Election '68 (Cont'd)
To the Editor:
I might be taking advantage of hindsight in criticizing Paul Goodman’s “In Praise of Populism” [“Election '68,” June]. I recognize that it was written before the assassination of Senator Kennedy, before the fiasco at Columbia University, and before various other tragedies that have befallen this election year. However, it was written after the assassination of Dr. King and the attending riots. In any event, Mr. Goodman professes to be a social critic. He therefore cannot rightfully distort either history or the meaning of words to legitimize the fearful position we find ourselves in, which he calls “populism.”
I suppose the answer is that Mr. Goodman calls himself an anarchist—which by dictionary definition is someone who rebels against any authority or established order, who proposes violent means to overthrow the established order, and who prefers a complete vacuum to any form of recognized government. He displays the shocking inconsistency common to the times when he says he won’t vote for Senator McCarthy unless he promises total nuclear disarmament. And in fact if Goodman is an anarchist, the only reason he would be voting for Senator McCarthy is if he really felt the Senator would help bring about the chaos and disorder which would lead to anarchy. While Mr. Goodman may believe that of Senator McCarthy, I do not.
It is not Mr. Goodman’s apparent misuse of the word anarchist which bothers me, however. Rather, it is his description of present conditions under the rubric of populism . . . a term which originally meant the advocacy of reform in the system of government to be brought about by peaceful means.
Today the confusion between changing the system and overthrowing it (without even having a new system in mind) may well carry the day for the anarchists. Mr. Goodman vividly embodies this confusion. He talks of the Spock case on the one hand as civil disobedience (which would mean, as Dr. Spock himself initially said, that the defendants should go to jail); on the other hand he decries a possible conviction as a defense of the present draft system and our policies in Vietnam. Is it any wonder that our campus youth engage in what they call civil disobedience and then list amnesty as their first demand? Our confused social critics tell them this is good history and morality.
The “not too much violence” that Mr. Goodman defends has fractured our society, turned our cities into places of fear, and our political processes into marketplaces of assassination. If Mr. Goodman is really an anarchist, he must be pleased as punch. I only wish that he would gather unto him all the rest of the anarchists and take them out of the Reform Democratic clubs, the civil-rights movement, and the campus organizations. Then maybe all of those who praise populism for what it really is, and are seeking to make use of its lessons, can change the system from within so that social justice, law, and order can prevail.
Abner J. Mikva
To the Editor:
In a very long article about the election alternatives, Paul Goodman dismisses Hubert Humphrey with thirty words: “What can one say about Hubert Horatio?—he has so long not been his own man. I recall his statement, ‘When I became Majority Leader, I ceased being a liberal.’” In so doing, Goodman displays much of the arrogance and ignorance characteristic of much “liberal” thinking today.
Humphrey never made that statement—and never could have, as even the most casual observer of the political scene must realize. The Vice President never was Majority Leader! But Goodman can “recall” such a statement and put it in quotation marks, thus documenting a pure fabrication.
Anybody can make a mistake, and this one could be forgiven—except that it typifies the distortions and the cruelly unfair indictments that have been leveled against Humphrey by people who should know better. Not only did Humphrey never renounce liberalism—although he has tried to update its meaning and content through the years—but his record from 1961 through 1964, when he was Majority Whip in the Kennedy-Johnson administrations, could not be better. During that period, he scored 100 per cent on AFL-CIO’s voting record, a compilation of major economic and social and human-rights issues, the same 100 per cent he had achieved regularly since 1949.
But Humphrey’s voting record is only one part of the story which Goodman’s faulty memory might cause others to forget. When President Kennedy signed the historic nuclear test-ban treaty, for example, he was heard to say: “This is your treaty, Hubert.” Humphrey not only voted right, but was the creator, the promoter, the organizer of almost every major “liberal” victory of recent years—Medicare, Peace Corps, Civil Rights Acts (especially 1964 and 1965), Disarmament Agency, Job Corps, and lots more. In every one of these, he was the agent of change. . . .
Yesterday’s new politics, however, is today’s old politics, and the Vice President can’t count on cheers for yesterday’s triumphs, although he has every right to resent jeers. But he has not rested his case on past records; he has been articulating new dreams, even if the Goodmans won’t listen. Does Goodman object to Humphrey’s call for a total cease-fire in Vietnam, for new bridges to Red China, for a Marshall Plan for American cities, for a guaranteed education through college for every American?
The basic question, in my judgment, for this election year is not who started to propose what modifications how soon in our unhappy Vietnam situation (a situation brought about with the substantial support and agreement over the years among the Johnsons and Humphreys and McCarthys and Kennedys) but who can best govern in the years ahead. James Reston, despite some wanderings on the subject, summed it all up when he said: “If Presidents were elected by the thousand best-informed men in Washington on the basis of who would make the best President, he [Humphrey] would be No. 1 at last.”
