The Revolt Against the Masses – A Review (Part 2) — by Bernhardt Writer

This week we tackle chapters 2 through 5. The chapters are titled:

2. Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism

3. Randolph Bourne Writing Novels

4. Three Trials

5. Giants in Decline

What I took away from these chapters is that a harrowing and confusing period in American history, World War I and its aftermath, divided those who sought social reform from those who, it pains me to say it, sought social cleansing and the rise of a new ruling class. Many of the individuals described in chapter one played a part during this time. The forces of lasting reform seem to have gone dormant in America and those for the other goal are, as yet, thwarted. Succeeding chapters will show how these latter forces strove to accomplish their agenda throughout the twentieth century.

This is my inadequate review and commentary of chapters two through five. Many quotes are drawn from Professor Siegel’s book and are supplemented by original sources when necessary.

A young progressive reformer, John Chamberlain, characterized the period prior to America’s entry into WWI as: “the years of Great Expectation when the Millennium, Woodrovian fostered, seemed just around the corner.” The Millennium alluded to was the thousand years of peace prophesied in the Revelation of John. It was not to be.

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

The Act’s section 3 text called for in part:

Whoever,…when the United States is at war, shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces…or any language intended to bring the form of government… or the Constitution… or the military or naval forces… or the flag… of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute…shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both….

The incongruity between Wilson’s fighting the war to end all wars to make the world safe for democracy and his curtailment of liberties at home drove a wedge between progressives and those who would soon call themselves liberals.

President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917

“For the freedom of the world”. President Woodrow Wilson asking Congress to declare war on Germany on 2 April 1917. Color halftone photomechanical print, 1917.04.02 (photograph), 1918.12.21 (publication), Public Domain in the United States

In 1919, Walter Lippmann wrote, “The word liberalism, was introduced into the jargon of American politics by that group who were Progressives in 1912 and Wilson Democrats from 1916 to 1918.”

Whereas, pre-war Progressives hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Randolph Bourne, noted in 1918: “The modern radical opposes the present social system not because it does not give him ‘rights’ but because it warps and stunts the potentialities of society and of human nature.”

But, in a triumph for American free speech rights, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, in Schenck v. United States (1919):

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Yet, Harold Stearns wrote in his 1919 book, Liberalism in America: Its Origin, Its Temporary Collapse, Its Future:

In Soviet countries there is in fact no freedom of the press and no pretense that there is. In America today there is in fact no freedom of the press and we only make the matter worse by pretending that there is.

In the same book, Stearns wrote:

The root of liberalism, in a word, is hatred of compulsion, for liberalism has the respect for the individual and his conscience and reason which the employment of coercion necessarily destroys. The liberal has faith in the individual – faith that he can be persuaded by rational means to beliefs compatible with social good.

Sinclair Lewis, through his book, Main Street, gave cultural content to the label “liberal.”

About Main Street, Siegel says:

Main Street caught the post-war literary mood of disillusion perfectly. It distilled and amplified the sentiments of Americans who thought of themselves as members of a creative class stifled by the conventions of provincial life.

Lewis followed up Main Street with his satire Babbitt in 1922. At the end of the novel, the main character, George Follansbee Babbitt, says, “I’ve never done a single thing I want to in my whole life! I don’t know’s I’ve accomplished anything except to just get along.”

H. L. Mencken wrote:

It is not what he [George Babbitt] feels and aspires that moves him primarily; it is what the folks about him will think of him. His politics is communal politics, mob politics, herd politics; his religion is a public rite wholly without subjective significance.

He thought George Babbitt embodied what was wrong in society. Thus Mencken agreed with Lewis, who characterized Babbitt as: “This is the story of the ruler of America.”

In his 1927 New Republic essay “The Drug on the Market,” Waldo Frank said:

In a democracy, where castes are vague, where money-power has few manifest badges of dress or standard of living; where indeed millionaire and clerk go to the same movie, read the same books, travel the same roads, and where intellectual distinctions must be carefully concealed,” it is the “herd” that rules.

Three defining court cases took place in the 1920s. They were the 1924 Leopold and Loeb, 1925 Scopes, and 1926-27 Sacco and Vanzetti trials. Clarence Darrow defended the first two and future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter argued for a second appeal to the Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court of the third one. Each trial helped shape case-law and how justice is carried out in America.

Leopold wrote to Loeb: “A superman…is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.” Pleasure was their moral guide, as Nietzsche’s writings suggested.

During his plea to Cook County Circuit Court Judge John R. Caverly, Darrow asked:

Why did they kill Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of a boy or the man something slipped, and these unfortunate lads sit here, hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting.

