Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Barbarian Virtues

Funnily enough, the person who posted this photo on his/her blog chose to scan an edited version of the cover, leaving these multiracial infants standing (sitting?) accused, once again, of savagery...

Full Title: Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples, At Home and Abroad (1876-1917)(New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000)

Author: Matthew Frye Jacobson, American Studies and History at Yale U. He's interested in race, immigration, imperialism, and structures of citizenship. His other books are What Have They Built You to Do?: The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America (with Gaspar Gonzalex, 2006 - looks great); Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America (2005); Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (1998); and Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States (1995). Right now he's working on a book about cultural memory and civil rights.

Jacobson seeks to create a new understanding of the American attitude towards "foreigners", within and without, during the era of Gilded Age industrialization and imperialism. In order to achieve this goal, he analyzes how political and public rhetoric went hand in hand with cultural production and with the nascent social sciences.

Jacobson has a clear motive here, one which accounts (I'm assuming) for this book being published by a popular press: the continuities between attitudes during this time period, and present-day American thought about immigration and foreign policy, are myriad, and Jacobson sees a huge danger in the complete neglect of this expansionist era in traditional history textbooks. "The stakes are quite high for Americans' national self-conception," he writes in the conclusion. "In expurgating the period of US expansionism that bridges the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Americans adopt a broken narrative that casts Manifest Destiny and continental expansionism falsely adrift from 'modern' US history, and obscures the extent to which the modern state was built, and modern nationalism generated, in close relation to the imperialist project" (263).

The central contradiction of Jacobson's story - both today, and during the Gilded Age - lies in the fact that the presence of these "disparaged peoples" is as "reviled in the political sphere as it is inevitable in the economic" (9). Taking a psychological turn, Jacobson claims that the confusion of American attitudes towards immigration and those who inhabit foreign countries lies in the fact that our capitalist system, which always demands more expansion, requires their presence as workers and as markets, leaving Americans feeling dependent and amplifying feelings of resentment and racist thought (15). During this turn-of-the-century era, elaborate structures designed to assert the inferiority of the non-"natural" American arose - structures that went about sexualizing them, designating them as less intelligent, and ultimately, as less fit for citizenship, leaving white Americans to take the reins.

1. Export Markets: The World's Peoples as Consumers: During this time period, United States manufacturers, facing a surplus of production, began to demand expansion of American markets (a "new frontier"!) They were very interested in places such as China and Latin America. In reality, in China, there was very little market for American products. This thwarted desire to sell led to an angry attitude toward the recalcitrant foreigner. Ultimately, the Chinese were denominated "uncivilized" because their wants were not as expansive as those of people living in the West. Meanwhile, in Latin America, in a realm of "pure imperial power and its deployment", United States policymakers created a "strategic infrastructure for an export economy whose requirements included canals, harbors, coaling stations, and naval bases all beyond the proper borders of the nation itself" (26). (See Panama, filibusterers, United Fruit, etc.)

Here Jacobson introduces the concept of "temporality" which was deployed in order to create room for an American "civilizing mission." Under Social Darwinist thought, certain peoples were ahead of others in a linear timeline of civilization, usually based, as Jacobson says, on "a hierarchy of evolutionary economic stages" (50). By using this "timeline," with Western Anglo-Saxons at the "top," Americans could argue that by providing trade goods, they were "helping" the less civilized gain ground - and, moreover, that the "less civilized" were incapable of self-determination.

2. Labor Markets: The World's Peoples as America's Workers: Because Americans wanted to be economically advanced, they required vast amounts of cheap labor. Ironically, they then feared the effects of the people who would do that labor on the body politic (and, literally, on the bodies of future Americans). Like the Chinese, these immigrants were seen as un-American because they did not possess the habits of purchasing of naturalized Americans. Jacobson examines John Commons, sociologist EA Ross, and historian Frederick Jackson Turner's attitudes toward immigration, pointing out that the three saw these incoming races as "degrading" to American labor. This chapter also covers the anti-Chinese movement and labor radicalism, pointing to the irony of the era's reception of the latter (immigrant workers were damned for being "fiery" if they belonged to unions; damned for being "submissive" if they accepted poor labor conditions). Immigrants in this period, Jacobson sums up, were seen as barbarians; relics from earlier epochs; "human draft animals whose brawn could be enlisted to carry out the designs of the Anglo-Saxon intellect"; visitors from the premodern, "whose accustomed deprivations threatened to bid down the American standards of living"; or Old World incendiaries whose dangerous politics "had no proper place in a self-governing republic" (96).

From Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (1890)

3. Parables of Progress: Travelogues, Ghetto Sketches, and Fictions of the Foreigner: Here Jacobson draws parallels between travel writing and literature about ethnic enclaves in American cities, pointing out that the people described often share the same characteristics: positive ones of childishness, innocence, honesty, gaiety; negative ones of sloth, animality, criminality, and lustfulness. These people were always seen in the aggregate, not as individuals "who might speak for themselves and whose recognizable humanity might make a claim on our sympathies" (125). And, of course, writings such as these eliminated any analysis of how the economic system might create structural conditions influencing the lives of the peoples under examination. Discussed: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books (see Markley's Dying Planet); Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives (1890); Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906); O. Henry's Cabbages and Kings (1904); Charles Dudley Warner's Mummies and Moslems (1876); Theodore Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt (1911).

4. Theories of Development: Scholarly Disciplines and the Hierarchy of Peoples: The developing disciplines of the social sciences - psychology, sociology, anthropology - did their part to create categories of humanity which could be used to exclude immigrants from the country, or to justify the paternalistic government of other countries. Jacobson points out that these disciplines had a "complex and often paradoxical" relationship with the travelogue - often taking "evidence" from the writings of those who had "been there," in an era before the time when anthropologists viewed field work as essential (141). Once these anthropological works had been published, travelogue writers incorporated elements of their theories, thereby perpetuating the cycle. Also examined: intelligence testing and its relationship with immigration policy; the eugenics movement.

5. Accents of Menace: Immigrants in the Republic: This chapter examines the way in which American racialist thought constructed images of the immigrant as "unfit" for the duties of independent American citizenship. Included in the analysis are reactions to Irish machine politics; immigration restriction movements; and the responses of immigrants like Mary Antin, who sought to prove that immigrants were capable of assimilation into the American body politic (this is an interesting point of view on assimilation - in this situation, Jacobson points out, proclaiming the capacity to Americanize is a defiant act, as opposed to a sad "erosion of cultural tradition" [205]), and the Silesian Jewish immigrant and student of William James, Horace Kallen, who argued that immigrants should be included on the basis of their difference.

Photo of Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipino independence movement.

6. Children of Barbarism: Republican Imperatives and Imperial Wards: This chapter details the thought process which led Americans of the time to believe that American intervention in foreign lands - Puerto Rico, the Phillipines, Cuba, etc - could be seen as a divine mission to civilize and "spread democracy" to the residents. Imperial desires extended to the lands to be acquired, argues Jacobson, but definitively not to the peoples involved, who were seen as dangerous additions to the American citizenry, to be kept out of suffrage rights at all costs. (He points to the name of a popular pamphlet of the 1890s- "Our New Island Treasures and Their Peoples" - which neatly delineates this division.) Jacobson goes into detail regarding how this mechanism worked during the war with the Phillipines, and also includes reactions from immigrant and black groups inside the United States, who opposed imperial expansion in their presses, and immigrant and black soldiers involved in the war, who had sympathy for the Filipino independence movement.

Reviews (significant flaws?): In the American Historical Review, James Barrett praised Jacobson's synthetic vision, while writing that nothing in the book will be a surprise to historians of imperialism or immigration. Barrett viewed the book's inclusion of cultural material as a major strength, while wishing that Jacobson had situated the scientific racism chapter within a greater international context. In the Journal of American History, Edward Crapol called the book a "masterly synthesis" and a "brilliant refashioning" which achieves its goal of creating a new narrative about the time period, and "deserves a wide readership."

New words: congeries ("a collection of things merely massed or heaped together; a mass, heap"); houri ("a nymph of the Muslim Paradise. Hence applied allusively to a voluptuously beautiful woman" - ironically, in this context this word was used by a "travelogue" writer to describe young Jewish women in the inner city); bailiwick ("one's natural or proper place or sphere" - comes from the old meaning, the jurisdiction of a bailiff); latitudinarian ("allowing, favouring, or characterized by latitude in opinion or action, esp. in matters of religion; not insisting on strict adherence to or conformity with an established code, standard, formula, etc.; tolerating free thought or laxity of belief on religious questions"); pecksniffian (a "Pecksniff": "an unctuous hypocrite, a person who affects benevolence or pretends to have high moral principles; (also) a person who interferes officiously in the business of others"); poltroon ("an utter coward; a mean-spirited person; a worthless wretch" - good thing I looked it up, because I thought it meant "pirate." Or perhaps "brigand"?).

Pieces of history I need to know more about:
the Monroe Doctrine. The Opium War. The Sino-Japanese War. The Russo-Japanese War. Jose Marti. The Platt Amendment. Mugwumps.

Facty bonbons: Filibusterer William Walker, who took over the government of Nicaragua from 1855 to 1857, was actually unseated not by the people of Nicaragua or any other governmental entity, but by Cornelius Vanderbilt, "whose Nicaraguan steamship line was threatened by Walker's ambitions" (39). This is probably not news to anybody else, but I did not know that Panama was part of Colombia (45). My ignorance on matters Latin American will hopefully be remedied by this orals reading process. Meanwhile, back in racist old USA, Henry James once wrote, worrying about immigration, of that "terrible little Ellis Island" (62). During World War I, Henry Fairfield Osborn, who once had sung the praises of the Germans, revised his racial thought by doing new research that would "trace the blood of the Kaiser back to the 'Wild Tartars,' exposing the Germans as round-headed Tartar imposters to Nordic greatness" (162). The formula used to arrive at the IQ number is as follows: mental age (as determined by the test), divided by chronological age, times 100 (165).

Leads to follow up on: On p 139, Jacobson mentions a scene of 1900s schoolchildren being asked about "lower races." The primer used: John Fiske's 1907 A History of the United States for Schools.

Mary Antin.

Books to follow up on: Because Virtues
was published by a popular press, the footnotes are in the mildly frustrating semi-academic form (where the notation system at the end of the book gives you the page number and then the string of words at the beginning of quote and then the there a technical name for that?) However, there is a really good bibliographic essay, one that it would behoove me to return to if/when I write more about any of these topics. Some initially interesting books:

Primary: Mary Antin -The Promised Land (1912), They Who Knock At Our Gates (1914); a list of African travelogues to be found on p 117; Melville - Typee; books by Charles Dudley Warner.

Secondary: Michael Adas - Machines as the Measure of Man: Science, Technology, and Ideals of Western Dominance (1989); Melissa Banta and Curtis Hinsley - From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery (1986); Elizabeth Edwards, ed. - Anthropology and Photography, 1860-1920 (1992); Curtis Hinsley - The Smithsonian and the American Indian: Making a Moral Anthropology in Victorian America (1981); Richard Hofstadter - Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944); Michael Hogan and Thomas Patterson, eds - Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (1991); Daniel Kevles - In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (1985); Stefan Kuhl - The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (1994); Nicholas Mirzoeff - Bodyscape: Art, Modernity, and the Ideal Figure (1995); Jan Nederveen Pieterse - White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture (1992); Frederick Pike - The United States and Latin America: Myths and Stereotypes of Civilization and Nature (1992); Mary Louise Pratt - Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992); Edward Said - Culture and Imperialism (1993); David Spurr - The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration (1993); everything by George Stocking, Jr., esp. Victorian Anthropology (1987); Michael Taussig - Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (1987); Nicholas Thomas - Colonialism's Culture: Anthropology, Travel, and Government (1994).

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