As I write this, in late December, we in Berkeley are in the Christmas lull. But faculty studies, teaching-assistant rooms,…
As I write this, in late December, we in Berkeley are in the Christmas lull. The university's 18,000 undergraduates are for the most part at home, many of the faculty and even some of the graduate students are away. But despite the quiet, the campus is full. The American Physical Society is meeting, which probably explains why it is still difficult to find a parking space even with a faculty sticker ($72 a year). For the first time in weeks, the steps of Sproul Hall, the administration building, are bare of demonstrators and loud-speakers, the entries to the campus are empty of tables collecting money, students handing out literature, or posters announcing meetings. But faculty studies, teaching-assistant rooms, and libraries are busy and show no signs that this is a holiday.
The Regents of the University of California met the day before the Christmas recess began, declared that they “do not contemplate that advocacy or content of speech [on the Berkeley campus] shall be restricted beyond the purview of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution,” and set up a committee to review university policies in consultation with faculty and students “with the intent of providing maximum freedom consistent with individual and group responsibility.” (After an earlier meeting, on November 20, during which thousands of students were sitting outside being led by Joan Baez in singing, the Regents had said that their policy was to make campus facilities available for “planning, implementing or raising funds or recruiting participants for lawful off-campus action, not for unlawful. . . .”) The Emergency Executive Committee of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate (the faculty) issued an optimistic statement after the Regents' meeting, asserting that substantial progress had been made.
Despite all this, I—and many other faculty members—are filled with foreboding. We see neither a clear nor a near end to the crisis. And I am afraid it will not be easy for our friends in other places to understand what is going on here; it is hardly possible for those of us closest to it to agree on an interpretation.
To begin with, we must dispose of the ingeniously simple slogan of “free speech” which has made it possible for so many who are far from the events at Berkeley to send in forthright statements in support of the Free Speech Movement or the position adopted by the Faculty on December 8 (that political advocacy or organization should be limited only by minimum regulations designed to permit the university to function normally). Those of us who watched the Free. Speech Movement (FSM) daily set up its loud-speakers on the steps of the administration building to denounce the President, the Chancellor, the newspapers, the Regents, the faculty, and the structure and organization of society in general and universities in particular, could only admire the public-relations skill exhibited in the choice of a name for the student movement. Life, however, is not so simple as to present us with a classic free speech issue on the shores of San Francisco Bay.
During 1963-64, my first year as a teacher at Berkeley, student political activity was vigorous beyond anything I had recently seen at any other American college. In front of the concrete posts that mark the main pedestrian entrance to the campus from the busy intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, one could find, on an ordinary school day, students handing out leaflets advertising many different kinds of political meetings and actions, to be held on the campus itself and off it as well. Various student groups would set up tables stacked with literature, both free and for sale, and members of the group would be available at the tables for discussion, information, and argument. The chief groups represented were socialists—evolutionary, revolutionary, and ambiguous; civil rights organizations such as CORE, or Friends of SNCC; Young Democrats; Young Republicans; and Conservatives. One could expect to come upon supporters of Khrushchev or Mao, Castro or Ho Chi-Minh, marijuana or LSD, not to mention the more garden-variety political and social positions. (We smiled then at the backwardness of Eastern campuses where straight sex was still an issue; only homosexuality or perversion, it seemed, could make an issue at Berkeley.) Outdoor meetings were also held at this same location, often as preludes to expeditions to San Francisco, Oakland, and downtown Berkeley to picket business establishments which had failed to negotiate or sign an agreement with CORE or some other civil-rights organization. On the campus itself, large posters were always in evidence announcing a great variety of events, many of them political. Berkeley was one of the few places in the country, I imagine, where in 1964 one could hear a public debate between the supporters of Khrushchev and Mao on the Sino-Soviet dispute—there were organized student groups behind both positions.
Of course regulations existed, administered by deans of students, which these groups had to observe in conducting their activities on campus. For example, the university required 72 hours' notice for visiting speakers. If a speaker was controversial, the university would demand that a tenured member of the faculty chair the meeting. On occasion, disputes broke out between the university and a student group over who should pay for putting out the chairs on Dwinelle Plaza (the open-air area in the center of campus where particularly large meetings are held), or whether a student group sponsoring a speaker who was expected to draw a large crowd (for example, Malcolm X) should be required to pay for police protection. These disputes were perhaps portents of what was to come, but the regulations did not seem to inhibit a degree of political activity that was perhaps unique on American campuses.
Nor did they inhibit a number of actions that can only be considered questionable political stunts. Thus, Slate, a student political party, decided that it would be a good idea to bring the West Coast leader of the American Nazi party to the university. He spoke in the largest enclosed space on campus, the men's gym. I do not recall any objections from the administration. The morning of his talk, young men and women wearing Nazi uniforms were posted at the chief entrances to the campus, handing out leaflets announcing the meeting. Later I heard an intense argument between two students at one of the entrances; it transpired that the young Nazi-clad figures were not really Nazis, but adherents of the liberal-progressive Slate, who had hit upon this as a clever way to publicize the meeting.
On another occasion, Slate invited the chief western organizer for the John Birch Society—I chaired that meeting. One could only conclude that inviting Communists to the Berkeley campus had become pretty tame, and an aspiring progressive organization had to invite John Birchers and Nazis to get an audience or to assert its absolute belief in free speech. But whatever one thought of this particular tack adopted by Slate, it was clear that free speech prevailed on the Berkeley campus.
It turned out, at the beginning of the fall semester of 1964, that this grand chaos—as it appeared—of oratory, advocacy, and action, was based on a tangle of distinctions that only the administrative staff that dealt with regulations affecting student organizations, and the leaders of the organizations they regulated, understood—and perhaps not even they. The regulations go back to a time when no political activity of any kind was allowed on campus. Under this earlier situation, even candidates for the Presidency were not allowed to speak at Berkeley: to have permitted such a thing would presumably have involved the university in “politics,” and as a state university it was not supposed to be involved in politics. But gradually these rules were qualified and changed to the point where the Berkeley campus, like all other campuses that are proud of their devotion to the principle of free speech, was allowed to have Communist speakers. Largely as a result of such changes, last spring President Clark Kerr was given the Alexander Meiklejohn award by the American Association of University Professors for having made a major contribution to academic freedom.
But through all these modifications of earlier restrictions, a distinction was maintained. The campus was a place for “free speech.” It was not, however, a place for advocacy,1 for organization, or for collecting money. Thus an “off-campus” political organization (like CORE) could run a meeting “on-campus” but would have to explain to those present that certain kinds of discussion (for example, on implementing a demonstration) must be held off-campus. This was not as great a hardship as it might have been in other colleges or universities, where the campus is separated physically from the town (as is Stanford) or where the community possesses few meeting places suitable for student groups. Further, just as Berkeley is required to be free of “politics,” it is also required to be free of religion in all forms—proselytization, worship, or even the organizational activities of student religious groups. The city of Berkeley, however, surrounds the university. And across the street which marks off campus from city, there is a row of institutions—YMCA, Methodist, Jewish, Episcopalian, etc.—which have often been available for political meetings banned on campus.
But to return to the distinction that underlay the regulations (or that some people in the administration believed underlay them)—that is, between “speech” on the one hand, and “advocacy and organization” on the other: traditionally, the chief area for advocacy was the sidewalk in front of the concrete posts which mark the boundary of the university. This was also the area where impromptu meetings would precede the march to the picket lines and the demonstration sites. But at the beginning of the fall semester of 1964, the university administration decided to enforce the distinction between “speech” and “advocacy and organization” on the strip of sidewalk in front of the posts (which is also the property of the Regents of the University of California).
Various reasons for this decision have been given. The administration at first asserted that the number of tables and meetings had become so great as to interfere with traffic. The students argued that there were more forceful reasons. During the preceding summer, while the Republican Convention met at the Cow Palace, students were recruited here not only for the usual civil rights activities (which included in this case blocking the entrances to the Cow Palace for a while) but to pack the galleries for Scranton. During that summer, in addition, civil rights demonstrators decided to move against the Oakland Tribune, owned by the family of former Senator Knowland, and the students charged that it was his complaint that led the administration to ban “advocacy and organization” on the strip of sidewalk in question.
There now began a conflict between two very unevenly matched opponents: the student political organizations and the administration of the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Berkeley has a long history of student agitation for the widening of freedom of political action on campus. This history has involved petition, picketing, demonstrating, research and argument, and the like. Many alumni of these efforts are still on and around the campus. A number of lawyers, in and outside the law school, have been involved in such past disputes and know them in detail. But the present student constellation differs markedly from that of only a few years ago, and thus a radically new style was adopted for this newest conflict with the administration over political activity.
The great new factor has, of course, been the civil rights movement, and particularly the development of the new techniques of civil disobedience, which opened up the lunch counters of the South and then spread to the North. Nowhere have these techniques been adopted with more enthusiasm and success than in the Bay Area. Last year hundreds of Berkeley students—along with students from San Francisco State College and elsewhere, and non-students as well—“sat-in” at a chain of lunch counters, “shopped-in” at a chain of supermarkets (they would fill a cart with groceries, let the clerk reckon the total on his machine, and then leave the mess of groceries on the counter, insouciantly declaring they did not have the money to pay for them), “slept-in” at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, lay down in the automobile showrooms of Van Ness Avenue. This activity led in each case to an agreement to hire a certain number of Negro workers. It also led in some cases to mass arrests and mass trials, which seriously strained the court system of San Francisco. The fact that the state of California has a law banning discrimination in employment and a commission devoted to ending discrimination in employment seemed to leave the demonstrators unmoved. Indeed, they often insisted that they themselves rather than the state agency should police the agreements they had won from the employers.
The civil rights movement created a situation among the student political groups on campus quite different from the one which had prevailed when such groups were fighting for the loosening of the strict regulations which once governed their political activity. Besides introducing new tactics, the civil rights movement developed a large body of students committed to these tactics, and a substantial body of public opinion—in the faculty and among the liberal population of the area—sympathetic to them. Admittedly, Berkeley was ideally suited to serve the expansion of the radical civil rights movement in the North. It had never been affected to the extent other colleges were by the mood of the “silent generation” of the 50's. (In 1960, remember, when the House Un-American Activities Committee met in San Francisco City Hall, hundreds of Berkeley students were willing to attempt to disrupt its hearings.) Indeed, in 1957, when I visited Berkeley for the first time, a number of socialist youth leaders from the East had just migrated here, because they found the political climate peculiarly congenial to their work. (In addition, it was my impression that Communism too retained more life and relevance in the Bay Area than in the East.) Some of these socialist youth leaders became students; some worked at the university; others worked in the community, becoming part of the penumbra of campus life which at Berkeley involves many people who are neither students, faculty, nor staff, but who may have been part of the university at one time in the past and who possibly will again be part of it in the future.
The strains produced by the application of the new tactics in the mild racial climate of San Francisco had already been intense. Was the Bay Area Mississippi, it was asked, that actions had to be taken which destroyed private businesses when there was legal redress for the wrongs that the students believed existed? Few people in public life thought so. Even many liberals were troubled, and during 1963-64, some state legislators and others demanded that the university move against the students who had been arrested in civil-rights actions. President Kerr refused, asserting that what students did off-campus was their business, so long as they did not use campus facilities for it. Here again was the distinction between speech on the one hand and advocacy and organization on the other. On this distinction the President, the Regents, and Chancellor Strong of the Berkeley campus apparently hoped to ride out the hard year ahead, while students leaders were attempting to produce the degree of chaos in the surrounding community that they calculated was necessary to achieve fair treatment for Negroes.
When the Chancellor's office passed on to the lesser members of the administrative hierarchy the decision that the strip of land on Bancroft Way outside the concrete posts was now to become subject de facto (as it had been de jure) to the university ban on advocacy, collection, and organization, the student leaders and their constituencies were already attuned to and experienced in the use of the new tactics. The first rank of the administrative hierarchy to deal with the new regulations, on the other hand, were deans who up till now, one assumes, had been concerned principally with such matters as lock-out rules in female dormitories. Initially the student groups protested the new regulations to these deans. They were immediately able to show that the distinction between “speech” and “advocacy” was difficult or impossible to maintain and ridiculous in an election year; they also showed that traffic could easily flow despite the tables. The administration withdrew somewhat; tables were permitted and advocacy was allowed, but collection and organization were still prohibited. This was unsatisfactory to the students, who resorted to a direct test of whether the administration would enforce the new regulations: they set up their tables and collected money. A number were then directed to appear before a dean on September 29 to discuss these violations. The official account of the Chancellor to the faculty, presented a few weeks later, will suggest something of the quality of the ensuing confrontation:
At 3 o'clock that afternoon some 300-400 students moved into the second floor of Sproul Hall and Mario Savio announced that all of them acknowledged violating University regulations in the same manner as those students who had been instructed to make appointments with the Dean of Students, and they all wanted similar appointments. The Dean of Men declared that he was then concerned only with observed violations, and if students wanted appointments they could leave their names and he would determine if and when such could be made. He also asked [the students who had been observed in violations] to go in and see a dean because each was involved in a matter of personal discipline, and requested that the crowd disperse, since he had scheduled a meeting of the leaders of the student organizations and their advisers to discuss the problem at 4 o'clock. Savio responded that the group would not leave unless they were guaranteed that the same disciplinary action would be meted out to all there. Unable to make such guarantees, the Dean of Men again asked the group to leave, and later announced that since, in the opinion of the administration and some of the advisers of the student groups who had come to attend the 4:00 meeting, the environment was not conducive to reasonable discussion, the meeting was cancelled. . . . The group remained in Sproul Hall until 2:40 in the morning.
In this way, what had originally been a protest by all the student political groups—from revolutionary socialist to extreme conservative—was transformed very early into a movement run by the civil rights leaders. For as soon as the tactics of the protest “escalated” into questionably legal activities (like sitting-in at Sproul Hall, which was done for the first time on September 29) the right-wingers could not go along. They were still part of the protest movement for a few more days. But they stood aside from further escalations—the surrounding of the campus police car containing an arrested prisoner on October 1, the loose and then the tight sit-in at Sproul Hall that day which prevented the deans from leaving or anyone from entering, the decision to maintain the sit-in around the police car throughout October 2. By that time, it was clear that the leadership of the movement was now coming exclusively from the civil rights and left-wing political groups. But there were too few students directly committed to the left-wing groups to provide the necessary “bodies”—to use the term popular with the civil rights leaders. Only the civil rights groups, and only with the good issues handed to them by administration action, could raise hundreds ready to sit-in.
On October 2, the movement won its first great victory—the withdrawal of the menacing array of police that had been concentrated on the campus, and a meeting with Clark Kerr in which a pact was signed calling for an administration-faculty-student committee to deal with the issue of political activity. At this meeting with President Kerr, the right-wing and religious student groups were still represented. Then the Free Speech Movement, at a marathon two-day meeting, organized itself officially, and from that meeting neither the right-wing nor the religious groups emerged with any positions of leadership. More than that, the Young Democrats and even the right-wing Socialists, who had played an important role in the demonstration around the police car, were excluded. In a pattern similar to other and grander revolutions, the student uprising had moved to the left—into the control of the civil rights leaders identified with direct action, and of the leaders of groups in a direct or indirect line of descent from the Communist and Trotskyist student political groups of the past. As for the followers, they mainly came from students involved in or touched by the civil rights movement.
If the leadership of the student movement was rapidly concentrated into a coherent and tightly knit cadre, sharing very much the same philosophy and outlook, the other elements of the university community were split and in disarray. Let us look first at the “administration.” Where in the history of American higher education has the administration of a university loomed so large as at Berkeley? In the past, presidents, faculties, and boards of trustees have been important—but administrations? This is another sense in which Berkeley may be unique; and yet one fears that the future of American higher education may be foreshadowed here. Everyone—arriving faculty members, arriving deans, visiting authorities—is astonished by the size of the administration at Berkeley, and in the statewide University of California. One large building near the campus is completely devoted to the statewide administration, another on the campus to the Berkeley administration. The title “dean,” which at other universities carries dignity, is used at Berkeley to cover a wide variety of jobs, only some of them academic (where the traditional dignity still attaches to the title), but many deans have not come up through the faculty and have little to do with it. They deal with student affairs. For presumably 27,000 students provide a good number of non-academic problems which neither the faculty nor the academic deans would want to be bothered with.
Academic matters are handled by the academic deans and their assistants. The size of these staffs is impressive, and unfortunately—given certain conditions—necessary. Many students move to Berkeley from other campuses of the state university, from state colleges, from junior colleges, from other institutions outside the state. Each institution has its own requirements—for entrance, for graduation, for majors—and the work done elsewhere therefore has to be evaluated and harmonized to the Berkeley requirements. The evaluations are often argued and fought over, and the student is often frustrated in his fight. In the end a bureaucracy is probably the only system by which a vast number of cases can be managed equitably. Yet while the rules may be just, the sense of justice done is rarely communicated by a clerk or an assistant dean's determination. Could we operate with a smaller administration? Very likely. Yet one thinks of such matters as vast numbers of migrating undergraduates to be fitted into the university, and thousands of graduate students, a large proportion of whom are also employees receiving regular checks for research assistantships, teaching assistantships, fellowships. There are also hundreds of new faculty members every year, each of whom has had to be passed on by various committees. There are scores of research institutes, hundreds of research contracts, each involving separate budgets, all to be coordinated. It is difficult to communicate any sense of the scale of the administration at Berkeley. Let me give a personal report: when I arrived in Berkeley after working for the Federal Government, my feeling was that the quality of the two settings—organization piled upon organization, reaching to a mysterious empyrean height—was remarkably similar. I understood from other faculty members that this was rather new, that it was only in recent years that the administration had become so huge.
Ironically, President Kerr, in his Godkin lectures,2 has offered the best general text—perhaps the only existing one—on what is happening. The students have been among its most avid readers, and have not shared the admiration of some reviewers of the book who see in the University of California, as described by its President, the democratic university of the future, combining high standards and mass education. President Kerr describes the shift from the liberal arts college offering a humane education, to the early university which trained men in the traditional professions and for scholarship and college teaching, to the modern “federal grant” university, half of whose budget may come from federal research grants.
It would be an error to think of these grants as being devoted only to warmaking and to statecraft. Vast sums flow for social and psychological and policy research, research as useful to a benign welfare state—or, for that matter, a modern authoritarian state—as to a cold-war America. Obviously, however, the federal grant university is not entirely dependent on federal grants. All undergraduate and graduate teaching is covered by state funds, and in many departments—languages, philosophy, history, English, art, and music—little if any part of faculty salaries comes from research grants. Nevertheless, the effect of the federal millions is larger than one would suspect from a direct accounting of where the money goes. The research funds strengthen the university's capacity to compete for faculty, for they allow members to be relieved from teaching and to supplement their regular nine-month salary from a research budget during the summer. These funds also permit the recruitment of greater numbers of graduate students, who normally expect to be supported out of research and teaching assistantships—and even if the latter are covered by state funds, the students are there because federal money will eventually support their own research.
It is easy to conclude that everyone benefits from this except the undergraduate, whose instruction is largely in the hands of teaching assistants. And yet a year ago, when I was spending my first term on the Berkeley campus, I could not find much restiveness or resentment among the undergraduates. Indeed, several told me they preferred Berkeley to the junior colleges and state colleges from which they had come, despite the fact that a layer of graduate students was interposed between them and the professional staff. And they said that the lectures at Berkeley were more stimulating despite the size of the classes. Of course, such undergraduates had moved to Berkeley from schools with smaller classes for other reasons besides the quality of the education, whatever that might be: the life of the campus and the college town around it was undoubtedly a great attraction.
But resentment ran higher, I would judge, among graduate students, many of whom discovered that their professors were just as busy when it came to bothering with them as they were where undergraduates were concerned. Once again the pleasurable environment of learning had escaped them; they were working hard as research assistants and teaching assistants, on other men's research and courses, but they were denied the satisfaction of an intellectual community which brought students and teachers together. Their relations with faculty were too often quite businesslike, the exchanges of services for money. And how could it be otherwise when the professors were burdened with so many governmental, teaching, administrative, and research duties?
Resentment also ran high among the faculty. Many remembered an easier life as junior faculty, on the Berkeley campus or elsewhere. They could not understand why they were always so busy, and found that scholarly labors could best proceed away from the campus. Thus many protected themselves from their students and their colleagues by working at home. But there was another source of resentment for them—the incorporation of Berkeley, which had previously enjoyed a good deal of independence, into the structure of the statewide university, with its eight or nine campuses and its statewide administration, trying to coordinate the varied institutions that had been brought together or were coming into existence as parts of the University of California. Berkeley's incorporation meant that in one matter after another which affected faculty—the shift from semesters to quarters, the setting of standards of admission, the distribution of students among campuses—decisions could be and were taken that were not the decisions the faculty, or individual members of it, wanted.
As a result of these changes, and as a result of the administration's insensitivity to the problems involved, a degree of distance developed between statewide and campus administration, between administration and faculty, between faculty and students, that may well have been unique in American education. The question we must ask, however, before distributing blame is this: given the need or the desire to create an enormous system of statewide university education, how could such a situation have been avoided?
Certainly the faculty, while complaining of the inaccessibility of the administration and its insensitivity to faculty needs, was not very responsive on its own part to student needs. A public meeting some of us ran on the problems of education at Berkeley last year was attended by only a handful of faculty (and not much more than a handful of undergraduates and graduate students). The faculty does not respond enthusiastically to occasional efforts by the administration to get it to consider ways of improving undergraduate education. But at the same time it must be said that faculty members generally censor their impulses to educational reform because they are aware of the many barriers that would have to be vaulted to get the change through. The new faculty member learns rapidly enough that if he devotes himself to his research, his courses, and his pro forma service on committees, he is doing all that is expected of him—and all that any reasonable man, in the prevailing system, would want to undertake.
The university administration, then, was both rigid—as we all knew from experience—and fragile—as we discovered in the crisis raised by its attempt to change the de facto rules governing student political activity. For in the situation created first by reasonable student demands and secondly by new and radical student tactics, the administration showed itself incapable of consistent, decisive, or effective action. Again and again it was forced to withdraw from positions either because they were poor ones, or poorly argued and defended, or because the higher levels (the President) moved in and changed the positions taken lower down (the Chancellor).
The confusion above, a confusion veiled by silence and inaccessibility, could only increase by geometric progression down below. Asked to enforce policies about whose rationale and stability they were uncertain, the deans could only put up a very poor show, and in the course of the crisis the student leaders—having discovered very early how to break through to the top—treated them with greater and greater insolence and arrogance. Rapidly becoming more expert in the techniques of organization and publicity, these leaders soon added a powerful wing to their original movement—the graduate students. They soon discovered too that there was little to fear in breaking the rules, for the faculty was so unsympathetic to the administration and its rigid and mechanical handling of the problem that, while it would not at first directly support the students and their tactics, it was always ready to attack the administration.
The next casualties were the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellors. As early as October 2 the President, ignoring the advice and actions of the Chancellor's office, had intervened to make a direct pact with the students—which the Chancellor was expected to carry out. More important than the structure of authority which permitted the Chancellor to be overridden was the fact that neither he nor his staff could come up with a leader to handle a political crisis for which a close study of the French and Russian revolutions might well have provided the only suitable training. Certainly there was no one at this level who could influence the students or deal effectively with them. Nor, as it turned out, was there anyone at this level who could deal effectively with the faculty and convince them that the matter was being handled intelligently or morally. On at least two important occasions faculty members-including myself—who did not support the tactics of the students felt that the administration had acted against the spirit or the letter of an agreement in trying to discipline student leaders. In both cases it was unclear whether it was the Chancellor, the President, or the Board of Regents—the highest authority—who had ordered the action. But whatever the facts, the Chancellor's authority was weakened by these incidents.
We must now speak in more detail about the role of the faculty. At the start, the faculty for the most part looked upon the conflict between the administration and the students as detached and neutral outsiders. From the beginning, however, groups of faculty members thrust themselves into the situation as mediators. They (or some of them) were distinguished from the great majority of their colleagues by the fact that they had been involved in student politics in the past and remained interested in them in the present. The first such group of mediators (of which I was one) helped to draw up the pact of October 2. But we eventually joined the administration as casualties of the developing crisis. We became casualties, I believe, owing to the critical change in the issues of the conflict that occurred around the beginning of November. This change became apparent in the discussions of the faculty-student-administration committee that had been set up by the October 2 pact. For the first month there had been two fairly straightforward issues: the attempt of the administration to change the status quo, which all the student political groups, left and right, and all interested faculty opposed; and secondly, the student tactics, which some of the student groups and most of the interested faculty opposed, but which everyone agreed should not lead to disciplinary action (on the ground that the original issue which had occasioned the tactics had been a just one). To my mind, these two problems were settled when the administration's representatives on the committee provisionally accepted a much wider range of political advocacy and organization on campus than had been permitted before, and when a second committee (faculty) set up under the October 2 pact called for the lifting of the suspensions that had been pronounced against the students who had violated the old regulations.
