Saturday, March 15, 2014

Identifying the Adam of the American left

One of the most useful books I've read in recent years is The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America by Eric Kaufmann. You can buy it from Amazon here.

If you recall, the sixth chapter was about the shift in the Protestant church establishment (particularly the FCC) toward cosmopolitanism which took place between 1905 and 1913.

I'm now reading the seventh chapter, which is another very illuminating part of the book. It traces the rise of the modernist view amongst the intellectuals and artists of Chicago and New York in the period just prior to and during WWI. It also names the first American intellectual who truly had the leftist attitude to national identity that we are so familiar with today - but I'll get to him shortly.

Kaufmann begins his story in Chicago. There existed in Chicago a group of Liberal Progressives, such as John Dewey and Jane Addams who had "developed the first variant of American cosmopolitanism". However, what Kaufmann is interested in is the uptake of this outlook as a cultural and lifestyle movement amongst the literati (intellectuals/artists).

There was a group of such people, dubbed the Chicago Poets, including figures such as Floyd Dell and Sherwood Anderson, who by 1912 had their own magazine, Poetry. They were influenced by European thinkers such as Nietzsche, Bergson and Wells. They saw Anglo-Saxon culture in negative terms as being associated with a puritanical morality.

This foreshadowed what was to take place in New York. In the late 1800s, New York cultural life was still dominated by the "genteel tradition" with its "stress on Anglo-Saxonism, New Englandism, and cultural nationalism". This tradition was represented in the magazine Century which by the 1880s had a circulation of 250,000, and it was entrenched at Columbia University and in the Academy of Arts and Letters.

The critical era was just before and during WWI. The Academy was formed in 1904 and was relatively conservative (compared to what was about to come). However, in the 1890s, a man called James Gibbons Huneker began to introduce modernist European intellectuals, such as Ibsen, Shaw and Strindberg, to the New York bohemian scene; and from 1907 there was a bohemian migration to Greenwich Village. This migration reached a critical mass during 1910 to 1912, unleashing the "Village Renaissance" of 1912 to 1917.

The literati involved in this Renaissance were mostly Protestant Anglo-Americans such as Floyd Dell and Randolph Bourne, though there were Jewish figures involved as well. The beliefs of this group of people were based on "an ethic of inner nature, which corresponded to the irrationalist vitalism of Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche and Expressivists like Friedrich Schiller and Friedrich Hölderlin."

The movement looked more to paganism that to Christianity - therefore, it seems that the Protestant church establishment had moved toward cosmopolitanism a little earlier, and for different reasons, than the New York literati did in the period just prior to and during WWI.

Avant-garde left modernism

The older American liberalism had seen Anglo-Saxonism as a positive force, destined to bring liberal democracy to the continent. This older liberalism was in favour of assimilation to Anglo-Saxon values; it favoured the idea of new immigrants being culturally absorbed into a melting-pot.

In 1915, Horace Kallen, a Jewish intellectual, criticised this ideal of Anglo-Saxon dominance and of a melting pot. He argued instead for a pluralistic or multiethnic vision of American identity, in which America would be a "democracy of nationalities".

This was not exactly the modern leftist view, though, as Kallen thought that the Anglo-Saxons should continue to be part of this pluralistic identity. However, in 1916 the first statement of the modern leftist view was put by an intellectual of Anglo-Saxon background, Randolph Bourne. Understanding Randolph Bourne is important, as he represents the emergence of the modern leftist mind.

Bourne established that frustrating double standard, in which other ethnic traditions were considered to be authentic and vibrant, but the Anglo-Saxon was exceptional in being inauthentic, derivative and pallid. Therefore, the role of the Anglo-Saxon was that of the consumer of other cultures, rather than living through one's own culture.

It's worth finishing with Kaufmann's description of Bourne's position:
...the Anglo-Saxon was implicitly excluded from Kallen's "federation of nationalities" and placed in a special position: that of cultural consumer. Hence whereas Kallen held a Herderian, organicist view of ethnicity that included the Anglo-Saxons, Bourne considered ethnicity a cultural good to be experienced by a modernist cultural consumer. He bestowed this role upon young Anglo-Saxons....

...In effect, where ethnic minorities are given a traditional role, Anglo-Saxons are implored to be cosmopolitan. Thus, Bourne simultaneously lauds the traditions of the Jew "who sticks proundly to the faith of his fathers and boasts of the venerable culture of his," while imploring young Anglo-Saxon Americans to "Breathe a larger air...."

...In Bourne's writing, the freedom for individual creativity and the quest for cultural experience demanded by modernism are satisfied by the seemingly paradoxical coupling of Anglo-Saxon ethnic destruction with minority ethnic revival.

Bourne is very important in understanding how the modernist leftist view came about. I'm going to return to him in a future post.

For the time being, though, I'll point out once again that all this is happening just prior to and during WWI, mostly amongst Protestant Anglo-Saxon intellectual figures, though with Jewish intellectuals in the mix, with the main influences being figures like Nietzsche, James and Bergson rather than Marx.