All the Leopold and Loeb trial documentation is available online. Darrow put Biblical morality on trial and survival of the fittest won.

As part of the defense, Darrow called Scopes’ student, Harry Shelton, to the witness stand to demonstrate that Scopes’ evolution lessons had not adversely him:

Darrow: “Are you a church member?”

Shelton: “Yes, sir.”

D: “Do you still belong?”

S: “Yes, sir.”

D: “You didn’t leave church when he [Scopes] told you all forms of life began with a single cell?”

S: “No,sir.”

Through several witnesses’ testimony, Darrow attempted to show no moral corruption resulted due to learning about evolution.

In rebuttal, Bryan turned Darrow’s logic against him. Bryan quoted the defense Darrow used in the Leopold and Loeb case to show that Darrow believed in education’s culpability in moral outcomes.

If this boy is to blame for this, where did he get it? Is there any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? And there is no question in this case but what is true. Then who is to blame? ‘The university would be more to blame than he is. The scholars of the world would be more to blame than he is. The publishers of the world—and Nietzsche’s books are published by one of the biggest publishers in the world—are more to blame than he is. Your Honor, it is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.

The Scopes trial documentation is online. Darrow and the ACLU put Biblical creation on trial and Darwinian evolution won.

The Sacco and Vanzetti case concerned whether the two were guilty of a factory robbery and killing in support of the Galleanists, an Italian anarchist group that advocated revolutionary violence, including ongoing bombing and assassination in America.

Critical opinion assessed that they were railroaded because of anti-Italian prejudice and their anarchist political beliefs. The trials and various appeals were riddled with judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Later investigations and admissions asserted Sacco was directly involved in the murder but both were involved with the group.

In October 1927, H.G. Wells wrote “Wells Speaks Some Plain Words To Us,” a New York Times essay that described Sacco and Vanzetti as “a case like the Dreyfus case, by which the soul of a people is tested and displayed.” He said:

The guilt or innocence of these two Italians is not the issue that has excited the opinion of the world. Possibly they were actual murderers, and still more possibly they knew more than they would admit about the crime…. Europe is not “retrying” Sacco and Vanzetti or anything of the sort. It is saying what it thinks of Judge Thayer. Executing political opponents as political opponents after the fashion of Mussolini and Moscow we can understand, or bandits as bandits; but this business of trying and executing murderers as Reds, or Reds as murderers, seems to be a new and very frightening line for the courts of a State in the most powerful and civilized Union on earth to pursue.

Prompted by the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law in 1939 requiring a review of all evidence in first-degree murder cases. The review can result in a reduced conviction or a new trial based on the law and on the evidence or “for any other reason that justice may require.” (Mass laws, 1939 c 341).

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

After Herbert Croly’s death in 1930, George Soule, The New Republic’s polemicist for economic planning, said Croly intended liberalism to be “a mental attitude, the faith in the pursuit of a new truth as the chief agency of human deliverance.”

Earlier, in Wells’ 1920 Outline of History, he writes, “There can be no peace now…but a common peace in all the world; no prosperity but a general prosperity, but there can be no peace and prosperity without common historical ideas.”

In 1924, Wells wrote the essay “The Spirit of Fascism: Is There Any Good in It?” In it, Wells wrote:

Moscow and Rome are alike in this, that they embody the rule of a minority conceited enough to believe that they have a clue to the tangled incoherencies of human life, and need only sufficiently terrorize criticism and opposition to achieve a general happiness…Neither recognizes the enormously tentative quality of human institutions, and the tangled and scarcely explored difficulties in the path of social reconstruction.

In 1928, Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the freemasonry of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

If only words had no power to move mankind’s heart to actions which, in retrospect, are monstrous and despicable. But such is the choice we have as humans. The same choice, in kind, as that which we had in the Garden:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” Genesis 3:2-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

And so it goes.

The Revolt Against the Masses – A Review (Part 1) — by Bernhardt Writer

As we promised in Quo Vadis III, this post is the first in a series of reviews of the book The Revolt Against the Masses, by Fred Siegel, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

This is one of the books and many articles we’re reading as we prepare Who Shall Be God. WSBG concerns American political and social change filtered through two families’ conflicts. Our goal is to digest the nonfiction materials in support of our fiction writing.

At the outset, we must say that Professor Siegel has helped us understand the experiences we had growing up in NYC during the Sixties. Rising out of the lower part of Inwood, through East Harlem, and to the Upper West Side, via a Mephistophelian deal by which my mother sacrificed herself for my betterment, I attended an upper middle class public school. Yes, from the world’s point of view, who you know is as important as merit. Lucky breaks are, often as not, quid pro quo.

