Professor Nash’s preferred sub-field of social history (with its constant emphasis on inequality), he and his co-professor Mary Yeager warned the incoming students not to be present-minded by imposing current moral standards on the past. Still, by directing the students to resistance from below to the various oppressions that bedeviled them, Nash’s morality was expressed clearly enough.

So much for my ignorance of the historiography of the past three decades. As for my objection to comparing the German movement to “working through” the Nazi past to the call for the injection of morality into the study of American slavery (as if it still existed in this country, or perhaps as if insufficient reparations had been made to the descendants of slaves), I stand by my original message. Black nationalism was alive and well at UCLA where I received my training. It remains a powerful influence today. Ralph Bunche’s memoranda to Gunnar Myrdal warned him about the rampant antisemitism in black nationalist organizations. As I wrote about it in my published article on the Bunche-Myrdal dispute over _An American Dilemma_, Myrdal’s response was to frequently trash Bunche and “the Howard boys” as economic determinists and to hint in his endnotes that Jews were the worst exploiters of blacks. For a summary of my published paper, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

*Space does not permit me to cite examples of Nazi propaganda that viewed the U.S. as controlled by Jews.

For an outstanding article on the impropriety of comparing the slave trade with the Holocaust, see Seymour Drescher, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Holocaust,” in Is The Holocaust Unique?, ed. Alan Rosenbaum (Westview Press, 1996).

July 15, 2010

Index to Black Power blogs

Judith Bernstein’s allusion to Black Power

Illustrated is an invitation to feminist artist Judith Bernstein’s new exhibition of work not seen since 1973. Her work was famously censored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it was seen as incendiary and a representation of black (phallic) power.

What follows is an index to blogs dealing with source materials that demonstrate the upper-class enabling of the black power movement, thus co-opting the integrationist civil rights movement. It is worth noting that when Ralph Bunche was on the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, he suggested a pilot program that would begin to break up urban ghettoes by gradually integrating them into small towns and cities. If memory serves (I refer to Sir Brian Urquhart’s biography), the Rockefeller Foundation did nothing and Bunche resigned.

It is also important that the Bunche Center at UCLA has predictably become an advocate of separatism, with Charles Henry, UC Berkeley professor and keynote speaker at the conference I participated in (2004), insisting that Bunche had converted to black power at the end of his life. There is no evidence for that in Bunche’s papers: quite the contrary. Was he angry at the slow pace of progress? Yes. Did he renounce integrationism? No. Would he approved of the term “African American”? No way: he was a proud American who believed that blacks had helped build this country and wanted no other label than that of  “American.” His biographer understood this and subtitled his life of Bunche with this: “An American Life.”

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/18/storming-pacifica-revising-my-view-of-pacifica-history-july-22-1999/

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/14/my-life-at-pacifica-part-two-with-gory-details-and-more-on-identity/

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/

https://clarespark.com/2011/02/11/undoing-multiculturalism/

https://clarespark.com/2009/09/26/nea-neh-and-cultural-freedom-not/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-one/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/09/conflict-resolution-ralph-bunches-nobel-prize-3/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/19/finians-rainbow-washes-out-red/.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/22/identity-and-race/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/26/answer-to-a-comment-from-a-pacifica-producer/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/

https://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/a-ride-through-the-culture-wars-in-academe/

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/

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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