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Saturday, September 06, 2014

John Dewey and the Cult of Superficiality

         Estase has read his share of philosophy.  John Dewey is a particular bĂȘte noire of his, for the simple reason that Dewey proposed solutions that have no depth of thinking to them.  Following John Stuart Mill, the idea that rule by experts was desirable was the theory of Dewey.  Unlike Mill, Dewey had little idea of how complex this might actually be.  Mill was at least man enough to realize that there would be a debate on who the experts were.  Dewey seemed to think that being progressive was evidence that one was entitled to be an "expert."  Dewey provides no insight on how to balance popular government with rule by experts.  Dewey provides no insight on how to balance religious or minority rights with rule by experts.  Dewey's acolytes in the Roosevelt administration had zero respect for kosher butchering, as can be seen in the Schechter poultry case.  The only value was economic manipulation--religious freedom did not register, nor did the right to do business as one chose.
          Rule by experts is a concept that will not die, no matter how ridiculous it may be when applied to reality.

Well the Line Forms, On the Right, Babe

   "Less known to our intelligentsia is an aphorism in Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, a book well known to {Bertholt} Brecht, entitled "On the Pale Criminal," which tells the story of a neurotic murderer, eerily resembling Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who does not know, cannot know, that he committed murder out of a motive as legitimate as any other and useful in many important situations, but delegitimized in our pacific times:  he lusted after "the joy of the knife."  This scenario for "Mack the Knife" is the beginning of the supra-moral attitude of expectancy, waiting to see what the volcano of the id will spew forth, which appealed to Weimar and its American admirers.  Everything is all right as long as it is not fascism!  With Armstrong taking Lenya's place, as Mai Britt took Dietrich's, it is all mass-marketed and the message becomes less dangerous, although no less corrupt.  All awareness of foreignness disappears.  It is thought to be folk culture, all-American, part of the American century, just as "stay loose" (as opposed to uptight) is supposed to have been an insight of rock music and not a translation of Heidegger's Gelassenheit.  The historical sense and the distance on our times, the only advantages of Weimar nostalgia, are gone, and American self-satisfaction--the sense that the scene is ours, that we have nothing important to learn about life from the past--is served.
       This image can be seen in our intellectual history, if only one substitutes Mary McCarthy for Louis Armstrong and Hannah Arendt for Lotte Lenya, or David Riesman for Armstrong and Erich Fromm for Lenya, and so on through the honor roll of American intellectuals.  Our stars are singing a song they do not understand, translated from a German original and having a huge popular success with unknown but wide-ranging consequences, as something of the original message touches something in American souls.  But behind it all, the master lyricists are Nietzsche and Heidegger."  The Closing of the American Mind by Allen Bloom, pgs. 151-52.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Bloom on New Left