In the feeder Intermediate School (IS) I attended, I learned educational tracking served to segregate and alienate economic groups. Naively, I asked one acquaintance, who got into trouble a lot, why he didn’t study harder since, it seemed to me, he was smart. He (again, we’re talking eleven year olds) said his family and social group wouldn’t permit it. I saw him many years later from a distance and got the impression he was trying to make a life for himself.

At least one child was pushed down an IS staircase the week when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The retributive aggression at the IS broke along economic rather than racial lines. I was subject to abuse at this time because my mother always made sure I wore a white shirt and tie to school. Ironically, my mother raised me to regard a person by their character, not the color of their skin or their economic status.

From there, I qualified for two specialized high schools but selected one over the other from the desire to satisfy the head over the heart. The only preparatory coaching I received during an ongoing teachers strike were group art lessons held by a dedicated teacher in her home. These few classes helped the many children she invited fill out our portfolios.

During my tenure at Stuyvesant, I witnessed the radical movement first hand. Some of those kids (you’d recognize them) are now on the national stage. Inadvertently, I also witnessed one of the last protest marches down Broadway from Colombia University. Of course, while in high school, I experienced the ostracism and mockery of those who thought they were better than me. I ask you, is adult life really any different?

Having gained entrance to Cooper Union though grueling exams, I learned how loosely those trusted with stewardship could act when they changed the rules in their favor. This revelation prompted my one and only act of protest against the irresponsibility of those who were extraordinarily privileged toward those who were not. I did not have Professor Siegel as my teacher while at CU.

Growing up in pre-Giuliani NYC, I experienced age appropriate crime. By that, I mean I was always mugged by those my own age. However, my defining memory of the city was the night someone dragged heavy garbage cans repeatedly along the concrete sidewalk in the common courtyard at the center of the block, or so we all thought.

Turns out that was automatic machine gun fire aimed at police officers guarding a city official who lived in the neighborhood. The siren of patrol car after patrol car signaled the fate that was meted out. I read of the perpetrators’ demise years later (but can no longer find the story online).

We thank Professor Siegel for his book and plan to touch on individual and groups of chapters in coming weeks. The following is an inadequate commentary on and condensation of chapter one.

CHAPTER 1 Progenitors

Men, like E. L. Godkin, Charles Francis Adams Jr., Henry Adams, H. G. Wells, Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H. L. Mencken, and G. B. Shaw shaped opinion prior to, during, and after WWI.  They advocated instituting an American intellectual aristocracy, overthrowing middle class values, and destroying American democracy.

Quoting E. L. Godkin, “Plenty of people know how to get money; but…to be rich properly is indeed a fine art. It requires culture, imagination, and character.”

Charles Francis Adams Jr., [grand]son of John Quincy Adams, thought businessmen didn’t have the right temperament to govern. Aristocrats like him should hold office.

His brother, Henry Adams claimed superior men’s intellectual alienation from American life arose because they were underappreciated by the common-man.

H.G. Wells and Herbert Croly, The New Republic’ editor and co-founder, shared Adams’s anti-capitalism. However, they believed the experts Adams hated could be used to destroy the unrestrained capitalism disapproved by the elites.

Wells, heralded as a secular prophet, explained, “The book [Well’s Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought] was designed to undermine and destroy… monogamy, faith in God and respectability, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars and electrical heating.”

Herbert Croly and Randolph Bourne were the two intellectuals most responsible for liberalism’s ideology.

Croly rejected Hamilton’s commercial republic, Jefferson’s self-reliant landowners, and America’s adherence to the Constitution, political parties, and law courts. Croly said, “The average American individual is morally and intellectually inadequate to serious and consistent conceptions of his responsibilities as a democrat,” and, “Democracy must stand or fall on a platform of possible human perfectibility…”

Progressivism [at that time] embraced conventional morality. As a movement, it pursued control over society’s unruly passions. Progressives sought restoration of America’s traditional promises by taming large corporations and major city political machines. Their expression of a social gospel led them to reduce class divisions by outlawing child labor and instituting an income tax. This progressive movement split between those who supported American involvement in WWI and the pro-German opponents of the war.

Bourne, the prophet of multiculturalism, called for southern and eastern European immigrants, not yet corrupted by capitalism, to create a “Trans-National America” to free the country from a puritanical Protestant culture.

Bourne wholeheartedly approved of French preparations for war with Germany. He also liked that Germany’s “war on squalor and ugliness was being waged on every hand,” because “taste is, after all, the only morality.” Bourne wrote, “The world, will never be safe until it has learned a high and brave materiality that will demand cleanliness, order, comfort, beauty, and welfare as the indispensable soil in which the virtues of mutual respect, intelligence, and good will may flourish.”

