Commentary Magazine


Radicals: Right, Left, & Center

To the Editor:

I liked “On Being Deradicalized” [October 1970] very much but I think it’s wrong for either Nathan Glazer or Norman Podhoretz to assume that they have moved to the Right or become any less “radical” than they were before. I really am quite dismayed that the romantic neo-fascists (like Charles Reich) have been permitted to expropriate the honorable title of “Left.” Because Mr. Glazer realizes that social reform is a long, difficult, complex, and, at best, imperfect affair does not make him either a conservative or right-wing. It simply makes him intelligent.

Andrew M. Greeley
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

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To the Editor:

. . . The title of Nathan Glazer’s article is all wrong. I’m not sure that Mr. Glazer ever was a radical, even a “mild radical.” Nor was Mr. Glazer ever considered a radical by today’s radicals. Mr. Glazer seems to me an “old” liberal (possibly a bit Left of liberal) who today has become not a conservative, but a reactionary. . . . What Mr. Glazer certainly is, is an intellectual, and as an intellectual he finds himself estranged from the “nihilism” and the violence of today’s radicals. Mr. Glazer’s world is that of the mind and of logic, and violence boggles that mind and that logic. Furthermore, Mr. Glazer (along with so many liberal academics) gets “nasty” when the radicals begin to attack the university itself, Mr. Glazer’s own castle. . . .

If Mr. Glazer were truly a radical, he would have written a different article. Instead of condemning the radicals’ tactics, he would have asked what is the message in blowing up a university research center dealing with the war effort. He would begin to ask himself how the university as an institution, like other institutions in our technocratic society, is guilty of racism, sexism, and helping the war effort . . . and what he could do to help change these policies. But Mr. Glazer does not do this. Instead he berates the radicals for their “error and confusion.”

Secondly, for a sociologist Mr. Glazer makes a great mistake when he talks of the “radicals” and speaks of various factions as if they were one all-encompassing ogre with dynamite in his hand. One cannot generalize about all radicals, or even most radicals in this way. Mr. Glazer, no doubt, means the Weathermen faction, because the other factions of SDS, as well as the New University Conference, condemned the violence of the Weathermen. These last groups do not want to destroy the university; the overwhelming number of radicals do not want to destroy the university. You can’t destroy institutions with bombs, anyway, Mr. Glazer. You should know that. What we want to do is to turn the oppressive policies around, emphasize the liberating policies, and institute a transformation of the university—no grades, open admissions, more humane relations between teachers and students, and replacement of the Board of Trustees by a group of teachers, students, administrators, and campus workers. (The Trustees will just raise the money; the real power will be shared by the people in the university.) In short, we want a sharing of power, not a usurpation of power.

Most radicals condemn needless violence, not because of moral reasons (that’s a “liberal” trip that Mr. Glazer is into), but for tactical reasons because violence is turning people off. We need to win people over to a real revolution of social change such as the one I have briefly outlined.

I can understand why Mr. Glazer is so threatened. He stands to lose power himself, as a full professor, if in the future scheme of the university he has to share power with the students.

Finally, who is Mr. Glazer addressing? Surely not radicals, Weathermen, New University Conference members, or other radical groups. He is addressing his intellectual colleagues, his liberal friends who comprise most of COMMENTARY’s readership. . . .

The truth is that most radicals don’t even know who Nathan Glazer is; most students don’t know either . . . and most radicals don’t read COMMENTARY or bother even to write letters in response to articles written by breast-beating liberals. I may be one of the few. The rest are out planning.

Toward the revolution.

Jack N. Porter
Department of Sociology
Northwestern University

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To the Editor:

Nathan Glazer is a bellwether of the kind of intellectual liberalism which I like to praise whenever possible. When he is to my Left for the moment (“mild radical”), I smile indulgently; when he is to my Right (“mild conservative”), I frown impatiently. Without him I would not know where I am. I don’t know why I want him to settle in for the long haul except that he makes me dizzy.

Robert Martinson
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . The issue is what kind of organization will prevail in our society, and in this regard I am disturbed by the political implications of Mr. Glazer’s position. As a conservative advocating greater social discipline, he warns against hippies parking their cars in the forests; would he also restrict the political power of the automobile manufacturers who demand highways instead of urban public transportation and who have opposed stringent pollution controls? Would he seek to limit not only tourists to Yosemite but also the mischief of spies and wiretappers and policemen unafraid of punishment for crimes against blacks and hirsute young whites? . . . What would be the logical effect of a foreign policy in which North Korea is described as “infinitely [sic] more repressive” than Rhee’s South Korea, and the Greece of the colonels is considered free in contrast to Yugoslavia?

The violent disaffection of our gilded youth assuredly runs deeper than politics can rectify; and even the erosion of the bureaucratic style, while necessary, may not be sufficient to restore the sense of meaning and purpose and community. But the heightened regimentation which Mr. Glazer would superimpose on the status quo hardly seems likely to bring about his goal of puncturing the New Left. Such conservatism could in fact extend the havoc of the past decade into an even more intractable mal de siècle.

Stephen J. Whitfield
Newton Highlands, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

Nathan Glazer’s article on his deradicalization is thoughtful and sincere, unlike much of the bitter whining that COMMENTARY has recently published on this topic. However, Mr. Glazer neatly evaded several questions that still leave me “under-radicalized.”

  1. I agree that today’s rhetoric is excessive; Johnson and Nixon are not Hitler. However, I do believe that the United States is engaged in an evil, unnecessary war in Indochina. How does Mr. Glazer cope with the problem of complicity with evil (as a taxpayer, academic, etc.)? . . .
  2. As a newcomer to the academic scene, I enter my profession recognizing that the university is failing badly in many ways; I too have read Paul Goodman. . . . How can I oppose those who honestly seek change here, including the students?
  3. Mr. Glazer assures us that, from his experience in government, Big Brother really does know best. We must pay our debt to our political institutions and organizational structures because many “legitimate interests” are involved. Does Mr. Glazer really view such far-out concepts as racial equality, a decent environment, an end to an evil war, and better education as subject to competing “legitimate” interests? I would question the legitimacy of such interests (usually called lobbies if the interests can afford it). Isn’t it possible that these structures are failing us?
  4. In one of his paragraphs devoted to the topic, Mr. Glazer seems rather hurt that Negroes aren’t grateful to him and his friends for all those wonderful advances in civil rights. If, in 1970, he fails to understand the essential racism of his society and the profound importance of black pride, then I’m really at a loss. Or perhaps he is simply incapable of anger at the denial of someone else’s rights and needs.
  5. Mr. Glazer admits that with regard to the existing political role of the university “parts of the critique had force.” Well, what has he done about it? Perhaps the solution is to “work within the system,” defined as the radical movement, that is, and to try to modify its excesses.
  6. We will have greater social controls in the future. The questions are: imposed by whom, and for what purposes? That’s what we’re fighting about. Controls on my personal reading or upon Standard Oil’s profits?
  7. Finally, the free world. Of course, there is relatively more freedom here than in Communist countries—unless you are a long-haired radical or a Panther. Read a few Presidential Commission reports on freedom—Scranton, Walker, Kerner. Then again, let’s not forget about our free-world comrades who rule South Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Greece, Spain, Brazil, etc., etc. Let’s compromise and call it the “sort of relatively, inconsistently free world.” I’ll not call China democratic if you admit that the Chicago Seven were not given a free trial.

As I said earlier, 1 too have misgivings about the contemporary radical movement; I cannot accept violence and the devaluation of human life by any source for any purpose. However, the tragedy of Mr. Glazer and many contributors to COMMENTARY is that they have forgotten the identity of our real enemy.

S. W. Sadava
Loyola College
Montreal, Canada

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Nathan Glazer writes:

Maybe Andrew Greeley and Robert Martinson are right By New York intellectuals, I’m a conservative; but by conservatives, am I a conservative? (You recall the old joke about the Jewish sea captain; his mother’s friends asked, “By me he’s a captain, and by you he’s a captain, but by captains, is he a captain?”)

To Mr. Whitfield: I am not limiting the right of hippies to park in forests nor the admission of tourists to Yosemite. I am merely pointing out that there is a contradiction between massive use of facilities by all, and their maintenance as wilderness facilities. People who want the second must be willing to accept controls in the first; otherwise they are irresponsible children, or selfish. Mr. Whitfield need have no concern: I will be on the side of every fight against overblown urban highways, for public transportation, against brutal policemen. I find most domestic spying and wiretapping repulsive, though I can think of rare cases in which they could be justified.

I was not addressing myself to the foreign-policy implications of the fact that North Korea is infinitely more oppressive than South Korea. I don’t believe we have an obligation to overthrow repressive regimes, but I don’t see why the acknowledgment of a simple fact should be so worrisome to Mr. Whitfield. I commented on North Korea only because some elements in the New Left (e.g., Eldridge Cleaver) on occasion act as if that’s the best Communist country of all. Once again, I had to point out the contradiction between demanding freedom and supporting oppression—in different places, of course. I am against the restriction of freedom by authoritarian governments everywhere, including Greece, and I am delighted that there is so little of it these days in Yugoslavia, as compared with the past, but I don’t see the relevance of the references. I didn’t make them.

To Mr. Porter: No, I don’t think many radicals read COMMENTARY, but it’s nice that a few do, and I wish more did. They might learn something.

To Mr. Sadava: I don’t know how to deal with the problem of complicity in evil, and there has been a vast amount of evil in Vietnam. I can sympathize even with those who feel the evil is so overwhelming and their very remaining alive so implicates them in it that they commit suicide. One does what one can. I did not say “Big Brother really knows best.” I don’t think our government is “Big Brother,” and I do think there are legitimate conflicts of interest involved when one tries concretely to achieve racial equality, a decent environment, and even an end to an evil war. There are also illegitimate interests—racists, slumlords, and armaments makers; and one can add others. But the news to me was that there are also legitimate interests, who deserve to be heard by a democratic government, and that’s why I spoke of them. Legitimate interests, by the way, also have lobbies: the people in favor of public housing lobby, the NAACP lobbies, the anti-war people lobby—and I wish they were all stronger. I don’t recognize the passage where I am supposed to be “hurt that Negroes aren’t grateful to [me]”; I don’t feel the sentiment, and I don’t know what Mr. Sadava is referring to. I have worked for the academic reforms I think valuable—once again, one does what one can. I am against controls on anyone’s reading, and for more controls on Standard Oil’s profits. Finally, I accept the emendation to the “sort of relatively, inconsistently free world,” but it is a little unmanageable. I will not admit, on the other hand, that the Chicago Seven were given an unfair trial. I don’t know just what the phrase “free trial” is supposed to mean.

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