       "But the activists had no special quarrel with the classic texts, and they were even a bit infected by their Frankfurt School masters' habit of parading their intimacy with high culture.  Radicals had at an earlier stage of egalitarianism already dealt with the monarchic, aristocratic and antidemocratic character of most literary classics by no longer paying attention to their manifest political content.  Literary criticism concentrated on the private, the intimate, the feelings, thoughts and relations of individuals, while reducing to the status of a literary convention of the past the fact that the heroes of many classic works were soldiers and statesmen engaged in ruling and faced with political problems(p65).
       Herbert Marcuse appealed to university students in the sixties with a combination of Marx and Freud.  In Eros and Civilization and One Dimensional Man he promised that the overcoming of capitalism and its false consciousness will result in a society where the greatest satisfactions are sexual, of a sort that the bourgeois moralist Freud called polymorphous and infantile.  Rock music touches the same chord in the young.  Free sexual expression, anarchism, mining of the irrational unconscious and giving it free rein are what they have in common.  The high intellectual life I shall describe in Part Two and the low rock world are partners in the same entertainment enterprise.  They must both be interpreted as parts of the cultural fabric of late capitalism.  Their success comes from the bourgeois' need to feel that he is not bourgeois, to have undangerous experiments with the unlimited.  He is willing to pay dearly for them.  The Left is better interpreted by Nietzsche than by Marx.  The critical theory of late capitalism is at once late capitalism's subtlest and crudest expression.  Anti-bourgeois ire is the opiate of the Last Man(p.78).
       Woody Allen's comedy is nothing but a set of variations on the theme of the man who does not have a real "self" or "identity," and feels superior to the inauthentically self-satisfied people because he is conscious of his situation and at the same time inferior to them because they are "adjusted."  This borrowed psychology turns into a textbook in Zelig, which is the story of an "other-directed" man, as opposed to an "inner-directed" man, terms popularized in the 1950s by David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, borrowed by him from his analyst, Erich Fromm, who himself absorbed them (e.g. innige Mensch) from a really serious thinker, Nietzsche's heir, Martin Heidegger.  I was astounded to see how doctrinaire Woody Allen is, and how normal his way of looking at things--which has immediate roots in the most profound German philosophy--has become in the American entertainment market.  One of the links between Germany and the United States, the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, actually plays a cameo role in Zelig(p. 144-45).
        Get rid of capitalist alienation and Puritan repression, and all will be well as each man chooses for himself.  But Woody Allen really has nothing to tell us about inner-directedness.  Nor does Riesman nor, going further back, does Fromm.  One has to get to Heidegger to learn something of all the grim facts of what inner-directedness might really mean.  Allen is never nearly as funny as Kafka, who really took the problem seriously, without the propagandistic reassurance that Left progressivism would solve it.  Zelig has a flirtation with Hitler--whose appeal, it almost goes without saying, is to "other-directed persons,"  or to use an equivalent expression popularized by another German psychoanalyst, Theodore Adorno, to "authoritarian personalities"--but is rescued by his psychiatricus ex machine.  (Flirtation with Stalin never needs explanation in this intellectual universe.)  Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it.  I'm O.K., thou art O.K. too, if we agree to be a bit haunted together(p. 146).
       Herbert Marcuse's accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsche label has been replaced by a Made In America label;  and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family(p. 147).
       I shall not comment on the Nazi period of the now de-Nazified Heidegger, other than to remark that the ever more open recognition that he was the most interesting thinker of our century, formerly chastely displaced in admiration for his various proxies, gives evidence that we are playing with fire.  His interest in new gods led him, as it did Nietzsche, in his teaching to honor immoderation over moderation and to ridicule morality.  Both helped to constitute that ambiguous Weimar atmosphere in which liberals looked like simpletons and anything was possible for people who sang of the joy of the knife {ed.--Mack the Knife} in cabarets(p. 154).
       Vulgar Marxism is, of course, Marxism.  Nonvulgar Marxism is Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, Heidegger, as well as the host of later Leftists who drank at their trough--such as Lukacs, Kojeve, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre--and hoped to enroll them in the class struggle(p. 220).
       This is what we find in Marcuse and many others, who simply do not talk about the difficulty posed by the contradiction between Marx's fundamental principles and those of Freud.  Two powerful systems are served up in a single package.  Freud is the really meaty part of the concoction.  Marx provides a generalized assurance that capitalism is indeed at fault and that the problems can be solved by more equality and more freedom, that the liberated people will possess all the virtues(p. 223).
       Weber at least provided some examples, even though his definition may have been problematic.  One wonders whether Weber's contention that the value giver is an aristocrat of the spirit is less plausible than that of those who say that just anyone is, if he has the right therapist, or if a socialist society is constructed for him.  This egalitarian transformation of Weber permitted anyone who is not to the left to be diagnosed as mentally ill.  Left critics of psychoanalysis called it a tool of bourgeois conformism;  one wonders, however, whether the critics are not manipulators of psychological therapy in the service of Left conformism.  Adorno's meretricious fabrication of the authoritarian and democratic personality types has exactly the same sources as the inner-directed-other-directed typology, and the same sinister implications(p. 225).
       Marcuse began in Germany in the twenties by being something of a serious Hegel scholar.  He ended up here writing trashy-culture criticism with a heavy sex interest  in One Dimensional Man and other well-known books.  In the Soviet Union, instead of the philosopher-king they got the ideological tyrant;  in the United States the culture critic became the voice of Woodstock (p. 226).
       The New Left in America was a Nietzschanized-Heideggerianized Left.  The unthinking hatred of "bourgeois society"  was exactly the same in both places.  A distinguished professor of political science proved this when he read to his radical students some speeches about what was to be done.  They were enthusiastic until he informed them that the speeches were by Mussolini.  Heidegger himself, late in his life, made overtures to the New Left.  The most sinister formula in his Rectoral Address of 1933 was, with only the slightest of alterations, the slogan of the American professors who collaborated with the student movements of the sixties:  "The time for decision is past.  The decision has already been made by the youngest part of the German nation (p. 314-15). "

All from The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom