Berkeley: A Tale of One City
Berke-le-ian or Berke-ley-an . . . adj: of or relating to Bishop Berkeley or his system of philosophical idealism. . . .
berke-li-um . . . n [NL, fr. Berkeley, Calif.]: a radioactive metallic element produced by bombarding americium 241 . . .
—Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary
On the Berkeley campus of the University of California, an old full-size portrait of Bishop George Berkeley, the 18th-century Anglo-Irish divine, lay for years stored in a dark basement under the women’s gymnasium. Roger Heyns, so it is said, rescued it and now it is displayed on the staircase landing of the chancellor’s residence. Some say it bears a strange resemblance to Heyns; a finicky person once explained the concealment of the Bishop on the grounds that to display such a representation in ecclesiastical regalia on campus would violate statutes forbidding religious proselytizing in state-supported institutions. Whatever the reasons for his long confinement or, now, for his resurfacing, few Berkeleyans today would recognize Berkeley on sight. Yet, as though to refute the Bishop’s own doctrines, his ideas continue to exert strong influence upon the city named after him. For, as a philosopher he is credited chiefly with the theory that matter is merely a set of perceptions and, since our knowledge of anything is derived from our sensations of it, no object can exist apart from mind. Berkeley, both the man and the city named for him, must be seen to be believed.
That there is a mind-over-matter quality of the higher life in this city is nothing new. Many of its principal streets are named for philosophers, mathematicians, belletrists, and preachers. The tone of its culture from its beginning was shaped by the presence of a great university. Surrounding this high culture of learning are concentric circles of quasi-intellectual life, subcultures sustained or brought into being by their proximity to academic life. For years, the city has probably had more psychiatrists per capita than Rome has priests; but then it also has more nationally renowned divinity schools than even New York City; a whole area just north of the campus, which both attracts and produces clergymen, is known locally as “Holy Hill.” In old redwood houses, overgrown with vines and shrubbery, one still can find molding volumes of the works of Mme. Blavatsky, the 19th-century mystic. Isadora Duncan’s memory, and that of her nymphs prancing through hillside fogs in the Temple of the Winds, is still quite vivid.
Berkeley also now may be the world’s bumper strip capital. In times of acute stress, which now are frequent, colorful strips appear on thousands of tailgates and bumpers, preaching to unconverted motorists on how to save or abolish, liberate or punish, elect or impeach. When Dean Acheson remarked recently that “conscience used to be an inner voice of self-discipline; now, it is a clarion urge to discipline others,” he must have had this place in mind.
In times of calm between issues, these strips shred and fade, like scar tissue on old elephants. So too do the issues they have represented. (There was a flurry of abortion-legalization stickers last year, but these are no more seen.) Shortlived causes flash past each other in fast sequence, as in a light show. Nearly all are deemed political, and even a gentle one which simply says have a nice day some suspicious doves regard as a right-wing slogan. For this, as someone has said, is the city of adversary culture.
Gaining fame seven years ago for being the birthplace of American student militancy, Berkeley this year has come close to setting another American first. In its April elections, highly organized New Left radicals, mobilizing a huge campus-area constituency of young people, nearly captured control of Berkeley’s city government. The current Council, now divided four-to-four between moderates and radicals, on many a night would resemble a Panmunjom truce negotiating session were it not for the presence of hundreds of jeering street people. City politics, hardly tranquil in the past seven years of spasmodic, riotous street upheavals, now are impacted with agenda items so numerous, shrill, and ideological that they would strain the stability of a moderate-sized Latin American country. In microcosm, the fears and angers of a nation in cultural travail now are impacted upon a relatively small and, in outward respects, unpretentious middle-class community.
The national implications of this are by no means slight. With the eighteen-year-old vote likely soon to affect many other university towns in America, enfranchising millions of transient students, this second Berkeley “first” may become a model for imitation elsewhere. But it would be a grave mistake to think that the significance of this local event lies simply in a power-standoff between classic poles of American political extremes; in a community long known as liberal, right-wing extremism has virtually vanished from Berkeley. Agnew, were he campaigning here for office, probably would not carry a single precinct even if he ran against a convicted rapist. The city’s truncated political spectrum enables Berkeley radicals plausibly to label local middle-of-the-road liberal Democrats as conservatives, and liberal Republicans as reactionaries.
The politicization of the city further is complicated by vivid crises of civic, educational, familial, and organizational styles. The energetic purposefulness of Berkeley’s Left now sharply contrasts with the confusion of liberals who do not share its values, but who have been caught off guard by a likelihood few of them ever imagined.
By some standards Berkeley recently has been outwardly a very unpretentious city. Now with a sizable black population (which is not radical and is not increasing as rapidly as some real-estate dealers assumed), the city ethnically is stable, heterogeneous, and, by conventional standards, cherishes a tradition of tolerance. In 1942, when many Californians were in a xenophobic rage as the Japanese relocation plan was carried out in wartime fear, Berkeley ladies organized going-away parties for Nisei deportees, and presented box lunches and other gifts to them. Even in the more dilapidated parts of town it is now hard to find areas which by any stretch of imagination could be called authentic slums. When Khrushchev’s party of Russians visited California in 1959, Berkeley served the current interests of American foreign policy as a kind of Potemkin Village, in which the visiting Bolsheviks could be electrified by a sight of happy Negroes living in pretty bungalows. Since 1960 Berkeley has been in the forefront of state social-welfare policies with respect to dogmas of school planning, bussing, open housing, and many other social services. Its school budget, swollen during the affluent 1960′s, now is the highest-per-student in the state, and accounts for the skyrocketed level of city property-tax rates, which also are the state’s highest. Its police, reorganized several decades ago with help from the university’s School of Criminology, is one of the best-educated, sophisticated, and tactful in the state. For a decade Berkeley has been California’s civic leader in social legislation; and its city-manager system, perhaps the state’s best in the efficient implementation of it. The city now hovers between disaster and chaos.
From certain other perspectives, Berkeley as city has long been very unusual. It is a very “culturally dense” community, by which in this instance is meant an intense impaction of intellectuals and other college-educated persons in permanent or quasi-permanent residence within a very small geographical area. In addition to its 27,000 college-student sojourners (most of whom will soon be enfranchised), Berkeley now has an amazing number of college-educated inhabitants. The alumni office says that currently there are over 15,000 alumni of the University of California living in the city. Adding to this the numerous graduates of all other American colleges and universities, plus the faculty of the university itself, and all other college students now living in the city but attending one of the many other junior and state colleges in the immediate area, a conclusion would seem inescapable: there is probably no other city in the world with such an intense concentration of the educated. North of the campus, topping this statistical Mount Everest of higher learning, as has been previously noted, is “Holy Hill,” a cluster of divinity schools and their theological inhabitants—the largest amalgam of Protestant religious training on the North American continent.
No wonder that this small city of 120,000 people with its benign climate and hospitable reputation has become a mecca for student dropouts from other parts of the country, and also a way station for thousands of young middle-class people disillusioned by higher education yet anxious to remain within its aura. The city also is filled with uncounted persons who have proved unable to carry their graduate studies to completion, or who protract the experience to astonishing length. (A recent university study reports, for instance, that, on the average, nearly fourteen student years are consumed in the doctoral program of the university’s English department for each doctorate conferred.) This quasi-academic subculture, an admixture of frustrations, deferred hopes, and disappointments is not unique; but again, it is the proportion of this to the total mass of the city which should attract our attention. The situation is exacerbated by the new drug culture—which in turn has physiological and spiritual effects: lowered aspirations, a dull “present-orientedness,” and a socially-sanctioned hostility to achievement norms. For some of these, a practical compromise with reality occurs: many of Berkeley’s postal clerks, mailmen, computer technicians, etc., are college dropouts, while other unskilled secondary services are being filled with part-time middle-class subsistence workers. A commune cult rapidly spreads in a wide swath around the university campus, representing a gentle accommodation to this transiency and to this tendency to immediate gratification, this loose rejection of individual purposefulness and enduring relations with other people.
“In happy climes, the seat of innocence,” Bishop Berkeley said of his new utopia—
Where nature guides and virtue rules.
Where men shall not impose for truth and sense.
The pedantry of courts and schools.
But this seat of innocence is worn very thin. The authority of reason here has not fared well either: why should it be, one might ask, that a city set on such a hill of learning now should also have within it such strong impulses of unreason and anti-intellectualism, and (for its size) one of the highest crime rates in the nation? Why should it now be the center of some of the most powerful anti-liberal political causes in the nation? Why, also, should Berkeley now seem about to become the first American city committed to a Left politics which fails to draw basic lines of distinction between an awkward constitutional libertarianism and totalitarian extremism? The Black Panthers’ birthplace is set almost under the shadow of the walls of the university—if this open university had walls, which it does not. In this literate city, its seven homegrown publications now include four underground newspapers (one of which claims credit for being the first of its kind in the country); the Black Panther News; Ramparts, a slick monthly for those who take their extremism with a chaser of crème de menthe; and the Daily Californian, a university-subsidized paper consistently engaged in the center of extremist politics, with a circulation larger than that of any other morning newspaper in the East Bay area. (The many excesses of this paper include, recently: incitement to attacks on individual professors for their political views; incitement to renewed violent assault on the so-called “People’s Park”; condoning of previous bombings and trashings; etc.) With respect to the spoken word, it no longer is a matter of astonishment that, since the so-called Free Speech Movement in 1964-65, free speech here has become severely one-sided. Before that spurious dawning of freedom, figures of national importance, ranging from Right-Center to Left, appeared with frequency in public places on and off campus and were freely heard for their views . Secretaries of State, even Presidents, once spoke at the university. Another now disbelievable memory: in 1964, Mme. Nhu, sister of ex-President Diem of South Vietnam, actually appeared in public and was accorded a respectful hearing by a large audience of university students—few of whom, then, probably had any sympathy for her views or for her other imputed qualities. Nowadays, neither town nor gown is visited by public-ceremony speakers, whose presence might (as Eugene McCarthy once tartly observed of Stewart Udall’s 1968 “controversial” appearance on the University of Wisconsin campus) be deemed by some “unwelcome.” The Board of Regents no longer dares conduct its meetings here, in what still are its official rooms. Even when Senator George McGovern was recently about to speak on campus (the public arena is still free to some of those willing to adopt certain of the New Left dogmas), it is said that Congressman Dellums advised him in advance not to take any questions—“My supporters,” he said, “ask stupid ones.”
Some national observers of the recent Berkeley elections paint a picture of the local New Left which Berkeleyans of any persuasion would find difficult to recognize. In Newsweek, for instance, Joseph Morgenstern wrote an article, “New Blood and Brains,” making of the April Coalition a kind of updated urban version of the Kennedy smart set which came to Washington in 1961. The new mayor, Warren Widener, comes out as a soft-spoken young black attorney, his home bookshelves full of Harvard Classics, and his Porsche impatiently waiting outside to “go through all five speeds out on the freeway.” Loni Hancock, the Rosa Luxemburg of the radical trio, emerges as a housewife and “Brownie troop leader.” A delight in the city’s diversity engages all of them. “‘It’s a freaky town,’ Bailey says.” The Coalition’s platform, says Newsweek, aside from its anti-war plank and its now defeated police referendum, is said to be “fairly unexceptional.” But such clearly is not the case. If, as Morgenstern opaquely remarked, Loni Hancock “sees Brownies differently than your average Brownie leader,” this may be because her platform, and that of the other two elected radicals, favors the right of juveniles to attend X-rated movies, and to smoke and drink alcohol at the age of ten. “The most impressive thing about the would-be experimenters,” Morgenstern further noted, “is how much they like their lab, how they respect its tools and resources.” But the Coalition also favors abolition of the city-manager system. It advocates means by which the city might prosecute university professors and administrators engaging in (undefined) war and insurgency research and in research on Third World politics. It calls for purging school libraries of “role-based” books which might be uncongenial to Women’s Lib. It advocates devolution of much of city authority basically to “neighborhood councils.” It would forbid business firms from “running away to escape unionization, and would require them to insure adequate severance pay . . . to workers if the firm does leave.” It would forbid private employment agencies in Berkeley. It advocates a city-sponsored plebiscite on the legalization of marijuana and psychedelic drugs; everyone over sixteen would vote in this. Much of this, especially the neighborhood control theme, comes from the thoughts of Tom Hayden, Berkeley’s resident theoretician. Hayden, writing in Ramparts shortly before the April Coalition was formed, saw in the impending elections and the Panther-drafted police-control amendment the means of “destroying the occupier status of the police,” who, after controls were imposed on them by neighborhood councils, would cease “attacking demonstrators,” and instead commence “warning merchants that their criminal practices will make it impossible for their property to be protected.” As Hayden put it, it was clear that such proposals, even if adopted by Berkeley voters, would likely conflict with state laws, and would be fought by the governor and in the courts. But even defeat of the police measure “will drive home once again the necessity for revolutionary organization.”
The sudden appearance in town of the black militant D’Army Bailey, toughest of the new Council members, suggests the possibilities which inhere in a professional, manipulative political organization in a city with a huge franchised transient “campus community.” Like his other two fellow radicals on the Council, Bailey—a young Yale Law School graduate who does not practice law—is a newcomer to the city. Virtually unknown in the East Bay area, he moved into the city ninety days before the election—the minimum period needed to satisfy the state’s liberal residence laws for voting and for candidacy. He then obtained endorsement for his candidacy from a self-styled Black Caucus at a meeting attended by him, his running-mate Ira Simmons, and six others; he then received the endorsement of the April Coalition. Investing $26,000, nearly all of it apparently his and Simmons’s own money, in a whirlwind campaign, he and Simmons narrowly squeezed through Berkeley’s outmoded election system, which awards victory to the highest vote-getters on a candidate list which this time was as long as a Chinese-restaurant menu.1
While some of the national press, the New York Times especially, hailed the April Coalition victory as evidence that radicals could be brought inside the system, in Bailey’s case and that of his two running-mates, Ira Simmons and Loni Hancock, the implications are not reassuring. Bailey’s decision to move to Berkeley, for example, was based, he says, on no interest in the city per se, but rather on its possibilities as a base for organizing “progressive” forces, to create “power bases” on the Left dependent “on the unity of progressive forces.” Convinced that the “system” cannot be made to work, he feels his own election to the Council will make it further possible to show that “it can’t be made to work from within” either. Each Council action can give the radicals the chance to expose the system; the formula, then, similar to that of Hayden’s with respect to the police-control initiative, is to come in with “well-researched proposals” which the Council (its non-radical members, that is) can then turn down. Viewing the bomb-throwing extremists as “crazy,” Bailey says his strategy is like that of Western European Communists, who have learned to exploit constitutional and parliamentary arrangements in order to expose them. No advocate of “overnight revolution,” Bailey sees white Americans as pre-1933 Germans; since they tolerate fascist-type actions, and repression, any physical confrontation with them now would only see the right-wing win. Shortly after his election, Bailey commenced to use his new office as a means to radicalize black youth in Berkeley, addressing a compulsorily-segregated assembly of black students during school hours at Martin Luther King Junior High School, after a march through the street to confront the school superintendent with new demands (an event, incidentally, which the school principal forbade non-black students to attend).
In his Future of American Politics Samuel Lubell back in the 1950′s coined the term “the politics of revenge” to explain the motivations, if not the influence, of many right-wing isolationists in the 1930′s and 1940′s who, in vicious struggles against the Roosevelt administration and later the Truman administration, gave vigor to the anti-Establishment crusade of that time. Their voting strength he found among German or Irish-Americans who were maligned as traitors (or whose fathers were) during World War I. The sweetness of revenge lay, finally, in the damage they were able to wreak upon liberals in the McCarthy period. Something analogous can be seen here, in Berkeley, in microcosm, although its political base is to be found not on the Right but on the Left. There are in the city still many of the Old Left, and their children, who well remember the Red scares and purges of the 1940′s and 1950′s, the. loyalty oaths, and the fates meted out in various ways to the Rosenbergs, Sobell, Judith Coplon, and their California equivalents in the years between 1947 and 1955. For many of these, the renaissance of radical politics in the city, although now in others’ hands, and however its outward manifestations may possibly offend their squarish tastes, must appear as a delayed delight.
During the 1950′s and through the brief Kennedy period, the Old Left in Berkeley for the most part lay dormant, confining its cautious crusades to such niches and corners of various “liberal” institutions as cooperative nursery schools, the Consumers Coop (one of the largest and best in the nation), the Society of Friends and its Committee on Legislation, the East Bay American Civil Liberties Union, the FM listener-supported station KPFA, etc. In such organizations, as in microcosm, their power struggles seemed to some observers as significant as a revival movement in a leper colony. Their “issue politics” gave rise to various unexceptionable causes like pumping fluoride chemicals into reservoirs (a crusade now conveniently forgotten in the current ecology ambiance), but in those days it was the Right which had the credentials of opposition to pollution of natural resources.2
To say that this “issue-oriented” politics of the Old Left has had a new lease on life here would be to put it mildly. “Issue politics,” which a friend of mine refers to as the phenomenon of the floating phony agenda, means that the same issues and their sponsors float from institution to institution, organization to organization, throughout the city; items on the agenda of the Associated Students of the University of California shift with surprising speed into any one of a number of regular or ad hoc organizations in the city; now, the floating agenda has come to the City Council. The 307 agenda items of the April Coalition, ranging from the requirement that all city pay phones have long cords in order to be used by wheel-chair invalids and “small people,” to the proviso for sending a Berkeley city delegation to Southeast Asia to make peace, means that from now on the Council will become even more of a cockpit for struggles over ideologically-freighted matters than ever before. Many proposals, such as that for city bicycle paths, summer transient youth hostels, more parks, have wide appeal; but taken together, they could spell bankruptcy for a city Whose own resource-base hardly suffices for programs already in operation.
The Berkeley penchant for engraving global-agenda items on the pinhead of a small, yet literate university town could nowhere better be seen, over the last decade, than in the Consumers Co-op, which, now the largest in the nation, would be a prize for the New Left to capture wholly. In the Co-op, consumers come and go, talking of eggs and oleo. . . . But in Berkeley, a perils-of-Pauline struggle occurs constantly between Establishment moderates and an Old Left-New Left coalition obsessed with the possibility of capturing the Co-op’s membership list. Consumer policy, once focused on decent prices and honest grading, now has broadened to include gastronomic strategies for perfecting the world and eliminating American evils.
The struggle wavers along a confused front in uncertain battle: Breakfasts for Panthers? Boycotts of grapes? Lettuce? South African rock lobster? Should stores close in order to protest distant Asian excesses of the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon administrations? Should stores adopt policies of unilateral disarmament, forbidding police to engage robbers lest they suffer injury? (Two bloody, fatal shoot-outs have occurred after holdups in the Berkeley Telegraph Avenue store in two years.) Now, the theological issue of good versus evil, with its ambiguities, coils around the conflict of management realism cum economics, versus the New Left and puristic ecologists—or, to put the matter somewhat differently, between law-and-order people and those who would prefer burglaries to pollution. How best meet the problem of the skyrocketing incidence of thievery and shoplifting in the Co-op stores? Why. say the Realists, we will substitute plastic, transparent bags for brown ones, so that checkout clerks may better perceive loot concealed under a pile of potatoes, or other vegetables. No, say the Purists; for this would be coercive; human nature is good, while plastic bags, deemed non-biodegradable, are therefore bad. “It is true,” writes Mrs. B. in a letter to the Co-op News, “that plastic bags are reusable, but the majority of plastic bags will be used just once and thrown away. It is just plain too hard to remember to bring plastic bags back each time. Even if the same bag is used once a week for a year and then disposed of, that bag still isn’t biodegradable, therefore plastic bags obviously create pollution.” In this literate subculture of Berkeley, for whose transient causes mighty Canadian forests fall to furnish paper pulp for handbills, pamphlets, posters, and bumper-strips, it would to an outsider seem odd that these shenanigans could go on, but they do. Shoplifters, unrepresented in the debate save by those who blame their bad habits on an evil social system, have been the only group not yet heard from.3
The chief objects of Berkeley’s attacks from extremists of the New Left have been the city’s police force, and its downtown business establishments. As the police chief recently remarked, “Few municipalities have endured as much civil unrest as ours.” For the Bay Area as a whole, the 1960 San Francisco City Hall demonstrations against HUAC now are generally seen as the starting point for the plague of street politics which it has since enjoyed. For Berkeley, however, it was the CORE demonstrations of the early 1960′s against downtown merchants which marked the local onset of political crimes on behalf of just causes. When these became during the later 1960′s more frequent, larger, wilder, and often vicious, several dilemmas were posed for city law enforcement. Forceful measures to curb these might—as other cities now well know—paradoxically enlarge their fury, the size of the contingents engaged in them, and the possible ensuing damage. The Berkeley police, further, were not organized to cope with this new phenomenon in addition to their other duties. In 1960-70, the city spent well over $175,000 in unanticipated riot costs. “Urban guerrilla warfare,” or simple “terrorist activity,” appears to the police as a norm of civic life.
The strain on limited resources was further intensified by a striking increase in the general crime rate, and by the drug plague which accompanied, and intensified, it. The years 1967-68 were thus not only times of major stress—with “street-people” riots following each other in rapid sequence, and the city frequently embroiled with outside forces from the National Guard and the Alameda County Sheriff’s forces and the State Highway Patrol. Vast damage was wrought on both the university and on local businesses, driving many small merchants out, and prompting the cancellation of insurance on many premises. With all this, the period saw the greatest leap in Part I (major) crimes—a soaring rate shared by Berkeley with other nearby cities which, with respect to political crimes, have not suffered Berkeley’s anguish. The high Oakland crime rate next door still rose vigorously.
It was in this context, in 1968, that the Black Panthers’ David Hilliard, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, and Old Left members of the National Lawyers Guild, first framed the Panther plan for control of police. Displayed as “community control,” this plan—now repudiated by Berkeley voters—would have segregated the city into three main police enclaves, two based upon “racial” residential patterns, the third upon the campus area in which extremists, street people, communes, transient non-students, and many university students, now live (a district also including central-city offices and the downtown business district). Each of these would have had its own “neighborhood” police force, controlled by “neighborhood”-elected councils. City police facilities would have been disbanded. Since few of the mostly white force now choose to live in the city, and those who do have been subject to threats and consummated acts of terror, the control measure’s requirement of obligatory residence of police in the district of their employment effectually would have wiped out much of the current force. One sector, the campus area, easily could have come under radical control; and in fact some optimistic radicals shortly before election were distributing application forms to friends for membership in this urban jacquerie. While supposedly designed to benefit blacks, this plan in the April election carried virtually no precincts of the city aside from the overwhelmingly white campus area itself. Berkeleyans elsewhere, regardless of race, repudiated a plan which would have formalized racial apartheid, in what has been California’s most “integrating” city.
Alarmed by prospects of the plan’s enactment, moderates and conservatives united to oppose it; but such was their long experience of opposition to each other that no common front was developed for a Council candidate slate to oppose the New Left’s coalition ticket. Ironically, successful opposition to the control plan diverted moderate attention from the Council race itself; Left strategists abandoned the plan and left it to fend for itself on the ballot, focusing their resources instead on the candidates and winning all but one contested Council seat. A non-student political organizer from Los Angeles (posing as an authentic Boalt Hall law student in order to be elected—illegally—to the campus Student Senate and to mobilize the diversion of campus facilities to the campaign), managed a massive campus registration drive, which some estimate to have gained as many as 10,000 new young voters.
When Berkeley sneezes, adjacent cities run for inoculations; others reaffirm their hard-hat virtues and offer up prayers for protection against the pestilence. City elections in Oakland, for example, are calendared to follow Berkeley’s by only several weeks; this spring they resulted in a rash of hard-line victories in that quite conservative town. When moderate Berkeley Councilmen recently were embarrassed by the refusal of their New Left colleagues to salute the flag in Council ceremonies, they agreed to abolish the salute. Now, the Council of the adjacent city of Albany each week salutes twice—once for itself, second, for its lapsed neighbor. But prayers are not offered up in Sacramento. The governor, who may well appreciate the political statewide uses of the Berkeley example, is quoted to the effect that while he will watch the new radicals’ behavior with “unsatisfied curiosity,” he has nevertheless no plans in mind to strike back. “I don’t,” he says, “live in Berkeley, and I have no intention of retiring there.”
Rereading what I have written above, I notice signs of a personal habit of resort to irony in describing painful or unpleasant circumstances. In his Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling some years ago wrote, of the “conservative impulse,” that it rarely expressed itself in ideas but only in action “or in irritable gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” There is something to this even now, when applied to liberals. Many such in Berkeley who have experienced what I here sketchily recount, have proved unable to articulate clear and positive views concerning what to them is really so troublesome, especially when they are involved in what here passes for agonistic dialogue. Endless sophistic arguments arise even when the worst issue of local difficulties, violence, comes up. Metaphysical discussions ensue of whether causes or symptoms should be first treated. Reality can actually disappear in 1984-fashion. So, for instance, the Daily Californian, last May advocating mass seizure of the “People’s Park” on the second anniversary of Berkeley’s worst public disaster, editorialized: “. . . by pulling down the fence we are resisting violence, not encouraging it.” But our worst difficulty is that the “Thinking Liberal” responds guiltily to confrontations in which his own values are lobbed back against him as weapons by those who choose to employ such values instrumentally. I was going to add, “for their own purposes of power,” yet this certainly is not true in the many instances of sincere selflessness which themselves can often be as destructive as the instances when virtue is cynically abused.
What is occurring in Berkeley involves a caricaturing or over-magnification of virtuous causes with which many of us have long instinctively associated. It is as though the harpstrings of the liberal conscience were electronically hooked to a giant amplification system; and all plucked simultaneously. Some, as in the instance of Councilman Bailey, pluck with calculated, cool deliberation; yet many do it innocently.
A crisis of liberal civic culture arises when its best substantive virtues—equality, liberty, fraternity—become so enlarged and amplified as to shake its procedural framework. For, when all virtuous things must be done at once, when all are interpreted with childish literalness, all suffer, many fail, and cynical disillusionment then replaces enthusiasm. An almost forgotten phrase of advice, contained in one of America’s several national anthems, comes to mind: “Confirm thy soul in self-control,” wrote Katherine Lee Bates in “America the Beautiful.” When such beauty is said not to exist, any prudent advice given in the name of love of country is rejected as hypocrisy. But, even from inside Bishop Berkeley’s imperfect, embattled town, Mrs. Bates’s motto has something to commend it. Perhaps a future City Council might elect to blazon it on the city’s official seal, which already contains a small representation of our utopian Bishop’s face.
1 Both of the two elected black radicals received about as few votes as the police referendum, which was solidly defeated by more than a two-to-one margin; but the inability of moderates to agree on a common slate badly divided their votes.
2 On further reflection, I find this not to be wholly true: in the 1950's, the Old Right opposed the pollution of water supplies, but was tolerant of it when it came to atmospheric nuclear tests; while the Old Left took the opposite view. So it was too on more life-and-death issues that the two poles inconsistently advocated opposite positions: the Old Right, favoring the death penalty for adults convicted of capital offenses yet opposing abortion; the Old Left, advocating abolition of the death penalty, nevertheless advocated its legalization on a voluntary basis for as-yet-unborn innocents. Thus, the reverence for human life in each instance was conditional and, an outsider might say, inconsistent. The eclipse of the Old Right, in Berkeley at least, has made it possible for New and Old Left scavengers to grab up some of the old right-wing heirloom issues in the unentailed estate—for example, hostility to the city-manager form of local government and to urban renewal. The Old Right viewed the former as an octopus named the Metro; it was socialistic. Now to the Berkeley New Left it is seen as “incompatible with responsive city government” and they want it abolished.
3 At the expense of more paper pulp, it is still worthwhile pointing out the ironic no-win standoff devised by conciliatory Realists to buy “peace in our time” on this particular issue: it is agreed now that plastic bags henceforth will be used in all Co-op stores except the new Natural Food Co-op; this store will get to keep the old brown bag as a symbol of the ecologists' commitment to nature. But this is ironic, say some, since much of the most valued potential shoploot consists of expensive plastic-packaged natural food items and vitamin tablets, which will be sold in the Natural Food store. Customers will be able to hide plastic-packaged items in brown opaque bags. This issue, therefore, is by no means dead.