Mr. Goodman writes:
Mr. Mikva should read a better dictionary than the style-book of the Chicago Tribune. The hypothesis of anarchism is that, by and large, the free federation of voluntary functional associations produces the maximum of social order, peace, and efficiency and diminishes crime, violence, and alienation. People like Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, Ferrer, Tolstoy, Malatesta, William Morris, Emma Goldman, Herbert Read, etc., have thought so, and they were not after chaos and disorder.
Almost everybody has been willing to grant that the present worldwide unrest and violence have emerged from a background of war, cold war, imperialism, repressive policing, maintenance of unjust property relations, attempts to process the young for unacceptable national goals, making people powerless by centralized decision making, disregarding human beings for the smooth running of institutions—in short from the works of the state and other corporate powers. Maybe we would have more law and order if we had much less Law and Order.
In any historical period it is always a difficult question how much of the necessary evil of government is required as a balance wheel. But I do not know any way to test out this question except through conflict moderated by a strong will to community and mutual respect. (This is why I favor both vigilant democracy and the aggressive non-violence of Gandhi, Muste, and Martin Luther King.) Lord Acton somewhere praises the character, e.g., Washington’s, that is willing to engage in revolutionary action on the essentials but is otherwise disposed to derange as little as possible. Many famous anarchists have been spectacularly conservative, others have laid stress rather on the creativity of human beings in existential crises. My own writings are far more traditional, even neolithic, than anything said by Liberal Democrats.
I know as little as Mr. Mikva what conspirators were involved in the assassination of Dr. King or Robert Kennedy. But would he deny that governmental agencies have committed many assassinations and murders, both wholesale and retail?
How was Columbia a fiasco?—though I am not in agreement with all the student tactics there. My guess is that Columbia will be a better community of scholars next year than it was last. The somewhat analogous fracas at Berkeley certainly did more toward the reform of American higher education than anything that has come from the Office of Education in Washington.
By populism Mr. Mikva must pre-eminently mean the American agrarian movement of circa 1885. It was marked by barn-burnings, angry pitchforks, wrecked trains. If he will reread, or read, the populist manifestoes, he will find them very similar to the most apocalyptic manifestoes of the New Left and Black Power.
Populist agitation and direct action are not necessarily anarchist, since they may not be aimed at opening specific areas of freedom to function, but are sometimes simple despair, revenge, the bursting out of repressed forces. It is disingenuous of Mr. Mikva to throw at me the phrase “having no new system in mind,” since in my article I continually reproached the populists and the students for neglecting most of the fundamental issues of modern times and thereby being vulnerable to takeover—as indeed, in different ways, both the American and the Russian populists were taken over.
Dr. Spock did speak of “civil disobedience” and we respect and support him; others of us, however, have insisted that the Vietnam policies of the government should be resisted because they are illegitimate. Does Mr. Mikva think that, in a democracy, a pack of lies and faits accomplis by a “hidden government” are legitimate?
I agree that Senator McCarthy does not lead or represent the populist wave that has thrown him to the fore. I devoutly hope that he can become worthy of it and help to give it direction.
In reply to Mr. Bookbinder:
Majority Whip, my carelessness. The evidence for the remark is the same as for Hyman’s “[Kennedy] was heard to say—.” And I quoted it as Humphrey’s wry joke at his own dilemma, that he had ceased being his own man; he has repeated it seriously many times since. My charitable comment was, What can one say in such a case?
But let us suppose the liberal reappears. A perfect AFL-CIO voting record has never been, in my eyes, a recommendation; and at present liberal programs of that kind have become a menace. Of course I object to a Marshall Plan for cities and to universal “education” in the liberal kind of social-engineering. HHH’s Vietnam position is six years late and, to me, not credible. Lindsay campaigned to admit Red China in 1960, when it made sense; where was Humphrey? Will he talk up about the bases in Thailand, etc.?
Despite the test-ban treaty, the bombs and budgets have increased, Humphrey not dissenting. (In my opinion, that treaty came from some honest scientists and the Women’s Strike.) On the ’64 Civil Rights bill, Robert Kennedy (and Humphrey?) had forced a compromise measure to the strong proposal pushed by Kastenmeier, Lindsay, and a few others; just as Humphrey tried to gloss over the Freedom Democratic party trouble at the ’64 convention. Half a loaf is better than no bread, but tokenism has proved to be poison.
These people are in the politics business, interlocked with the other institutions of business as usual. Their premises are irrelevant to our chief modern problems. Humphrey has not made a single remark on any of the essential issues that I enumerated at the end of my article, nor will he. Therefore I urge people (aggressively) not to vote for any of the candidates. I except McCarthy not because of himself but because of the nature of his constituency and his campaign.