Until this point, the interested faculty members and the student FSM leaders had stood together. But now the student leaders and the administration raised a new issue, created by the prospective liberalization of the rules. If the campus was to be opened up for advocacy and organization, what of advocacy and organization that led to illegal actions or was designed to produce illegal actions? This was no abstract question. The administration's insistence on a line between the legal and illegal—a line it had not drawn when no advocacy or organization was permitted on campus—was immediately seen by the students as a threat to actions they were already planning (against the Oakland Tribune, various local merchants, etc) and which in their minds were being held up by the involvement of their forces in the campus dispute. (They were, of course, aware of the large number of potential recruits they had attracted on the basis of the free-speech issue.) The student leaders fully expected further mass arrests as a result of these actions, and they hoped to protect their rear against university discipline.
On this issue of illegal action the faculty-student-administration committee split in November. The student representatives insisted on a specific guarantee that nothing they advocated or organized on campus would lead to any measures by the university against them or their organizations. The administration members insisted on the right to discipline individuals or organizations who advocated or organized illegal action. The faculty group proposed a formula which neither gave the students a specific guarantee of immunity nor the administration a specific ban against illegal action on campus. Under this formula the students would have conducted their demonstrations and sit-ins in all likelihood safe from university interference, for the university's policy of the year before had been not to discipline those arrested for civil rights activities and it seemed improbable that this policy would be changed. If, however, the University decided on a change, the students could have tested in the courts its right to punish them for illegal action advocated or organized on campus—a contingency which, they asserted, would be “against the 1st and 14th amendments” and would constitute “double jeopardy.”
This course, which would have permitted the students to turn their attention to what they felt to be such critical substantive problems as discrimination on the Oakland Tribune, they rejected. Their movement would not give up the issue provided them by the split on the question of illegal action. Those faculty members like myself who had been sympathetic until this time, but now withdrew their support, were denounced orally and in print as “finks” and stooges of President Kerr (who had become the bête noir of the students, his hand seen in every move).
On this issue the students decided to abrogate the pact of October 2 (in which they had agreed to stick to legal action), pronounced (on their own authority) new rules to govern political activity on campus, and began to operate under them. The students now hoped that the Regents would give them what the committee set up under the pact of October 2 had not, but on November 20, the Regents insisted on maintaining the distinction between lawful and unlawful actions. At this point the student leaders split, some arguing for further drastic measures, others urging de facto acceptance of the new rules under which they had full freedom of action, but were threatened by the possibility of university punishment for illegal action. A new sit-in was staged at Sproul Hall, which involved only 300 students; the administration did not act against it, and it was called off after a few hours.
Then, on November 30, it was learned that the administration (Strong? Kerr? the Regents?) had summoned four student leaders to appear before the Faculty Committee on Student Conduct (advisory to the Chancellor) to hear charges against them stemming from their tussles with the police on October 1 and 2. As a result of this blunder, an issue that was capable of arousing the students—the disciplining of their leaders—was fortuitously tied to one that could not—immunity for advocacy or organization of illegal action. The rest of the story has been covered by the national news media. Once again, on December 2, Joan Baez—no other figure in the United States could better symbolize the tangle of protests, amorphous and specific, that moved the students—sang with them as they occupied Sproul Hall. In the early morning of December 3, a small army of police began carrying out students—about 800 of them. That afternoon, yet another impromptu group of mediating faculty, the department chairmen, met to formulate a compromise which offered full amnesty to the students for the actions of the past two months; they hoped to sell this to the President and the Regents. On December 4, a long threatened strike of teaching assistants was launched, and on Sunday, December 6, the President and the Regents accepted the department chairmen's compromise.
By this time, however, the student leaders had glimpsed the possibility of complete success. For some days a substantial number of liberal faculty members had been preparing a resolution which asserted that political activity on campus should be regulated only as to “time, place, and manner” in order not to interfere with the functioning of the university, and they were rounding up support for its adoption. The great majority of this group had little sympathy for FSM tactics, but they believed its position on the rules was right. In any case, the larger part of the faculty had now become involved, because they had been forced to confront and take a stand on the strike of their teaching assistants. Many were also shocked by the December 3 police action. The FSM hoped that the faculty resolution supporting their position would pass and they joined its drafters in campaigning for it.
On December 7 the compromise negotiated by the department chairmen was presented by Professor Robert Scalopino and President Kerr to the student body and faculty at a large open-air meeting at the Greek theater. The radicalization of the students—thousands of whom had now participated in sit-ins, strikes, and picketing—had proceeded at a frightening pace over the weekend; full victory was now seen as possible, and the compromise was denounced by the student leaders as a “sell-out.” It was at this meeting that Mario Savio, head of the FSM, attempted to seize the microphone, and the campus police dragged him away.
Because of their desperate desire to settle things, because of their experience of one administration failure after another, I believe most of the faculty was by now ready to accept any agreement that might lead to peace. The administration—President Kerr and Chancellor Strong—was absent and silent when a thousand members of the Academic Senate met on December 8 and by a huge vote endorsed the resolution of the liberal faculty members mentioned above. This resolution—in addition to backing the view that political activity should be unrestricted except for time, place, and manner—demanded that responsibility for disciplinary measures in the area of political activity should be placed in the hands of the faculty. Having lived through months of non-existent or ineffective leadership and increasing disruption and disorder, the faculty also voted for the election of a strong Emergency Executive Committee to represent it. A few days later, however, as if in recoil from the resolution, the faculty elected a moderate executive committee, the majority of whom had not been identified with the preparation and propagation of the resolution that had been adopted so overwhelmingly.
But what of the issue of illegal political activity itself? Did the seven-to-one vote of the faculty resolve that? I do not believe so. At the December 8 meeting Professor Lewis Feuer proposed an amendment to the main resolution which would have excepted speech or advocacy “directed to immediate acts of force and violence” from the general immunity. In suppport of this amendment, he spoke not of the civil rights movement, which was uppermost in the minds of all the protagonists, but of Mississippi, where such a resolution as had been endorsed by the faculty would deny a university administration the right to move against a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and of pre-Nazi Germany, where a similar position in effect prevented university administrations from moving against Nazi students engaged in the destruction of the ground-rules of democratic society. The discussion was intense. Many of those who opposed Feuer were convinced that his amendment raised serious constitutional issues. On the whole it was obvious to those of us who supported his amendment—and had other amendments in mind as well—that the temper of the faculty did not favor any extended consideration of the issues at that time. The students were barred from the meeting, but thousands were outside, and we could hear their roars of approval or disapproval as the debate went on. It was scarcely necessary to be reminded of the terrible power of the student movement, though two professors, both of whom supported the majority resolution, did remind us that chaos was at the door. I think there was a good deal of hysteria mixed in with the action of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate that day. Afterward men who had been friends for years but had taken opposite sides approached each other with hesitation, and felt it necessary to reaffirm their friendship, so deeply had their emotions become involved.
I hope it is now clear why the issue on the Berkeley campus is not simply one of “free speech.” The immediate issue is the student demand that the university allow them facilities for full political action and give up its right to discipline them for what it considers improper use of these facilities. If the university is to be equated with the administration, the students have a point. For the administration has the least claim to the power to determine the standards which govern the university. But what of the Regents, who represent the people of the state? What of the faculty? What of the students? Are all incapable of determining what is proper on a university campus? The constitution of the university—the distribution of powers among its various elements—may well be out of joint. At one time the faculty exercised student discipline at Berkeley; on some campuses it is the faculty and students together. Constitutions can be changed. But should the constitution of a university include a grant of immunity to any and all forms of action that go by the name of politics? If it did, the university would abdicate its responsibility to set standards for its students, its faculty, and its staff in one critical area of their life on the campus. We are now in the following ridiculously inconsistent posture at Berkeley: no religious activity of any kind is allowed on the campus and no one challenges that; students can be penalized for infractions of rules involving the consumption of liquor and the like, and no one challenges that; but it is asserted that any political action whatever should be permitted without any step being taken by the university against any person or organization as a result.
It is possible that this huge and on the whole practically oriented university has no basis on which to set any standards. I am not sure we have come to this yet. The students—now backed by most of the faculty—view any assertions of power by the university as designed only to reduce the scope of their self-evidently good and just activity. They do not see that the power to regulate on the basis of standards appropriate to a university also increases the potential scope of their activity and protects them from the civil arm. It is easier to run meetings on the Berkeley campus than on the city streets—even the streets of enlightened cities. The students and their faculty supporters do not agree that this higher degree of freedom, established under the protection of the university's authority, may be organically connected to the university's power to regulate this freedom and prevent its abuse.
How then is the dispute to be finally resolved? One can envisage circumstances that would give us a temporary peace, but it would be a very fragile one. Many of the FSM leaders are also deeply concerned with the academic conduct of the university, the curriculum, the courses, the character of the faculty, the nature of student-faculty relations. It is a concern which many faculty members applaud. But if strikes and sit-ins should be held on the campus to impose student views of how the university should be run academically—and nothing in FSM ideology prevents this—there would be an end to peace once again.
Secondly, one must see these events in the context of the students' desire to protect their university status and privileges while conducting their operations in the community. Will the community in turn, however, respect these rights and privileges if the actions of the Berkeley students maintain their intensity of 1963-64, or if, as the students hope, they increase in intensity? A number of supermarkets against which they directed some of their most powerful efforts, I notice, have closed down. Will the community, which votes hundreds of millions of dollars for the university through the state legislature, remain docile in the face of what they may consider a one-sided bargain?
At a press conference called by a group of faculty members after the mass arrests on December 3, Professor Henry May, chairman of the history department, was asked by newsmen what lay at the bottom of the crisis. He answered thoughtfully that he saw two major issues. One was the inevitable strains and pressure stemming from the attempt to create at Berkeley a mass university that would at the same time be great; the second was the rise of new forms of political action which aroused deep emotions and whose legal status was in doubt. I believe these are the two chief underlying causes of what is happening at Berkeley. We have the answer to neither problem; this is why we must be concerned and disturbed, and why what is happening at Berkeley is more than a local story.
Epilogue, January 6.—On January 1, the Regents suddenly appointed a new Acting Chancellor for the Berkeley campus, Martin Meyerson. He took office at a time when the Emergency Executive Committee of the Academic Senate was performing prodigies in negotiating with and mollifying all parties. With the advice of the Emergency Executive Committee, the new Chancellor issued temporary and minimal “fail-safe” rules (the language of nuclear warfare is common in the controversy) with which to greet the students returning from vacation, and FSM is abiding by them. Meyerson has brought a new atmosphere to the campus, and every day we congratulate each other on an unaccustomed peace.
1 “Advocacy” was used throughout the ensuing dispute to mean advocacy of action, not of ideas.
2 The Uses of the University, reviewed by Harold Taylor in the December 1964 COMMENTARY.—Ed.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
What Happened at Berkeley
Must-Reads from Magazine
Exactly one week later, a Star Wars cantina of the American extremist right featuring everyone from David Duke to a white-nationalist Twitter personality named “Baked Alaska” gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue honoring the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A video promoting the gathering railed against “the international Jewish system, the capitalist system, and the forces of globalism.” Amid sporadic street battles between far-right and “antifa” (anti-fascist) activists, a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of peaceful counterprotestors, killing a 32-year-old woman.
Here, in the time span of just seven days, was the dual nature of contemporary American anti-Semitism laid bare. The most glaring difference between these two displays of hate lies not so much in their substance—both adhere to similar conspiracy theories articulating nefarious, world-altering Jewish power—but rather their self-characterization. The animosity expressed toward Jews in Charlottesville was open and unambiguous, with demonstrators proudly confessing their hatred in the familiar language of Nazis and European fascists.
The socialists in Chicago, meanwhile, though calling for a literal second Holocaust on the shores of the Mediterranean, would fervently and indignantly deny they are anti-Semitic. On the contrary, they claim the mantle of “anti-fascism” and insist that this identity naturally makes them allies of the Jewish people. As for those Jews who might oppose their often violent tactics, they are at best bystanders to fascism, at worst collaborators in “white supremacy.”
So, whereas white nationalists explicitly embrace a tribalism that excludes Jews regardless of their skin color, the progressives of the DSA and the broader “woke” community conceive of themselves as universalists—though their universalism is one that conspicuously excludes the national longings of Jews and Jews alone. And whereas the extreme right-wingers are sincere in their anti-Semitism, the socialists who called for the elimination of Israel are just as sincere in their belief that they are not anti-Semitic, even though anti-Semitism is the inevitable consequence of their rhetoric and worldview.
The sheer bluntness of far-right anti-Semitism makes it easier to identify and stigmatize as beyond the pale; individuals like David Duke and the hosts of the “Daily Shoah” podcast make no pretense of residing within the mainstream of American political debate. But the humanist appeals of the far left, whose every libel against the Jewish state is paired with a righteous invocation of “justice” for the Palestinian people, invariably trigger repetitive and esoteric debates over whether this or that article, allusion, allegory, statement, policy, or political initiative is anti-Semitic or just critical of Israel. What this difference in self-definition means is that there is rarely, if ever, any argument about the substantive nature of right-wing anti-Semitism (despicable, reprehensible, wicked, choose your adjective), while the very existence of left-wing anti-Semitism is widely doubted and almost always indignantly denied by those accused of practicing it.T o be sure, these recent manifestations of anti-Semitism occur on the left and right extremes. And statistics tell a rather comforting story about the state of anti-Semitism in America. Since the Anti-Defamation League began tracking it in 1979, anti-Jewish hate crime is at an historic low; indeed, it has been declining since a recent peak of 1,554 incidents in 2006. America, for the most part, remains a very philo-Semitic country, one of the safest, most welcoming countries for Jews on earth. A recent Pew poll found Jews to be the most admired religious group in the United States.1 If American Jews have anything to dread, it’s less anti-Semitism than the loss of Jewish peoplehood through assimilation, that is being “loved to death” by Gentiles.2 Few American Jews can say that anti-Semitism has a seriously deleterious impact on their life, that it has denied them educational or employment opportunities, or that they fear for the physical safety of themselves or their families because of their Jewish identity.
The question is whether the extremes are beginning to move in on the center. In the past year alone, the DSA’s rolls tripled from 8,000 to 25,000 dues-paying members, who have established a conspicuous presence on social media reaching far beyond what their relatively miniscule numbers attest. The DSA has been the subject of widespread media coverage, ranging from the curious to the adulatory. The white supremacists, meanwhile, found themselves understandably heartened by the strange difficulty President Donald Trump had in disavowing them. He claimed, in fact, that there had been some “very fine people” among their ranks. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville,” tweeted David Duke, while the white-nationalist Richard Spencer said, “I’m proud of him for speaking the truth.”
Indeed, among the more troubling aspects of our highly troubling political predicament—and one that, from a Jewish perspective, provokes not a small amount of angst—is that so many ideas, individuals, and movements that could once reliably be categorized as “extreme,” in the literal sense of articulating the views of a very small minority, are no longer so easily dismissed. The DSA is part of a much broader revival of the socialist idea in America, as exemplified by the growing readership of journals like Jacobin and Current Affairs, the popularity of the leftist Chapo Trap House podcast, and the insurgent presidential campaign of self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders—who, according to a Harvard-Harris poll, is now the most popular politician in the United States. Since 2015, the average age of a DSA member dropped from 64 to 30, and a 2016 Harvard poll found a majority of Millennials do not support capitalism.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Donald Trump offers “nativism and culture war wedges without the Reaganomics,” according to Nicholas Grossman, a lecturer in political science at the University of Illinois. A party that was once reliably internationalist and assertive against Russian aggression now supports a president who often preaches isolationism and never has even a mildly critical thing to say about the KGB thug ruling over the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Like ripping the bandage off an ugly and oozing wound, Trump’s presidential campaign unleashed a bevy of unpleasant social forces that at the very least have an indirect bearing on Jewish welfare. The most unpleasant of those forces has been the so-called alternative right, or “alt-right,” a highly race-conscious political movement whose adherents are divided on the “JQ” (Jewish Question). Throughout last year’s campaign, Jewish journalists (this author included) were hit with a barrage of luridly anti-Semitic Twitter messages from self-described members of the alt-right. The tamer missives instructed us to leave America for Israel, others superimposed our faces onto the bodies of concentration camp victims.3
I do not believe Donald Trump is himself an anti-Semite, if only because anti-Semitism is mainly a preoccupation—as distinct from a prejudice—and Trump is too narcissistic to indulge any preoccupation other than himself. And there is no evidence to suggest that he subscribes to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories favored by his alt-right supporters. But his casual resort to populism, nativism, and conspiracy theory creates a narrative environment highly favorable to anti-Semites.
