A Paper on Social Malaise

The first and most natural task that confronts a student of any movement
of social change is to locate the cause of the movement in a specific
cOfldition of discontent. In most instances the solution of this problem
presents no difficulties at all—in fact, the advocate of social change himself
devotes a great part of his energy to articulating this cause. When
we examine agitation, however, we face an entirely different situation.
That the agitator wants to exploit existing discontent is obvious enough:
he seems always to be addressing people who are smarting under the
harshest injustice and whose patience has been strained to the breaking
point. But whenever the investigator scans the texts of agitation and, on
the basis of his experience in studying other kinds of social movements,
tries to discover what is the, discontent it articulates, he is consistently
The difficulty is not that agitation fails to provide him with answers,
but rather that it answers a question he did not ask: whenever he asks
what he is answered as if he had asked who. He finds numerous vituperative
and indignant references to enemies, but nowhere can he find a
clearly defined objective condition from which the agitator’s audience
presumably suffers. At best, agitation provides the investigator with
contradictory or inconsistent references to such alleged conditions. Unless
we decide that the agitator is simply a lunatic we must assume that,
although a sense of discontent exists, he, unlike other advocates of social
change, is either unable or unwilling to state it explicitly. Hence, the
agitation analyst faces the task of himself explicating the state of discontent
to which the agitator refers.
Even a cursory glance at agitational material shows that any attempt
to analyze it by methods that help discover the purposes of the revolu-
tionary or the reformer could lead only to an impasse. If we try to classify
the agitator’s complaints in terms of the simplest categories, we obtain
approximately the following picture:
1. EcoNoMic GRIEVANcES. The agitator roams freely over every area of
economic life. He may begin anywhere at all. Too much help is being
extended to foreign nations. “If we have any money to offer for nothing,
or to loan, or to give away, we had better give it to our own first. Of
course, that is old fashioned.”
Not only are foreigners taking our money, they also threaten our jobs.
“People born in America have to commit suicide because they have
nothing to eat while refugees get their jobs.”2
Behind such injustices stand “The International Bankers, who devised
and control our money system, [and] are guilty of giving us unsound
Such situations constitute a danger to the American way of life, for
“what is more likely to follow many years of Nudeal communistic confiscatory
taxation, wool-less, metal-less, auto-less regimentation and planned
scarcities than our finally becoming stripped by necessity to Nudism?”4
2. POLIT[CAL GRIEVANCES. International commitments by the United
States government jeopardize political liberties. “Like Russia, the United
States is suffering from the scourge of internationalism.”5 The American
people are warned: “Be not duped by the internationalists who dwell
amongst us.”6
Of course it is only reasonable that “treaties and agreements . . . shall
be reached with other nations, but . . . we want no world court and no
world congress made up of a few Orientals and a few Russians and a
few Europeans and a few British . . . to make laws for us to obey. . .
From within, this country is threatened by radicalism, which prepares
strikes that are “dress rehearsals for a forthcoming general strike that is
meant to paralyze the Nation. . . .”
We face both the danger of a “Soviet America . . . where . . . an Austrian-
born Felix Frankfurter presides over an unending ‘Moscow trial.’
.” and the rule of “tyrannical bureaucrats” who if they “could have
their way completely” would institute a “dictatorship in America as
merciless as anything on earth.”‘°
8. Cuiiun&i GRIEVANCES. The agitator is greatly disturbed because the
media of public information are in the hands of enemies of the nation.
“…the Hollywood motion picture industry is being exploited by Russian
Jewish Communists determined to inject their materialistic propaganda
into the fresh young minds of our children. . .” Hollywood is “largely
dominated by aliens who have appropriated to their own use the inventions
and discoveries of native citizens and who now specialize in speculation,
indecency and foreign propaganda.”12
“The American press will never be free” until control “is removed from
racial, religious and economic pressure groups.”13
4. MoRAL GBJEvANCES. The enemies of the agitator are notoriously lax
in morals: they engage in luxury consumption, they are a “crowd of
Marxists, refugees, left-wing internationalists who enjoy the cream of the
country and want the rest of us to go on milldess, butterless, cheeseless
days while they guzzle champagne.”4
And what is most galling of all is that “we gentiles are suckers.” For
“while we were praying they had their hands in our pockets.”15
This list of diffuse complaints could be lengthened indefinitely; it
should be sufficient to indicate that the grievances the agitator voices do
not refer to any clearly delineated material or moral condition. The only
constant elements discernible in this mass of grievances are references to
certain emotions or emotional complexes. These may be roughly divided
as follows:
Distrust: The agitator plays on his audience’s suspicions of all social
phenomena impinging on its life in ways it does not understand. Foreign
refugees cash in on the “gullibility” of Americans, whom he warns not to
be “duped” by internationalists. Strewn through the output of the agitator
are such words as hoax, corrupt, insincere, duped, manipulate.
Dependence: The agitator seems to assume that he is addressing people
who suffer from a sense of helplessness and passivity. He plays on the
ambivalent nature of this complex which on the one hand reflects a
protest against manipulation and on the other hand a wish to be protected,
to belong to a strong organization or be led by a strong leader.
Exclusion: The agitator suggests that there is an abundance of material
and spiritual goods, but that the people do not get what they are entitled
to. The American taxpayer’s money is used to help everyone but himself
—”we feed foreigners,”16 the agitator complains, while we neglect our
own millions of unemployed.
Anxiety: This complex manifests itself in a general premonition of disasters
to come, a prominent part of which seems to be the middle-class
fear of a dislocation of its life by revolutionary action, and its suspicion
that the moral mainstays of social life are being undermined. The agitator
speaks of “the darkest hour in American history”7 and graphically describes
a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity:
This afternoon America is caught in the throes of fear, apprehension and
concern. Men are afraid . . . to vote, afraid not to vote . . Our population
has been caught by the ague and chills of uncertainty. Unless these uncertainties
can be removed, unless these fears can be destroyed, we shall never
have prosperity again.’8
Disillusionment: This complex is seen in such remarks as the agitator’s
characterization of politics as “make-believe, pretense, pretext, sham,
fraud, deception, dishonesty, falsehood, hypocrisy. .” In fact, “whenever
a legislative body meets, liberties of the people are endangered by
subtle and active interests.”20 Ideological slogans inspire resentment:
“Democracy A Misnomer, A Trick Word Used by Jew and Communistic
Internationalists to Confuse and Befuddle American Citizens. .”j
Values and ideals are enemy weapons, covering up the machinations of
sinister powers which, “taking advantage of the mass ignorance of our
people, accomplish their purposes under the cloak of humanitarianism
and justice.”22
The analyst of agitation now faces

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