YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 7, 2015

The “change of heart” explanation

This blog addresses the most effective theme in American popular culture: religiously based sentimentality. For a related blog noting the meme of “one Nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

What follows is the liner notes “About the culture” that I wrote for the Yankee Doodle Society’s first recording, “Sentimental Songs of the Mid-19th Century” (Takoma Records A-1048, 1976; songs by composers Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work and George Root).

[Liner notes:] The music of this recording is the sheet music of the mid-century parlor, songs performed by the genteel family at leisure. The self-improving impulses of these log-cabin graduates found satisfaction in decorous language freed from frontier crudity, boisterousness, and sexual innuendo. Gathered around the piano, the entire family could join in the harmonized chorus, affirming the values and sentiments suited to their new station, and experiencing the reassuring world invoked by the sentimentalists.

For the American Eden had been shaken by the tremors of industrialization. The system of laissez nous faire or unfettered economic competition in an open marketplace had promised both personal freedom and social harmony. Instead, the 19th century witnessed the growth of an alarming gap between rich and poor, with terrifying social strife: depressions, panics, riots, class, race and sex antagonisms. The Puritan’s “heavenly kingdom on earth” had frequently turned out to be “hell with the lid off” — as Dickens described Stephen Foster’s Pittsburgh.

Rather than scrap the entire economic kit and caboodle, as various utopians were urging, middle class Americans tinkered and fussed, relegating hopes and memories of personal happiness to a sacrosanct Home Sweet Home, nestled in benevolent, maternal Nature.


Protected from the unpleasantness of business, the genteel woman guarded the hearth: priestess to the cult of domesticity.  From her privileged position as the national repository of moral purity, she led the crusade to clean up society, the untiring foe to alcohol and prostitution: home wreckers in whatever guise.

Social evil, all of it, was viewed by the reform-minded gentility as the product of individual corrupt hearts, a coronary lapse in social empathy. Clogged by the polluting passions, the offending heart required purging through exposure to the Noble and the Pathetic, with tears and sighs conferring absolution upon the wayward self.

What constituted the Noble and the Pathetic, the preponderating subjects of sentimental song? They were teen-aged soldiers defending the Flag, “happy darkies” and steadfast maidens contented in service to their masters: doomed draftees and perfect angels consigned to the shadows of public life. Those who were about to die, or who had barely lived, were saluted by the millions…whose own capacities for action were increasingly crippled as wealth and power were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

The sentimental song, like the chaste ministrations of genteel mothers and sisters, served to reconcile ordinary Americans to loneliness and social impotence. Dreaming of curatives, their condition was eased with the catharsis of a good cry, and the glimmer of Union provided by a well-made song in the fellowship of performance. [End, liner notes by CS, emphasis and quotation marks added]



April 26, 2014

The State of the Blog/Irreconcilable Conflicts

Deviant Art

Deviant Art

In the month of April, the Yankee Doodle Society website saw an unexpected drop in visitors. The numbers are still good, especially given the amount of competition in the blogosphere. To date (since the summer of 2009 when the Obama administration introduced much drama into the political culture) there have been 366,029 views, a number that always astounds my family and acquaintances.

But given the cultural emergency we find ourselves in, I am disappointed and dissatisfied, especially since I have shortened the blogs to reach an audience that is distracted and possibly frantic regarding the future of our ostensible representative republic, a condition I have represented as proto-fascist. The rest of this blog speculates about the many causes for the April drop. I cannot know, on my own, why I get between 150-250 views/day, compared to the prior record of between 250-350/day. What follows amounts to a meditation regarding the state of our political culture and my own persona as a kind of Nanki-Poo (“A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches….” For a recent rendition see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN6S8g1QrqU.)

First, like the masked Nanki-Poo, I am a misfit, a representation of the “uncanny” or “unheimlich.” Most of us crave for some stable group affiliation. My insistence on irreconcilable conflicts, both internal and external, contradicts the “moderate” tone of much public discourse. Such blogs as “The Illusion of National Unity” may make some of us squirm (https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/), especially as we are taught to respond to identification with “the American people.” True, there are the rulers and the ruled, but the entire discourse of the organic conservatives (i.e., social democrats and various Burkean rightists) offends my sense of reality. As a materialist sharply opposed to mystical bonds, I see disunity within myself, within most families, and certainly within the various ideologies of modern politics: who can readily distinguish between communists and social democrats, or between “ultra-conservatives” and “compassionate conservatives”? Are the dreaded “neocons” easily classified, or do they vacillate? (I am one of them, or so some believe.) I would rather see myself as a striving scholar, living with only provisional judgments and very curious about those archives that remain outrageously sealed to the public.

More than “unity” (a rarely achieved perfect meeting of minds), I value the creative imagination that sees through the “harmony” imposed by the State and by other institutions pushing groupiness (my word) as the route to “social stability” and “cohesion.”

Second, my most popular blogs seem to appeal to those using the internet to vent their intense dislike of POTUS. How many are given to paranoid conspiracy theories, I cannot tell.

Third, when I post my blogs on academic websites, I find that my numbers diminish as readers get to know me. The research or opinions I post often contradict the current line that keeps academics in line and predictable to their employers. One would think that academic readers would value an open mind and be willing to revise their past judgments, but apparently not.

Fourth, I am an unreconstructed feminist; I see the battle of the sexes as interminable and permanent. Men and women are put together differently, which is fine with me, and so are gays. But I cannot go along with conservative nostrums that imagine father-led families as the solution to poverty and crime. Nor do I gasp that American culture has been “feminized” as do the masculinists. The more both genders move toward androgyny, the better. Girls will stand up for themselves and accept leadership roles, while more “sensitive” men might become less patient with subordination to abusive superiors in the various hierarchies that help them defend the nation and/or earn a living.


Fifth, I am quite certain that the culture wars are not only a waste of time, but defy the cultural pluralism for which we supposedly strive. We should be putting more focus on the schools, on the regressive direction of teachers unions, and asking more of our schools, especially in the teaching of critical thought, contrasting theories of economic growth, science, and competing narratives for how we got to the current state of fragmentation and polarization—not only between political parties and “races,” but between rural/small town inhabitants and the large cities.

Sixth, and perhaps most important, I live with ambiguity regarding such basic contradictions as objectivity vs. radical subjectivism, or free will versus determinism. Part of growing sadder and wiser is this ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. Most people seem to want unchanging rules and hence relief from doubt, including self-doubt.

Some may see this blog as a tiresome kvetch; perhaps it is. But I am grateful for those thoughtful and courageous readers who have stuck with me. Some are on Facebook, but others come from parts unknown. There seem to be fewer and fewer sadomasochists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis than was the case when I started the blog—surely a cause for celebration.

Picasso seated Pierrot, 1918

Picasso seated Pierrot, 1918

July 4, 2010

Flyer for first YDS broadcast: A Change of Tears

YDS memorabilia, July 4, 1994

December 12, 2009

Switching the Enlightenment: corporatist liberalism and the revision of American history

Flyer for a 1993 talk with added notes by CS

[Added 12-17-09: see related blog https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/, also https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.

[Update: By the free-standing individual, I do not mean a narcissist incapable of seeing beyond his long and crooked nose, but a rational person aware of his/her responsibilities as a citizen in a would-be democratic republic. The policy of “multiculturalism” as currently envisioned by both Democrats and “moderate” Republicans confers terminal irrationality on the lower orders, leaving them to the tender mercies of an oligarchy.]

The blogs on this website comprise a series of focused studies on the modern practice of the historian’s craft. Their unifying theme is the attempt by “interdisciplinary” scholars to discredit the tools upon which historians have depended since the mid-nineteenth century, specifically archival research and the critical evaluation of sources in the interest of a relatively objective reconstruction of the past. Leopold von Ranke is dead, having been supplanted by classroom activists opposing the “essentially imperialist, racist, and patriarchal historical project” of this country” [Spanos]; such (essentialist) labeling cannot be sustained with empirical evidence, hence scientific method is under assault by cultural historians of science. This campaign by scholar-activists was not a post-1960s novelty, as some critics aver [Kimball].

Social psychologists and sociologists allied with the 1930s Popular Front against fascism, before, during, and after WWII, transformed the democratic Enlightenments, analyzing their ideologies as protofascist, and presenting their own vision of the paternalistic organic society as “genuine liberalism” [Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality].

I call this group the “corporatist liberals.” In their hands, “scientific” history morphed into “cultural history” [Carolyn Ware]; the Jeffersonian “melting-pot” (as publicized in Israel Zangwill’s play of 1908) was reinterpreted as forced assimilation to the materialist culture of a bourgeois liberal WASP elite [Filler]; and the conception of the free-standing, self-managing American citizen dissolved into the individual-in-society, molded by “cultural” context, and possessing group (ethnic or racial) identity, hence bearing “group facts” that were incomprehensible to other races or ethnicities [Robinson].

The corporatist liberals (led by Talcott Parsons and his circle at Harvard) fostered postwar definitions of fascism and nazism that looked retrospectively at “the puritan” (including the moral mother expanding her empire) as not only a dangerous American type (the narcissistic, hot-headed and cold-hearted imperialist), but “romantic puritans” were precursors to Hitler (reconstructed as a hyper-capitalist) and his genocidal policies: it was a straight line from New England antinomians to today’s right-wing militias [Brodhead, Bercovitch].

I believe my synthesis is original. Scientists and mathematicians (e.g. Paul Gross and Norman J. Levitt) have protested the postmodernist misunderstanding of science, while other historians (e.g. Windschuttle) are dismayed by “the killing of history” by the post-60s generation, but have not identified the possibly controlling sub-text of cultural histories explaining the rise of fascism/nazism: Fascism, abetted by science and technology in the hands of the upstart middle-class, the culturalists argue, demonstrates the failure of “mass politics,” i.e. popular sovereignty. This synthesis has already been introduced in my book on the Melville Revival, but requires further elaboration.

Writing on behalf of the American Historical Association in 1939, Carolyn Ware (married to New Deal economist Gardiner Means) advised that the cultural historian should not “rest upon the prescription of the scientific historians to let the facts speak and to be guided wherever the material may lead.” A particularist definition of tolerance was central to corporatist liberalism in the early twentieth century. Progressive social psychologists disseminating national programs of “civilian morale” in 1940-41 posited group diversity and advised the inclusion of minorities in government planning processes: Working toward common goals, while utilizing the special qualities of _different_ ethnicities, would serve social harmony. Such tolerance removed the threat of “rupture” by excluding the intellectual engagement of diverse belief systems with each other, a “moderate” strategy advanced by the Tory historian David Hume in the mid-eighteenth century as he contemplated unbalanced extremists: repressive Catholics and fanatical puritans, the latter seduced by the Old Testament and its “eastern poetic” or “eastern prophetic style”: Crusading puritans were all-too-given to the dictates of individual conscience, primary source research [reading the Tindal Bible], and unbounded curiosity [Hume, Vol.3]; while Catholic censorship was similarly disruptive as it created martyrs. Hume’s middle way, the promotion of rooted cosmopolitanism, is usually associated with the voelkisch thinker J.G. von Herder, and persists today as multiculturalism/ethnopluralism.

Following the tenets of romantic nationalism, all members of the same “ethnic” or “racial” group share inherited group character and economic interests– a corporatist formulation that compels dissenting individuals to submit to “the community” as defined by its natural leader(s) [Robinson]. But there is also a Left critique of cultural nationalism, asserting the socially constructed character of ethnicity, seen as a post-Enlightenment phenomenon [Sollors, 1989]. Other antiracist critics, following Elias and Foucault, attribute nationalism and genocide to the Enlightenment or “modernity” [Bauman]: “bourgeois liberals” fortified by science and panopticons, they say, emerged to assume the command posts of culture, and in the “civilizing process” [Elias] ruptured the bonds of traditional communities, erasing folk knowledges and proclaiming all non-adherents to their middle-class notions of technological rationality as “deviant.”

Moreover, while complaining that nationalism mystifies class antagonisms, postcolonialists have collapsed the analytic category of “class” into “race”;  “whiteness studies” confer a corporatist unity upon all white people or “the [imperialist] West.” While apparently rejecting “imagined communities,” these scholars deploy a communitarian discourse, embracing cultural pluralism, now corrected and updated as “dynamically emerging group identit[ies]” [Sollors, 1986, 279]. In practice, progressive cultural historians and literary scholars support identity politics.

The liberal component of the corporatist liberal ideology, then, consists in the tolerance of “diverse” groups with their unassailable “points of view.” The hyphenated Americans co-exist under the rubric of American nationality, as long as each group eschews the triumphalism Hume and his admirers ascribed to moralizing puritans or Catholics. Functionalist comparisons of Hebraic puritans with nazis served the objective of social “equilibrium” by removing the rationalist presence from the ethnopluralist “mosaic” or “symphony.” The multiculturalists were necessarily antisemitic, insofar as Jews, like radical puritans, interpreted “We the People” as an entity that resisted irrationalist methods of social control in their search for “a more perfect union.” This is a key point, for the social scientists and philosophers I am criticizing were irrationalists, rewriting American history to serve the higher goal of social cohesion in a pluralist society [Lynd, Allport, Murray, Murphy], reinterpreting the legacies of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson as precursors to the activist New Deal state [Becker, Clark], and similarly “integrating” potential bomb-throwers while relegating scientific method to a bounded sphere of influence distant from, and lower than, the humanities [Broughton], or, in cultural studies of science, going so far as to relativize scientific facts themselves as produced solely by institutional context in order to maintain a power elite [Biagioli].

The efforts of the corporatist liberals resulted in the erasure or marginalizing of some key figures in American history, who, notwithstanding diverse political goals, all shared the same, now often proscribed, Hebraic i.e., libertarian opinions and empiricist methods of analysis: that society was a collection of _individuals_; that the liberal state protected the human rights of every individual  by guaranteeing equal treatment and opportunity; that public education of high quality was indispensable for the attainment of popular sovereignty and the informed conscience; that the marketplace of ideas must not be bounded; and that American nationality consisted in the ongoing emancipation from illegitimate authority through appeals to reason.

Such emancipation was unthinkable without scientific method (empiricism), institutional transparency and accountability, and ethical universalism. The Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark website, then, has been devoted to libertarian figures whose motives and achievements have been denigrated either as causes of avoidable and catastrophic civil conflict (Hutchinson, Sumner), or as conniving elitists, arrayed against “the People” (Lippmann, Bunche) in postwar corporatist liberal accounts of their careers.

I. Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy (1636-38). While noting irreconcilable conflicts of interest between factions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the corporatist liberal critics of Hutchinson and her followers blame her for intransigence and lack of moderation. She may also be viewed as a representation of the newly emerging free market, personified as an intruder by adherents to the moral economy of pre-capitalist societies [Toennies].

II. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was one possible model for Melville’s indomitable moral crusaders, Captain Ahab and Pierre. The main precepts of Sumner’s political principles were all publicized before Melville completed the writing of _Moby-Dick_ (mid-1851): equality before the law, integrated schools, and rejection of slavery on both moral and legal grounds (with the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution as precedents), along with the political struggle against the Slave Power as continuation of the American and French Revolutions. Sumner was defamed by contemporaries as Hebraic, monomaniacal, and a moral terrorist [Donald]; Sumner joins Melville’s Captain Ahab as advocate of the republican messianism that has in turn been linked to Hitler and the Master Race.

III. The Romantic Wandering Jew as emblem of antisocial science and empirical history, e.g. in Melville’s “geologic Jew” Margoth. Rival interpretations of the antebellum decades and the postwar basis for national unity are traced in the formulations of mechanical materialists (inheritors of the Enlightenment) versus those of organic conservatives, both in Melville’s texts and in accounts of civil conflict and its avoidance, by Melville’s contemporaries and the generation that followed.