Nativism, of which Trump was an early and active practitioner, is never good for the Jews, no matter how affluent or comfortable they may be and notwithstanding whether they are even the target of its particular wrath. Racial divisions, which by any measure have grown significantly worse in the year since Trump was elected, hurt all Americans, obviously, but they have a distinct impact on Jews, who are left in a precarious position as racial identities calcify. Not only are the newly emboldened white supremacists of the alt-right invariably anti-Semites, but in the increasingly racialist taxonomy of the progressive left—which more and more mainstream liberals are beginning to parrot—Jews are considered possessors of “white privilege” and, thus, members of the class to be divested of its “power” once the revolution comes. In the racially stratified society that both extremes envision, Jews lose out, simultaneously perceived (by the far right) as wily allies and manipulators of ethnic minorities in a plot to mongrelize America and (by the far left) as opportunistic “Zionists” ingratiating themselves with a racist and exploitative “white” establishment that keeps minorities down.T his politics is bad for all Americans, and Jewish Americans in particular. More and more, one sees the racialized language of the American left being applied to the Middle East conflict, wherein Israel (which is, in point of fact, one of the most racially diverse countries in the world) is referred to as a “white supremacist” state no different from that of apartheid South Africa. In a book just published by MIT Press, ornamented with a forward by Cornel West and entitled “Whites, Jews, and Us,” a French-Algerian political activist named Houria Bouteldja asks, “What can we offer white people in exchange for their decline and for the wars that will ensue?” Drawing the Jews into her race war, Bouteldja, according to the book’s jacket copy, “challenges widespread assumptions among the left in the United States and Europe—that anti-Semitism plays any role in Arab–Israeli conflicts, for example, or that philo-Semitism doesn’t in itself embody an oppressive position.” Jew-hatred is virtuous, and appreciation of the Jews is racism.
Few political activists of late have done more to racialize the Arab–Israeli conflict—and, through insidious extension of the American racial hierarchy, designate American Jews as oppressors—than the Brooklyn-born Arab activist Linda Sarsour. An organizer of the Women’s March, Sarsour has seamlessly insinuated herself into a variety of high-profile progressive campaigns, a somewhat incongruent position given her reactionary views on topics like women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. (“10 weeks of PAID maternity leave in Saudi Arabia,” she tweets. “Yes PAID. And ur worrying about women driving. Puts us to shame.”) Sarsour, who is of Palestinian descent, claims that one cannot simultaneously be a feminist and a Zionist, when it is the exact opposite that is true: No genuine believer in female equality can deny the right of Israel to exist. The Jewish state respects the rights of women more than do any of its neighbors. In an April 2017 interview, Sarsour said that she had become a high-school teacher for the purpose of “inspiring young people of color like me.” Just three months earlier, however, in a video for Vox, Sarsour confessed, “When I wasn’t wearing hijab I was just some ordinary white girl from New York City.” The donning of Muslim garb, then, confers a racial caste of “color,” which in turn confers virtue, which in turn confers a claim on political power.
This attempt to describe the Israeli–Arab conflict in American racial vernacular marks Jews as white (a perverse mirror of Nazi biological racism) and thus implicates them as beneficiaries of “structural racism,” “white privilege,” and the whole litany of benefits afforded to white people at birth in the form of—to use Ta-Nehisi Coates’s abstruse phrase—the “glowing amulet” of “whiteness.” “It’s time to admit that Arthur Balfour was a white supremacist and an anti-Semite,” reads the headline of a recent piece in—where else? —the Forward, incriminating Jewish nationalism as uniquely perfidious by dint of the fact that, like most men of his time, a (non-Jewish) British official who endorsed the Zionist idea a century ago held views that would today be considered racist. Reading figures like Bouteldja and Sarsour brings to mind the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner’s observation that “the racialization of the world has to be the most unexpected result of the antidiscrimination battle of the last half-century; it has ensured that the battle continuously re-creates the curse from which it is trying to break free.”
If Jews are white, and if white people—as a group—enjoy tangible and enduring advantages over everyone else, then this racially essentialist rhetoric ends up with Jews accused of abetting white supremacy, if not being white supremacists themselves. This is one of the overlooked ways in which the term “white supremacy” has become devoid of meaning in the age of Donald Trump, with everyone and everything from David Duke to James Comey to the American Civil Liberties Union accused of upholding it. Take the case of Ben Shapiro, the Jewish conservative polemicist. At the start of the school year, Shapiro was scheduled to give a talk at UC Berkeley, his alma matter. In advance, various left-wing groups put out a call for protest in which they labeled Shapiro—an Orthodox Jew—a “fascist thug” and “white supremacist.” An inconvenient fact ignored by Shapiro’s detractors is that, according to the ADL, he was the top target of online abuse from actual white supremacists during the 2016 presidential election. (Berkeley ultimately had to spend $600,000 protecting the event from leftist rioters.)
A more pernicious form of this discourse is practiced by left-wing writers who, insincerely claiming to have the interests of Jews at heart, scold them and their communal organizations for not doing enough in the fight against anti-Semitism. Criticizing Jews for not fully signing up with the “Resistance” (which in form and function is fast becoming the 21st-century version of the interwar Popular Front), they then slyly indict Jews for being complicit in not only their own victimization but that of the entire country at the hands of Donald Trump. The first and foremost practitioner of this bullying and rather artful form of anti-Semitism is Jeet Heer, a Canadian comic-book critic who has achieved some repute on the American left due to his frenetic Twitter activity and availability when the New Republic needed to replace its staff that had quit en masse in 2014. Last year, when Heer came across a video of a Donald Trump supporter chanting “JEW-S-A” at a rally, he declared on Twitter: “We really need to see more comment from official Jewish groups like ADL on way Trump campaign has energized anti-Semitism.”
But of course “Jewish groups” have had plenty to say about the anti-Semitism expressed by some Trump supporters—too much, in the view of their critics. Just two weeks earlier, the ADL had released a report analyzing over 2 million anti-Semitic tweets targeting Jewish journalists over the previous year. This wasn’t the first time the ADL raised its voice against Trump and the alt-right movement he emboldened, nor would it be the last. Indeed, two minutes’ worth of Googling would have shown Heer that his pronouncements about organizational Jewish apathy were wholly without foundation.4
It’s tempting to dismiss Heer’s observation as mere “concern trolling,” a form of Internet discourse characterized by insincere expressions of worry. But what he did was nastier. Immediately presented with evidence for the inaccuracy of his claims, he sneered back with a bit of wisdom from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, yet cast as mild threat: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words: How can you Jews expect anyone to care about your kind if you don’t sufficiently oppose—as arbitrarily judged by moi, Jeet Heer—Donald Trump?
If this sort of critique were coming from a Jewish donor upset that his preferred organization wasn’t doing enough to combat anti-Semitism, or a Gentile with a proven record of concern for Jewish causes, it wouldn’t have turned the stomach. What made Heer’s interjection revolting is that, to put it mildly, he’s not exactly known for being sympathetic toward the Jewish plight. In 2015, Heer put his name to a petition calling upon an international comic-book festival to drop the Israeli company SodaStream as a co-sponsor because the Jewish state is “built on the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities and sustained through racism and discrimination.” Heer’s name appeared alongside that of Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian cartoonist who won second place in the Iranian government’s 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. For his writings on Israel, Heer has been praised as being “very good on the conflict” by none other than Philip Weiss, proprietor of the anti-Semitic hate site Mondoweiss.
In light of this track record, Heer’s newfound concern about anti-Semitism appeared rather dubious. Indeed, the bizarre way in which he expressed this concern—as, ultimately, a critique not of anti-Semitism per se but of the country’s foremost Jewish civil-rights organization—suggests he cares about anti-Semitism insofar as its existence can be used as a weapon to beat his political adversaries. And since the incorrigibly Zionist American Jewish establishment ranks high on that list (just below that of Donald Trump and his supporters), Heer found a way to blame it for anti-Semitism. And what does that tell you? It tells you that—presented with a 16-second video of a man chanting “JEW-S-A” at a Donald Trump rally—Heer’s first impulse was to condemn not the anti-Semite but the Jews.
Heer isn’t the only leftist (or New Republic writer) to assume this rhetorical cudgel. In a piece entitled “The Dismal Failure of Jewish Groups to Confront Trump,” one Stephen Lurie attacked the ADL for advising its members to stay away from the Charlottesville “Unite the Right Rally” and let police handle any provocations from neo-Nazis. “We do not have a Jewish organizational home for the fight against fascism,” he quotes a far-left Jewish activist, who apparently thinks that we live in the Weimar Republic and not a stable democracy in which law-enforcement officers and not the balaclava-wearing thugs of antifa maintain the peace. Like Jewish Communists of yore, Lurie wants to bully Jews into abandoning liberalism for the extreme left, under the pretext that mainstream organizations just won’t cut it in the fight against “white supremacy.” Indeed, Lurie writes, some “Jewish institutions and power players…have defended and enabled white supremacy.” The main group he fingers with this outrageous slander is the Republican Jewish Coalition, the implication being that this explicitly partisan Republican organization’s discrete support for the Republican president “enables white supremacy.”