  1. Hence of these two, Kallen and Bourne, Kallen had more humane and equitable view, a view that acknowledged Anglo-Saxons' right to ethnic and cultural existence, although their political and sovereign power would be reduced to one among many. Kallen view at least enables survival and continuity, Bourne's view is ultimately self-hating and nihilistic. Of course in practice, in real life, Kallen's politics too leads to a raw deal to Anglo-Saxons.

  2. Very interesting stuff. Keep up these excellent and informative posts.

  3. "You can buy it from Amazon here."

    Good grief, man. $58.94 (US) for the Kindle edition? I'll just keep reading your summaries, thank you.

  4. Mark, as an American, I find the way you talk our country fascinating. Very insightful. I've traveled a lot, though, and it seems to me like the Left and Right are focused on somewhat different issues in the rest of the Anglosphere (leftist Aussies I know seem confused that we don't have national limits on the number of weeks at which an abortion can occur, white South Africans say they hate our Republican party and yet sound like fiscal conservatives when they talk about their own country's tax policies). I know America's been the incubator of a lot of these ideas, but how have they rippled out into the rest of the English-speaking world? How do Australians apply these sort of philosophies, in a culture and country with an entirely different past? Just curious; I always think about that when I read one of your analyses on American leftists.

    1. Anon, when I read about US politics, I have a sense of both similarities and difference to politics here in Australia. For instance, I don't think the right-liberal tradition ever established itself in Australia as part of a popular national tradition to the extent that it did in America. We do have a right-liberal party, but it is much more closely associated with big business and the urban, well-to-do commercial classes (though at election time it needs to pick up white working-class votes). There has never been as much of an isolationist movement here in Australia; there seems to have been a consensus here that Australia needed to hitch itself to a world power for security reasons. In general, Australia has been mid-way between Europe and the US when it comes to statism, taxes etc. We've had less of a high-taxing, welfare state than the Nordics, for instance, but more of an interventionist, welfare state than in the US. The gun issue is not as big here, but it has to be said that until recently there has not been a major issue of ethnic crime - in the 1980s I used to have some pride about how safe Melbourne was, so there was little need to carry a gun. Another difference is that Australia is relatively secular compared to the US. The mainline churches have all declined in numbers and influence and the Pentecostal churches here are relatively new.

      It's a good issue for a future post.

  5. ...In effect, where ethnic minorities are given a traditional role, Anglo-Saxons are implored to be cosmopolitan. Thus, Bourne simultaneously lauds the traditions of the Jew "who sticks proundly to the faith of his fathers and boasts of the venerable culture of his," while imploring young Anglo-Saxon Americans to "Breathe a larger air...."

    Interesting to see the origins of where this Ango=/=ethnicity belief comes from. It's certainly has got out of hand. In my view it's an extremist opinion. Far-Leftists often hold it but it has also seeped into the thinking of regular people. Though with a lot of leftists they always like to masquerade as regular people.

  6. The fall of Anglo Australia will be marked if we ever adopt this flag.

    1. Apparently he believes you can still have a distinct national identity when you have open borders and mass immigration.

    2. he also believes in an absolute monstrosity as a national symbol.

  7. Of course, today, Bourne's view that Anglo-Saxon culture and ethnicity should be destroyed is extended to all cultures and ethnicities of European origin, and to Jews. Perhaps it also extends to Middle Eastern Christians, in view of the West's utter indifference to the fate of Christians in the Islamic world.

    1. Daniel, that's a good point. The one difference between Bourne's view, and that of modern leftists, is that for Bourne it was specifically Anglo-America that had no culture, or an insipid culture, or a restrictive culture. Germans, Swedes and French were included in the authentic, vibrant cultures that a cosmopolitan Anglo-Saxon cultural consumer might enjoy. These days it is more common for any kind of white culture to be placed in the "no culture" category.

  8. Thanks for a clear explanation about the left and how it developed self loathing for its own culture. The problem we have now is that self loathing has grown to the extent it is viewed in mainstream politics as normal to criticise our own Anglo Saxon culture. You here the sentimental left wing nonsense on third world cultures everywhere. Even at the dinner table when someone talks about other cultures in practical ways and describes how backward some cultures are compared to the west. But they are 'authentic' and ‘equal’ how dare we talk about them in this fashion. What amazes me is that most of the Cultural left and their supporters have no family or kinship with most of the cultures they wax lyrical about. Evolutionary theory suggests this is ambiguous behaviour to say the least. Then there are those masses of middle class people and their intellectuals and politicians who work and are paid well in National and Global institutions to carry the mass immigration banner. I think the more the left continues its denial of national and cultural identity the more it has to try harder to make up new arguments. But there are now huge social disruptions caused by mass immigration in Europe and it will happen here. This is prompting native people to look for a political party that wants to tackle the problem. This does suggest the emergence of intelligent and decent movements ( willing to speak about mass immigration and impacts on national identity, employment, congestion, cost of living etc without fear of being called racist) in Australia in the near future.

  9. Thank you for writing about this book, Mark.

    In the same vein, you might find Joseph Bottum's new work, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, interesting.

    Review by 'Spengler':

    Talk at AEI: