“Schindler’s List” TO THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Having resided in Cracow in the immediate aftermath of the events depicted in Schindler’s List (I was there during the trial of the sadis- tic Nazi murderer, Amon Goeth), I was greatly disappointed with Phil- ip Gourevitch’s article, “A Dissent on Schindler’s List” [February].
That a contributing editor of the Forward (God help us!) cannot dis- tinguish between Yiddish and Pol- ish is difficult to believe: Oskar Schindler’s Jewish “investors” speak Polish, not Yiddish. It is equally hard to fathom that a Jew- ish reviewer writing in a leading Jewish journal is unaware that, upon moving, traditional Jews re- move mezuzot from their doorposts when there is reason to believe that the next tenants would not be Jews. That is why, in the film, CracowJews leaving for the ghetto “are trying to pry the silver me- zuzah from the door,” and not, as Mr. Gourevitch suggests, “because they have been stopped from grab- bing [!] other valuables.” Finally, and most offensively, Mr.
Gourevitch writes: “And here are Jews as the SS invade their apart- ments. Are they consoling their children? No, they are making them eat jewels wadded in balls of bread.” By the time the Cracow Jews began to be moved to the ghetto by the SS, their surviving children were beyond tears and beyond con- solation. They were, in fact, no longer children. As for the dia- monds wadded in balls of bread, they offered a slim chance of sur- vival. Indeed, later in the film, Schindler uses these diamonds- perhaps the very same diamonds- to “buy” from a Nazi commander a trainload of Jewish women who would otherwise have been gassed in Auschwitz. MAURICE FRIEDBERG University of Illinois Urbana, Illinois To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: When I finished reading Philip Gourevitch’s “dissent” on Schind- ler’s List, it remained unclear to me what Mr. Gourevitch has against this “mega-production,” as he calls it. He himself concedes that it is the “most affirmative” film ever made about the Holocaust-by which, I take it, he means that Steven Spielberg has made a movie affirming the possibility of humani- tarian effort even in a genocidal context and a movie, moreover, that can be shown to popular audi- ences, and need not be reserved exclusively for aficionados of “art films.” I found the movie a powerful depiction of its excruciating sub- ject. It amazed me at the time that I was inspired to endure these three painful hours and feel grati- tude to Spielberg for the experi- ence. My amazement and gratitude have not diminished.
It was inspiring to be shown how an initially unprincipled opportun- ist entrepreneur … was stirred, per- haps by his innate individualism, to do what he could to undermine the soulless bureaucratic machine which dominated his environment.
It was not that Schindler appeared to be an ohev yisrael, a friend of the Jews, but that something in him, something ultimately myste- rious but intensely humane, com- pelled him to discover a solidarity with “his”Jews, the Schindlerjuden. I lost so many relatives in the Holocaust; maybe that is why I found the film so appealing and, finally, so uplifting. Is it a perfect film? What would a perfect film be about the Holocaust? For me it is enough that it is an extraordinar- ily-even though painfully-ab- sorbing film which demonstrates the splendor of human sympathies and humanitarian passion.
The film has also left me feeling richer for my Jewishness, more appreciative of what that heritage stood for and stands for in the face of totalitarian evil. Again, a per- fect film? What would that be? A moral film? In a profound sense, yes-hence, a film which has a claim to greatness, pace Philip Gourevitch! [RABBI] URI D. HERSCHER Executive Vice President Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles, California To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: It seems to me that there are two serious problems with Philip Gourevitch’s article.
2LETTERS FROM READERS/3 1. The movie is not about the Holocaust per se; it is about Oskar Schindler. Perhaps Mr. Gourevitch would have preferred a movie about the Holocaust, a movie that would, indeed must, be infused with the spirit of bottomless evil.
Hollywood would not make such a movie and that is perhaps justifica- tion for criticism of Hollywood, but not of a movie that never claimed to do what Mr. Gourevitch wishes it had done.
2. Mr. Gourevitch complains that we are given no reason why Schindler was a good person in a world of bad people. Let us ignore the overwhelming probability that critics would have seen such an analysis of Schindler’s develop- ment and motivation as “facile pop psychology.” There is an even bet- ter reason for the film’s avoiding such an analysis: neither the evi- dence of experiential anecdote nor the attempts of rigorous re- search to determine how roots of goodness could have survived in the soil of evil have discovered anything at all. About the best any- one has come up with has been a “finding” that the Schindlers “see people who are different from themselves as still being human.” Such a “finding” might be mean- ingful if identification of this vir- tue had been made before the Ho- locaust (so that the behavior of the Schindlers could have been pre- dicted). But this was not the case.
“Seeing people who are different from themselves as still being hu- man” gives us no explanation of development and motivation, but merely restates the question: why were the Schindlers capable of “seeing people who are different from themselves as still being hu- man”? We do not know why the Schind- lers were capable of this, and this is why Schindler’s List refused, quite properly, to try to tell us. STEVEN GOLDBERG City College-CUNY New York City To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: I was privileged to view Schind- ler’s List at a preview intended for survivors whose lives had been saved by Oskar Schindler. We were graced by the presence of Mrs. Schindler and honored by the many who were there by the grace of her husband’s action.
Despite being fascinated by the replaying of events, long hidden behind an opaque curtain of pseu- do-normalcy, I tried to focus on the faces of my Cracovian breth- ren and gauge their reaction as they searched for the facsimiles of themselves, played by unfamiliar actors. Occasional shrieks of rec- ognition of places and events, mostly expressed by a deep “Oh my God,” and the sporadic appear- ance of handkerchiefs to wipe the streaming tears punctuated the viewing and then, a long eerie si- lence at the end of the film. The picture was over and no one was moving. Stunned, we stared at the credits rolling down the screen. Until someone’s loud exclamation, “incredible,” broke the spell.
No matter what the critics say, no matter what the public’s reac- tions, for us, the survivors, there is only one response, a response usu- ally reserved for another survivor when he concludes giving public testimony. That is appreciatively and warmly to embrace Steven Spielberg in the silent act of bond- ing. … NORBERT FRIEDMAN West Hempstead, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch has a big ad- vantage over me: he has read Tho- mas Keneally’s novel, on which the Spielberg movie is based, as well as the reviews of the film, and made a general study of it, which I have not. My (dubious) advantage over Mr. Gourevitch is that I myself am a Holocaust survivor and a five- year inhabitant of the Lodz ghetto. In my opinion, although Mr. Gourevitch makes some valid points (Oskar Schindler, for ex- ample, should have been depicted more accurately), his critique is mostly nitpicking, written by a brainy technician with little heart or feeling. The movie is a great historical contribution. It vividly depicts one aspect of Jewish life in Poland under the Nazis, the horrible ter- ror. Perhaps the other aspects- the enormous, dehumanizing hun- ger and the unimaginably cruel, bone-chilling cold-did not apply as much to Schindler’s chosen group, but they certainly did apply to the general ghetto population.
It would have been of great value had Spielberg shown at least a few of the emaciated faces, like death masks. Still, he deserves the grati- tude of the whole civilized world.
He certainly has mine. WILLIAM SHATTAN Brooklyn, New York 4I U G A YAX/zED #WaXRDf FREFOUENT FL YER Al – A I mm NwF I oil I Rates in U.S. dollars T.L..W- $6per day – mandatory if C.. Wis not purchased Free car phone (Pay for calls only) Based on 7 days minimum rental igih season supplement: Pessach, July, August i I rnraarrn ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~i~~~~~U=~41 14/COMMENTARY JUNE 1994 To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: For years, like many other Ho- locaust survivors, I have been writ- ing and lecturing thousands of high-school and college students on the Holocaust and drawing on its lessons to point out the evil of racism and prejudice-to the detriment of my vocal chords and emotional life. In recognition of my efforts, the New York State Regents have honored me with the prestigious Louis E. Yavner Award.
Now Steven Spielberg has achieved what we, the survivors, have always wanted. By his use of a mass medium to unprecedented effect, millions of uninformed viewers whom we could have ne- ver reached will, hopefully, learn about the most horrible crime in history.
But here comes Philip Goure- vitch and takes up four pages of COMMENTARY to nitpick and find some faults in Spielberg’s univer- sally praised film. Mr. Gourevitch begins by suggesting that warning labels of “nudity,” “violence,” or the “titillating euphemism” of “adult situations” be applied to the movie because of its scenes of na- ked Jews being herded to their deaths in gas chambers. By now Mr. Gourevitch must have learned that stripping the victims of their clothes and hair was part of the Nazi attempt to dehumanize them.
Had Spielberg shown them fully dressed in those instances, Mr.
Gourevitch would probably have accused him of inaccuracies.
Likewise, Mr. Gourevitch’s re- port that Spielberg’s team sought 800 people who looked “‘stereo- typically Semitic,’ . . . with thick lips, big noses, dark curly hair” for casting in the film, ends with the unfounded assertion that “Spiel- berg’s Jewish caricatures . . . seem lifted . . . from the pages of Der Stuermer.” Had Spielberg enlisted a crowd of typical blond and blue- eyed Cracow residents, Mr. Goure- vitch would have complained of miscasting the Schindlerjuden.
The reviewer speculates at length about Oskar Schindler’s motives, the “unfathomable mys- tery” of his decency, and is irked that “Spielberg offers no clues” and no “coherent motive” to ex- plain why Schindler acted as he did to save his Jews, unlike in the Keneally book, where Schindler is depicted as “motivated by disgust, which is to say a sense of common humanity.” Of course, in a film without a narrator, the viewer does not have to be told-the hero’s feelings are evident from the actor’s facial ex- pressions and behavior. But Mr.
Gourevitch was so busy counting the pistol shots (“By my count, Jewish heads explode in Schind- ler’s List at an average rate of one every twelve minutes”) that he did not see the inner emotions shown by Liam Neeson (Schindler) when he witnessed the liquidation of the ghetto and the brutality of the SS. And it was when Schindler re- alized that the Nazis had changed from ghettoizing Jews and using them as laborers to a policy of ex- termination that he became pas- sionately involved in savingJewish lives.
Mr. Gourevitch somehow gets lost in his own confusion: first he states that “From start to finish, ….
Spielberg’s Schindler is simply an- other Nazi who regards the killing of Jewish slaves as a senseless busi- ness practice” (emphasis added).
But a few paragraphs later, he con- tradicts himself by saying, “Schind- ler’s passion for saving Jews and for sabotaging efforts to extermi- nate them completely outweighs his passion for money.” Elsewhere, he reminds us that Schindler “used all his considerable financial and human resources to save from ex- termination the more than 1,100 Jews he employed as slave labor- ers…. By the war’s end, he is close to bankrupt.” Actually, Schindler did not em- ploy his Jews as slave laborers, al- though by the prevailing rules their wages had to be paid to the SS. But the Schindlerjuden were well-treated, well-fed, and pro- tected. No wonder that manyJews vied for jobs at his factory.
On the positive side, we hear that Schindler’s List is enjoying great success in Germany, where a new generation of Germans will be exposed to vivid images of the Holocaust. In this connection, I wonder if the film’s title has been kept; if so, German viewers will read it as “Schindler’s Cunning” (a translation of the German word list), a fairly appropriate descrip- tion of Schindler’s actions, both as a profiteering industrialist and as a rescuer of Jews from the hell of Auschwitz…. ALFRED LIPSON Holocaust Resource Center and Archives Queensborough Community College-CUNY Bayside, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Although in general I respect Philip Gourevitch’s assessment of Schindler’s List, I would have pre- ferred that he had not made such a . . . prejudicial reference to Jews looking as if they had been “lif- ted from the pages of Der Stuer- mer”-especially since, in at least one instance (the scene involving the mezuzah), Mr. Gourevitch plainly misinterprets a depiction of evident religious devotion as one of pecuniary greed … SETH A. HALPERN Scarsdale, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: … Before I went to see Schind- ler’s List, I was skeptical and acute- ly worried that the film’s predomi- nantly Christian audience would be viewing a gratuitous Hollywood version of the Holocaust, showing some good Nazis and some evil Jews-all, hunted and hunter alike, depicted as universal victims. I was also painfully aware that among those who watched it with me, too few would ever read Lucy S. Da- widowicz’s The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 or watch Marcel Ophuls’s documentary film, The Sorrow and the Pity. But what I saw was a masterful and accurate mo- vie which avoids cliches. The Jews in the film are not a “cowering mob or . . . a shrieking, scamper- ing mob,” as Philip Gourevitch de- scribes them. They are defenseless, terrified, and wretched. Nor is the Jewish investor in the car with Schindler “scrunched, simian- looking, grunting in Yiddish,” as Mr. Gourevitch maintains. He is, rather, an elderly, pathetic man who is asked to give money to a Nazi (Schindler) and who knows he has no choice….
What is truly enraging is Mr. Gourevitch’s contention that the Jews in the movie look like car- toons from Der Stuermer, and his assertion that because of their “thick lips, big noses, dark curly hair and even darker eyes . . .[they] hardly need yellow stars to be identified.” The movie shows Jews-ugly, plain, beautiful. That is how we look. Go to Crown Heights, the jewelry district in New York City, concerts, theaters, and markets. That is what we look like.
Add period clothes and that is how we looked. Would Mr. Gourevitch have preferred glamor? The movie is not perfect, nor can it legitimately be called a “document,” but the film andLETTERS FROM READERS/5 Steven Spielberg deserve more credit than they get in Mr. Goure- vitch’s niggardly and insulting re- view.
RUTH KING New York City To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: . . . Philip Gourevitch’s chief objection to Schindler’s List is that Steven Spielberg “introduc [es] the suggestion of moral ambiguity into the Holocaust.” This derives, it seems, from the “enigmatic” char- acter of Schindler’s decency in the film, as compared with the Ke- neally book: the fact that he is never shown to renounce his Na- zism.
I am mystified that anyone could view this film and not see in the progression of Schindler’s ac- tions a renunciation, if not re- pudiation, of Nazism. The film reports historical events: Oskar Schindler was a Nazi-party mem- ber who, despite his corrupt ori- gins, took great personal risks to save over a thousand lives. Where is the moral ambiguity in this por- trayal? In his eagerness to find fault, Mr. Gourevitch raises several other points that do not withstand scru- tiny. As evidence that “Schindler is simply another Nazi who regards the killing of Jewish slaves as a senseless business practice,” he cites Schindler’s protest to the SS that he expects compensation when a worker is shot. It is hard to see what other reaction was possible in that context, even if Schindler were genuinely pained at the senseless killing and wan- ted to prevent its recurrence (“You know, killing Jews is not ethi- cal” surely would not have suf- ficed) ….
Mr. Gourevitch (along with some other reviewers) objects that few Jews are “individuated from the mob of victims.” This, of course, was Spielberg’s intent. This film is not about the plight of a person or a family. It is about the Shoah, an event whose enor- mity is not grasped by most Ameri- cans, a project which came all too close to “succeeding” precisely because the Nazis stripped the Jews of their individual identities as humans. If this point alone is understood by its viewers, Schind- ler’s List will have accomplished something. JONATHAN BALSAM Lawrence, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: In rereading Philip Gourevitch’s article, I was struck by a certain cattiness that seems to infuse his remarks, as if it were somehow ob- scene that Steven Spielberg should be so universally lauded for this movie. For some people, I sup- pose, there is a certain “enshrine- ment” of the Holocaust so that it can never be adequately portrayed by people who did not experience it first-hand. Mr. Gourevitch stretches hard to make his points, most of which appear to me to be rather pica- yune…. As far asJewish jewels are concerned, Mr. Gourevitch either does not know or conveniently ig- nores the age-old custom, dating back to medieval persecution, when Jews fleeing to other lands sewed diamonds and other jewels into their robes. It was their only means of future economic survival.
In the Cracow ghetto there was not always time for this delicate ar- rangement, so having children swallow jewels was a normal, albeit frantic, variation.
Mr. Gourevitch misses the en- tire point of Spielberg’s presenta- tion. Most people tend to think of the Holocaust in terms of the mur- der of six million. But looking be- neath this stupefying tragedy, one is forced to contemplate the real horror of the Nazi era: the wretched philosophy of National Socialism which dehumanized Jews-which viewed them as a subhuman spe- cies that had infected the world too long. It was this warped and horrifying doctrine that Hitler ap- propriated as justification for the SS and their willing cohorts in the East to exterminate Jews as one would spray mosquitoes or step on roaches, while all but a few of their countrymen watched passively or secretly applauded. Hence Spiel- berg accurately depicts Amon Goeth picking offJewish prisoners from his balcony with no more compunction than if he were shoot- ing an odd sparrow….
This dehumanizing aspect of the Holocaust, I feel, is what Steven Spielberg, more than any- one else up to this point, has suc- ceeded in showing. It was precisely why he chose to eschew develop- ing individual characters. The im- pact would have been lessened, and he wanted it squarely in our faces for two-and-a-half hours- and, it is hoped, for all time and for all future generations. SAM TISCHLER Palm Harbor, Florida Gramercy Park Hotel Minutes away from Wall Street, Midtown shopping and entertainment areas, Madison Square Garden and all the excitement of Manhattan yet…
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New York City, New York 10010 (212) 475-4320 Telex 668755 Fax (212) 505-0535 f Out of state call toll-free: ] ! 1-800-221-4083 6/COMMENTARYJUNE 1994 To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch’s petulance is so pervasive that it blinds him to certain realities and concepts, con- cerning which he should know better. A few examples. . .: Mr.
Gourevitch scoffs at the random- ness of Steven Spielberg’s “explod- ing heads,” occurring by his calcu- lation “once every twelve minutes.” But randomness amid the orga- nized horror is precisely the point being made. … If Spielberg cuts to scenes of Nazis dallying with Aryan women, he is simply demon- strating the juxtaposition of hell and hedonism; so near each other geographically, yet so re- moved….
Mr. Gourevitch is very unhappy with the Jewish businessman who exclaims, “money is still money,” at the time Schindler is seeking in- vestors for his factory. But during this period, when the “Final Solu- tion” was not yet apparent, Jews, though desperate and terrified, strove for normalcy in their lives.
While unfortunately not pictured either in the book or the movie, the range of Jewish cultural, reli- gious, educational, health-related, and philanthropic activities was enormous. As Emmanuel Ringel- blum documents in his Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, wealthy Jews contributed astounding sums of money for the relief of fellowJews. The ghettos spawned an extensive responsa literature as observant Jews, trying to cling to some sem- blance of life as they understood it, sought halakhic answers to un- precedented situations. That a businessman was thinking about money at that time is comprehen- sible and realistic.
Straying from criticism of the film, Mr. Gourevitch feels obliged to bash some of the more lauda- tory reviews, and Spielberg him- self. Why is Mr. Gourevitch so up- set that Spielberg seems to have rediscovered hisJewish identity? In interviews in which the issue sur- faces, Spielberg comes across as remarkably sincere. If, as Mr. Gourevitch claims, Spielberg equa- ted himself with an actual Holo- caust survivor, that is unfortunate; but if in exhorting his cast he stated, “We are not making a film, we are making a document,” that is unexceptionable. The film is not a documentary witness, but it can nonetheless become an important secondary document.
Surprisingly, Mr. Gourevitch to- tally ignores one area in which the film is deficient, particularly as the subject was covered in the book. …. Keneally describes a number of instances of sabotage by Cracow’s Jewish youths who dressed as SS officers and bombed restaurants and railroad stations.
This was an important omission from the movie, as it would have taken a little edge off the portrait of unremittingJewish helplessness, and yet Mr. Gourevitch, concerned about the Jews being seen as a “si- lent, cowering mob,” leaves it unremarked….
I believe that in making Schind- ler’s List Spielberg had two goals- one fairly circumscribed, and the other more global. He set out to make the best film he could, not of the Einsatzgruppen, or the War- saw-ghetto uprising, or the Kovno ghetto, but of the Oskar Schindler story. He knew that if he suc- ceeded, his audiences would be- come more receptive to learning about the other horrors, tragedies, and terrors of the Holocaust, in- cluding the civilization that was destroyed virtually overnight. I think Spielberg has succeeded bril- liantly.
Mr. Gourevitch is amused that President Clinton has “implored” the American public to see the film. The President was right on target. ALLEN BODNER New York City To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: That Philip Gourevitch is made uncomfortable by the nearly uni- versal praise that has thus far greeted Schindler’s List is not sur- prising; for too many critics, noth- ing succeeds like failure, and noth- ing fails like success. Films like Schindler’s List raise the ante to such heights that poor Steven Spielberg never had a chance. For where snatching the moral high ground is concerned, the artist simply cannot win, and critics like Mr. Gourevitch always do. Indeed, Spielberg and others-be they filmmakers or fictionists-are ad- monished to keep their distance from material that “artistic repre- sentation” should not-yes, can- not-touch. Unfortunately, such arguments end by advocating si- lence, and I have yet to find the measuring rod that can distinguish between the “silence” that allowed the Holocaust itself to happen and the presumably richer, better si- lence that stands before the Un- speakable in respectful awe. Given the choice, I will take Schindler’s List every time-even with the warts Mr. Gourevitch rightly points out.
SANFORD PINSKER Lancaster, Pennsylvania To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch’s article is a real trip. Perhaps it is best under- stood if read while stoned; other- wise, one’s heart might break to see an object of art so callously treated …
The comedianJackie Mason has told us thatJewish audiences were embarrassed because in his act he appeared “too Jewish.” One gets the impression that Mr. Gourevitch was similarly embarrassed by the film. He asks why Steven Spielberg had to hire such Semitic-looking actors to playJews. Perhaps French peasant villagers would have been more appropriate…. In the movie, Schindler wit- nesses the destruction of the Cra- cow ghetto. For Mr. Gourevitch, Schindler’s emotional reaction to this episode is caused only by re- gret that he will lose his source of cheap labor. But many people see the destruction of the ghetto as a turning point for Schindler; his humanity will no longer permit him to condone the behavior of his nation toward the Jews. He be- comes a light in the darkness. How could Mr. Gourevitch have missed this? ….
In Schindler’s List, Steven Spiel- berg has told the story of the Holo- caust in a way that has not been matched…. It is not clear whether Mr. Gourevitch understands the magnitude of the Holocaust, but we hope his dissent will not dimin- ish the magnificence of the film. JAMES B. HEFT RUTH WEINSHALL New York City To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: . . . If you believe there is at least a possibility that people may do good, even when it requires them to rise above themselves, you will not need to have explained to you why Schindler saved the Schindlerjuden. In the movie, Ste- ven Spielberg does not, as Mr.
Gourevitch claims, advance the “false and foolish notion that goodness is incomprehensible.” He assumes that it is comprehen- sible, on sight. It is the barbarity of the Nazi Amon Goeth that comes closer than Oskar Schindler’s decency toLETTERS FROM READERS/7 being an “unfathomable mystery.” . . Yet, unhappy as we must be that it is so, Goeth’s evil can be fathomed. How hard do we believe it would be, here and now, to find people who, given Goeth’s abso- lute power, would be as absolutely corrupted? Who would, specifi- cally, as freely blow out the brains of Jews-or of homosexu- als, blacks; whomever they de- spised? . . . Of Schindler’s acts in “con- stantly enlarging the roster of his Jewish employees, often taking in people who seem less than able- bodied laborers,” Mr. Gourevitch says, “we never know why.” We do know; these acts speak for them- selves. Despite the Nazi-party but- ton in Schindler’s lapel, we have seen him show no sign of enthusi- asm for Nazism. On the contrary, in the opening nightclub scene we have watched him happily hood- wink real Nazis…. His party but- ton stands for expediency, not for conviction. It would be harder, more tortuous, more lacking in probable cause to think of a bad motive for Schindler’s acts than to accept as genuine the good motive which comes naturally to mind. And, after all, we take the movie as a whole. At the end, our good esti- mate stands confirmed…. Mr. Gourevitch tells us of a cast- ing call last year in Cracow, where Spielberg’s team sought stereo- typically Semitic-looking people and says that “he certainly found them.”… What’s wrong with that? . . . Watching the movie’s Jews, I thought, over and over, they are real; I recognize them….
It did not occur to me that a character pried the silver mezuzah from the door only because he was “stopped from grabbing other valuables.” He took it because of what it was, not what is was made of. Moreover, the glimpses of Jew- ish homes, from which we see the occupants being ejected, tell us more about the culture of these Jews than Mr. Gourevitch con- cedes …
“Perhaps the strangest thing about Spielberg’s Jews is their ac- cents,” Mr. Gourevitch says, and adds, “This may have been a delib- erate directorial decision….” So far, so good. But the accents do not make the “‘inhuman’ Jews sound as alien as possible.” They make them sound like the East Eu- ropean Jews we ourselves have known. The movie uses a mix of devices to give the speech of the characters “them” and “us” tags; “them” being the SS and their con- centration-camp guards; “us” be- ing Schindler and the Jews….
No single film can tell all about the Shoah; this one could not tell more of Oskar Schindler’s life than the years it covered. What it tells, it tells in truth-not including a study of Nazi psychology (except for brief insights into Goeth). I learned from Mr. Gourevitch that “Spielberg has said that he deliber- ately eschewed interpretation in favor of reporting.” Just so. JANIS DE VRIES Belle Mead, NewJersey To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch’s article is an outstanding example of an army of verbiage wandering over four pages in vain search of a thesis. Having decided not to like the movie, Mr. Gourevitch assigns him- self the unhappy task of figuring out why and telling us. The points he makes are more or less trivial, but his biggest problem is that he misses the forest for the trees. The priority in this day and age is to show young people-and older- than-young people who do not know-basically “what happened.” Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, Claude Lanzmann’s documentary film, Shoah, and others along the same line are, of course, outstand- ing statements, but box-office busts. Short of Spielberg’s Schind- ler, we are left with the Holocaust as a made-for-TV movie. That would surely make Oskar Schind- ler “roll over in his Jerusalem grave.” GEORGE HABER New York Institute of Technology Old Westbury, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch’s dissent on Schindler’s List seems right on tar- get in some respects, e.g., Spiel- berg’s ‘Jewish caricatures,” but way off the mark in others, most nota- bly his criticism of Spielberg for not suggesting a motive for Schind- ler’s heroism.
Schindler was honored for his actions, not for his motives. … Mr. Gourevitch says that Spielberg’s unfathomable Schindler suggests moral ambiguity in right action.
Not so; the action was unambigu- ously right; the person doing the action, however, was, like all of us I8/COMMENTARY JUNE 1994 presume, a complex and compli- cated human being….
BERNARD ADELMAN Winthrop, Massachusetts To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: … To tell of the Holocaust in words, or in movies, or in any other form of communication is to demean the eternal message of the Shoah, and that should not be. But to let it fall from worldly memory would be the greater evil. What- ever the shortcomings of his film, Steven Spielberg has contributed as brilliantly as any man could to causing that which should be re- membered to be remembered.
RICHARD PENNER Northbrook, Illinois To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch helped me personally dispel a sense of unease I felt upon viewing the movie. Mr.
Gourevitch points to Thomas Ke- neally’s book on Schindler which clearly shows a man disgusted with Nazi atrocities and determined to oppose “the system” by both sav- ingJews and manufacturing defec- tive munitions. But the movie ver- sion diminishes Schindler’s trans- formation into an anti-Nazi resister while fabricating an out-of-charac- ter ending showing a pitiful man calling himself a Nazi and criminal while moaning that he could have done more. But, as Mr. Gourevitch explains, this never happened…. The moral awakening Schindler experienced is something millions of people are in need of today. The movie can serve to stimulate think- ing, but it will take much to divert many viewers worldwide from a sense that the movie represents adventure and entertainment on a serious subject. ROBERT J. BONSIGNORE Brooklyn, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Philip Gourevitch’s superbly written and irrefutably argued “A Dissent on Schindler’s List” has my complete assent. I would, however, like to mention two other features of the film which increased my ir- ritation when I saw it.
* The schmaltzy music, which was as necessary as adding salt to a schmaltz herring. * The inclusion of a scene show- ing Schindler (Liam Neeson) cop- ulating in bed with one of his cour- tesans. The depiction of the sexual struggle-accompanied by the usual grunts-has become a man- datory staple of Hollywood films, including this one….
These two features, along with the points raised by Mr. Goure- vitch, reinforce the conclusion that Steven Spielberg has Holly- woodized the Holocaust-the most tragic event in history. MILTON BIRNBAUM Springfield, Massachusetts To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: . . .On reading Philip Goure- vitch’s article, I thought he was probably being too hard on the film. Later, after seeing it, I thought he was not hard enough. Steven Spielberg … has not escaped the animated cartoon style of all his previous work. All the characters are cardboard people, simplisti- cally drawn, representing minus- cule . . . aspects of true human character. Schindler’s List is un- moving and uninvolving, only helping us to distance ourselves from confrontation with the evil that is inherent in fallen man…. ELLIS H. POTTER Basel Christian Fellowship Basel, Switzerland PHILIP GOUREVITCH WRITES: I stand corrected by Maurice Friedberg’s identification of the language spoken by Oskar Schind- ler’sJewish “investor” as Polish and not Yiddish. Otherwise, however, I hold to my criticisms of Steven Spielberg’s version of Schindler’s List, and of the mindlessly inflated adulation with which the movie has generally been received.
Mr. Friedberg is one of several writers offended by my pointing to the obsession of Spielberg’s Jews with money and valuables. Of course I realize that “traditional Jews remove mezuzot from their doorposts when there is reason to believe that the next tenants would not be Jews.” If this is what Spiel- berg sought to represent, however, no one unfamiliar with the prac- tice, or who does not know what a mezuzah is, would comprehend it-a serious defect in a movie whose partisans claim that it can serve as a definitive account of the destruction of European Jewry for a previously ignorant mass audi- ence.
My purpose in describing the scene in which aJew, being chased from his apartment by Nazis, tries to grab various valuable objects and only manages to get hold of his mezuzah was to convey what the movie looks like to a spectator with no prior knowledge of the world it purports to “document.” Jewish behavior, I wrote, is viewed in Spielberg’s movie entirely from the perspective of the German per- secutors, and Jews are given virtu- ally no voice to explain their per- spective or their experience.
Several correspondents object to my comparison of the film’sJew- ish extras to Der Stuermer cartoons, suggesting that I must be ashamed of how “we” look. My objection, however, was not to Jewish looks, which I go for, but to the film’s ham-fisted approach to those looks as the fieldmarks of an unsavory otherness. Indeed, the scene I re- ferred to-in which Jewish black marketeers desecrate a Cracow ca- thedral with their dealings (a scene I could not find in Thomas Keneally’s “nonfiction novel” which was Spielberg’s source for the movie)-is simply a glossy Holly- wood remake of any number of blood-libel cartoons. Whatever purpose Spielberg hoped this scene might serve, it certainly does not make Jews appear to movie audiences as “we” appear to “our- selves.” This was also my complaint about the scene in which Jewish children are made to eat jewels wadded in balls of bread. Obvi- ously it is a normal, and prudent, provision to take precious goods when being herded from one’s home, but I found it regrettable that Spielberg chose not to show expressions of the familial and spiritual community which often helpedJews to endure their ordeal as much as their salvaged dia- monds. Mr. Friedberg maintains that Cracow’sJewish children were “beyond tears and consolation …
were, in fact, no longer children.” But of course they were children, and as countless testimonies of child-survivors make clear, the fact that they were robbed of the tradi- tional shelters of childhood only made them more desperate for the affection and consolations that all children need. Rabbi Uri D. Herscher stands out among my correspondents for being uncertain about what I had against Schindler’s List, and why I spoke of it as “the most affirmative film ever made about the Shoah.” What I meant, and what I said, is that in the movie’s depiction of the Nazi war against the Jews, the audi- ence is largely protected from any intimate knowledge of the people who died.LETTERS FROM READERS/9 But at this point I can hear the protest that, as Steven Goldberg puts it, Schindler’s List “is not about the Holocaust per se; it is about Schindler.” Well, I refer Mr.
Goldberg to Alfred Lipson and Jonathan Balsam. Schindler’s List, Mr. Lipson writes, will allow “mil- lions of uninformed viewers” to “learn about the most horrible crime in history.” And Mr. Balsam asserts that “the film is not about the plight of a person or a family. It is about the Shoah….” This confusion is inherent in Spielberg’s choice of material.
Claude Lanzmann, the director of the nine-hour documentary, Shoah, and a self-described admirer of Spielberg, has written that as soon as he heard of the making of Schindler’s List, he said to himself: Spielberg is going to find himself confronted with a dilemma: he can- not recount the story of Schindler without also telling what the Holo- caust was; and how can he tell what the Holocaust was in recounting the story of a German who saved 1,100Jews, since the overwhelming majority of Jews were not saved? …
No, it did not happen like that for everyone. At Treblinka, or at Auschwitz, the question of salvation was not posed this way at all.
Schindler’s List can be expected to stand for some time as the pri- mary transmission belt of Holo- caust “history” in the world. While the tears of Mr. Lipson’s unin- formed viewers and of survivors like Norbert Friedman and Wil- liam Shattan may bring catharsis, they cannot wash away the fact that as a representation of the Holo- caust, Spielberg’s movie, with its happy ending, is what Lanzmann calls “inverted history” and “kitschy melodrama.” By invoking Lanzmann’s name, I realize I may be exposing myself to more charges of “art-house” elit- ism of the kind that abounds in these letters. William Shattan calls me “a brainy technician with little heart or feeling”; Ruth King calls me “niggardly”; Sam Tischler calls my remarks catty and “picayune”; Allen Bodner decries my “petu- lance”; Sanford Pinsker accuses me, against all evidence, of “advo- cating silence”; and James Heft and Ruth Weinshall advise readers to smoke dope before confronting my callous treatment of Spielberg’s “object of art.” These populist put-downs smack of a bogus and distinctly conde- scending middlebrowism. Taken together, they seem to argue that Schindler’s List is above criticism because it brings an indisputably good message to the great un- washed. The writers of these let- ters, of course, do not count them- selves among the unaware or the unwashed; not one of them claims to have been ignorant of the Holo- caust before seeing the movie, or to have entered the theater with- out knowing in advance with whom he would identify; and none claims to have learned anything from Schindler’s List. Mr. Pinsker even says I am right to point out the film’s “warts,” but avers that its disfigured version of the Holo- caust is nevertheless good enough for the masses.
The double standard that grants a sacred status to representations of the Holocaust, and to the emo- tions they stir up, reflects the dan- gerous trend I described in my ar- ticle: confusing art with event and commemoration with experience.
To judge by the heat of these let- ters, one might think I had been disputing the facts of the Holo- caust itself rather than the manner in which Steven Spielberg chose to dramatize some of them in a Hol- lywood movie. It is incomprehen- sible to me that so many intelli- gent people, who do not, I suspect, like being talked down to, should jump on me as a snooty carper for attempting to view this movie so- berly and seriously.
Some critics of Schindler’s List, Lanzmann among them, argue that it is impossible to represent the Holocaust in a dramatic film, or in any kind of fiction. I do not agree. Superb novels have been written about those years, about the process of extermination and also about resistance and survival: Andre Schwarz-Bart’s The Last of the Just, Jiri Weil’s Life With a Star, Primo Levi’s If Not Now, When?, to name a few. On film, the great artistic representations have been documentaries: Marcel Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity and Hotel Terminus, and Lanzmann’s Shoah.
Feature films that have treated the period most succesfully, like Louis Malle’s Au Revoir les Enfants, have wisely avoided the challenge of representing the Nazi killing ma- chine in full force. But if the his- SpeakHebrew I like a d plomat I I What sort of people need to learn a The sounds of modern Hebrew are foreign language as quickly and effec- relatively easy for Americans to learn. tively as possible? Foreign Service With the advantage of hearing a native I personnel, that’s who. Members of speaking Hebrew on tape, and the ability I America’s diplomatic corps are assigned to rewind your cassette for review, you I to U.S. embassies abroad, where they learn the language as spoken today at must be able to converse fluently in every your convenience and at your own speed. | situation. I Now you can learn to speak Hebrew Basic Hebrew Course: 24 cassettes I just as these diplomatic personnel do – (24 hr.), plus 552-pagetext. Allfor $235. | with the Foreign Service Institute’s (CT residents add sales tax.) I Hebrew course. | This course is designed to teach you to speak and read modern Hebrew. It is To order by phone, please call I not intended as a text for the study of the toll-free: 1-800-243-1234 Bible or other Hebrew literature. The course teaches an easy, unaccented, To order by mail, clip this ad and send with conversational language with emphasis your name and address, and a check or money I on spoken Hebrew, although reading and order – or charge to any major credit card by | writing skills are acquired as study enclosing card number, expiration date, and progresses. your signature. Thecoursetumsyourcassetteplayer The Foreign Service Institute’s Hebrew into a “teaching machine.” It starts by course is unconditionally guaranteed. Try I training you in the sounds and pronuncia- it for three weeks. If you are not convinced I tion of Hebrew. In subsequent lessons it’s the fastest, easiest, most painless way the method of instruction incorporates to learn Hebrew, return it and we will refund I guided imitation, repetition, memorization, every penny you paid. Order today! pattern and response drills, and conversa- 264 courses in 90 other languages I tion. You set vour own oace – testing also available. Write us for free I !l I yourself, correcting errors, reinforcing catalog. Our 22nd year. accurate responses. The accompanying Audio-Forum, I text includes a 15-page glossary and a Room G621, section on the Hebrew alphabet. 96 Broad St., I _U _I____ Guilford, CT 06437 ,| IE LPuNlsssaum BOURCE ar?(203) 453-9794 I I I I a —— _- 0—–1– — % . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 11~ ~ ~ T a ; L JI ~ J J 1010/COMMENTARY JUNE 1994 tory of the Holocaust is still not universally known, the problem will not be solved by Hollywood.
Schindler was a remarkable man, and it is essential that the exceptional acts of resistance and defiance during the Holocaust by both Jews and Gentiles be told in any full accounting. But when the wish for heroes is allowed to adul- terate history, the consequences are always perverse. A telling side- effect of Spielberg’s movie is that several former Nazi functionaries who have faced trials for war crimes-among them Jack Reimer of Lake Carmel, New York, and Paul Touvier in France-have de- veloped what Jeffrey Goldberg of the Forward has called a “Schind- ler defense.” Touvier, who served in a militia loyal to the Gestapo, sought acquit- tal for the murder of sevenJews on the grounds of extenuating cir- cumstances: he had to kill the seven, he said at his recent trial (at which he was finally convicted), in order to save 93 others. Reimer, whose war record includes partici- pation in at least one mass execu- tion, told Goldberg: “Look at this Schindler. Here was a man who was a Nazi, who was in the Nazi party, and he saved the Jews. Now look at me. I wasn’t even a member of the Nazi party. I was not a Nazi. So why won’t they believe me when I say I did nothing?” Such are the tinsel-town hopes that have been stirred by Schind- ler’s List. Ben Kingsley, who plays aJew in the film, has said that Os- cars are not enough for Steven Spielberg, he should get the Nobel Peace Prize. This asinine fantasy goes hand in hand with the remark of Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of the Walt Disney film studios, who re- cently told the Spielberg-crazed New Yorker magazine, “I don’t want to burden the movie too much, but I think it will bring peace on earth, good will to men.” Meanwhile, back on planet earth, Steven Spielberg hefted his Academy Awards’ Oscar, giving thanks to his family and all the little people who made his happy moment possible-you know, “the six million who can’t be watching this among the two billion that are watching this telecast tonight.” To the many people who left Schind- ler’s List feeling “affirmed,” I can only say that although I experi- enced no such catharsis at the movie, Spielberg’s words made me want to weep.
Talbottism TO THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: One can have thought the USSR an evil empire and Strobe Talbott naive concerning it and still not consider the current announce- ment of future NATO membership for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic part of an opti- mum policy for East European se- curity. In military matters it is bet- ter to say less and do more. Presi- dent Clinton has said little and will do less. George Weigel’s error, in “Creeping Talbottism” [March], is in thinking that by saying more about NATO now the West will be constrained to do more both now and later. Instead, the West should say less about NATO and more about the European Union (EU).
Meaningful NATO/East European military preparation is more im- portant than any announcement, but less likely to occur. A Western announcement of East European membership in the EU, not in NATO, will more likely lead to such preparation. If it does not, the West will at least have done itself less damage than empty talk about NATO.
When one fully articulates the balance-of-power analysis support- ing Mr. Weigel’s proposal, its weak- nesses become apparent. To the West’s great good fortune, the USSR accepted a unified Germany within NATO; the Soviet Union then disintegrated and left a tur- bulent but potentially democratic Russia in its wake, thereby drasti- cally shifting the balance of power in favor of the West. In light of this, Mr. Weigel urges the West to draw a line in future sand, i.e., to announce future East European/ NATO membership dates, a pro- posal he supports with the follow- ing considerations: 1. Russia is unlikely to be weaker in the foreseeable future than it is now; thus, it is less able to do any- thing about such line-drawing now than it will be later. (True.) 2. Russia cannot “legitimately” complain about the line-drawing.
(True and false. True from the West’s perspective, but even a nonimperialist Russian Defense Minister could be forgiven for be- lieving that, in light of other post- 1988 events, such line-drawing openly attempts to shift the bal- ance of power too far.) 3. Drawing the line now will constrain future Western leaders to observe it even if, as is quite likely, some of them are more Talbottic than Talbott. (False.
Similar past leaders have demon- strated amazing talent for ignor- ing even brighter lines.) 4. Refraining from line-drawing now because it may negatively af- fect Russian prospects for a non- imperial free-market democracy is appeasement. (True only if there isn’t a better way to improve East European security without openly slapping a nascently democratic Russia in the face.) A better solution appears when one reflects on why there is no clamor for France to rejoin, and Sweden to join, NATO. France is a de-facto NATO member; Sweden, it has now been admitted, was a quasi-member all along, of greater military significance due to geog- raphy and preparation than offi- cial-member Belgium (and with- out complicating NATO’s decision- making). Besides, France already is, and Sweden may this year be- come, an EU member.
Thus, a better proposal: have NATO in fact coordinate militarily with Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic on a level some- where between NATO’s coordina- tion with France and Sweden, and require East European countries to qualify politically and economi- cally for EU membership in order to obtain openly acknowledged Western military protection. Rus- sian Defense Ministers are more impressed by actual military prepa- ration but more affronted by pre- mature, particularly if empty, NATO membership announce- ments. EU membership has a pri- marily nonmilitary rationale, but in Eastern Europe it has strong military implications as well. More- over, given the low political and economic demands NATO has his- torically made on its members and the higher ones the EU now makes, East European countries should be required to qualify for the EU to obtain an openly acknow- ledged Western military shield.
The goal of EU membership may do more to inhibit, say, a dema- gogic Hungarian Prime Minister from pursuing a “vive Transylvania libre” policy than NATO member- ship did to inhibit the Greek colo- nels from adventures in Cyprus.
I do not dare hope that Clinton and Talbott thought through the above in opting for their Partner- ship-for-Peace solution, though re- cent EU announcements concern- ing East European membership12/COMMENTARYJUNE 1994 indicate the EU might have. I am thankful, however, that Clinton did … not add the insult to Russia Mr.
Weigel proposes to the injury to the West he will commit by his al- most certain neglect of the re- quired NATO/East European mili- tary preparations. DOUGLAS HOFFMAN Chicago, Illinois To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: In “Creeping Talbottism,” George Weigel either didn’t get it or didn’t dare say it. Talbottism has its true roots in the maddening thirst for absolu- tion by those who, either directly or indirectly, but in any case wit- tingly and calculatedly, supported Hanoi during the Vietnam war, and who now have to live with the fall of the meccas of Leninist- Stalinist Communism worldwide (except in Havana and Pyong- yang). They bet on the wrong horse and lost, but now do not want to concede their loss. That is why they lobbied ardently for President Clinton-the archetype and quin- tessence of the pro-Hanoi crowd- to lift the embargo on Hanoi.
That is why they can be seen now engaged in a frenzied but fu- tile revisionist attempt to rewrite history by proposing that the de- funct Soviet Union did not pose a real threat to the West. Instead of coming to terms with their sorry past and admitting … that Amer- ica was right in containing Soviet expansionism worldwide, includ- ing in Vietnam, they vainly dive into a sea of denial and self-delu- sion.
It must be tough to face the fact of having contributed directly to the suffering and even torture and death of millions of victims of Communism worldwide. Those with a figment of decency must have a hard time in front of the mirror every morning. …. And even worse, what will they say when asked by their children . . . why they didn’t support America’s ef- fort to challenge the Soviets in Vietnam? Escapism seems to be the choice of those attempting a way out, and Talbottism-practiced from the vantage point of most impact, the State Department-provides the best escapism the Clinton crowd could have ever self-servingly de- vised.
But the problem with this self- prescribed and self-applied ther- apy is the damage Talbottism causes to others…. On one side, its false version of history leads the uninformed in America and else- where to the wrong conclusions.
And on the other side, highly criti- cal American foreign policy is be- ing molded in light of the fallacies in Talbottism. Therefore, as if Clintonism weren’t bad enough, the damage that Talbottism will cause to America and to the rest of the world-as a consequence of being applied in these crucial times when genuine democracy should be cemented in the coun- tries of the former Soviet bloc- will be disastrous.
In the same way that Germans have to be reminded of the wrongs of Nazism, Italians of Fascism, and Japanese of militarism, the peoples of the former Soviet-bloc nations, and particularly those of the ex- Soviet Union itself, should be made aware and reminded of the wrongs of the system that they sup- ported, or at least tolerated. However, with Talbottism-which unabashedly embraces the “moral- equivalence” sophism-what those peoples are being told is that the West, and America in particular, was as wrong as they were.
America will pay dearly for the historic mistake committed by 43 percent of the electorate in voting for Clinton; Talbottism, among other “isms” in the Clinton broth- erhood, will guarantee it. REN F. GUERRA Sunnyvale, California GEORGE WEIGEL WRITES: Douglas Hoffman’s interesting “European Union First” proposal would be more persuasive had sev- eral key EU countries, notably France, taken a more positive stance toward the consolidation of free economies and democratic polities in East Central Europe by lowering their protectionist trade barriers, which have been stifling the new democracies’ exports.
Would a France unwilling to con- front its rambunctious and highly- subsidized farmers in order to put its own economic house in order be willing to do so to help the Poles? It seems rather unlikely. This is not to disparage the pos- sibility of EU membership for the East Central European democra- cies, which would probably be a very good thing (although one does have to wonder about the effects of the stultifying Euro- bureaucracy on the new democra- cies); it is simply to point out some of the difficulties inherent in the marriage. Moreover, the eagerness of countries like the Czech Repub- lic, Hungary, and Poland to join NATO as soon as possible suggests that, in these countries’ minds at least, NATO is the truly conse- quential alliance of Western demo- cratic states. On the assumption that these countries know their neighborhood and their interests a bit better than we do, perhaps we should take them more at their word in these matters. One does have to wonder, how- ever, what the last several months of Clintonian ineptitude in the Balkans have done to NATO. One thing seems certain: without Amer- ican leadership, NATO is ineffec- tual, even feckless. And without American leadership, the question of enlarging the sphere of demo- cratic stability in Europe by enlarg- ing the membership of NATO will remain largely moot. One of the lessons of the unhappy 60’s that Bill Clinton and Strobe Talbott seem to have brought with them to high office is a diffidence, at times bordering on insouciance, about the American political-military role in the world. Its grave dangers are now on full display, from Pyongyang to Baghdad to Sarajevo.
The Clintons & Whitewater To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Lynn Chu’s article [“What Did the Clintons Know & When Did They Know It?,” March] was a very good summary of the Whitewater scandal, but since its publication many more details have come out-enough to make it possible that Bill Clinton will not last out his term in office. The Clintons have always had a shallow core constituency. They have no reliable agenda. They have shown a pattern of betraying lifelong friends. Unlike Ronald Reagan or even Lyndon Johnson, who was a power before becoming President, the Clintons have no reservoir of good faith. They have no safety net. Clinton became President in a three-man race by running as a “New Democrat” and pulling un- usually strong support from the business community. Coming from Arkansas, he was never the darling of liberals. He did get liberal sup- port because he promised that, if he were elected, the country would get a “two-for”-Hillary would beLETTERS FROM READERS/13 his partner. Hillary was the great hope of the feminists, minorities, and gays. To further shore up lib- eral support while he was postur- ing as a moderate, Clinton chose Al Gore as a running mate. (Pick- ing a running mate who is more popular with the core of your party carries grave risks.) Hillary and Gore, in their re- spective ways, are key to President Clinton’s future demise-which will be carried out not by conser- vative Republicans but by liberal Democrats. Despite her skillful performance at her press con- ference in April, Hillary remains neck-deep in scandal. Her effec- tiveness as the spear-thrower for liberal causes has been de- stroyed. Gone are Foster, Nuss- baum, Hubbell-her personal ap- pointments …. Now liberals will see they have the chance of a lifetime to get a genuine liberal, unelectable through normal channels, to be- come President. Gore, the authen- tic liberal, is on deck. So the im- portant thing to watch from now on is not the Republicans: keep an eye on the liberal media and the Democratic leaders-that is where the action will be.
The following can be expected to make headlines over the next few months: Once the televised hearings be- gin, members of the Rose Law Firm, bitter about the Clintons destroying the firm’s image, will eagerly step forward to provide new evidence of wrongdoing.
Members of the White House staff, many of whom are young and ide- alistic, will be served subpoenas, resulting in their having to hire criminal lawyers and pay for them out of their own pockets. (Federal law prohibits pro-bono services to federal employees.) They, too, will be a ripe source of sordid details.
The friends of Bill and Hillary, many of whom benefited, partici- pated, and/or witnessed a pattern of corrupt practices over many years, . . . will become another source of leaks and information and, of course, be the subject of numerous subpoenas and grand- jury appearances.
Once the hearings get going, they will be difficult to stop, and all the questions raised by Lynn Chu will surface again, as the spe- cial prosecutor’s investigation moves forward. The Democrats will feel increasingly threatened facing this November’s elections.
You deserve a factual look at…
Peace in the Middle East (2) Is the peace with Egypt an encouraging example for Israel! In the on-again/off-again Mid-East Peace negotiations the Arabs expect that, in exchange for peace, the territories that they consider to be “occupied” by Israel be restored to them, specifically, the so-called “West Bank”, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
What are the facts? become engaged with Israeli firms. Israeli firms are barred form submitting Peace with Egypt is the coldest tenders for local projects. For “security possible. For its agreement to make reasons” Israeli firms are not allowed to true peace with Israel, Egypt received participate in trade fairs. Although quite the huge Sinai Peninsula in which Israel a few Israelis visit Egypt, hardly any had invested over $10 billion. It had cre- Egyptians go to Israel since those who do ated flourishing cities, some of the most wish to visit are summoned to the securi- advanced military and naval installa- ty police for lengthy interrogation. tions in the world, and had developed Not forthcoming on diplomatic oil fields that would have made it ener- front. Many Israelis have been killed in gy independent for the foreseeable Egypt or on the Egyptian border. The future. Without firing a shot, Egypt Egyptian media, including the official and received all of this, plus generous grants semi-official press, are full of anti-Israel from the United States-$40 billion to and anti-Jewish venom, preaching hatred date. What and prejudice. Egypt gave in There have return was a “Israel’s present government must be corn- been numerous piece of paper. mended for proceeding with the greatest instances of And even that caution in the current peace negotiations.” “crazed” Egypt- was hedged. It ian soldiers would allow Egypt to join in an “Arab War” against Israel. The peace between Israel and Egypt, which the Israelis had envisioned to be like the peace between Germany and France, turned out, unfortunately, to be the “coldest peace” possible. It is, less of a peace than a de facto state of non-belligerence. The Israeli ambas- sador in Cairo is isolated and blacklisted and does not participate in any official functions of the Egyptian government. There is practically no trade between the two countries and no cultural exchange. The public sector of Egypt, which consti- tutes 80% of the total economy is forbid- den to do business with Israel. Private enterprises are actively discouraged and often threatened when they try to shooting up Israeli buses traveling along the border highways, to the general applause of the state-controlled media. On the diplomatic front, the Egyptians aren’t any more forthcoming. Egypt spearheaded the cam- paign to keeping the “Zionism is racism” resolution in the U.N., contrary to U.S. wishes. Egypt exerts much effort to pre- vent African countries from establishing or renewing diplomatic relations with Israel. Egyptian diplomats, including Butros-Butros Ghali, now secretary gen- eral of the United Nations, lobbied fer- vently against the loan guarantees that Israel needed to absorb and to settle the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who have already arrived or will still arrive form the former Soviet Union.
The saving grace for Israel in its very cold peace with Egypt is that the Sinai is very large, and serves as a buffer zone. But in the Golan Heights, which the Syrians wish to have returned in exchange for “peace”, and the “West Bank” and Gaza, which the Palestinians whish to have given to them as a “reward” for stopping the “intifada”, there is no room at all for buffer zones. Although autonomy for the native Arab population is definitely an Israeli policy goal and a commitment under the Camp David Accords, the “West Bank” and Gaza and the Golan cannot possibly be surrendered to another sovereignty for any foreseeable future. It would make Israel totally indefensible. If the peace with Egypt is an example of what peace with Syria or with the Palestinians would look like, Israel’s present government must be commended for proceeding with the greatest caution in the current negotiations and not to entrust its survival to empty promises. Only when the Arabs truly accept Israel as part of the Middle East should any further “land for peace” adjustments be considered.
This ad has been published and paid for by FLAME Facts and Logic about the Middle East PO. Box 590359 · San Fancisoo,CA 94159 FLAME is a tax-exempt, non-profit 501(c)(3)organiza- don. Its purpose is the research and publication of the facts regarding developments in the Middle East and exposing false propaganda that might harm the interests of the United States and its allies in that area of the world. Your tax-deductible contributions are welcome. They enable us to pursue these goals and to publish these messages in national newspapers and magazines. We have virtually no overhead. Aln rt all of our revenue pays for our educational work, for these clarifying messages, and for related direct mai.
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My name is I live at In S tate __ Zip __ I Mail to FLAME P.O. Box 590359 San Francisco, CA 94159 I I14/COMMENTARYJUNE 1994 A Democrat has not won a major governor’s or mayor’s race since Clinton was elected….
Richard Nixon resigned when the Republican leadership walked into the White House and told him he had lost all credibility. The next day he was on a chopper-phlebi- tis and all.
Some day, sooner than Novem- ber 1996, the Democratic leader- ship will take the walk to the White House. The precedent has been set … HERBERT WATSON New York City Parents & Children To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: In “Are Parents Bad for Chil- dren?” [March], Dana Mack poses a question which is loaded with potential for misinterpretation. A more suitable title might have been, “Have You Stopped Beating Your Children?” Miss Mack gives the reader a grossly distorted critique of Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good. I have read this book repeatedly because of the strong words which Miller has for parents who beat their chil- dren to enforce obedience. Miller insists that parents have a right to discipline their children, but they have no right to punish them.
What is the difference between dis- cipline and punishment? Discipline, which comes from the Latin word disciplina, means “to teach.” Discipline does not mean to hit, to push, to shove, or to force. The parent who knows how to discipline a child teaches that child how to control his be- havior in an acceptable manner.
Discipline inspires love between the teacher and the child.
Punishment is the willful inflic- tion of pain to enforce obedience.
A parent who believes in punish- ing a child for disobedience be- lieves that his main task is to con- trol the behavior of that child. If the child resists, the parent be- lieves he has a right to break the will and the spirit of the child so that the child will learn to do ex- actly as he is told. An abusive par- ent will use fear, force, and pain to make certain that the child knows just who is boss. Punishment in- spires hatred between the parent and the child-hatred which the child must suppress at all costs.
Would any adult who is free to change his job continue to work for a boss who regularly beat him with a whip when he failed to meet his sales quota? Of course not! Yet a child cannot leave a parent who whips him, curses him, and tells him that he is a useless dreg who is unfit to live in the family.
My mother used to beat me with a razor strap whenever I displeased her or made a mistake. Those beat- ings were so painful that I eventu- ally shut down my body so that I could feel nothing. I grew up with a profound distrust of any person wielding authority and learned to avoid contact with people. Has Dana Mack ever felt the pain of a razor strap lashing across her back? . . .
I believe that Alice Miller’s por- trait of Adolf Hitler in For Your Own Good is the most profound analysis I have yet read of Hitler and offers the best explanation of why he had such power to per- suade the German people to fol- low him.
Hitler’s father beat him with a razor strap for the slightest infrac- tion of the rules. Adolf, who could not strike back at his father, en- dured those beatings with a stoic calm, yet burned with rage and anger toward his father. What hap- pened to those feelings? Did Adolf forget? Not on your life! Those feelings of rage and hatred toward his father, which he had to sup- press at all costs, emerged with full force when he became an adult.
Now he had the power to inflict pain and punishment on weaker persons. Now he could release his venom at a target which could not fight back-the Jewish people …
A person who has been beaten by a parent learns that the way to resolve a conflict is with a fist. The boy who is beaten grows up to be the man who beats his wife. There is no great mystery in :his matter.
A person who believes and prac- tices the principles of democracy will not beat his children in a dis- pute, because such a man believes that every person has a right to express his opinion-including his own children. A person who believes in the principles of fascism will beat his children in an argument to settle the matter because the core of fas- cist belief is that “might makes right.” Or to put in the vernacular, “We’ll just see who’s boss!” From that premise, such a person will lash out with a razor strap, a stick, an ax handle, or anything he can get his hands on to smash and break the will and spirit of some- one smaller and weaker-includ- ing his own children.
I take exception to the ideas of Dana Mack and her distorted criti- cism of Alice Miller. I suggest that Miss Mack stay in her ivory tower at the Institute for American Val- ues. HAROLD THEISEN Brooklyn, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Dana Mack castigates Dr. Ben- jamin Spock for undermining tra- ditional disciplinary methods that relied on anger and reprobation.
To drive home her point, she cites the following example of Spock’s permissiveness: In Baby and Child Care, he [Spock] suggested that parents might re- spond to school-age stealing by “thinking over” whether their child might “need more … approval at home,” and even a raise in allow- ance! After reading this passage, I de- cided to look up what Spock had actually said in my well-worn and yellowing copy of Baby and Child Care (1962). In the section on stealing, I could find no evidence that Spock advised raising a young thief’s allowance, but I did read the following: It is essential that a child know clearly that his parents disapprove of any stealing and insist on imme- diate restitution…. If you are pretty sure that your child (or pu- pil) has stolen something, tell him so, be firm about knowing where he got it, insist on restitution. In other words, don’t make it easy for him to lie. (If a parent accepts lies too easily, it’s as if he were condon- ing the theft.) It seems to me, then, that Miss Mack’s assertion that Spock “turned the ideal of good parenthood on its head” is not a fair one. On the contrary-he advised parents to be firm and forthright in their disap- proval of stealing. JOHN P. BOZZONE Ithaca, New York DANA MACK WRITES: John P. Bozzone seems to have missed Dr. Benjamin Spock’s ad- vice to parents on childhood steal- ing: “It is time to think over whether the child needs more af- fection and approval at home, and help in making closer friendships outside. This is the time to give him, if possible, an allowance ofThe Report that Shocked America…
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_—————————— — “‘-16/COMMENTARYJUNE 1994 about the same size as that of the other children he knows.” This sentence, which appears later in the section from which Mr. Boz- zone quotes, is characteristic of Spock’s predilection for viewing childhood transgressions as indi- cations of deprivation and psychic suffering. Yes, Spock does advise parents to insist on restitution of stolen objects, but he also advises them to sympathize with the child who steals, and even to make amends for the alleged need which provoked the stealing. The prob- lem with this approach, of course, is that to offer children amends for stealing is to justify the act.
Notwithstanding my sympathy for Harold Theisen’s difficult childhood, I am immediately struck by his assertion that punishment “is the willful infliction of pain to enforce obedience.” That, of course, is not at all a definition of punish- ment; that is more accurately a definition of abuse. But then, these very separate things are today of- ten confused.
Few parents teach obedience out of willfulness, and few parents teach obedience to themselves, per se. Rather, most parents teach obe- dience to the moral injunctions, rules of personal safety, and social forms by which they live, and which they know are best for their children. And they see occasional punishment as an important, if unpleasant, aspect of their paren- tal duty to cultivate children into responsible members of family and community. The idea behind “punishment,” I should think, is to impress upon a child, by means of some slight sacrifice on his part, the pain he may have inflicted on others by a wayward action. Moreover, when a parent punishes, he demonstrates to his children his own unwavering regard for good character and con- duct.
Mr. Theisen reiterates one of Alice Miller’s most popular ideas: that traditional family life, in as- serting the absolute authority of mothers and fathers over children, is a training ground for fascism and social violence. Miller’s po- lemical depiction of 19th-century German child-rearing conventions is, of course, designed to convince the uncritical reader that there is something to this idea. But her theories, unfortunately, do not hold up to the scrutiny of social science. Not even the subtle minds of the Frankfurt School for Social Re- search got very far with the thesis that Nazism emanated from an old-world, “authoritarian” German family structure. And today, in studying the steady surge of juve- nile crime and violence, social sci- entists find that it is not at all asso- ciated with “authoritarian” meth- ods of child-rearing. Rather, they find that juvenile delinquents are overwhelmingly children who come from families where there is no consistent authority figure present.
“Talking to the Enemy” To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Thank you for publishing Avner Mandelman’s story, “Talking to the Enemy” [February]. Besides being a superb “thriller,” it says a lot about the subtle connections be- tween private and public morality.
JOSEPH SHATTAN Silver Spring, Maryland China Today TO THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Cultures are always evolving, and it may be difficult or even im- possible to determine to what ex- tent developments are influenced by contact with other societies.
Charles Horner, in “China on Our Minds” [January], contrasts the analyses of 30 years ago, when “it seemed that the great tradition of China would prove no match for an all-conquering Westernism,” with current observations that tell us about “the spirit of capitalism and Confucianism.” Mr. Horner is less than optimis- tic about the future of political lib- erty in China: “For imagining a democratized China in our age of Western confusion involves convic- tion and commitment to principle as great as the one which envi- sioned a Christianized China in an earlier age of Western certitude.” My own experience as a teacher at Hebei Univesity in Baoding, Chi- na, during the spring semesters of 1984 and 1989 leads me to believe that China is extremely open to Western ideas, for better or worse. Marxism is ignored but never- theless honored in China. I spoke to students and colleagues who dismissed socialism as a failure, but grew defensive when I suggested that the cruelty and violence of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR had a common ideological ances- tor. Marx teaches only kindness, they said. The Cultural Revolution was an expression of a flaw in the Chinese character, they added, finding it easier to blame their own people than Marx. Indeed, I be- lieve that China’s current love af- fair with capitalism is merely nega- tive Marxism-a reversal rather than a rejection of the faith China once had in Communism. Paradoxically, while claiming that economic systems hold the answer to all questions, many Chi- nese people I spoke to expressed great admiration for Christianity. I would not be surprised if Christi- anity were one day to become as powerful in China as it is now in South Korea.
GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ College of Staten Island Staten Island, New York To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Charles Horner again shows a well-focused ability to assess trends … in Asia. As in his previous ar- ticle, “China on the Rise” [Decem- ber 1992], he is essentially correct in his analysis…. Anyone with any experience of current develop- ments in “Greater China” can, like Mr. Horner, perceive the inevitable writing on the wall of history. In the spring of 1992, I visited China under the auspices of the International Center for Criminal Justice and the Pacific Rim Insti- tute of the American Jewish Com- mittee. As a MeiGuo You Tai (American Jew), I was given ex- traordinary access to persons and institutions that allowed me a pro- found . . . look at the rise of neo- Confucianism in China…. Perhaps most relevant in this connection . . .is the Chinese ac- ceptance of business and “capital- ism,” going back 5,000 years, which was interrupted for only a single generation under Mao. The Chi- nese economy is currently experi- encing an almost exponential growth, fueled by a basically hard- working, ambitious, and compe- tent workforce. There is an enor- mous reserve of natural resources that is beginning to be tapped to further this growth (with possible ecological ramifications and ac- companying problems)…. Let me also point out the rel- evance to Israel and worldJewry of the rise of China. …. There is a positive regard for OccidentalJews in China. Young Chinese are taught in Junior Middle School that they are part of 5,000 years ofLETTERS FROM READERS/17 continuity and tradition that is matched only by the You-Tairen who are socially and historically the most like them. Chinese tradi- tionally regard Jews as kindred spirits in the “Custodianship of Ancient Traditions and Continu- ity.” Thus, the disclosure of secret diplomatic and even military ties between Israel and China dating back to the 1950’s should not have come as a surprise. Beijing and Shanghai currently abound with Israelis who are more than tourists and actually the vanguard of ma- jor economic ties between the two nations and peoples. In Shanghai I was even a guest of the Judaic Studies Association and the Cen- ter of Israel Studies….
The development of China has reflected the success of the Han ethnic group (94 percent of the current Chinese population) in absorbing and assimilating even their conquerors as well as the tri- umph of benevolent authoritarian leaders and elites in productively managing titanic . . . populations.
The concept of benevolent elites that efficiently manage society is correctly perceived by Mr. Horner as a tempting model for Western intelligentsia, often with their own vision of how they themselves might play such a role. The neo- Confucianism that now permeates Asia has little connection with, or ideological commitment to, the now-defunct Soviet model that China followed in the 1950’s. The current … model for China is the popular authoritarian state suc- cessfully achieved by Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore. By American stan- dards, Singapore is an often op- pressive state which administers swift retribution for perceived criminal violations such as litter- ing, improper hygiene, and drug trafficking. It is also a society that has the support of the majority of its citizens who have essentially traded democratic freedoms and individual prerogatives for safe and clean streets and economic comforts. But it would be a serious mis- take to judge these uniquely Asian manifestations through Americo- centric perceptions…. During a visit to Shanghai I had the great fortune to meet and discuss the criminal-justice system with the Chief Judge of Shanghai, Li Hai- Qing…. His . . . view is that the most basic human right is the right not to have one’s freedom in- fringed by criminals…. He also WE CAN RECEIVE LIVE RADIO FEEDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD INTRODUCTORY CHARTER RATES ALSO AVAILABLE FOR ADVERTISERS AllU Jewlsh ANU The TlmeUl. A Te.u.d -d CoPr.ti.n Satio ROCKLAND COUNTY- WESTCHESTER BERGEN & ORANGE COUNTIES FRESH MEADOWS CABLEVISION CHANNEL 16 & MANHATTAN CABLE RADIO 93. FM ACUOSS THE US, CAi, MEXICO & THE CARIUEAN VIA SATEIUTE ON SATCOM FR TRANSFONER 22, 7A MEGN.
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and proportionally has the largest Orthodox and Hassidic community in the nation accounting for approximately 30% of Rockland’s total Jewish population.18/COMMENTARYJUNE 1994 said that the American system of condemning people to death and then subjecting them to ten or more years of expensive appeals before carrying out the sentence is both barbarically cruel and waste- ful. I submit that while this view is essentially Chinese and Asian, it attracts much sympathy and even envy in an America that is sub- jected to the excesses of crime and social dysfunction. We should also face the objective fact that while we might have strong reservations about the conduct of the Chinese vis-a-vis “human rights,” we are still the nation with the highest num- ber of incarcerated persons on the planet. I was able to view the reality of prison labor at Shanghai prison, where I toured the prison work- shop and observed inmates mak- ing cheap sneakers for discount shoe stores in the U.S. and massive rolls of counterfeit worsted wool and Scottish tweed for the British and Irish markets. The reply of the prison staff to a question about the use of prisoners to compete in the world market was that prisoners needed to pay for their own incar- ceration rather than having it paid for by law-abiding citizens…. Transgressions or violations of pe- nal discipline are swiftly and bru- tally punished. But good behavior, “progress,” and the development of a “good attitude” are just as quickly rewarded….
It would be obtuse and irrespon- sible to claim that these methods would be worthwhile and practical in an American setting, despite being obviously attractive to many Americans. But does this not also compel us to recognize that many American values and views may be inappropriate and impractical for China and Asia? . . .
The real power one nation has over another is that of making available ideas, values, and con- cepts that can be productively used by the other society, thereby in- creasing its susceptibility to further influence. The drawing back of the U.S. after the Tiananmen tragedy, therefore, was a likely error in that it prevented this country from us- ing social, academic, political, and, most effectively, economic means to bolster alternatives to the brutal direction taken by China in 1989. There is an enormous wealth of ideas, values, technology, and re- sources … that beg to be released through the open interaction of the Chinese and American people.
The rise of China in the 21st cen- tury could easily be linked to a re- newal and rise of the U.S. The pri- mary question is, do we have the will and strength of commitment to take advantage of what is readily available? MAX WINKLER Denver, Colorado CHARLES HORNER WRITES: GeorgeJochnowitz’s experience as a visiting teacher in China, re- peated many times by others, and reinforced by the experiences of the tens of thousands of Chinese who have studied, and who are studying, in the United States would seem to provide the best corrective to my own circumspec- tion. These exchanges can only help in creating a climate in China more open to modern ideas about political liberty and human rights.
Whatever else happens in Sino- American relations, one hopes that they will be multiplied. On the other hand, if there are Chinese who profess, by Mr. Jochnowitz’s own testimony, a high regard for both Marxism and Christianity, that is another reminder of the obstacles to real cross-cultural un- derstanding that still remain. Of the many points raised by Max Winkler, I would offer a spe- cial caution about two. The first is his characterization of the Chinese penal system, based on his brief and controlled access to it. There is, in fact, substantial evidence that the Chinese gulag is as tough and as brutal as its Soviet inspiration. So Mr. Winkler should not believe that he saw anything like the “real- ity of prison labor” during his visit to Shanghai. As for the relation- ship between China and Israel, China has indeed had military re- lations with the Jewish state. It has also exported weapons to Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. These practices do not reflect high re- gard for Israelis, Arabs, or Iranians as such, but rather longstanding and characteristically supple Chi- nese diplomacy.
German Jews To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: I am grateful to Ron Chernow for writing The Warburgs, and to Jonathan D. Sarna for reviewing it in your February issue. There is a personal motive for my gratitude toward Felix and Frieda Schiff Warburg in particular, because in 1908 Felix built his French Renaissance chateau at 1109 Fifth Avenue, and in 1944 his widow donated it to the Jewish Theologi- cal Seminary to house its Judaica collection-so the splendid Jewish Museum is on my block.
For those whose interest in Ger- man Jewry has been stirred, I com- mend Marvin Lowenthal’s classic The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries (Longmans, 1936). Lowenthal also wrote ar- ticles on the subject in the Men- orah Journal, as did others….
Most poignant for me is the mem- oir, “The Emigr6s” (Spring-Sum- mer 1956), by my mother, Ruth Sapin Hurwitz. She tells of the years our apartment on Riverside Drive became a virtual salon fre- quented by German (and later French) Jews who managed to es- cape in the mid-30’s (I was in high school then); she helped orient them, tutoring them in English and American history and govern- ment.
Among the guests in our home, she relates, were Rabbi Hugo Hahn from Essen and his wife, Anna; he was “tall, sturdily built, blue-eyed, and fair.” A grim epi- sode provides a footnote to the observations of Chernow and Mr.
Sarna regarding the advanced assimilation of Jews in Germany, which made Nazi persecution all the more ironic. On Black Thurs- day, November 10, 1938, the Hahns were to see their beau- tiful new synagogue in Essen, and their home with their library containing many old and irreplace- able treasures, deliberately set afire and completely destroyed… A Nazi party official and a storm trooper had arrived … While wait- ing for the rest of their gang, one of these Nazis, a dark sinister man, grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the buffet and began to devour it. Just then the two new Nazis rushed in. Mistaking Rabbi Hahn for a member of their own party, one of them sneered, point- ing at the greedy apple-eater: “Just look at the dirty Jew! We’re going to burn down his house and his synagogue and he stands there eat- ing fruit.” The aptly named synagogue Habonim [“The Builders”], on West 66th Street in New York City, serves as a living memorial to the vanished Jewish community of Essen … DAVID LYON HURWITZ New York CityLETTERS FROM READERS/19 The Homeless To THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY: Ronald Reagan’s callousness to- ward the mentally ill is mainly re- sponsible for the large numbers of them who live on the streets in California. That is a fact which I have rarely seen mentioned by any writers on the subject of home- lessness. Thus, although Susan Wiviott, in her review of A Nation in Denial by Alice S. Baum and Donald W. Burnes [Books in Re- view, February], points out that great numbers of homeless are not just ordinary folk who lack hous- ing but sick people, she does not mention Reagan’s role in creating that situation. Many, if not most, of the homeless may indeed be people who need professional help, and they make the streets of our cities unpleasant, even danger- ous, because they are not getting either professional help or housing. Prior to the summer of 1967, when then-Governor Ronald Rea- gan used his line-item veto to de- stroy California’s mental hospitals, the mentally ill, and many alcohol- ics, were getting help within the state hospitals. Those institutions were not idyllic places prior to 1967, but under Pat Brown’s De- mocratic administration, as well under the preceding Republican administrations, the state mental hospitals were being upgraded into effective and humane treat- ment facilities….
Furthermore, plans were well under way to establish community- based mental-health facilities with adequate budgets so that patients could be closer to their families and friends. The key to the success of that program was to be the transferring of funds from the state hospitals to the community- based facilities. I saw all this as a state employee who often had occasion to visit state hospitals on official business, and later as a union representa- tive. Frequently, I was panhandled by patients who wanted a little change to buy some item at the hospital canteen. I learned to dis- tinguish a patient from a staff member a block away.
One of the first things I noticed in 1967, after Reagan had used his line-item veto to destroy the men- tal-health system, was the number of former state-hospital patients on the streets of San Francisco. As before, I could recognize them a block away. As before, they pan- handled me for spare change. The big difference was that they did not have a regular place to eat or sleep, and they were not getting much, if any, treatment. The mon- ey Reagan took from the state hos- pitals did not go to community- based facilities; it went somewhere else.
We cannot go back to the old mental-hospital system, but for their sakes and ours, let us do something to help the mentally ill (including drug addicts and alco- holics) who are making our city streets such unpleasant places. Af- ter we care for the mentally ill, the ordinary folk who are homeless because they are down on their luck will become more visible.
HUGH SHEEHAN Fremont, California SUSAN WIVIOTT WRITES: I agree with Hugh Sheehan that we need to provide long-term resi- dential care-be it in larger facili- ties or small community-based set- tings-for the severely mentally ill who are homeless. Although I am not familiar with the specific his- tory of deinstitutionalization in California, the process described by Mr. Sheehan has been going on, in roughly similar fashion, through- out the country for the last 35 years.
As the authors of A Nation in Denial point out in their book, 442,000 beds available nationwide in state institutions for the men- tally ill-80 percent of the total- were eliminated between 1955 and 1985. New York State, for example, had about 93,000 inpatient psychi- atric beds in 1955. By 1980, the number was down to approxi- mately 22,700; and by 1992, the number had been further reduced to about 11,500 beds. Plans call for cutting the number of remaining beds by almost half by the end of the century. Thus, even after it became apparent that there were not enough community-based fa- cilities to meet the needs of the mentally ill, and that without a place to go, many of these people would become homeless, the cuts continued. These cuts have taken place under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The reason for this wave of deinstitutionalization was neither primarily political nor fiscal. Ra- ther, it resulted, in good part, from the discovery of psychotropic drugs, which have made it possible for large numbers of the mentally ill to live outside highly structured hospital settings, and from court rulings, which made it legally diffi- cult to institutionalize even the very ill against their wishes. In other words, large institutions for the mentally ill became both medi- cally and legally obsolete.
Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, including New York and, according to Mr. Sheehan, California, the less-restrictive com- munity facilities meant to replace the state hospitals have never ma- terialized in numbers sufficient to meet the needs of the homeless mentally ill. As a result, as Mr.
Sheehan rightly points out, large numbers of people, many also abusing drugs and alcohol, have been left to fend for themselves.
“Schindler’s List”; Talbottism; Whitewater; etc.
Must-Reads from Magazine
t can be said that the Book of Samuel launched the American Revolution. Though antagonistic to traditional faith, Thomas Paine understood that it was not Montesquieu, or Locke, who was inscribed on the hearts of his fellow Americans. Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense is a biblical argument against British monarchy, drawing largely on the text of Samuel.
Today, of course, universal biblical literacy no longer exists in America, and sophisticated arguments from Scripture are all too rare. It is therefore all the more distressing when public intellectuals, academics, or religious leaders engage in clumsy acts of exegesis and political argumentation by comparing characters in the Book of Samuel to modern political leaders. The most common victim of this tendency has been the central character in the Book of Samuel: King David.
Most recently, this tendency was made manifest in the writings of Dennis Prager. In a recent defense of his own praise of President Trump, Prager wrote that “as a religious Jew, I learned from the Bible that God himself chose morally compromised individuals to accomplish some greater good. Think of King David, who had a man killed in order to cover up the adultery he committed with the man’s wife.” Prager similarly argued that those who refuse to vote for a politician whose positions are correct but whose personal life is immoral “must think God was pretty flawed in voting for King David.”
Prager’s invocation of King David was presaged on the left two decades ago. The records of the Clinton Presidential Library reveal that at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, an email from Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel made its way into the inbox of an administration policy adviser with a similar comparison: “From the perspective of Jewish history, we have to ask how Jews can condemn President Clinton’s behavior as immoral, when we exalt King David? King David had Batsheva’s husband, Uriah, murdered. While David was condemned and punished, he was never thrown off the throne of Israel. On the contrary, he is exalted in our Jewish memory as the unifier of Israel.”
One can make the case for supporting politicians who have significant moral flaws. Indeed, America’s political system is founded on an awareness of the profound tendency to sinfulness not only of its citizens but also of its statesmen. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” James Madison informs us in the Federalist. At the same time, anyone who compares King David to the flawed leaders of our own age reveals a profound misunderstanding of the essential nature of David’s greatness. David was not chosen by God despite his moral failings; rather, David’s failings are the lens that reveal his true greatness. It is in the wake of his sins that David emerges as the paradigmatic penitent, whose quest for atonement is utterly unlike that of any other character in the Bible, and perhaps in the history of the world.
While the precise nature of David’s sins is debated in the Talmud, there is no question that they are profound. Yet it is in comparing David to other faltering figures—in the Bible or today—that the comparison falls flat. This point is stressed by the very Jewish tradition in whose name Prager claimed to speak.
It is the rabbis who note that David’s predecessor, Saul, lost the kingship when he failed to fulfill God’s command to destroy the egregiously evil nation of Amalek, whereas David commits more severe sins and yet remains king. The answer, the rabbis suggest, lies not in the sin itself but in the response. Saul, when confronted by the prophet Samuel, offers obfuscations and defensiveness. David, meanwhile, is similarly confronted by the prophet Nathan: “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” David’s immediate response is clear and complete contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord.” David’s penitence, Jewish tradition suggests, sets him apart from Saul. Soon after, David gave voice to what was in his heart at the moment, and gave the world one of the most stirring of the Psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
. . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
The tendency to link David to our current age lies in the fact that we know more about David than any other biblical figure. The author Thomas Cahill has noted that in a certain literary sense, David is the only biblical figure that is like us at all. Prior to the humanist autobiographies of the Renaissance, he notes, “we can count only a few isolated instances of this use of ‘I’ to mean the interior self. But David’s psalms are full of I’s.” In David’s Psalms, Cahill writes, we “find a unique early roadmap to the inner spirit—previously mute—of ancient humanity.”
At the same time, a study of the Book of Samuel and of the Psalms reveals how utterly incomparable David is to anyone alive today. Haym Soloveitchik has noted that even the most observant of Jews today fail to feel a constant intimacy with God that the simplest Jew of the premodern age might have felt, that “while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious.” Yet for David, such intimacy with the divine was central to his existence, and the Book of Samuel and the Psalms are an eternal testament to this fact. This is why simple comparisons between David and ourselves, as tempting as they are, must be resisted. David Wolpe, in his book about David, attempts to make the case as to why King David’s life speaks to us today: “So versatile and enduring is David in our culture that rare is the week that passes without some public allusion to his life…We need to understand David better because we use his life to comprehend our own.”
The truth may be the opposite. We need to understand David better because we can use his life to comprehend what we are missing, and how utterly unlike our lives are to his own. For even the most religious among us have lost the profound faith and intimacy with God that David had. It is therefore incorrect to assume that because of David’s flaws it would have been, as Amos Oz has written, “fitting for him to reign in Tel Aviv.” The modern State of Israel was blessed with brilliant leaders, but to which of its modern warriors or statesmen should David be compared? To Ben Gurion, who stripped any explicit invocation of the Divine from Israel’s Declaration of Independence? To Moshe Dayan, who oversaw the reconquest of Jerusalem, and then immediately handed back the Temple Mount, the locus of King David’s dreams and desires, to the administration of the enemies of Israel? David’s complex humanity inspires comparison to modern figures, but his faith, contrition, and repentance—which lie at the heart of his story and success—defy any such engagement.
And so, to those who seek comparisons to modern leaders from the Bible, the best rule may be: Leave King David out of it.
Three attacks in Britain highlight the West’s inability to see the threat clearly
This lack of seriousness manifests itself in several ways. It’s perhaps most obvious in the failure to reform Britain’s chaotic immigration and dysfunctional asylum systems. But it’s also abundantly clear from the grotesque underfunding and under-resourcing of domestic intelligence. In MI5, Britain has an internal security service that is simply too small to do its job effectively, even if it were not handicapped by an institutional culture that can seem willfully blind to the ideological roots of the current terrorism problem.
In 2009, Jonathan Evans, then head of MI5, confessed at a parliamentary hearing about the London bus and subway attacks of 2005 that his organization only had sufficient resources to “hit the crocodiles close to the boat.” It was an extraordinary metaphor to use, not least because of the impression of relative impotence that it conveys. MI5 had by then doubled in size since 2001, but it still boasted a staff of only 3,500. Today it’s said to employ between 4,000 and 5,000, an astonishingly, even laughably, small number given a UK population of 65 million and the scale of the security challenges Britain now faces. (To be fair, the major British police forces all have intelligence units devoted to terrorism, and the UK government’s overall counterterrorism strategy involves a great many people, including social workers and schoolteachers.)
You can also see that unseriousness at work in the abject failure to coerce Britain’s often remarkably sedentary police officers out of their cars and stations and back onto the streets. Most of Britain’s big-city police forces have adopted a reactive model of policing (consciously rejecting both the New York Compstat model and British “bobby on the beat” traditions) that cripples intelligence-gathering and frustrates good community relations.
If that weren’t bad enough, Britain’s judiciary is led by jurists who came of age in the 1960s, and who have been inclined since 2001 to treat terrorism as an ordinary criminal problem being exploited by malign officials and politicians to make assaults on individual rights and to take part in “illegal” foreign wars. It has long been almost impossible to extradite ISIS or al-Qaeda–linked Islamists from the UK. This is partly because today’s English judges believe that few if any foreign countries—apart from perhaps Sweden and Norway—are likely to give terrorist suspects a fair trial, or able to guarantee that such suspects will be spared torture and abuse.
We have a progressive metropolitan media elite whose primary, reflexive response to every terrorist attack, even before the blood on the pavement is dry, is to express worry about an imminent violent anti-Muslim “backlash” on the part of a presumptively bigoted and ignorant indigenous working class. Never mind that no such “backlash” has yet occurred, not even when the young off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight on a South London street in 2013.
Another sign of this lack of seriousness is the choice by successive British governments to deal with the problem of internal terrorism with marketing and “branding.” You can see this in the catchy consultant-created acronyms and pseudo-strategies that are deployed in place of considered thought and action. After every atrocity, the prime minister calls a meeting of the COBRA unit—an acronym that merely stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A but sounds like a secret organization of government superheroes. The government’s counterterrorism strategy is called CONTEST, which has four “work streams”: “Prevent,” “Pursue,” “Protect,” and “Prepare.”
Perhaps the ultimate sign of unseriousness is the fact that police, politicians, and government officials have all displayed more fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” than of any carnage that actual terror attacks might cause. Few are aware that this short-term, cowardly, and trivial tendency may ultimately foment genuine, dangerous popular Islamophobia, especially if attacks continue.R
ecently, three murderous Islamist terror attacks in the UK took place in less than a month. The first and third were relatively primitive improvised attacks using vehicles and/or knives. The second was a suicide bombing that probably required relatively sophisticated planning, technological know-how, and the assistance of a terrorist infrastructure. As they were the first such attacks in the UK, the vehicle and knife killings came as a particular shock to the British press, public, and political class, despite the fact that non-explosive and non-firearm terror attacks have become common in Europe and are almost routine in Israel.
The success of all three plots indicates troubling problems in British law-enforcement practice and culture, quite apart from any other failings on the parts of the state in charge of intelligence, border control, and the prevention of radicalization. At the time of writing, the British media have been full of encomia to police courage and skill, not least because it took “only” eight minutes for an armed Metropolitan Police team to respond to and confront the bloody mayhem being wrought by the three Islamist terrorists (who had ploughed their rented van into people on London Bridge before jumping out to attack passersby with knives). But the difficult truth is that all three attacks would be much harder to pull off in Manhattan, not just because all NYPD cops are armed, but also because there are always police officers visibly on patrol at the New York equivalents of London’s Borough Market on a Saturday night. By contrast, London’s Metropolitan police is a largely vehicle-borne, reactive force; rather than use a physical presence to deter crime and terrorism, it chooses to monitor closed-circuit street cameras and social-media postings.
Since the attacks in London and Manchester, we have learned that several of the perpetrators were “known” to the police and security agencies that are tasked with monitoring potential terror threats. That these individuals were nevertheless able to carry out their atrocities is evidence that the monitoring regime is insufficient.
It also seems clear that there were failures on the part of those institutions that come under the leadership of the Home Office and are supposed to be in charge of the UK’s border, migration, and asylum systems. Journalists and think tanks like Policy Exchange and Migration Watch have for years pointed out that these systems are “unfit for purpose,” but successive governments have done little to take responsible control of Britain’s borders. When she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May did little more than jazz up the name, logo, and uniforms of what is now called the “Border Force,” and she notably failed to put in place long-promised passport checks for people flying out of the country. This dereliction means that it is impossible for the British authorities to know who has overstayed a visa or whether individuals who have been denied asylum have actually left the country.
It seems astonishing that Youssef Zaghba, one of the three London Bridge attackers, was allowed back into the country. The Moroccan-born Italian citizen (his mother is Italian) had been arrested by Italian police in Bologna, apparently on his way to Syria via Istanbul to join ISIS. When questioned by the Italians about the ISIS decapitation videos on his mobile phone, he declared that he was “going to be a terrorist.” The Italians lacked sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime but put him under 24-hour surveillance, and when he traveled to London, they passed on information about him to MI5. Nevertheless, he was not stopped or questioned on arrival and had not become one of the 3,000 official terrorism “subjects of interest” for MI5 or the police when he carried out his attack. One reason Zaghba was not questioned on arrival may have been that he used one of the new self-service passport machines installed in UK airports in place of human staff after May’s cuts to the border force. Apparently, the machines are not yet linked to any government watch lists, thanks to the general chaos and ineptitude of the Home Office’s efforts to use information technology.
The presence in the country of Zaghba’s accomplice Rachid Redouane is also an indictment of the incompetence and disorganization of the UK’s border and migration authorities. He had been refused asylum in 2009, but as is so often the case, Britain’s Home Office never got around to removing him. Three years later, he married a British woman and was therefore able to stay in the UK.
But it is the failure of the authorities to monitor ringleader Khuram Butt that is the most baffling. He was a known and open associate of Anjem Choudary, Britain’s most notorious terrorist supporter, ideologue, and recruiter (he was finally imprisoned in 2016 after 15 years of campaigning on behalf of al-Qaeda and ISIS). Butt even appeared in a 2016 TV documentary about ISIS supporters called The Jihadist Next Door. In the same year, he assaulted a moderate imam at a public festival, after calling him a “murtad” or apostate. The imam reported the incident to the police—who took six months to track him down and then let him off with a caution. It is not clear if Butt was one of the 3,000 “subjects of interest” or the additional 20,000 former subjects of interest who continue to be the subject of limited monitoring. If he was not, it raises the question of what a person has to do to get British security services to take him seriously as a terrorist threat; if he was in fact on the list of “subjects of interest,” one has to wonder if being so designated is any barrier at all to carrying out terrorist atrocities. It’s worth remembering, as few do here in the UK, that terrorists who carried out previous attacks were also known to the police and security services and nevertheless enjoyed sufficient liberty to go at it again.B
ut the most important reason for the British state’s ineffectiveness in monitoring terror threats, which May addressed immediately after the London Bridge attack, is a deeply rooted institutional refusal to deal with or accept the key role played by Islamist ideology. For more than 15 years, the security services and police have chosen to take note only of people and bodies that explicitly espouse terrorist violence or have contacts with known terrorist groups. The fact that a person, school, imam, or mosque endorses the establishment of a caliphate, the stoning of adulterers, or the murder of apostates has not been considered a reason to monitor them.
This seems to be why Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was not being watched by the authorities as a terror risk, even though he had punched a girl in the face for wearing a short skirt while at university, had attended the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Didsbury Mosque, was the son of a Libyan man whose militia is banned in the UK, had himself fought against the Qaddafi regime in Libya, had adopted the Islamist clothing style (trousers worn above the ankle, beard but no moustache), was part of a druggy gang subculture that often feeds individuals into Islamist terrorism, and had been banned from a mosque after confronting an imam who had criticized ISIS.
It was telling that the day after the Manchester Arena suicide-bomb attack, you could hear security officials informing radio and TV audiences of the BBC’s flagship morning-radio news show that it’s almost impossible to predict and stop such attacks because the perpetrators “don’t care who they kill.” They just want to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Surely, anyone with even a basic familiarity with Islamist terror attacks over the last 15 or so years and a nodding acquaintance with Islamist ideology could see that the terrorist hadn’t just chosen the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena because a lot of random people would be crowded into a conveniently small area. Since the Bali bombings of 2002, nightclubs, discotheques, and pop concerts attended by shameless unveiled women and girls have been routinely targeted by fundamentalist terrorists, including in Britain. Among the worrying things about the opinion offered on the radio show was that it suggests that even in the wake of the horrific Bataclan attack in Paris during a November 2015 concert, British authorities may not have been keeping an appropriately protective eye on music venues and other places where our young people hang out in their decadent Western way. Such dereliction would make perfect sense given the resistance on the part of the British security establishment to examining, confronting, or extrapolating from Islamist ideology.
The same phenomenon may explain why authorities did not follow up on community complaints about Abedi. All too often when people living in Britain’s many and diverse Muslim communities want to report suspicious behavior, they have to do so through offices and organizations set up and paid for by the authorities as part of the overall “Prevent” strategy. Although criticized by the left as “Islamophobic” and inherently stigmatizing, Prevent has often brought the government into cooperative relationships with organizations even further to the Islamic right than the Muslim Brotherhood. This means that if you are a relatively secular Libyan émigré who wants to report an Abedi and you go to your local police station, you are likely to find yourself speaking to a bearded Islamist.
From its outset in 2003, the Prevent strategy was flawed. Its practitioners, in their zeal to find and fund key allies in “the Muslim community” (as if there were just one), routinely made alliances with self-appointed community leaders who represented the most extreme and intolerant tendencies in British Islam. Both the Home Office and MI5 seemed to believe that only radical Muslims were “authentic” and would therefore be able to influence young potential terrorists. Moderate, modern, liberal Muslims who are arguably more representative of British Islam as a whole (not to mention sundry Shiites, Sufis, Ahmmadis, and Ismailis) have too often found it hard to get a hearing.
Sunni organizations that openly supported suicide-bomb attacks in Israel and India and that justified attacks on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless received government subsidies as part of Prevent. The hope was that in return, they would alert the authorities if they knew of individuals planning attacks in the UK itself.
It was a gamble reminiscent of British colonial practice in India’s northwest frontier and elsewhere. Not only were there financial inducements in return for grudging cooperation; the British state offered other, symbolically powerful concessions. These included turning a blind eye to certain crimes and antisocial practices such as female genital mutilation (there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the practice, though thousands of cases are reported every year), forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, the mass removal of girls from school soon after they reach puberty, and the epidemic of racially and religiously motivated “grooming” rapes in cities like Rotherham. (At the same time, foreign jihadists—including men wanted for crimes in Algeria and France—were allowed to remain in the UK as long as their plots did not include British targets.)
This approach, simultaneously cynical and naive, was never as successful as its proponents hoped. Again and again, Muslim chaplains who were approved to work in prisons and other institutions have sometimes turned out to be Islamist extremists whose words have inspired inmates to join terrorist organizations.
Much to his credit, former Prime Minister David Cameron fought hard to change this approach, even though it meant difficult confrontations with his home secretary (Theresa May), as well as police and the intelligence agencies. However, Cameron’s efforts had little effect on the permanent personnel carrying out the Prevent strategy, and cooperation with Islamist but currently nonviolent organizations remains the default setting within the institutions on which the United Kingdom depends for security.
The failure to understand the role of ideology is one of imagination as well as education. Very few of those who make government policy or write about home-grown terrorism seem able to escape the limitations of what used to be called “bourgeois” experience. They assume that anyone willing to become an Islamist terrorist must perforce be materially deprived, or traumatized by the experience of prejudice, or provoked to murderous fury by oppression abroad. They have no sense of the emotional and psychic benefits of joining a secret terror outfit: the excitement and glamor of becoming a kind of Islamic James Bond, bravely defying the forces of an entire modern state. They don’t get how satisfying or empowering the vengeful misogyny of ISIS-style fundamentalism might seem for geeky, frustrated young men. Nor can they appreciate the appeal to the adolescent mind of apocalyptic fantasies of power and sacrifice (mainstream British society does not have much room for warrior dreams, given that its tone is set by liberal pacifists). Finally, they have no sense of why the discipline and self-discipline of fundamentalist Islam might appeal so strongly to incarcerated lumpen youth who have never experienced boundaries or real belonging. Their understanding is an understanding only of themselves, not of the people who want to kill them.
Review of 'White Working Class' By Joan C. Williams
Williams is a prominent feminist legal scholar with degrees from Yale, MIT, and Harvard. Unbending Gender, her best-known book, is the sort of tract you’d expect to find at an intersectionality conference or a Portlandia bookstore. This is why her insightful, empathic book comes as such a surprise.
Books and essays on the topic have accumulated into a highly visible genre since Donald Trump came on the American political scene; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy planted itself at the top of bestseller lists almost a year ago and still isn’t budging. As with Vance, Williams’s interest in the topic is personal. She fell “madly in love with” and eventually married a Harvard Law School graduate who had grown up in an Italian neighborhood in pre-gentrification Brook-lyn. Williams, on the other hand, is a “silver-spoon girl.” Her father’s family was moneyed, and her maternal grandfather was a prominent Reform rabbi.
The author’s affection for her “class-migrant” spouse and respect for his family’s hardships—“My father-in-law grew up on blood soup,” she announces in her opening sentence—adds considerable warmth to what is at bottom a political pamphlet. Williams believes that elite condescension and “cluelessness” played a big role in Trump’s unexpected and dreaded victory. Enlightening her fellow elites is essential to the task of returning Trump voters to the progressive fold where, she is sure, they rightfully belong.
Liberals were not always so dense about the working class, Williams observes. WPA murals and movies like On the Waterfront showed genuine fellow feeling for the proletariat. In the 1970s, however, the liberal mood changed. Educated boomers shifted their attention to “issues of peace, equal rights, and environmentalism.” Instead of feeling the pain of Arthur Miller and John Steinbeck characters, they began sneering at the less enlightened. These days, she notes, elite sympathies are limited to the poor, people of color (POC), and the LGBTQ population. Despite clear evidence of suffering—stagnant wages, disappearing manufacturing jobs, declining health and well-being—the working class gets only fly-over snobbery at best and, more often, outright loathing.
Williams divides her chapters into a series of explainers to questions she has heard from her clueless friends and colleagues: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?” “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?” “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” She weaves her answers into a compelling picture of a way of life and worldview foreign to her targeted readers. Working-class Americans have had to struggle for whatever stability and comfort they have, she explains. Clocking in for midnight shifts year after year, enduring capricious bosses, plant closures, and layoffs, they’re reliant on tag-team parenting and stressed-out relatives for child care. The campus go-to word “privileged” seems exactly wrong.
Proud of their own self-sufficiency and success, however modest, they don’t begrudge the self-made rich. It’s snooty professionals and the dysfunctional poor who get their goat. From their vantage point, subsidizing the day care for a welfare mother when they themselves struggle to manage care on their own dime mocks both their hard work and their beliefs. And since, unlike most professors, they shop in the same stores as the dependent poor, they’ve seen that some of them game the system. Of course that stings.
White Working Class is especially good at evoking the alternate economic and mental universe experienced by Professional and Managerial Elites, or “PMEs.” PMEs see their non-judgment of the poor, especially those who are “POC,” as a mark of their mature understanding that we live in an unjust, racist system whose victims require compassion regardless of whether they have committed any crime. At any rate, their passions lie elsewhere. They define themselves through their jobs and professional achievements, hence their obsession with glass ceilings.
Williams tells the story of her husband’s faux pas at a high-school reunion. Forgetting his roots for a moment, the Ivy League–educated lawyer asked one of his Brooklyn classmates a question that is the go-to opener in elite social settings: “What do you do?” Angered by what must have seemed like deliberate humiliation by this prodigal son, the man hissed: “I sell toilets.”
Instead of stability and backyard barbecues with family and long-time neighbors and maybe the occasional Olive Garden celebration, PMEs are enamored of novelty: new foods, new restaurants, new friends, new experiences. The working class chooses to spend its leisure in comfortable familiarity; for the elite, social life is a lot like networking. Members of the professional class may view themselves as sophisticated or cosmopolitan, but, Williams shows, to the blue-collar worker their glad-handing is closer to phony social climbing and their abstract, knowledge-economy jobs more like self-important pencil-pushing.
White Working Class has a number of proposals for creating the progressive future Williams would like to see. She wants to get rid of college-for-all dogma and improve training for middle-skill jobs. She envisions a working-class coalition of all races and ethnicities bolstered by civics education with a “distinctly celebratory view of American institutions.” In a saner political environment, some of this would make sense; indeed, she echoes some of Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign themes. It’s little wonder White Working Class has already gotten the stink eye from liberal reviewers for its purported sympathies for racists.
Alas, impressive as Williams’s insights are, they do not always allow her to transcend her own class loyalties. Unsurprisingly, her own PME biases mostly come to light in her chapters on race and gender. She reduces immigration concerns to “fear of brown people,” even as she notes elsewhere that a quarter of Latinos also favor a wall at the southern border. This contrasts startlingly with her succinct observation that “if you don’t want to drive working-class whites to be attracted to the likes of Limbaugh, stop insulting them.” In one particularly obtuse moment, she asserts: “Because I study social inequality, I know that even Malia and Sasha Obama will be disadvantaged by race, advantaged as they are by class.” She relies on dubious gender theories to explain why the majority of white women voted for Trump rather than for his unfairly maligned opponent. That Hillary Clinton epitomized every elite quality Williams has just spent more than a hundred pages explicating escapes her notice. Williams’s own reflexive retreat into identity politics is itself emblematic of our toxic divisions, but it does not invalidate the power of this astute book.
When music could not transcend evil
he story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
The Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, then as now Europe’s two greatest orchestras, were just as willing to do business with Hitler and his henchmen, firing their Jewish members and ceasing to perform the music of Jewish composers. Even after the war, the Vienna Philharmonic was notorious for being the most anti-Semitic orchestra in Europe, and it was well known in the music business (though never publicly discussed) that Helmut Wobisch, the orchestra’s principal trumpeter and its executive director from 1953 to 1968, had been both a member of the SS and a Gestapo spy.
The management of the Berlin Philharmonic made no attempt to cover up the orchestra’s close relationship with the Third Reich, no doubt because the Nazi ties of Karajan, who was its music director from 1956 until shortly before his death in 1989, were a matter of public record. Yet it was not until 2007 that a full-length study of its wartime activities, Misha Aster’s The Reich’s Orchestra: The Berlin Philharmonic 1933–1945, was finally published. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, its managers long sought to quash all discussion of the orchestra’s Nazi past, steadfastly refusing to open its institutional archives to scholars until 2008, when Fritz Trümpi, an Austrian scholar, was given access to its records. Five years later, the Viennese, belatedly following the precedent of the Berlin Philharmonic, added a lengthy section to their website called “The Vienna Philharmonic Under National Socialism (1938–1945),” in which the damning findings of Trümpi and two other independent scholars were made available to the public.
Now Trümpi has published The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich, in which he tells how they came to terms with Nazism, supplying pre- and postwar historical context for their transgressions.1 Written in a stiff mixture of academic jargon and translatorese, The Political Orchestra is ungratifying to read. Even so, the tale that it tells is both compelling and disturbing, especially to anyone who clings to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit.U
nlike the Vienna Philharmonic, which has always doubled as the pit orchestra for the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic started life in 1882 as a fully independent, self-governing entity. Initially unsubsidized by the state, it kept itself afloat by playing a grueling schedule of performances, including “popular” non-subscription concerts for which modest ticket prices were levied. In addition, the orchestra made records and toured internationally at a time when neither was common.
These activities made it possible for the Berlin Philharmonic to develop into an internationally renowned ensemble whose fabled collective virtuosity was widely seen as a symbol of German musical distinction. Furtwängler, the orchestra’s principal conductor, declared in 1932 that the German music in which it specialized was “one of the very few things that actually contribute to elevating [German] prestige.” Hence, he explained, the need for state subsidy, which he saw as “a matter of [national] prestige, that is, to some extent a requirement of national prudence.” By then, though, the orchestra was already heavily subsidized by the city of Berlin, thus paving the way for its takeover by the Nazis.
The Vienna Philharmonic, by contrast, had always been subsidized. Founded in 1842 when the orchestra of what was then the Vienna Court Opera decided to give symphonic concerts on its own, it performed the Austro-German classics for an elite cadre of longtime subscribers. By restricting membership to local players and their pupils, the orchestra cultivated what Furtwängler, who spent as much time conducting in Vienna as in Berlin, described as a “homogeneous and distinct tone quality.” At once dark and sweet, it was as instantly identifiable—and as characteristically Viennese—as the strong, spicy bouquet of a Gewürztraminer wine.
Unlike the Berlin Philharmonic, which played for whoever would pay the tab and programmed new music as a matter of policy, the Vienna Philharmonic chose not to diversify either its haute-bourgeois audience or its conservative repertoire. Instead, it played Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert (and, later, Bruckner and Richard Strauss) in Vienna for the Viennese. Starting in the ’20s, the orchestra’s recordings consolidated its reputation as one of the world’s foremost instrumental ensembles, but its internal culture remained proudly insular.
What the two orchestras had in common was a nationalistic ethos, a belief in the superiority of Austro-German musical culture that approached triumphalism. One of the darkest manifestations of this ethos was their shared reluctance to hire Jews. The Berlin Philharmonic employed only four Jewish players in 1933, while the Vienna Philharmonic contained only 11 Jews at the time of the Anschluss, none of whom was hired after 1920. To be sure, such popular Jewish conductors as Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter continued to work in Vienna for as long as they could. Two months before the Anschluss, Walter led and recorded a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, his musical mentor and fellow Jew, who from 1897 to 1907 had been the director of the Vienna Court Opera and one of the Philharmonic’s most admired conductors. But many members of both orchestras were open supporters of fascism, and not a few were anti-Semites who ardently backed Hitler. By 1942, 62 of the 123 active members of the Vienna Philharmonic were Nazi party members.
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
With what did they go along? Above all, they agreed to the scrubbing of Jewish music from their programs and the dismissal of their Jewish colleagues. Some Jewish players managed to escape with their lives, but seven of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 11 Jews were either murdered by the Nazis or died as a direct result of official persecution. In addition, both orchestras performed regularly at official government functions and made tours and other public appearances for propaganda purposes, and both were treated as gems in the diadem of Nazi culture.
As for Furtwängler, the most prominent of the Austro-German orchestral conductors who served the Reich, his relationship to Nazism continues to be debated to this day. He had initially resisted the firing of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Jewish members and protected them for as long as he could. But he was also a committed (if woolly-minded) nationalist who believed that German music had “a different meaning for us Germans than for other nations” and notoriously declared in an open letter to Goebbels that “we all welcome with great joy and gratitude . . . the restoration of our national honor.” Thereafter he cooperated with the Nazis, by all accounts uncomfortably but—it must be said—willingly. A monster of egotism, he saw himself as the greatest living exponent of German music and believed it to be his duty to stay behind and serve a cause higher than what he took to be mere party politics. “Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played, and if they are not free at first, they are freed while listening to these works,” he naively assured a horrified Arturo Toscanini in 1937. “Music transports them to regions where the Gestapo can do them no harm.”O
nce the war was over, the U.S. occupation forces decided to enlist the Berlin Philharmonic in the service of a democratic, anti-Soviet Germany. Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, who succeeded him as principal conductor, were officially “de-Nazified” and their orchestra allowed to function largely undisturbed, though six Nazi Party members were fired. The Vienna Philharmonic received similarly privileged treatment.
Needless to say, there was more to this decision than Cold War politics. No one questioned the unique artistic stature of either orchestra. Moreover, the Vienna Philharmonic, precisely because of its insularity, was now seen as a living museum piece, a priceless repository of 19th-century musical tradition. Still, many musicians and listeners, Jews above all, looked askance at both orchestras for years to come, believing them to be tainted by Nazism.
Indeed they were, so much so that they treated many of their surviving Jewish ex-members in a way that can only be described as vicious. In the most blatant individual case, the violinist Szymon Goldberg, who had served as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster under Furtwängler, was not allowed to reassume his post in 1945 and was subsequently denied a pension. As for the Vienna Philharmonic, the fact that it made Helmut Wobisch its executive director says everything about its deep-seated unwillingness to face up to its collective sins.
Be that as it may, scarcely any prominent musicians chose to boycott either orchestra. Leonard Bernstein went so far as to affect a flippant attitude toward the morally equivocal conduct of the Austro-German artists whom he encountered in Europe after the war. Upon meeting Herbert von Karajan in 1954, he actually told his wife Felicia that he had become “real good friends with von Karajan, whom you would (and will) adore. My first Nazi.”
At the same time, though, Bernstein understood what he was choosing to overlook. When he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time in 1966, he wrote to his parents:
I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.
Did Bernstein sell his soul for the opportunity to work with so justly renowned an orchestra—and did he get his price by insisting that its members perform the symphonies of Mahler, with which he was by then closely identified? It is a fair question, one that does not lend itself to easy answers.
Even more revealing is the case of Bruno Walter, who never forgave Furtwängler for staying behind in Germany, informing him in an angry letter that “your art was used as a conspicuously effective means of propaganda for the regime of the Devil.” Yet Walter’s righteous anger did not stop him from conducting in Vienna after the war. Born in Berlin, he had come to identify with the Philharmonic so closely that it was impossible for him to seriously consider quitting its podium permanently. “Spiritually, I was a Viennese,” he wrote in Theme and Variations, his 1946 autobiography. In 1952, he made a second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, whose premiere he had conducted in 1911 and which he had recorded in Vienna 15 years earlier. One wonders what Walter, who had converted to Christianity but had been driven out of both his native lands for the crime of being Jewish, made of the text of the last movement: “My friend, / On this earth, fortune has not been kind to me! / Where do I go?”
As for the two great orchestras of the Third Reich, both have finally acknowledged their guilt and been forgiven, at least by those who know little of their past. It would occur to no one to decline on principle to perform with either group today. Such a gesture would surely be condemned as morally ostentatious, an exercise in what we now call virtue-signaling. Yet it is impossible to forget what Samuel Lipman wrote in 1993 in Commentary apropos the wartime conduct of Furtwängler: “The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.” For the only martyrs of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics were their Jews. The orchestras themselves live on, tainted and beloved.
He knows what to reveal and what to conceal, understands the importance of keeping the semblance of distance between oneself and the story of the day, and comprehends the ins and outs of anonymous sourcing. Within days of his being fired by President Trump on May 9, for example, little green men and women, known only as his “associates,” began appearing in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post to dispute key points of the president’s account of his dismissal and to promote Comey’s theory of the case.
“In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty,” the New York Times reported on May 11. “Comey Demurred.” The story was a straightforward narrative of events from Comey’s perspective, capped with an obligatory denial from the White House. The next day, the Washington Post reported, “Comey associates dispute Trump’s account of conversations.” The Post did not identify Comey’s associates, other than saying that they were “people who have worked with him.”
Maybe they were the same associates who had gabbed to the Times. Or maybe they were different ones. Who can tell? Regardless, the story these particular associates gave to the Post was readable and gripping. Comey, the Post reported, “was wary of private meetings and discussions with the president and did not offer the assurance, as Trump has claimed, that Trump was not under investigation as part of the probe into Russian interference in last year’s election.”
On May 16, Michael S. Schmidt of the Times published his scoop, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.” Schmidt didn’t see the memo for himself. Parts of it were read to him by—you guessed it—“one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The following day, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. On May 18, the Times, citing “two people briefed” on a call between Comey and the president, reported, “Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance.” And by the end of that week, Comey had agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As his testimony approached, Comey’s people became more aggressive in their criticisms of the president. “Trump Should Be Scared, Comey Friend Says,” read the headline of a CNN interview with Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes. This “Comey friend” said he was “very shocked” when he learned that President Trump had asked Comey for loyalty. “I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable,” Wittes said.
Comey, Wittes added, was so uncomfortable at the White House reception in January honoring law enforcement—the one where Comey lumbered across the room and Trump whispered something in his ear—that, as CNN paraphrased it, he “stood in a position so that his blue blazer would blend in with the room’s blue drapes in an effort for Trump to not notice him.” The integrity, the courage—can you feel it?
On June 6, the day before Comey’s prepared testimony was released, more “associates” told ABC that the director would “not corroborate Trump’s claim that on three separate occasions Comey told the president he was not under investigation.” And a “source with knowledge of Comey’s testimony” told CNN the same thing. In addition, ABC reported that, according to “a source familiar with Comey’s thinking,” the former director would say that Trump’s actions stopped short of obstruction of justice.
Maybe those sources weren’t as “familiar with Comey’s thinking” as they thought or hoped? To maximize the press coverage he already dominated, Comey had authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to release his testimony ahead of his personal interview. That testimony told a different story than what had been reported by CNN and ABC (and by the Post on May 12). Comey had in fact told Trump the president was not under investigation—on January 6, January 27, and March 30. Moreover, the word “obstruction” did not appear at all in his written text. The senators asked Comey if he felt Trump obstructed justice. He declined to answer either way.
My guess is that Comey’s associates lacked Comey’s scalpel-like, almost Jesuitical ability to make distinctions, and therefore misunderstood what he was telling them to say to the press. Because it’s obvious Comey was the one behind the stories of Trump’s dishonesty and bad behavior. He admitted as much in front of the cameras in a remarkable exchange with Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Comey said that, after Trump tweeted on May 12 that he’d better hope there aren’t “tapes” of their conversations, “I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.”
Collins asked whether that friend had been Wittes, known to cable news junkies as Comey’s bestie. Comey said no. The source for the New York Times article was “a good friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia Law School,” Daniel Richman.
Every time I watch or read that exchange, I am amazed. Here is the former director of the FBI just flat-out admitting that, for months, he wrote down every interaction he had with the president of the United States because he wanted a written record in case the president ever fired or lied about him. And when the president did fire and lie about him, that director set in motion a series of public disclosures with the intent of not only embarrassing the president, but also forcing the appointment of a special counsel who might end up investigating the president for who knows what. And none of this would have happened if the president had not fired Comey or tweeted about him. He told the Senate that if Trump hadn’t dismissed him, he most likely would still be on the job.
Rarely, in my view, are high officials so transparent in describing how Washington works. Comey revealed to the world that he was keeping a file on his boss, that he used go-betweens to get his story into the press, that “investigative journalism” is often just powerful people handing documents to reporters to further their careers or agendas or even to get revenge. And as long as you maintain some distance from the fallout, and stick to the absolute letter of the law, you will come out on top, so long as you have a small army of nightingales singing to reporters on your behalf.
“It’s the end of the Comey era,” A.B. Stoddard said on Special Report with Bret Baier the other day. On the contrary: I have a feeling that, as the Russia investigation proceeds, we will be hearing much more from Comey. And from his “associates.” And his “friends.” And persons “familiar with his thinking.”
In April, COMMENTARY asked a wide variety of writers,
thinkers, and broadcasters to respond to this question: Is free speech under threat in the United States? We received twenty-seven responses. We publish them here in alphabetical order.
Floyd AbramsFree expression threatened? By Donald Trump? I guess you could say so.
When a president engages in daily denigration of the press, when he characterizes it as the enemy of the people, when he repeatedly says that the libel laws should be “loosened” so he can personally commence more litigation, when he says that journalists shouldn’t be allowed to use confidential sources, it is difficult even to suggest that he has not threatened free speech. And when he says to the head of the FBI (as former FBI director James Comey has said that he did) that Comey should consider “putting reporters in jail for publishing classified information,” it is difficult not to take those threats seriously.
The harder question, though, is this: How real are the threats? Or, as Michael Gerson put it in the Washington Post: Will Trump “go beyond mere Twitter abuse and move against institutions that limit his power?” Some of the president’s threats against the institution of the press, wittingly or not, have been simply preposterous. Surely someone has told him by now that neither he nor Congress can “loosen” libel laws; while each state has its own libel law, there is no federal libel law and thus nothing for him to loosen. What he obviously takes issue with is the impact that the Supreme Court’s 1964 First Amendment opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan has had on state libel laws. The case determined that public officials who sue for libel may not prevail unless they demonstrate that the statements made about them were false and were made with actual knowledge or suspicion of that falsity. So his objection to the rules governing libel law is to nothing less than the application of the First Amendment itself.
In other areas, however, the Trump administration has far more power to imperil free speech. We live under an Espionage Act, adopted a century ago, which is both broad in its language and uncommonly vague in its meaning. As such, it remains a half-open door through which an administration that is hostile to free speech might walk. Such an administration could initiate criminal proceedings against journalists who write about defense- or intelligence-related topics on the basis that classified information was leaked to them by present or former government employees. No such action has ever been commenced against a journalist. Press lawyers and civil-liberties advocates have strong arguments that the law may not be read so broadly and still be consistent with the First Amendment. But the scope of the Espionage Act and the impact of the First Amendment upon its interpretation remain unknown.
A related area in which the attitude of an administration toward the press may affect the latter’s ability to function as a check on government relates to the ability of journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources. The Obama administration prosecuted more Espionage Act cases against sources of information to journalists than all prior administrations combined. After a good deal of deserved press criticism, it agreed to expand the internal guidelines of the Department of Justice designed to limit the circumstances under which such source revelation is demanded. But the guidelines are none too protective and are, after all, simply guidelines. A new administration is free to change or limit them or, in fact, abandon them altogether. In this area, as in so many others, it is too early to judge the ultimate treatment of free expression by the Trump administration. But the threats are real, and there is good reason to be wary.
Floyd Abrams is the author of The Soul of the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2017).
Ayaan Hirsi AliFreedom of speech is being threatened in the United States by a nascent culture of hostility to different points of view. As political divisions in America have deepened, a conformist mentality of “right thinking” has spread across the country. Increasingly, American universities, where no intellectual doctrine ought to escape critical scrutiny, are some of the most restrictive domains when it comes to asking open-ended questions on subjects such as Islam.
Legally, speech in the United States is protected to a degree unmatched in almost any industrialized country. The U.S. has avoided unpredictable Canadian-style restrictions on speech, for example. I remain optimistic that as long as we have the First Amendment in the U.S., any attempt at formal legal censorship will be vigorously challenged.
Culturally, however, matters are very different in America. The regressive left is the forerunner threatening free speech on any issue that is important to progressives. The current pressure coming from those who call themselves “social-justice warriors” is unlikely to lead to successful legislation to curb the First Amendment. Instead, censorship is spreading in the cultural realm, particularly at institutions of higher learning.
The way activists of the regressive left achieve silence or censorship is by creating a taboo, and one of the most pernicious taboos in operation today is the word “Islamophobia.” Islamists are similarly motivated to rule any critical scrutiny of Islamic doctrine out of order. There is now a university center (funded by Saudi money) in the U.S. dedicated to monitoring and denouncing incidences of “Islamophobia.”
The term “Islamophobia” is used against critics of political Islam, but also against progressive reformers within Islam. The term implies an irrational fear that is tainted by hatred, and it has had a chilling effect on free speech. In fact, “Islamophobia” is a poorly defined term. Islam is not a race, and it is very often perfectly rational to fear some expressions of Islam. No set of ideas should be beyond critical scrutiny.
To push back in this cultural realm—in our universities, in public discourse—those favoring free speech should focus more on the message of dawa, the set of ideas that the Islamists want to promote. If the aims of dawa are sufficiently exposed, ordinary Americans and Muslim Americans will reject it. The Islamist message is a message of divisiveness, misogyny, and hatred. It’s anachronistic and wants people to live by tribal norms dating from the seventh century. The best antidote to Islamic extremism is the revelation of what its primary objective is: a society governed by Sharia. This is the opposite of censorship: It is documenting reality. What is life like in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Northern Nigerian States? What is the true nature of Sharia law?
Islamists want to hide the true meaning of Sharia, Jihad, and the implications for women, gays, religious minorities, and infidels under the veil of “Islamophobia.” Islamists use “Islamophobia” to obfuscate their vision and imply that any scrutiny of political Islam is hatred and bigotry. The antidote to this is more exposure and more speech.
As pressure on freedom of speech increases from the regressive left, we must reject the notions that only Muslims can speak about Islam, and that any critical examination of Islamic doctrines is inherently “racist.”
Instead of contorting Western intellectual traditions so as not to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we need to defend the Muslim dissidents who are risking their lives to promote the human rights we take for granted: equality for women, tolerance of all religions and orientations, our hard-won freedoms of speech and thought.
It is by nurturing and protecting such speech that progressive reforms can emerge within Islam. By accepting the increasingly narrow confines of acceptable discourse on issues such as Islam, we do dissidents and progressive reformers within Islam a grave disservice. For truly progressive reforms within Islam to be possible, full freedom of speech will be required.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the founder of the AHA Foundation.
Lee C. BollingerI know it is too much to expect that political discourse mimic the measured, self-questioning, rational, footnoting standards of the academy, but there is a difference between robust political debate and political debate infected with fear or panic. The latter introduces a state of mind that is visceral and irrational. In the realm of fear, we move beyond the reach of reason and a sense of proportionality. When we fear, we lose the capacity to listen and can become insensitive and mean.
Our Constitution is well aware of this fact about the human mind and of its negative political consequences. In the First Amendment jurisprudence established over the past century, we find many expressions of the problematic state of mind that is produced by fear. Among the most famous and potent is that of Justice Brandeis in Whitney v. California in 1927, one of the many cases involving aggravated fears of subversive threats from abroad. “It is the function of (free) speech,” he said, “to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” “Men feared witches,” Brandeis continued, “and burned women.”
Today, our “witches” are terrorists, and Brandeis’s metaphorical “women” include the refugees (mostly children) and displaced persons, immigrants, and foreigners whose lives have been thrown into suspension and doubt by policies of exclusion.
The same fears of the foreign that take hold of a population inevitably infect our internal interactions and institutions, yielding suppression of unpopular and dissenting voices, victimization of vulnerable groups, attacks on the media, and the rise of demagoguery, with its disdain for facts, reason, expertise, and tolerance.
All of this poses a very special obligation on those of us within universities. Not only must we make the case in every venue for the values that form the core of who we are and what we do, but we must also live up to our own principles of free inquiry and fearless engagement with all ideas. This is why recent incidents on a handful of college campuses disrupting and effectively censoring speakers is so alarming. Such acts not only betray a basic principle but also inflame a rising prejudice against the academic community, and they feed efforts to delegitimize our work, at the very moment when it’s most needed.
I do not for a second support the view that this generation has an unhealthy aversion to engaging differences of opinion. That is a modern trope of polarization, as is the portrayal of universities as hypocritical about academic freedom and political correctness. But now, in this environment especially, universities must be at the forefront of defending the rights of all students and faculty to listen to controversial voices, to engage disagreeable viewpoints, and to make every effort to demonstrate our commitment to the sort of fearless and spirited debate that we are simultaneously asking of the larger society. Anyone with a voice can shout over a speaker; but being able to listen to and then effectively rebut those with whom we disagree—particularly those who themselves peddle intolerance—is one of the greatest skills our education can bestow. And it is something our democracy desperately needs more of. That is why, I say to you now, if speakers who are being denied access to other campuses come here, I will personally volunteer to introduce them, and listen to them, however much I may disagree with them. But I will also never hesitate to make clear why I disagree with them.
Lee C. Bollinger is the 19th president of Columbia University and the author of Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century. This piece has been excerpted from President Bollinger’s May 17 commencement address.
Richard A. Epstein
Today, the greatest threat to the constitutional protection of freedom of speech comes from campus rabble-rousers who invoke this very protection. In their book, the speech of people like Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald constitutes a form of violence, bordering on genocide, that receives no First Amendment protection. Enlightened protestors are both bound and entitled to shout them down, by force or other disruptive actions, if their universities are so foolish as to extend them an invitation to speak. Any indignant minority may take the law into its own hands to eradicate the intellectual cancer before it spreads on their own campus.
By such tortured logic, a new generation of vigilantes distorts the First Amendment doctrine: Speech becomes violence, and violence becomes heroic acts of self-defense. The standard First Amendment interpretation emphatically rejects that view. Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t let you say what you want when and wherever you want to. Your freedom of speech is subject to the same limitations as your freedom of action. So you have no constitutional license to assault other people, to lie to them, or to form cartels to bilk them in the marketplace. But folks such as Murray, Mac Donald, and even Yiannopoulos do not come close to crossing into that forbidden territory. They are not using, for example, “fighting words,” rightly limited to words or actions calculated to provoke immediate aggression against a known target. Fighting words are worlds apart from speech that provokes a negative reaction in those who find your speech offensive solely because of the content of its message.
This distinction is central to the First Amendment. Fighting words have to be blocked by well-tailored criminal and civil sanctions lest some people gain license to intimidate others from speaking or peaceably assembling. The remedy for mere offense is to speak one’s mind in response. But it never gives anyone the right to block the speech of others, lest everyone be able to unilaterally increase his sphere of action by getting really angry about the beliefs of others. No one has the right to silence others by working himself into a fit of rage.
Obviously, it is intolerable to let mutual animosity generate factional warfare, whereby everyone can use force to silence rivals. To avoid this war of all against all, each side claims that only its actions are privileged. These selective claims quickly degenerate into a form of viewpoint discrimination, which undermines one of the central protections that traditional First Amendment law erects: a wall against each and every group out to destroy the level playing field on which robust political debate rests. Every group should be at risk for having its message fall flat. The new campus radicals want to upend that understanding by shutting down their adversaries if their universities do not. Their aggression must be met, if necessary, by counterforce. Silence in the face of aggression is not an acceptable alternative.
Richard A. Epstein is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
David FrenchWe’re living in the midst of a troubling paradox. At the exact same time that First Amendment jurisprudence has arguably never been stronger and more protective of free expression, millions of Americans feel they simply can’t speak freely. Indeed, talk to Americans living and working in the deep-blue confines of the academy, Hollywood, and the tech sector, and you’ll get a sense of palpable fear. They’ll explain that they can’t say what they think and keep their jobs, their friends, and sometimes even their families.
The government isn’t cracking down or censoring; instead, Americans are using free speech to destroy free speech. For example, a social-media shaming campaign is an act of free speech. So is an economic boycott. So is turning one’s back on a public speaker. So is a private corporation firing a dissenting employee for purely political reasons. Each of these actions is largely protected from government interference, and each one represents an expression of the speaker’s ideas and values.
The problem, however, is obvious. The goal of each of these kinds of actions isn’t to persuade; it’s to intimidate. The goal isn’t to foster dialogue but to coerce conformity. The result is a marketplace of ideas that has been emptied of all but the approved ideological vendors—at least in those communities that are dominated by online thugs and corporate bullies. Indeed, this mindset has become so prevalent that in places such as Portland, Berkeley, Middlebury, and elsewhere, the bullies and thugs have crossed the line from protected—albeit abusive—speech into outright shout-downs and mob violence.
But there’s something else going on, something that’s insidious in its own way. While politically correct shaming still has great power in deep-blue America, its effect in the rest of the country is to trigger a furious backlash, one characterized less by a desire for dialogue and discourse than by its own rage and scorn. So we’re moving toward two Americas—one that ruthlessly (and occasionally illegally) suppresses dissenting speech and the other that is dangerously close to believing that the opposite of political correctness isn’t a fearless expression of truth but rather the fearless expression of ideas best calculated to enrage your opponents.
The result is a partisan feedback loop where right-wing rage spurs left-wing censorship, which spurs even more right-wing rage. For one side, a true free-speech culture is a threat to feelings, sensitivities, and social justice. The other side waves high the banner of “free speech” to sometimes elevate the worst voices to the highest platforms—not so much to protect the First Amendment as to infuriate the hated “snowflakes” and trigger the most hysterical overreactions.
The culturally sustainable argument for free speech is something else entirely. It reminds the cultural left of its own debt to free speech while reminding the political right that a movement allegedly centered around constitutional values can’t abandon the concept of ordered liberty. The culture of free speech thrives when all sides remember their moral responsibilities—to both protect the right of dissent and to engage in ideological combat with a measure of grace and humility.
David French is a senior writer at National Review.
Pamela GellerThe real question isn’t whether free speech is under threat in the United States, but rather, whether it’s irretrievably lost. Can we get it back? Not without war, I suspect, as is evidenced by the violence at colleges whenever there’s the shamefully rare event of a conservative speaker on campus.
Free speech is the soul of our nation and the foundation of all our other freedoms. If we can’t speak out against injustice and evil, those forces will prevail. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
With that principle in mind, I organized a free-speech event in Garland, Texas. The world had recently been rocked by the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. My version of “Je Suis Charlie” was an event here in America to show that we can still speak freely and draw whatever we like in the Land of the Free. Yet even after jihadists attacked our event, I was blamed—by Donald Trump among others—for provoking Muslims. And if I tried to hold a similar event now, no arena in the country would allow me to do so—not just because of the security risk, but because of the moral cowardice of all intellectual appeasers.
Under what law is it wrong to depict Muhammad? Under Islamic law. But I am not a Muslim, I don’t live under Sharia. America isn’t under Islamic law, yet for standing for free speech, I’ve been:
- Prevented from running our advertisements in every major city in this country. We have won free-speech lawsuits all over the country, which officials circumvent by prohibiting all political ads (while making exceptions for ads from Muslim advocacy groups);
- Shunned by the right, shut out of the Conservative Political Action Conference;
- Shunned by Jewish groups at the behest of terror-linked groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations;
- Blacklisted from speaking at universities;
- Prevented from publishing books, for security reasons and because publishers fear shaming from the left;
- Banned from Britain.
A Seattle court accused me of trying to shut down free speech after we merely tried to run an FBI poster on global terrorism, because authorities had banned all political ads in other cities to avoid running ours. Seattle blamed us for that, which was like blaming a woman for being raped because she was wearing a short skirt.
This kind of vilification and shunning is key to the left’s plan to shut down all dissent from its agenda—they make legislation restricting speech unnecessary.
The same refusal to allow our point of view to be heard has manifested itself elsewhere. The foundation of my work is individual rights and equality for all before the law. These are the foundational principles of our constitutional republic. That is now considered controversial. Truth is the new hate speech. Truth is going to be criminalized.
The First Amendment doesn’t only protect ideas that are sanctioned by the cultural and political elites. If “hate speech” laws are enacted, who would decide what’s permissible and what’s forbidden? The government? The gunmen in Garland?
There has been an inversion of the founding premise of this nation. No longer is it the subordination of might to right, but right to might. History is repeatedly deformed with the bloody consequences of this transition.
Pamela Geller is the editor in chief of the Geller Report and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
Jonah GoldbergOf course free speech is under threat in America. Frankly, it’s always under threat in America because it’s always under threat everywhere. Ronald Reagan was right when he said in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
This is more than political boilerplate. Reagan identified the source of the threat: human nature. God may have endowed us with a right to liberty, but he didn’t give us all a taste for it. As with most finer things, we must work to acquire a taste for it. That is what civilization—or at least our civilization—is supposed to do: cultivate attachments to certain ideals. “Cultivate” shares the same Latin root as “culture,” cultus, and properly understood they mean the same thing: to grow, nurture, and sustain through labor.
In the past, threats to free speech have taken many forms—nationalist passion, Comstockery (both good and bad), political suppression, etc.—but the threat to free speech today is different. It is less top-down and more bottom-up. We are cultivating a generation of young people to reject free speech as an important value.
One could mark the beginning of the self-esteem movement with Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 paper, “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” which claimed that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” This understandable idea ran amok in our schools and in our culture. When I was a kid, Saturday-morning cartoons were punctuated with public-service announcements telling kids: “The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you!”
The self-esteem craze was just part of the cocktail of educational fads. Other ingredients included multiculturalism, the anti-bullying crusade, and, of course, that broad phenomenon known as “political correctness.” Combined, they’ve produced a generation that rejects the old adage “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me” in favor of the notion that “words hurt.” What we call political correctness has been on college campuses for decades. But it lacked a critical mass of young people who were sufficiently receptive to it to make it a fully successful ideology. The campus commissars welcomed the new “snowflakes” with open arms; truly, these are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
“Words hurt” is a fashionable concept in psychology today. (See Psychology Today: “Why Words Can Hurt at Least as Much as Sticks and Stones.”) But it’s actually a much older idea than the “sticks and stones” aphorism. For most of human history, it was a crime to say insulting or “injurious” things about aristocrats, rulers, the Church, etc. That tendency didn’t evaporate with the Divine Right of Kings. Jonathan Haidt has written at book length about our natural capacity to create zones of sanctity, immune from reason.
And that is the threat free speech faces today. Those who inveigh against “hate speech” are in reality fighting “heresy speech”—ideas that do “violence” to sacred notions of self-esteem, racial or gender equality, climate change, and so on. Put whatever label you want on it, contemporary “social justice” progressivism acts as a religion, and it has no patience for blasphemy.
When Napoleon’s forces converted churches into stables, the clergy did not object on the grounds that regulations regarding the proper care and feeding of animals had been violated. They complained of sacrilege and blasphemy. When Charles Murray or Christina Hoff Summers visits college campuses, the protestors are behaving like the zealous acolytes of St. Jerome. Appeals to the First Amendment have as much power over the “antifa” fanatics as appeals to Odin did to champions of the New Faith.
That is the real threat to free speech today.
Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor at National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
KC JohnsonIn early May, the Washington Post urged universities to make clear that “racist signs, symbols, and speech are off-limits.” Given the extraordinarily broad definition of what constitutes “racist” speech at most institutions of higher education, this demand would single out most right-of-center (and, in some cases, even centrist and liberal) discourse on issues of race or ethnicity. The editorial provided the highest-profile example of how hostility to free speech, once confined to the ideological fringe on campus, has migrated to the liberal mainstream.
The last few years have seen periodic college protests—featuring claims that significant amounts of political speech constitute “violence,” thereby justifying censorship—followed by even more troubling attempts to appease the protesters. After the mob scene that greeted Charles Murray upon his visit to Middlebury College, for instance, the student government criticized any punishment for the protesters, and several student leaders wanted to require that future speakers conform to the college’s “community standard” on issues of race, gender, and ethnicity. In the last few months, similar attempts to stifle the free exchange of ideas in the name of promoting diversity occurred at Wesleyan, Claremont McKenna, and Duke. Offering an extreme interpretation of this point of view, one CUNY professor recently dismissed dialogue as “inherently conservative,” since it reinforced the “relations of power that presently exist.”
It’s easy, of course, to dismiss campus hostility to free speech as affecting only a small segment of American public life—albeit one that trains the next generation of judges, legislators, and voters. But, as Jonathan Chait observed in 2015, denying “the legitimacy of political pluralism on issues of race and gender” has broad appeal on the left. It is only most apparent on campus because “the academy is one of the few bastions of American life where the political left can muster the strength to impose its political hegemony upon others.” During his time in office, Barack Obama generally urged fellow liberals to support open intellectual debate. But the current campus environment previews the position of free speech in a post-Obama Democratic Party, increasingly oriented around identity politics.
Waning support on one end of the ideological spectrum for this bedrock American principle should provide a political opening for the other side. The Trump administration, however, seems poorly suited to make the case. Throughout his public career, Trump has rarely supported free speech, even in the abstract, and has periodically embraced legal changes to facilitate libel lawsuits. Moreover, the right-wing populism that motivates Trump’s base has a long tradition of ideological hostility to civil liberties of all types. Even in campus contexts, conservatives have defended free speech inconsistently, as seen in recent calls that CUNY disinvite anti-Zionist fanatic Linda Sarsour as a commencement speaker.
In a sharply polarized political environment, awash in dubiously-sourced information, free speech is all the more important. Yet this same environment has seen both sides, most blatantly elements of the left on campuses, demand restrictions on their ideological foes’ free speech in the name of promoting a greater good.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
Laura KipnisI find myself with a strange-bedfellows problem lately. Here I am, a left-wing feminist professor invited onto the pages of Commentary—though I’d be thrilled if it were still 1959—while fielding speaking requests from right-wing think tanks and libertarians who oppose child-labor laws.
Somehow I’ve ended up in the middle of the free-speech-on-campus debate. My initial crime was publishing a somewhat contentious essay about campus sexual paranoia that put me on the receiving end of Title IX complaints. Apparently I’d created a “hostile environment” at my university. I was investigated (for 72 days). Then I wrote up what I’d learned about these campus inquisitions in a second essay. Then I wrote about it all some more, in a book exposing the kangaroo-court elements of the Title IX process—and the extra-legal gag orders imposed on everyone caught in its widening snare.
I can’t really comment on whether more charges have been filed against me over the book. I’ll just say that writing about being a Title IX respondent could easily become a life’s work. I learned, shortly after writing this piece, that I and my publisher were being sued for defamation, among other things.
Is free speech under threat on American campuses? Yes. We know all about student activists who wish to shut down talks by people with opposing views. I got smeared with a bit of that myself, after a speaking invitation at Wellesley—some students made a video protesting my visit before I arrived. The talk went fine, though a group of concerned faculty circulated an open letter afterward also protesting the invitation: My views on sexual politics were too heretical, and might have offended students.
I didn’t take any of this too seriously, even as right-wing pundits crowed, with Wellesley as their latest outrage bait. It was another opportunity to mock student activists, and the fact that I was myself a feminist rather than a Charles Murray or a Milo Yiannopoulos, made them positively gleeful.
I do find myself wondering where all my new free-speech pals were when another left-wing professor, Steven Salaita, was fired (or if you prefer euphemism, “his job offer was withdrawn”) from the University of Illinois after he tweeted criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy. Sure the tweets were hyperbolic, but hyperbole and strong opinions are protected speech, too.
I guess free speech is easy to celebrate until it actually challenges something. Funny, I haven’t seen Milo around lately—so beloved by my new friends when he was bashing minorities and transgender kids. Then he mistakenly said something authentic (who knew he was capable of it!), reminiscing about an experience a lot of gay men have shared: teenage sex with older men. He tried walking it back—no, no, he’d been a victim, not a participant—but his fan base was shrieking about pedophilia and fleeing in droves. Gee, they were all so against “political correctness” a few minutes before.
It’s easy to be a free-speech fan when your feathers aren’t being ruffled. No doubt what makes me palatable to the anti-PC crowd is having thus far failed to ruffle them enough. I’m just going to have to work harder.
Laura Kipnis’s latest book is Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.
Eugene KontorovichThe free and open exchange of views—especially politically conservative or traditionally religious ones—is being challenged. This is taking place not just at college campuses but throughout our public spaces and cultural institutions. James Watson was fired from the lab he led since 1968 and could not speak at New York University because of petty, censorious students who would not know DNA from LSD. Our nation’s founders and heroes are being “disappeared” from public commemoration, like Trotsky from a photograph of Soviet rulers.
These attacks on “free speech” are not the result of government action. They are not what the First Amendment protects against. The current methods—professional and social shaming, exclusion, and employment termination—are more inchoate, and their effects are multiplied by self-censorship. A young conservative legal scholar might find himself thinking: “If the late Justice Antonin Scalia can posthumously be deemed a ‘bigot’ by many academics, what chance have I?”
Ironically, artists and intellectuals have long prided themselves on being the first defenders of free speech. Today, it is the institutions of both popular and high culture that are the censors. Is there one poet in the country who would speak out for Ann Coulter?
The inhibition of speech at universities is part of a broader social phenomenon of making longstanding, traditional views and practices sinful overnight. Conservatives have not put up much resistance to this. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous dictum: “First they came for Robert E. Lee, and I said nothing, because Robert E. Lee meant nothing to me.”
The situation with respect to Israel and expressions of support for it deserves separate discussion. Even as university administrators give political power to favored ideologies by letting them create “safe spaces” (safe from opposing views), Jews find themselves and their state at the receiving end of claims of apartheid—modern day blood libels. It is not surprising if Jewish students react by demanding that they get a safe space of their own. It is even less surprising if their parents, paying $65,000 a year, want their children to have a nicer time of it. One hears Jewish groups frequently express concern about Jewish students feeling increasingly isolated and uncomfortable on campus.
But demanding selective protection from the new ideological commissars is unlikely to bring the desired results. First, this new ideology, even if it can be harnessed momentarily to give respite to harassed Jews on campus, is ultimately illiberal and will be controlled by “progressive” forces. Second, it is not so terrible for Jews in the Diaspora to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has been the common condition of Jews throughout the millennia. The social awkwardness that Jews at liberal arts schools might feel in being associated with Israel is of course one of the primary justifications for the Jewish State. Facing the snowflakes incapable of hearing a dissonant view—but who nonetheless, in the grip of intersectional ecstasy, revile Jewish self-determination—Jewish students should toughen up.
Eugene Kontorovich teaches constitutional law at Northwestern University and heads the international law department of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.
Nicholas LemannThere’s an old Tom Wolfe essay in which he describes being on a panel discussion at Princeton in 1965 and provoking the other panelists by announcing that America, rather than being in crisis, is in the middle of a “happiness explosion.” He was arguing that the mass effects of 20 years of post–World War II prosperity made for a larger phenomenon than the Vietnam War, the racial crisis, and the other primary concerns of intellectuals at the time.
In the same spirit, I’d say that we are in the middle of a free-speech explosion, because of 20-plus years of the Internet and 10-plus years of social media. If one understands speech as disseminated individual opinion, then surely we live in the free-speech-est society in the history of the world. Anybody with access to the unimpeded World Wide Web can say anything to a global audience, and anybody can hear anything, too. All threats to free speech should be understood in the context of this overwhelmingly reality.
It is a comforting fantasy that a genuine free-speech regime will empower mainly “good,” but previously repressed, speech. Conversely, repressive regimes that are candid enough to explain their anti-free-speech policies usually say that they’re not against free speech, just “bad” speech. We have to accept that more free speech probably means, in the aggregate, more bad speech, and also a weakening of the power, authority, and economic support for information professionals such as journalists. Welcome to the United States in 2017.
I am lucky enough to live and work on the campus of a university, Columbia, that has been blessedly free of successful attempts to repress free speech. Just in the last few weeks, Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza have spoken here without incident. But, yes, the evidently growing popularity of the idea that “hate speech” shouldn’t be permitted on campuses is a problem, especially, it seems, at small private liberal-arts colleges. We should all do our part, and I do, by frequently and publicly endorsing free-speech principles. Opposing the BDS movement falls squarely into that category.
It’s not just on campuses that free-speech vigilance is needed, though. The number-one threat to free speech, to my mind, is that the wide-open Web has been replaced by privately owned platforms such as Facebook and Google as the way most people experience the public life of the Internet. These companies are committed to banning “hate speech,” and they are eager to operate freely in countries, like China, that don’t permit free political speech. That makes for a far more consequential constrained environment than any campus’s speech code.
Also, Donald Trump regularly engages in presidentially unprecedented rhetoric demonizing people who disagree with him. He seems to think this is all in good fun, but, as we have already seen at his rallies, not everybody hears it that way. The place where Trumpism will endanger free speech isn’t in the center—the White House press room—but at the periphery, for example in the way that local police handle bumptious protestors and the journalists covering them. This is already happening around the country. If Trump were as disciplined and knowledgeable as Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which so far he seems not to be, then free speech could be in even more serious danger from government, which in most places is its usual main enemy.
Nicholas Lemann is a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Michael J. LewisFree speech is a right but it is also a habit, and where the habit shrivels so will the right. If free speech today is in headlong retreat—everywhere threatened by regulation, organized harassment, and even violence—it is in part because our political culture allowed the practice of persuasive oratory to atrophy. The process began in 1973, an unforeseen side effect of Roe v. Wade. Legislators were delighted to learn that by relegating this divisive matter of public policy to the Supreme Court and adopting a merely symbolic position, they could sit all the more safely in their safe seats.
Since then, one crucial question of public policy after another has been punted out of the realm of politics and into the judicial. Issues that might have been debated with all the rhetorical agility of a Lincoln and a Douglas, and then subjected to a process of negotiation, compromise, and voting, have instead been settled by decree: e.g., Chevron, Kelo, Obergefell. The consequences for speech have been pernicious. Since the time of Pericles, deliberative democracy has been predicated on the art of persuasion, which demands the forceful clarity of thought and expression without which no one has ever been persuaded. But a legislature that relegates its authority to judges and regulators will awaken to discover its oratorical culture has been stunted. When politicians, rather than seeking to convince and win over, prefer to project a studied and pleasant vagueness, debate withers into tedious defensive performance. It has been decades since any presidential debate has seen any sustained give and take over a matter of policy. If there is any suspense at all, it is only the possibility that a fatigued or peeved candidate might blurt out that tactless shard of truth known as a gaffe.
A generation accustomed to hearing platitudes smoothly dispensed from behind a teleprompter will find the speech of a fearless extemporaneous speaker to be startling, even disquieting; unfamiliar ideas always are. Unhappily, they have been taught to interpret that disquiet as an injury done to them, rather than as a premise offered to them to consider. All this would not have happened—certainly not to this extent—had not our deliberative democracy decided a generation ago that it preferred the security of incumbency to the risks of unshackled debate. The compulsory contraction of free speech on college campuses is but the logical extension of the voluntary contraction of free speech in our political culture.
Michael J. Lewis’s new book is City of Refuge: Separatists and Utopian Town Planning (Princeton University Press).
Heather Mac DonaldThe answer to the symposium question depends on how powerful the transmission belt is between academia and the rest of the country. On college campuses, violence and brute force are silencing speakers who challenge left-wing campus orthodoxies. These totalitarian outbreaks have been met with listless denunciations by college presidents, followed by . . . virtually nothing. As of mid-May, the only discipline imposed for 2017’s mass attacks on free speech at UC Berkeley, Middlebury, and Clare-mont McKenna College was a letter of reprimand inserted—sometimes only temporarily—into the files of several dozen Middlebury students, accompanied by a brief period of probation. Previous outbreaks of narcis-sistic incivility, such as the screaming-girl fit at Yale and the assaults on attendees of Yale’s Buckley program, were discreetly ignored by college administrators.
Meanwhile, the professoriate unapologetically defends censorship and violence. After the February 1 riot in Berkeley to prevent Milo Yiannapoulos from speaking, Déborah Blocker, associate professor of French at UC Berkeley, praised the rioters. They were “very well-organized and very efficient,” Blocker reported admiringly to her fellow professors. “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order for the MY event and making sure no one in the crowd got hurt” (emphasis in original). (In fact, perceived Milo and Donald Trump supporters were sucker-punched and maced; businesses downtown were torched and vandalized.) New York University’s vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, Ulrich Baer, displayed Orwellian logic by claiming in a New York Times op-ed that shutting down speech “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people.”
Will non-academic institutions take up this zeal for outright censorship? Other ideological products of the left-wing academy have been fully absorbed and operationalized. Racial victimology, which drives much of the campus censorship, is now standard in government and business. Corporate diversity trainers counsel that bias is responsible for any lack of proportional racial representation in the corporate ranks. Racial disparities in school discipline and incarceration are universally attributed to racism rather than to behavior. Public figures have lost jobs for violating politically correct taboos.
Yet Americans possess an instinctive commitment to the First Amendment. Federal judges, hardly an extension of the Federalist Society, have overwhelmingly struck down campus speech codes. It is hard to imagine that they would be any more tolerant of the hate-speech legislation so prevalent in Europe. So the question becomes: At what point does the pressure to conform to the elite worldview curtail freedom of thought and expression, even without explicit bans on speech?
Social stigma against conservative viewpoints is not the same as actual censorship. But the line can blur. The Obama administration used regulatory power to impose a behavioral conformity on public and private entities. School administrators may have technically still possessed the right to dissent from novel theories of gender, but they had to behave as if they were fully on board with the transgender revolution when it came to allowing boys to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
Had Hillary Clinton had been elected president, the federal bureaucracy would have mimicked campus diversocrats with even greater zeal. That threat, at least, has been avoided. Heresies against left-wing dogma may still enter the public arena, if only by the back door. The mainstream media have lurched even further left in the Trump era, but the conservative media, however mocked and marginalized, are expanding (though Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of conservative speakers could be a harbinger of more official silencing).
Outside the academy, free speech is still legally protected, but its exercise requires ever greater determination.
Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops.
John McWhorterThere is a certain mendacity, as Brick put it in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in our discussion of free speech on college campuses. Namely, none of us genuinely wish that absolutely all issues be aired in the name of education and open-mindedness. To insist so is to pretend that civilized humanity makes nothing we could call advancement in philosophical consensus.
I doubt we need “free speech” on issues such as whether slavery and genocide are okay, whether it has been a mistake to view women as men’s equals, or to banish as antique the idea that whites are a master race while other peoples represent a lower rung on the Darwinian scale. With all due reverence of John Stuart Mill’s advocacy for the regular airing of even noxious views in order to reinforce clarity on why they were rejected, we are also human beings with limited time. A commitment to the Enlightenment justifiably will decree that certain views are, indeed, no longer in need of discussion.
However, our modern social-justice warriors are claiming that this no-fly zone of discussion is vaster than any conception of logic or morality justifies. We are being told that questions regarding the modern proposals about cultural appropriation, about whether even passing infelicitous statements constitute racism in the way that formalized segregation and racist disparagement did, or about whether social disparities can be due to cultural legacies rather than structural impediments, are as indisputably egregious, backwards, and abusive as the benighted views of the increasingly distant past.
That is, the new idea is not only that discrimination and inequality still exist, but that to even question the left’s utopian expectation on such matters justifies the same furious, sloganistic and even physically violent resistance that was once levelled against those designated heretics by a Christian hegemony.
Of course the protesters in question do not recognize themselves in a portrait as opponents of something called heresy. They suppose that Galileo’s opponents were clearly wrong but that they, today, are actually correct in a way that no intellectual or moral argument could coherently deny.
As such, we have students allowed to decree college campuses as “racist” when they are the least racist spaces on the planet—because they are, predictably given the imperfection of humans, not perfectly free of passingly unsavory interactions. Thinkers invited to talk for a portion of an hour from the right rather than the left and then have dinner with a few people and fly home are treated as if they were reanimated Hitlers. The student of color who hears a few white students venturing polite questions about the leftist orthodoxy is supported in fashioning these questions as “racist” rhetoric.
The people on college campuses who openly and aggressively spout this new version of Christian (or even Islamist) crusading—ironically justifying it as a barricade against “fascist” muzzling of freedom when the term applies ominously well to the regime they are fostering—are a minority. However, the sawmill spinning blade of their rhetoric has succeeding in rendering opposition as risky as espousing pedophilia, such that only those natively open to violent criticism dare speak out. The latter group is small. The campus consensus thereby becomes, if only at moralistic gunpoint à la the ISIS victim video, a strangled hard-leftism.
Hence freedom of speech is indeed threatened on today’s college campuses. I have lost count of how many of my students, despite being liberal Democrats (many of whom sobbed at Hillary Clinton’s loss last November), have told me that they are afraid to express their opinions about issues that matter, despite the fact that their opinions are ones that any liberal or even leftist person circa 1960 would have considered perfectly acceptable.
Something has shifted of late, and not in a direction we can legitimately consider forwards.
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University and is the author of The Language Hoax, Words on the Move, and Talking Back, Talking Black.
Kate Bachelder OdellIt’s 2021, and Harvard Square has devolved into riots: Some 120 people are injured in protests, and the carnage includes fire-consumed cop cars and smashed-in windows. The police discharge canisters of tear gas, and, after apprehending dozens of protesters, enforce a 1:45 A.M. curfew. Anyone roaming the streets after hours is subject to arrest. About 2,000 National Guardsmen are prepared to intervene. Such violence and disorder is also roiling Berkeley and other elite and educated areas.
Oh, that’s 1970. The details are from the Harvard Crimson’s account of “anti-war” riots that spring. The episode is instructive in considering whether free speech is under threat in the United States. Almost daily, there’s a new YouTube installment of students melting down over viewpoints of speakers invited to one campus or another. Even amid speech threats from government—for example, the IRS’s targeting of political opponents—nothing has captured the public’s attention like the end of free expression at America’s institutions of higher learning.
Yet disruption, confusion, and even violence are not new campus phenomena. And it’s hard to imagine that young adults who deployed brute force in the 1960s and ’70s were deeply committed to the open and peaceful exchange of ideas.
There may also be reason for optimism. The rough and tumble on campus in the 1960s and ’70s produced a more even-tempered ’80s and ’90s, and colleges are probably heading for another course correction. In covering the ruckuses at Yale, Missouri, and elsewhere, I’ve talked to professors and students who are figuring out how to respond to the illiberalism, even if the reaction is delayed. The University of Chicago put out a set of free-speech principles last year, and others schools such as Princeton and Purdue have endorsed them.
The NARPs—Non-Athletic Regular People, as they are sometimes known on campus—still outnumber the social-justice warriors, who appear to be overplaying their hand. Case in point is the University of Missouri, which experienced a precipitous drop in enrollment after instructor Melissa Click and her ilk stoked racial tensions last spring. The college has closed dorms and trimmed budgets. Which brings us to another silver lining: The economic model of higher education (exorbitant tuition to pay ever more administrators) may blow up traditional college before the fascists can.
Note also that the anti-speech movement is run by rich kids. A Brookings Institution analysis from earlier this year discovered that “the average enrollee at a college where students have attempted to restrict free speech comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the average student in America.” Few rank higher in average income than those at Middlebury College, where students evicted scholar Charles Murray in a particularly ugly scene. (The report notes that Murray was received respectfully at Saint Louis University, “where the median income of students’ families is half Middlebury’s.”) The impulses of over-adulated 20-year-olds may soon be tempered by the tyranny of having to show up for work on a daily basis.
None of this is to suggest that free speech is enjoying some renaissance either on campus or in America. But perhaps as the late Wall Street Journal editorial-page editor Robert Bartley put it in his valedictory address: “Things could be worse. Indeed, they have been worse.”
Kate Bachelder Odell is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Jonathan RauchIs free speech under threat? The one-syllable answer is “yes.” The three-syllable answer is: “Yes, of course.” Free speech is always under threat, because it is not only the single most successful social idea in all of human history, it is also the single most counterintuitive. “You mean to say that speech that is offensive, untruthful, malicious, seditious, antisocial, blasphemous, heretical, misguided, or all of the above deserves government protection?” That seemingly bizarre proposition is defensible only on the grounds that the marketplace of ideas turns out to be the most powerful engine of knowledge, prosperity, liberty, social peace, and moral advancement that our species has had the good fortune to discover.
Every new generation of free-speech advocates will need to get up every morning and re-explain the case for free speech and open inquiry—today, tomorrow, and forever. That is our lot in life, and we just need to be cheerful about it. At discouraging moments, it is helpful to remember that the country has made great strides toward free speech since 1798, when the Adams administration arrested and jailed its political critics; and since the 1920s, when the U.S. government banned and burned James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses; and since 1954, when the government banned ONE, a pioneering gay journal. (The cover article was a critique of the government’s indecency censors, who censored it.) None of those things could happen today.
I suppose, then, the interesting question is: What kind of threat is free speech under today? In the present age, direct censorship by government bodies is rare. Instead, two more subtle challenges hold sway, especially, although not only, on college campuses. The first is a version of what I called, in my book Kindly Inquisitors, the humanitarian challenge: the idea that speech that is hateful or hurtful (in someone’s estimation) causes pain and thus violates others’ rights, much as physical violence does. The other is a version of what I called the egalitarian challenge: the idea that speech that denigrates minorities (again, in someone’s estimation) perpetuates social inequality and oppression and thus also is a rights violation. Both arguments call upon administrators and other bureaucrats to defend human rights by regulating speech rights.
Both doctrines are flawed to the core. Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations. Memo to free-speech advocates: Our work is never done, but the really amazing thing, given the proposition we are tasked to defend, is how well we are doing.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought.
Nicholas Quinn RosenkranzSpeech is under threat on American campuses as never before. Censorship in various forms is on the rise. And this year, the threat to free speech on campus took an even darker turn, toward actual violence. The prospect of Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at Berkeley provoked riots that caused more than $100,000 worth of property damage on the campus. The prospect of Charles Murray speaking at Middlebury led to a riot that put a liberal professor in the hospital with a concussion. Ann Coulter’s speech at Berkeley was cancelled after the university determined that none of the appropriate venues could be protected from “known security threats” on the date in question.
The free-speech crisis on campus is caused, at least in part, by a more insidious campus pathology: the almost complete lack of intellectual diversity on elite university faculties. At Yale, for example, the number of registered Republicans in the economics department is zero; in the psychology department, there is one. Overall, there are 4,410 faculty members at Yale, and the total number of those who donated to a Republican candidate during the 2016 primaries was three.
So when today’s students purport to feel “unsafe” at the mere prospect of a conservative speaker on campus, it may be easy to mock them as “delicate snowflakes,” but in one sense, their reaction is understandable: If students are shocked at the prospect of a Republican behind a university podium, perhaps it is because many of them have never before laid eyes on one.
To see the connection between free speech and intellectual diversity, consider the recent commencement speech of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust:
Universities must be places open to the kind of debate that can change ideas….Silencing ideas or basking in intellectual orthodoxy independent of facts and evidence impedes our access to new and better ideas, and it inhibits a full and considered rejection of bad ones. . . . We must work to ensure that universities do not become bubbles isolated from the concerns and discourse of the society that surrounds them. Universities must model a commitment to the notion that truth cannot simply be claimed, but must be established—established through reasoned argument, assessment, and even sometimes uncomfortable challenges that provide the foundation for truth.
Faust is exactly right. But, alas, her commencement audience might be forgiven a certain skepticism. After all, the number of registered Republicans in several departments at Harvard—e.g., history and psychology—is exactly zero. In those departments, the professors themselves may be “basking in intellectual orthodoxy” without ever facing “uncomfortable challenges.” This may help explain why some students will do everything in their power to keep conservative speakers off campus: They notice that faculty hiring committees seem to do exactly the same thing.
In short, it is a promising sign that true liberal academics like Faust have started speaking eloquently about the crucial importance of civil, reasoned disagreement. But they will be more convincing on this point when they hire a few colleagues with whom they actually disagree.
Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz is a professor of law at Georgetown. He serves on the executive committee of Heterodox Academy, which he co-founded, on the board of directors of the Federalist Society, and on the board of directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
Ben ShapiroIn February, I spoke at California State University in Los Angeles. Before my arrival, professors informed students that a white supremacist would be descending on the school to preach hate; threats of violence soon prompted the administration to cancel the event. I vowed to show up anyway. One hour before the event, the administration backed down and promised to guarantee that the event could go forward, but police officers were told not to stop the 300 students, faculty, and outside protesters who blocked and assaulted those who attempted to attend the lecture. We ended up trapped in the auditorium, with the authorities telling students not to leave for fear of physical violence. I was rushed from campus under armed police guard.
Is free speech under assault?
Of course it is.
On campus, free speech is under assault thanks to a perverse ideology of intersectionality that claims victim identity is of primary value and that views are a merely secondary concern. As a corollary, if your views offend someone who outranks you on the intersectional hierarchy, your views are treated as violence—threats to identity itself. On campus, statements that offend an individual’s identity have been treated as “microaggressions”–actual aggressions against another, ostensibly worthy of violence. Words, students have been told, may not break bones, but they will prompt sticks and stones, and rightly so.
Thus, protesters around the country—leftists who see verbiage as violence—have, in turn, used violence in response to ideas they hate. Leftist local authorities then use the threat of violence as an excuse to ideologically discriminate against conservatives. This means public intellectuals like Charles Murray being run off of campus and his leftist professorial cohort viciously assaulted; it means Ann Coulter being targeted for violence at Berkeley; it means universities preemptively banning me and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condoleezza Rice and even Jason Riley.
The campus attacks on free speech are merely the most extreme iteration of an ideology that spans from left to right: the notion that your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin. Even Democrats who say that Ann Coulter should be allowed to speak at Berkeley say that nobody should be allowed to contribute to a super PAC (unless you’re a union member, naturally).
Meanwhile, on the right, the president’s attacks on the press have convinced many Republicans that restrictions on the press wouldn’t be altogether bad. A Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll in late April found that 36 percent of Americans thought freedom of the press “does more harm than good.” Undoubtedly, some of that is due to the media’s obvious bias. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has targeted the Trump administration for supposedly quashing journalism, but he was silent when the Obama administration’s Department of Justice cracked down on reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News, and when hacks like Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes openly sold lies regarding Iran. But for some on the right, the response to press falsities hasn’t been to call for truth, but to instead echo Trumpian falsehoods in the hopes of damaging the media. Free speech is only important when people seek the truth. Leftists traded truth for tribalism long ago; in response, many on the right seem willing to do the same. Until we return to a common standard under which facts matter, free speech will continue to rest on tenuous grounds.
Ben Shapiro is the editor in chief of The Daily Wire and the host of The Ben Shapiro Show.
Judith ShulevitzIt’s tempting to blame college and university administrators for the decline of free speech in America, and for years I did just that. If the guardians of higher education won’t inculcate the habits of mind required for serious thinking, I thought, who will? The unfettered but civil exchange of ideas is the basic operation of education, just as addition is the basic operation of arithmetic. And universities have to teach both the unfettered part and the civil part, because arguing in a respectful manner isn’t something anyone does instinctively.
So why change my mind now? Schools still cling to speech codes, and there still aren’t enough deans like the one at the University of Chicago who declared his school a safe-space-free zone. My alma mater just handed out prizes for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” to two students caught on video harassing the dean of their residential college, one screaming at him that he’d created “a space for violence to happen,” the other placing his face inches away from the dean’s and demanding, “Look at me.” All this because they deemed a thoughtful if ill-timed letter about Halloween costumes written by the dean’s wife to be an act of racist aggression. Yale should discipline students who behave like that, even if they’re right on the merits (I don’t think they were, but that’s not the point). They certainly don’t deserve awards. I can’t believe I had to write that sentence.
But in abdicating their responsibilites, the universities have enabled something even worse than an attack on free speech. They’ve unleashed an assault on themselves. There’s plenty of free speech around; we know that because so much bad speech—low-minded nonsense—tests our constitutional tolerance daily, and that’s holding up pretty well. (As Nicholas Lemann observes elsewhere in this symposium, Facebook and Google represent bigger threats to free speech than students and administrators.) What’s endangered is good speech.
Universities were setting themselves up to be used. Provocateurs exploit the atmosphere on campus to goad overwrought students, then gleefully trash the most important bastion of our crumbling civil society. Higher education and everything it stands for—logical argument, the scientific method, epistemological rigor—start to look illegitimate. Voters perceive tenure and research and higher education itself as hopelessly partisan and unworthy of taxpayers’ money.
The press is a secondary victim of this process of delegitimization. If serious inquiry can be waved off as ideology, then facts won’t be facts and reporting can’t be trusted. All journalism will be equal to all other journalism, and all journalists will be reduced to pests you can slam to the ground with near impunity. Politicians will be able to say anything and do just about anything and there will be no countervailing authority to challenge them. I’m pretty sure that that way lies Putinism and Erdoganism. And when we get to that point, I’m going to start worrying about free speech again.
Judith Shulevitz is a critic in New York.
Harvey SilverglateFree speech is, and has always been, threatened. The title of Nat Hentoff’s 1993 book Free Speech for Me – but Not for Thee is no less true today than at any time, even as the Supreme Court has accorded free speech a more absolute degree of protection than in any previous era.
Since the 1980s, the high court has decided most major free-speech cases in favor of speech, with most of the major decisions being unanimous or nearly so.
Women’s-rights advocates were turned back by the high court in 1986 when they sought to ban the sale of printed materials that, because deemed pornographic by some, were alleged to promote violence against women. Censorship in the name of gender–based protection thus failed to gain traction.
Despite the demands of civil-rights activists, the Supreme Court in 1992 declared cross-burning to be a protected form of expression in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, a decision later refined to strengthen a narrow exception for when cross-burning occurs primarily as a physical threat rather than merely an expression of hatred.
Other attempts at First Amendment circumvention have been met with equally decisive rebuff. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt for defamation growing out of a parody depicting Falwell’s first sexual encounter as a drunken tryst with his mother in an outhouse, a unanimous Supreme Court lectured on the history of parody as a constitutionally protected, even if cruel, form of social and political criticism.
When the South Boston Allied War Veterans, sponsor of Boston’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, sought to exclude a gay veterans’ group from marching under its own banner, the high court unanimously held that as a private entity, even though marching in public streets, the Veterans could exclude any group marching under a banner conflicting with the parade’s socially conservative message, notwithstanding public-accommodations laws. The gay group could have its own parade but could not rain on that of the conservatives.
Despite such legal clarity, today’s most potent attacks on speech are coming, ironically, from liberal-arts colleges. Ubiquitous “speech codes” limit speech that might insult, embarrass, or “harass,” in particular, members of “historically disadvantaged” groups. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” protect purportedly vulnerable students from hearing words and ideas they might find upsetting. Student demonstrators and threats of violence have forced the cancellation of controversial speakers, left and right.
It remains unclear how much campus censorship results from politically correct faculty, control-obsessed student-life administrators, or students socialized and indoctrinated into intolerance. My experience suggests that the bureaucrats are primarily, although not entirely, to blame. When sued, colleges either lose or settle, pay a modest amount, and then return to their censorious ways.
This trend threatens the heart and soul of liberal education. Eventually it could infect the entire society as these students graduate and assume influential positions. Whether a resulting flood of censorship ultimately overcomes legal protections and weakens democracy remains to be seen.
Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-based lawyer and writer, is the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press, 1998). He co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 1999 and is on FIRE’s board of directors. He spent some three decades on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, two of those years as chairman. Silverglate taught at Harvard Law School for a semester during a sabbatical he took in the mid-1980s.
Christina Hoff SommersWhen Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
John StosselYes, some college students do insane things. Some called police when they saw “Trump 2016” chalked on sidewalks. The vandals at Berkeley and the thugs who assaulted Charles Murray are disgusting. But they are a minority. And these days people fight back.
Someone usually videotapes the craziness. Yale’s “Halloween costume incident” drove away two sensible instructors, but videos mocking Yale’s snowflakes, like “Silence U,” make such abuse less likely. Groups like Young America’s Foundation (YAF) publicize censorship, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sues schools that restrict speech.
Consciousness has been raised. On campus, the worst is over. Free speech has always been fragile. I once took cameras to Seton Hall law school right after a professor gave a lecture on free speech. Students seemed to get the concept. Sean, now a lawyer, said, “Protect freedom for thought we hate; otherwise you never have a society where ideas clash, and we come up with the best idea.” So I asked, “Should there be any limits?” Students listed “fighting words,” “shouting fire in a theater,” malicious libel, etc.— reasonable court-approved exceptions. But then they went further. Several wanted bans on “hate” speech, “No value comes out of hate speech,” said Javier. “It inevitably leads to violence.”
No it doesn’t, I argued, “Also, doesn’t hate speech bring ideas into the open, so you can better argue about them, bringing you to the truth?”
“No,” replied Floyd, “With hate speech, more speech is just violence.”
So I pulled out a big copy of the First Amendment and wrote, “exception: hate speech.”
Two students wanted a ban on flag desecration “to respect those who died to protect it.”
One wanted bans on blasphemy:
“Look at the gravity of the harm versus the value in blasphemy—the harm outweighs the value.”
Several wanted a ban on political speech by corporations because of “the potential for large corporations to improperly influence politicians.”
Finally, Jillian, also now a lawyer, wanted hunting videos banned.
“It encourages harm down the road.”
I asked her, incredulously, “you’re comfortable locking up people who make a hunting film?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It’s unnecessary cruelty to feeling and sentient beings.”
So, I picked up my copy of the Bill of Rights again. After “no law . . . abridging freedom of speech,” I added: “Except hate speech, flag burning, blasphemy, corporate political speech, depictions of hunting . . . ”
That embarrassed them. “We may have gone too far,” said Sean. Others agreed. One said, “Cross out the exceptions.” Free speech survived, but it was a close call. Respect for unpleasant speech will always be thin. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton wanted violent video games banned. John McCain and Russ Feingold tried to ban political speech. Donald Trump wants new libel laws, and if you burn a flag, he tweeted, consequences might be “loss of citizenship or a year in jail!” Courts or popular opinion killed those bad ideas.
Free speech will survive, assuming those of us who appreciate it use it to fight those who would smother it.
John Stossel is a FOX News/FOX Business Network Contributor.
Warren TreadgoldEven citizens of dictatorships are free to praise the regime and to talk about the weather. The only speech likely to be threatened anywhere is the sort that offends an important and intolerant group. What is new in America today is a leftist ideology that threatens speech precisely because it offends certain important and intolerant groups: feminists and supposedly oppressed minorities.
So far this new ideology is clearly dominant only in colleges and universities, where it has become so strong that most controversies concern outside speakers invited by students, not faculty speakers or speakers invited by administrators. Most academic administrators and professors are either leftists or have learned not to oppose leftism; otherwise they would probably never have been hired. Administrators treat even violent leftist protestors with respect and are ready to prevent conservative and moderate outsiders from speaking rather than provoke protests. Most professors who defend conservative or moderate speakers argue that the speakers’ views are indeed noxious but say that students should be exposed to them to learn how to refute them. This is very different from encouraging a free exchange of ideas.
Although the new ideology began on campuses in the ’60s, it gained authority outside them largely by means of several majority decisions of the Supreme Court, from Roe (1973) to Obergefell (2015). The Supreme Court decisions that endanger free speech are based on a presumed consensus of enlightened opinion that certain rights favored by activists have the same legitimacy as rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution—or even more legitimacy, because the rights favored by activists are assumed to be so fundamental that they need no grounding in specific constitutional language. The Court majorities found restricting abortion rights or homosexual marriage, as large numbers of Americans wish to do, to be constitutionally equivalent to restricting black voting rights or interracial marriage. Any denial of such equivalence therefore opposes fundamental constitutional rights and can be considered hate speech, advocating psychological and possibly physical harm to groups like women seeking abortions or homosexuals seeking approval. Such speech may still be constitutionally protected, but acting upon it is not.
This ideology of forbidding allegedly offensive speech has spread to most of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Rather than seeing themselves as taking one side in a free debate, progressives increasingly argue (for example) that opposing abortion is offensive to women and supporting the police is offensive to blacks. Some politicians object so strongly to such speech that despite their interest in winning votes, they attack voters who disagree with them as racists or sexists. Expressing views that allegedly discriminate against women, blacks, homosexuals, and various other minorities can now be grounds for a lawsuit.
Speech that supposedly offends women or minorities has already cost some people their careers, their businesses, and their opportunities to deliver or hear speeches. Such intimidation is the intended result of an ideology that threatens free speech.
Warren Treadgold is a professor of history at Saint Louis University.
Matt WelchLike a sullen zoo elephant rocking back and forth from leg to leg, there is an oversized paradox we’d prefer not to see standing smack in the sightlines of most our policy debates. Day by day, even minute by minute, America simultaneously gets less free in the laboratory, but more free in the field. Individuals are constantly expanding the limits and applications of their own autonomy, even as government transcends prior restraints on how far it can reach into our intimate business.
So it is that the Internal Revenue Service can charge foreign banks with collecting taxes on U.S. citizens (therefore causing global financial institutions to shun many of the estimated 6 million-plus Americans who live abroad), even while block-chain virtuosos make illegal transactions wholly undetectable to authorities. It has never been easier for Americans to travel abroad, and it’s never been harder to enter the U.S. without showing passports, fingerprints, retinal scans, and even social-media passwords.
What’s true for banking and tourism is doubly true for free speech. Social media has given everyone not just a platform but a megaphone (as unreadable as our Facebook timelines have all become since last November). At the same time, the federal government during this unhappy 21st century has continuously ratcheted up prosecutorial pressure against leakers, whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and technology companies.
A hopeful bulwark against government encroachment unique to the free-speech field is the Supreme Court’s very strong First Amendment jurisprudence in the past decade or two. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton before him, may prattle on about locking up flag-burners, but Antonin Scalia and the rest of SCOTUS protected such expression back in 1990. Barack Obama and John McCain (and Hillary Clinton—she’s as bad as any recent national politician on free speech) may lament the Citizens United decision, but it’s now firmly legal to broadcast unfriendly documentaries about politicians without fear of punishment, no matter the electoral calendar.
But in this very strength lies what might be the First Amendment’s most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today’s culture of free speech could be tomorrow’s legal framework. If so, we’re in trouble.
For evidence of free-speech slippage, just read around you. When both major-party presidential nominees react to terrorist attacks by calling to shut down corners of the Internet, and when their respective supporters are actually debating the propriety of sucker punching protesters they disagree with, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our increasingly shrill partisan sorting is turning the very foundation of post-1800 global prosperity into just another club to be swung in our national street fight.
In the eternal cat-and-mouse game between private initiative and government control, the former is always advantaged by the latter’s fundamental incompetence. But what if the public willingly hands government the power to muzzle? It may take a counter-cultural reformation to protect this most noble of American experiments.
Matt Welch is the editor at large of Reason.
Adam. J. WhiteFree speech is indeed under threat on our university campuses, but the threat did not begin there and it will not end there. Rather, the campus free-speech crisis is a particularly visible symptom of a much more fundamental crisis in American culture.
The problem is not that some students, teachers, and administrators reject traditional American values and institutions, or even that they are willing to menace or censor others who defend those values and institutions. Such critics have always existed, and they can be expected to use the tools and weapons at their disposal. The problem is that our country seems to produce too few students, teachers, and administrators who are willing or able to respond to them.
American families produce children who arrive on campus unprepared for, or uninterested in, defending our values and institutions. For our students who are focused primarily on their career prospects (if on anything at all), “[c]ollege is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement,” as David Brooks observed 16 years ago. “They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent. Hence they are not a disputatious group.”
Meanwhile, parents bear incomprehensible financial burdens to get their kids through college, without a clear sense of precisely what their kids will get out of these institutions in terms of character formation or civic virtue. With so much money at stake, few can afford for their kids to pursue more than career prospects.
Those problems are not created on campus, but they are exacerbated there, as too few college professors and administrators see their institutions as cultivators of American culture and republicanism. Confronted with activists’ rage, they offer no competing vision of higher education—let alone a compelling one.
Ironically, we might borrow a solution from the Left. Where progressives would leverage state power in service of their health-care agenda, we could do the same for education. State legislatures and governors, recognizing the present crisis, should begin to reform and renegotiate the fundamental nature of state universities. By making state universities more affordable, more productive, and more reflective of mainstream American values, they will attract students—and create incentives for competing private universities to follow suit.
Let’s hope they do it soon, for what’s at stake is much more than just free speech on campus, or even free speech writ large. In our time, as in Tocqueville’s, “the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of a democratic republic,” especially “where instruction which awakens the understanding is not separated from moral education which amends the heart.” We need our colleges to cultivate—not cut down—civic virtue and our capacity for self-government. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form,” Madison wrote in Federalist 55. If “there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” then “nothing less than the chains of despotism” can restrain us “from destroying and devouring one another.”
Adam J. White is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Cathy YoungA writer gets expelled from the World Science Fiction Convention for criticizing the sci-fi community’s preoccupation with racial and gender “inclusivity” while moderating a panel. An assault on free speech, or an exercise of free association? How about when students demand the disinvitation of a speaker—or disrupt the speech? When a critic of feminism gets banned from a social-media platform for unspecified “abuse”?
Such questions are at the heart of many recent free-speech controversies. There is no censorship by government; but how concerned should we be when private actors effectively suppress unpopular speech? Even in the freest society, some speech will—and should—be considered odious and banished to unsavory fringes. No one weeps for ostracized Holocaust deniers or pedophilia apologists.
But shunned speech needs to remain a narrow exception—or acceptable speech will inexorably shrink. As current Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai cautioned last year, First Amendment protections will be hollowed out unless undergirded by cultural values that support a free marketplace of ideas.
Sometimes, attacks on speech come from the right. In 2003, an Iraq War critic, reporter Chris Hedges, was silenced at Rockford College in Illinois by hecklers who unplugged the microphone and rushed the stage; some conservative pundits defended this as robust protest. Yet the current climate on the left—in universities, on social media, in “progressive” journalism, in intellectual circles—is particularly hostile to free expression. The identity-politics left, fixated on subtle oppressions embedded in everyday attitudes and language, sees speech-policing as the solution.
Is hostility to free-speech values on the rise? New York magazine columnist Jesse Singal argues that support for restrictions on public speech offensive to minorities has remained steady, and fairly high, since the 1970s. Perhaps. But the range of what qualifies as offensive—and which groups are to be shielded—has expanded dramatically. In our time, a leading liberal magazine, the New Republic, can defend calls to destroy a painting of lynching victim Emmett Till because the artist is white and guilty of “cultural appropriation,” and a feminist academic journal can be bullied into apologizing for an article on transgender issues that dares to mention “male genitalia.”
There is also a distinct trend of “bad” speech being squelched by coercion, not just disapproval. That includes the incidents at Middlebury College in Vermont and at Claremont McKenna in California, where mobs not only prevented conservative speakers—Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald—from addressing audiences but physically threatened them as well. It also includes the use of civil-rights legislation to enforce goodthink in the workplace: Businesses may face stiff fines if they don’t force employees to call a “non-binary” co-worker by the singular “they,” even when talking among themselves.
These trends make a mockery of liberalism and enable the kind of backlash we have seen with Donald Trump’s election. But the backlash can bring its own brand of authoritarianism. It’s time to start rebuilding the culture of free speech across political divisions—a project that demands, above all, genuine openness and intellectual consistency. Otherwise it will remain, as the late, great Nat Hentoff put it, a call for “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason.
Robert J. ZimmerFree speech is not a natural feature of human society. Many people are comfortable with free expression for views they agree with but would withhold this privilege for those they deem offensive. People justify such restrictions by various means: the appeal to moral certainty, political agendas, demand for change, opposing change, retaining power, resisting authority, or, more recently, not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easy to assert that others are doing true damage or creating unacceptable offense simply by presenting a fundamentally different perspective.
The resulting challenges to free expression may come in the form of laws, threats, pressure (whether societal, group, or organizational), or self-censorship in the face of a prevailing consensus. Specific forms of challenge may be more or less pronounced as circumstances vary. But the widespread temptation to consider the silencing of “objectionable” viewpoints as acceptable implies that the challenge to free expression is always present.
The United States today is no exception. We benefit from the First Amendment, which asserts that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. However, fostering a society supporting free expression involves matters far beyond the law. The ongoing and increasing demonization of one group by another creates a political and social environment conducive to suppressing speech. Even violent acts opposing speech can become acceptable or encouraged. Such behavior is evident at both political rallies and university events. Our greatest current threat to free expression is the emergence of a national culture that accepts the legitimacy of suppression of speech deemed objectionable by a segment of the population.
University and college campuses present a particularly vivid instance of this cultural shift. There have been many well-publicized episodes of speakers being disinvited or prevented from speaking because of their views. However, the problem is much deeper, as there is significant self-censorship on many campuses. Both faculty and students sometimes find themselves silenced by social and institutional pressures to conform to “acceptable” views. Ironically, the very mission of universities and colleges to provide a powerful and deeply enriching education for their students demands that they embrace and protect free expression and open discourse. Failing to do so significantly diminishes the quality of the education they provide.
My own institution, the University of Chicago, through the words and actions of its faculty and leaders since its founding, has asserted the importance of free expression and its essential role in embracing intellectual challenge. We continue to do so today as articulated by the Chicago Principles, which strongly affirm that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” It is only in such an environment that universities can fulfill their own highest aspirations and provide leadership by demonstrating the value of free speech within society more broadly. A number of universities have joined us in reinforcing these values. But it remains to be seen whether the faculty and leaders of many institutions will truly stand up for these values, and in doing so provide a model for society as a whole.
Robert J. Zimmer is the president of the University of Chicago.