H. L. Mencken, critic of “Mr. Wilson’s War,” derided Prohibition, preachers, anti-evolutionists, and American democracy. He defined the American people as a “rabble of ignorant peasants.” Mencken was guided throughout his career by a sentiment from G. B. Shaw’s play Man and Superman, “we must eliminate the Yahoo, or his vote will wreck the Commonwealth…”

Both Mencken and Shaw exploited Western culture’s self-defeating vulnerability: its capacity for self-criticism. …Mencken advised Theodore Dreiser, “There can never be any compromise in future men of German blood and the common run of ‘good,’ ‘right thinking’ Americans. We must stand against them forever, and do what damage we can do to them, and to their tin-pot democracy.”

Mencken wrote three revealing articles for The Atlantic magazine. “The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet,” proclaiming Nietzsche’s “contemptuous of weakness” attitude as Germany’s inspiration. Mencken quoted Nietzsche, “the weak and the botched must perish… I tell you that a good war hallows every cause.” The second article exalted [German] General Erich Ludendorff as a hero. The third, never published essay—“After Germany’s Conquest of the United States”—advocated America’s rule by hard men of a superior Kultur…’

In this light, American liberalism of the early twentieth century, as distinct from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, was driven by hatred of the common man, his morals, and his liberty. Those motives sound familiar, don’t they?

World Trade Buildings Across the Water, circa 1990, © Edgar de Evia. David McJonathan owns all rights, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

World Trade Buildings Across the Water, circa 1990, © Edgar de Evia. David McJonathan owns all rights, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Bernhardt Writer is Adolphus’s older, more mature, and handsomer brother. He will contribute reviews, commentary, and essays from time to time. He has contributed anonymously and pseudonymously before on this blog. Please forbear him, he carries on sometimes.

I’m Better Than You?

I’m Better Than You? I know I shouldn’t, but I feel hostile toward someone who indicates, through words or deeds, that they think they’re better than me. Perhaps they’ve denigrated my beliefs, or my world view, or maybe, my God. How dare they do that, I think. They’ll be sorry. God will get them. And I’m not going to warn or pray for them, either.

In his essay, ‘Can We be Good Without God,’ Glenn Tinder describes the setting in which we find ourselves:

The life of every society is a harsh process of mutual appraisal. People are ceaselessly judged and ranked, and they in turn ceaselessly judge and rank others. This is partly a necessity of social and political order… It is partly also a struggle for self-esteem; we judge ourselves for the most part as others judge us. Hence outer and inner pressures alike impel us to enter the struggle.

The process is harsh because all of us are vulnerable… The process is harsh also because it is unjust… Few are rated exactly, or even approximately, as they deserve.

In his book, Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel warns that Nietzsche called for a new aristocracy; an elite to run the world, as H. G. Wells put it. Siegel shows convincingly that this spirit has been at work in the US political system since before World War One.  The C-SPAN talk, in its entirety, is found here.

In the midst of this and other movements, I worry we’ll give our democracy away to totalitarianism.

But Tinder reminds us that something different, sacrificial love, or agape, undergirds our Western moral system:

Agape is the core of Christian morality. Moreover, as we shall see, it is a source of political standards that are widely accepted and even widely, if imperfectly, realized…

Agape means refusing to take part in this process [of mutual appraisal]. It lifts the one who is loved above the level of reality on which a human being can be equated with a set of observable characteristics. The agape of God, according to Christian faith, does this with redemptive power; God ‘crucifies’ the observable, and always deficient, individual, and “raises up” that individual to new life. The agape of human beings bestows new life in turn by accepting the work of God.

So we have agape set against ruthless, condemning judgment. Note that condemning judgment is generally censured whereas discerning judgment is imperative if often lacking. The individual who is exalted by God is simultaneously fallen and at war with God. He or she must discern their entrenched faults to repent of them.

Returning to the initial theme of this essay, when I feel this way, I remember these truths:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:14-21

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  Matthew 5:43-45

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? …But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27

“[Peter to the elders] Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3

“[Paul to the Corinthians] To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 1 Cor. 4:11-13

“[Paul to the Philippians] Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil. 3:17

“…[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings [to God]…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…” 1 Tim. 2:1-4

“Let us not grow weary of doing good…” Gal. 6:9-10

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Rom. 16:20 …by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev. 12:11

This last one takes me aback, but it is as true as the others.

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642)

Archangel Michael, Guido Reni (1575–1642), painted circa 1636, public domain-US

After this life is over, the only thing I want to hear from my Lord is: “well done good and faithful servant…” knowing that, after doing all, I’ve done only what I was supposed to do. And I want that for you too. But that’s ultimately a transaction between you and Him.

This is my hope for you.