IV. Walter Lippmann’s interwar writings on propaganda and the media have been misconstrued by Noam Chomsky and his followers as advocating “the manufacture of consent.” Their accounts of “spinmeister” Lippmann as master manipulator are contradicted by Lippmann’s constant reiteration of the pressing need for fact-finding in advanced industrial societies where competing truth-claims required evaluation by non-policy making experts, given the specialized knowledge produced in advanced industrial societies. The elitism of peer review would be mitigated by citizens allowed a rigorous scientific education.

V. Ralph Bunche’s political thought in the 1930s as related by recent cultural historians, who have either rebuked him as “too white” or claimed that he converted to Black Power late in life. Bunche headed the field research team for Gunnar Myrdal and the Carnegie Corporation in the preparation of _An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy_ (1944). It was Bunche who instructed the Swedish economist in the precepts of “the American Creed”: America’s core values (democracy, rationalism, progress) were those of the Enlightenment, however resistant some Americans undoubtedly were to the full realization of equality for its black population. Myrdal, allied to corporatist liberals, rejected Bunche’s empiricism, deploying Bunche and his Howard University colleagues (“economic determinists”) as the red specter that would be unleashed were Southern segregationists to resist political and economic reform. Bunche, initially inspired by his evangelical Protestant grandmother, was writing in the radical puritan tradition, unlike Myrdal, praising the abolitionists, and confronting antisemitism in black nationalist (Garveyite) leadership and elsewhere; whereas Myrdal suggested (in the endnotes to his book) that Jews were the most egregious exploiters of ghetto Negroes.

VI. Parsonian functionalists have linked laissez-faire capitalism/unregulated markets to Hitler and the policies of the Third Reich [Kershaw, 2000, 67], ignoring the degree to which numerous societies, including nazi Germany, resorted to bureaucratic collectivism to manage interwar economic crises. Such attempts to distance New Deal policies from statist management in the dictatorships led to distorted accounts of Hitler’s appeal and the rise of nazism, for populists and progressives in America and in the NSDAP similarly attacked the rule of “finance capital” as the source of division and decadence in “the people’s community” or in various peoples’ communities. This study traces the intellectual history of multiculturalism (including its implementation as policy) from Herder to the present (e.g. Andress, 1916), to demonstrate that Parsonians have attempted to eject market-expanding puritans from the American landscape by linking the Enlightenment with Hitler’s terror state and supportive “fascist Republicans.” Hence Hitler was assigned stereotypical Jewish attributes in the wartime and postwar analyses of the functionalists (e.g. Henry A. Murray, 1943), as was America: the materialist Hitler, like the Chosen People, was a cynical swindler of the masses he purported to rescue from their oppressors [Bramsted, Kershaw, 1987, 3]. Moreover, nazism and Zionism are often linked: Zionism is alleged to be “essentially… voelkisch” [Noll, 75]. Presumably the proto-nazi American psyche would heal through proofs that puritan mad scientists [Hawthorne] had led the cynical, gullible mob to ruin [Arendt].

In sum, corporatist liberals rejected an eighteenth-century conception of the liberal nation based, not on hyphenated Americanism–a congeries of rehabilitated “Others” and their repentant ex-persecutors– but upon a shared project: the cooperative search for truth and amelioration. Such an enlightened quest did not repudiate the past, thus alienating ex-slaves and immigrants from their cherished ancestors, but rather furthered understanding of the choices that shaped prior institutions and beliefs, without idealization of leaders or the led.

By substituting cultural (i.e. irrationalist) interpretations of history for empirical studies of the political and economic conditions (including their contending ideologies) that facilitated the rise and maintenance of fascist dictatorships, ethnopluralist progressives switched the Enlightenment and undermined an appropriately critical and functioning democratic polity.


Adorno, T. W. et al. _The Authoritarian Personality_. Harper, 1950.
Allport, Gordon W., and Henry A. Murray. “Worksheets on Morale: A series of explorations undertaken by a seminar in Psychological Problems in Morale in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University…” 1941. Harvard University Archives.
Andress, J. Mace. _Johann Gottfried Herder as an Educator_.  G. E. Stechert, 1916.
Arendt, Hannah. “The Concentration Camps.” _Partisan Review_. July 1948.
Bauman, Zygmunt. _Modernity and the Holocaust_. Cornell UP, 1989.
Becker, Carl. “What Is Still Living in the Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson?” Address to The American Philosophic Society, April 22, 1943.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. _The Rites of Assent_. Routledge, 1993.
Biagioli, Mario. “Civility, Society, and Scientific Discourse.” _Clark & Center Newsletter_ 21 (Fall, 1991): 2-3.
Bramsted, Ernest K. _Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945_. Michigan State UP, 1965.
Brodhead, Richard. “The Book That Ruined Melville.” _New York Times Book Review_, Jan.7, 1996, p.35.
Broughton, John M. “Babes in Arms: Object Relations and Fantasies of Annihilation.” In _The Psychology of War and Peace: The Image of the Enemy_, ed. Robert W. Rieber. Plenum Press, 1991.
Clark, Harry Hayden. Introduction. _Thomas Paine: Representative Selections_. American Book Co., 1944.
Cohen, I. B. Introduction. _Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science_. Rutgers UP, 1990.
Donald, David Herbert. _Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War_. Knopf, 1960.
Elias, Norbert. _Power and Civility_.Vol. 2. Pantheon, 1982.
Filler, Louis. “Randolph Bourne.” Washington, D.C.: American Council on Public Affairs, 1943.
Gross, P. and N.J. Levitt. _Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Science_. Johns Hopkins UP, 1994.
Hume, David. _The History of England From The Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688_. Vol. 3. Boston, 1856. Vol. 6. London: Dove, 1822.
Kallen, Horace. _Culture and Democracy in the United States: Essays in the Group Psychology of the American Peoples_. Boni and Liveright, 1924.
Kershaw, Ian. _The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich_. Clarendon Press, 1987.
____. _The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation_. Fourth ed. Oxford UP, 2000.
Kimball, Roger. _Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Education_. Harper & Row, 1990.
Lynd, Robert S. _Knowledge For What?_ Princeton UP, 1939.
______. “Who Calls The Tune?” _Education for Democracy: The Debate over the Report of the President’s Commission of Higher Education_, Gail Kennedy, ed. D.C. Heath, 1952.
Murphy, Gardner. “Essentials for a Civilian Morale Program in American Democracy.” In _Civilian Morale: Second Yearbook of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues_. Reynal and Hitchcock, 1942.
Murray, Henry A. “Analysis of the personality of Adolph [sic] Hitler….” Confidential report, Oct. 1943. FDR Library, Hyde Park, New York.
Myrdal, Gunnar. _Objectivity in Social Research_. Pantheon, 1968.
Noll, Richard. _The Jung Cult_. Princeton UP, 1994.
Parsons, Talcott. _Essays in Sociological Theory_. The Free Press, 1954.
Robinson, Armstead L. _Black Studies in the University: A Symposium_. Yale UP, 1969.
Sollors, Werner. “A Critique of Pure Pluralism.” In _Reconstructing American Literary History_, ed.   Sacvan Bercovitch. Harvard UP, 1986.
Sollors, Werner. Introduction. _The Invention of Ethnicity_. Oxford UP, 1989.
Spanos, Jr., William V. _The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War and the Struggle for American Studies_. Duke UP, 1995.
Toennies, Ferdinand. _Community and Civil Society_. Cambridge UP, 2001.
Ware, Carolyn F. Introduction. _The Cultural Approach to History_. Edited for the American Historical Association. Columbia UP, 1940.
Windschuttle, Keith. _The Killing of History_. Free Press, 1997.

Blog at WordPress.com.