Commentary Magazine


Crisis Politics

To the Editor:

I am pleased with your continuing attention to radicalism in America and your latest installment, Nathan Glazer’s “The New Left and Its Limits” [July]. However, I think there are limits to discussion of the ideas propounded by radical critics of American society and I think with Glazer’s piece you have about reached them. After all. . . . one can argue just so long with people who define the world and the terms of the argument itself.

What would seem more interesting would be pieces that attend to what Glazer said he would not explain: “the psychological or temperamental grounds” of the radical mood or outlook. . . .

Speculative social analysis might not be as solid or acceptable to traditionalists but it would be more fun and the sort of thing persons like myself would enjoy reading. The ideas of radicals, young or old, are the least interesting things about them; the clichés of anti-bourgeois thought, the varieties of Marxism, nihilism and other isms are still clichés. What is fascinating it to see or hear them from real, live people and wonder where in the world they got them and why they mouthe them, especially when you know their parents. . . .

Perhaps you might also attend to another phenomenon that is puzzling and intriguing. My friends with a great deal of money who are WASPs and have no experience with the poor or with poverty hold a passionate belief in “social justice” and “confrontation between black and white” that is frightening in its intensity and ignorance; one of their fondest beliefs is that John Lindsay really is right about America’s becoming polarized into two hostile races. I have noticed also that among such people there is a well developed abomination of the middle class. Is the phenomenon of the WASP mayor in sympathy with the black militant and hippie as peculiar as it seems? Perhaps I am beginning to see too many anti-middle class ghosts, but I still wonder why the mayor and the leaders of “coalitions” and creators of “innovative” solutions never seem to urge the closing of federal tax loopholes and the raising of capital-gains tax rates to provide the money for the poor that they are searching for. . . .

As an old-fashioned, square, ADA-type liberal who still thinks there is a vital center, I am puzzled and increasingly upset by the pervasiveness of the radical discontent and ideological motif that seems to becloud discussions of public affairs; we are not asking the right questions, let alone progressing toward the resolution of conflict. I notice such colleagues in thought as Irving Kristol and John Gardner are also beginning to show signs of worry. For a while, Kristol was at pains to discount the “crisis” that the radicals said was infecting every aspect of American life; now he is seeing a crisis in the pervasiveness of the belief in crisis. Gardner has fears also: how long can we make reasoned progress if so many supposedly informed and enlightened people are apparently willing to believe such nonsense and if the mass media continue to amplify it?

Let there be enough half-baked TV visits to decaying slums and interviews with witless, self-appointed “leaders” and whatever efforts you or I might make in the search for responsible advance will be that much harder. . . .

In short, has not the time come for abandoning the mild skepticism and tsk-tsk attitude of the Glazer piece, and taking a harder line?

Jerome Zukosky
New York City

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