It is impossible to imagine Heer, Lurie, or other progressive writers similarly taking the NAACP to task for its perceived lack of concern about racism, or castigating the Human Rights Campaign for insufficiently combating homophobia. No, it is only the cowardice of Jews that is condemned—condemned for supposedly ignoring a form of bigotry that, when expressed on the left, these writers themselves ignore or even defend. The logical gymnastics of these two New Republic writers is what happens when, at base, one fundamentally resents Jews: You end up blaming them for anti-Semitism. Blaming Jews for not sufficiently caring enough about anti-Semitism is emotionally the same as claiming that Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism. Both signal an envy and resentment of Jews predicated upon a belief that they have some kind of authority that the claimant doesn’t and therefore needs to undermine.T his past election, one could not help but notice how the media seemingly discovered anti-Semitism when it emanated from the right, and then only when its targets were Jews on the left. It was enough to make one ask where they had been when left-wing anti-Semitism had been a more serious and pervasive problem. From at least 1996 (the year Pat Buchanan made his last serious attempt at securing the GOP presidential nomination) to 2016 (when the Republican presidential nominee did more to earn the support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis than any of his predecessors), anti-Semitism was primarily a preserve of the American left. In that two-decade period—spanning the collapse of the Oslo Accords and rise of the Second Intifada to the rancorous debate over the Iraq War and obsession with “neocons” to the presidency of Barack Obama and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitic conspiracy made unprecedented inroads into respectable precincts of the American academy, the liberal intelligentsia, and the Democratic Party.
The main form that left-wing anti-Semitism takes in the United States today is unhinged obsession with the wrongs, real or perceived, of the state of Israel, and the belief that its Jewish supporters in the United States exercise a nefarious control over the levers of American foreign policy. In this respect, contemporary left-wing anti-Semitism is not altogether different from that of the far right, though it usually lacks the biological component deeming Jews a distinct and inferior race. (Consider the left-wing anti-Semite’s eagerness to identify and promote Jewish “dissidents” who can attest to their co-religionists’ craftiness and deceit.) The unholy synergy of left and right anti-Semitism was recently epitomized by former CIA agent and liberal stalwart Valerie Plame’s hearty endorsement, on Twitter, of an article written for an extreme right-wing website by a fellow former CIA officer named Philip Giraldi: “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” Plame eventually apologized for sharing the article with her 50,000 followers, but not before insisting that “many neocon hawks are Jewish” and that “just FYI, I am of Jewish descent.”
The main fora in which left-wing anti-Semitism appears is academia. According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses doubled from 2014 to 2015, the latest year that data are available. Writing in National Affairs, Ruth Wisse observes that “not since the war in Vietnam has there been a campus crusade as dynamic as the movement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.” Every academic year, a seeming surfeit of controversies erupt on campuses across the country involving the harassment of pro-Israel students and organizations, the disruption of events involving Israeli speakers (even ones who identify as left-wing), and blatantly anti-Semitic outbursts by professors and student activists. There was the Oberlin professor of rhetoric, Joy Karega, who posted statements on social media claiming that Israel had created ISIS and had orchestrated the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. There is the Rutgers associate professor of women’s and gender studies, Jasbir Puar, who popularized the ludicrous term “pinkwashing” to defame Israel’s LGBT acceptance as a massive conspiracy to obscure its oppression of Palestinians. Her latest book, The Right to Maim, academically peer-reviewed and published by Duke University Press, attacks Israel for sparing the lives of Palestinian civilians, accusing its military of “shooting to maim rather than to kill” so that it may keep “Palestinian populations as perpetually debilitated, and yet alive, in order to control them.”
One could go on and on about such affronts not only to Jews and supporters of Israel but to common sense, basic justice, and anyone who believes in the prudent use of taxpayer dollars. That several organizations exist solely for the purpose of monitoring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation on American campuses attests to the prolificacy of the problem. But it’s unclear just how reflective these isolated examples of the college experience really are. A 2017 Stanford study purporting to examine the issue interviewed 66 Jewish students at five California campuses noted for “being particularly fertile for anti-Semitism and for having an active presence of student groups critical of Israel and Zionism.” It concluded that “contrary to widely shared impressions, we found a picture of campus life that is neither threatening nor alarmist…students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, comfortable as Jews on their campuses.” To the extent that Jewish students do feel pressured, the report attempted to spread the blame around, indicting pro-Israel activists alongside those agitating against it. “[Survey respondents] fear that entering political debate, especially when they feel the social pressures of both Jewish and non-Jewish activist communities, will carry social costs that they are unwilling to bear.”
Yet by its own admission, the report “only engaged students who were either unengaged or minimally engaged in organized Jewish life on their campuses.” Researchers made a study of anti-Semitism, then, by interviewing the Jews least likely to experience it. “Most people don’t really think I’m Jewish because I look very Latina…it doesn’t come up in conversation,” one such student said in an interview. Ultimately, the report revealed more about the attitudes of unengaged (and, thus, uninformed) Jews than about the state of anti-Semitism on college campuses. That may certainly be useful in its own right as a means of understanding how unaffiliated Jews view debates over Israel, but it is not an accurate marker of developments on college campuses more broadly.
A more extensive 2016 Brandeis study of Jewish students at 50 schools found 34 percent agreed at least “somewhat” that their campus has a hostile environment toward Israel. Yet the variation was wide; at some schools, only 3 percent agreed, while at others, 70 percent did. Only 15 percent reported a hostile environment towards Jews. Anti-Semitism was found to be more prevalent at public universities than private ones, with the determinative factor being the presence of a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on campus. Important context often lost in conversations about campus anti-Semitism, and reassuring to those concerned about it, is that it is simply not the most important issue roiling higher education. “At most schools,” the report found, “fewer than 10 percent of Jewish students listed issues pertaining to either Jews or Israel as among the most pressing on campus.”F or generations, American Jews have depended on anti-Semitism’s remaining within a moral quarantine, a cordon sanitaire, and America has reliably kept this societal virus contained. While there are no major signs that this barricade is breaking down in the immediate future, there are worrying indications on the political horizon.
Surveying the situation at the international level, the declining global position of the United States—both in terms of its hard military and economic power relative to rising challengers and its position as a credible beacon of liberal democratic values—does not portend well for Jews, American or otherwise. American leadership of the free world, has, in addition to ensuring Israel’s security, underwritten the postwar liberal world order. And it is the constituent members of that order, the liberal democratic states, that have served as the best guarantor of the Jews’ life and safety over their 6,000-year history. Were America’s global leadership role to diminish or evaporate, it would not only facilitate the rise of authoritarian states like Iran and terrorist movements such as al-Qaeda, committed to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, but inexorably lead to a worldwide rollback of liberal democracy, an outcome that would inevitably redound to the detriment of Jews.
Domestically, political polarization and the collapse of public trust in every American institution save the military are demolishing what little confidence Americans have left in their system and governing elites, not to mention preparing the ground for some ominous political scenarios. Widely cited survey data reveal that the percentage of American Millennials who believe it “essential” to live in a liberal democracy hovers at just over 25 percent. If Trump is impeached or loses the next election, a good 40 percent of the country will be outraged and susceptible to belief in a stab-in-the-back theory accounting for his defeat. Whom will they blame? Perhaps the “neoconservatives,” who disproportionately make up the ranks of Trump’s harshest critics on the right?
Ultimately, the degree to which anti-Semitism becomes a problem in America hinges on the strength of the antibodies within the country’s communal DNA to protect its pluralistic and liberal values. But even if this resistance to tribalism and the cult of personality is strong, it may not be enough to abate the rise of an intellectual and societal disease that, throughout history, thrives upon economic distress, xenophobia, political uncertainty, ethnic chauvinism, conspiracy theory, and weakening democratic norms.
1 Somewhat paradoxically, according to FBI crime statistics, the majority of religiously based hate crimes target Jews, more than double the amount targeting Muslims. This indicates more the commitment of the country’s relatively small number of hard-core anti-Semites than pervasive anti-Semitism.
4 The ADL has had to maintain a delicate balancing act in the age of Trump, coming under fire by many conservative Jews for a perceived partisan tilt against the right. This makes Heer’s complaint all the more ignorant — and unhelpful.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
Review of 'The Once and Future Liberal' By Mark Lilla
Lilla, a professor at Columbia University, tells us that “the story of how a successful liberal politics of solidarity became a failed pseudo-politics of identity is not a simple one.” And about this, he’s right. Lilla quotes from the feminist authors of the 1977 Combahee River Collective Manifesto: “The most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.” Feminists looked to instantiate the “radical” and electrifying phrase which insisted that “the personal is political.” The phrase, argues Lilla, was generally seen in “a somewhat Marxist fashion to mean that everything that seems personal is in fact political.”
The upshot was fragmentation. White feminists were deemed racist by black feminists—and both were found wanting by lesbians, who also had black and white contingents. “What all these groups wanted,” explains Lilla, “was more than social justice and an end to the [Vietnam] war. They also wanted there to be no space between what they felt inside and what they saw and did in the world.” He goes on: “The more obsessed with personal identity liberals become, the less willing they become to engage in reasoned political debate.” In the end, those on the left came to a realization: “You can win a debate by claiming the greatest degree of victimization and thus the greatest outrage at being subjected to questioning.”
But Lilla’s insights into the emotional underpinnings of political correctness are undercut by an inadequate, almost bizarre sense of history. He appears to be referring to the 1970s when, zigzagging through history, he writes that “no recognition of personal or group identity was coming from the Democratic Party, which at the time was dominated by racist Dixiecrats and white union officials of questionable rectitude.”
What is he talking about? Is Lilla referring to the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern? Is he referring obliquely to George Wallace? If so, why is Wallace never mentioned? Lilla seems not to know that it was the 1972 McGovern Democratic Convention that introduced minority seating to be set aside for blacks and women.
At only 140 pages, this is a short book. But even so, Lilla could have devoted a few pages to Frankfurt ideologist Herbert Marcuse and his influence on the left. In the 1960s, Marcuse argued that leftists and liberals were entitled to restrain centrist and conservative speech on the grounds that the universities had to act as a counterweight to society at large. But this was not just rhetoric; in the campus disruption of the early 1970s at schools such as Yale, Cornell, and Amherst, Marcuse’s ideals were pushed to the fore.
If Lilla’s argument comes off as flaccid, perhaps that’s because the aim of The Once and Future Liberal is more practical than principled. “The only way” to protect our rights, he tells the reader, “is to elect liberal Democratic governors and state legislators who’ll appoint liberal state attorneys.” According to Lilla, “the paradox of identity liberalism” is that it undercuts “the things it professes to want,” namely political power. He insists, rightly, that politics has to be about persuasion but then contradicts himself in arguing that “politics is about seizing power to defend the truth.” In other words, Lilla wants a better path to total victory.
Given what Lilla, descending into hysteria, describes as “the Republican rage for destruction,” liberals and Democrats have to win elections lest the civil rights of blacks, women, and gays are rolled back. As proof of the ever-looming danger, he notes that when the “crisis of the mid-1970s threatened…the country turned not against corporations and banks, but against liberalism.” Yet he gives no hint of the trail of liberal failures that led to the crisis of the mid-’70s. You’d never know reading Lilla, for example, that the Black Power movement intensified racial hostilities that were then further exacerbated by affirmative action and busing. And you’d have no idea that, at considerable cost, the poverty programs of the Great Society failed to bring poorer African Americans into the economic mainstream. Nor does Lilla deal with the devotion to Keynesianism that produced inflation without economic growth during the Carter presidency.
Despite his discursive ambling through the recent history of American political life, Lilla has a one-word explanation for identity politics: Reaganism. “Identity,” he writes, is “Reaganism for lefties.” What’s crucial in combating Reaganism, he argues, is to concentrate on our “shared political” status as citizens. “Citizenship is a crucial weapon in the battle against Reaganite dogma because it brings home that fact that we are part of a legitimate common enterprise.” But then he asserts that the “American right uses the term citizenship today as a means of exclusion.” The passage might lead the reader to think that Lilla would take up the question of immigration and borders. But he doesn’t, and the closing passages of the book dribble off into characteristic zigzags. Lilla tells us that “Black Lives Matter is a textbook example of how not to build solidarity” but then goes on, without evidence, to assert the accuracy of the Black Lives Matter claim that African-Americans have been singled out for police mistreatment.
It would be nice to argue that The Once and Future Liberal is a near miss, a book that might have had enduring importance if only it went that extra step. But Lilla’s passing insights on the perils of a politically correct identity politics drown in the rhetoric of conventional bromides that fill most of the pages of this disappointing book.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.
n Athens several years ago, I had dinner with a man running for the national parliament. I asked him whether he thought he had a shot at winning. He was sure of victory, he told me. “I have hired a very famous political consultant from Washington,” he said. “He is the man who elected Reagan. Expensive. But the best.”
The political genius he then described was a minor political flunky I had met in Washington long ago, a more-or-less anonymous member of the Republican National Committee before he faded from view at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. Mutual acquaintances told me he still lived in a nice neighborhood in Northern Virginia, but they never could figure out what the hell he did to earn his money. (This is a recurring mystery throughout the capital.) I had to come to Greece to find the answer.
It is one of the dark arts of Washington, this practice of American political hacks traveling to faraway lands and suckering foreign politicians into paying vast sums for splashy, state-of-the-art, essentially worthless “services.” And it’s perfectly legal. Paul Manafort, who briefly managed Donald Trump’s campaign last summer, was known as a pioneer of the globe-trotting racket. If he hadn’t, as it were, veered out of his gutter into the slightly higher lane of U.S. presidential politics, he likely could have hoovered cash from the patch pockets of clueless clients from Ouagadougou to Zagreb for the rest of his natural life and nobody in Washington would have noticed.
But he veered, and now he and a colleague find themselves indicted by Robert Mueller, the Inspector Javert of the Russian-collusion scandal. When those indictments landed, they instantly set in motion the familiar scramble. Trump fans announced that the indictments were proof that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians—or, in the crisp, emphatic phrasing of a tweet by the world’s Number One Trump Fan, Donald Trump: “NO COLLUSION!!!!” The Russian-scandal fetishists in the press corps replied in chorus: It’s still early! Javert required more time, and so will Mueller, and so will they.
A good Washington scandal requires a few essential elements. One is a superabundance of information. From these data points, conspiracy-minded reporters can begin to trace associations, warranted or not, and from the associations, they can infer motives and objectives with which, stretched together, they can limn a full-blown conspiracy theory. The Manafort indictment released a flood of new information, and at once reporters were pawing for nuggets that might eventually form a compelling case for collusion.
They failed to find any because Manafort’s indictment, in essence, involved his efforts to launder his profits from his international political work, not his work for the Trump campaign. Fortunately for the obsessives, another element is required for a good scandal: a colorful cast. The various Clinton scandals brought us Asian money-launderers and ChiCom bankers, along with an entire Faulkner-novel’s worth of bumpkins, sharpies, and backwoods swindlers, plus that intern in the thong. Watergate, the mother lode of Washington scandals, featured a host of implausible characters, from the central-casting villain G. Gordon Liddy to Sam Ervin, a lifelong segregationist and racist who became a hero to liberals everywhere.
Here, at last, is one area where the Russian scandal has begun to show promise. Manafort and his business partner seem too banal to hold the interest of anyone but a scandal obsessive. Beneath the pile of paper Mueller dumped on them, however, another creature could be seen peeking out shyly. This would be the diminutive figure of George Papadopoulos. An unpaid campaign adviser to Trump, Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his conversations with Russian agents. He is quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
Papadopoulos is an exemplar of a type long known to American politics. He is the nebbish bedazzled by the big time—achingly ambitious, though lacking the skill, or the cunning, to climb the greasy pole. So he remains at the periphery of the action, ever eager to serve. Papadopoulos’s résumé, for a man under 30, is impressively padded. He said he served as the U.S. representative to the Model United Nations in 2012, though nobody recalls seeing him there. He boasted of a four-year career at the Hudson Institute, though in fact he spent one year there as an unpaid intern and three doing contract research for one of Hudson’s scholars. On his LinkedIn page, he listed himself as a keynote speaker at a Greek American conference in 2008, but in fact he participated only in a panel discussion. The real keynoter was Michael Dukakis.
With this hunger for achievement, real or imagined, Papadopoulos could not let a presidential campaign go by without climbing aboard. In late 2015, he somehow attached himself to Ben Carson’s campaign. He was never paid and lasted four months. His presence went largely unnoticed. “If there was any work product, I never saw it,” Carson’s campaign manager told Time. The deputy campaign manager couldn’t even recall his name. Then suddenly, in April 2016, Papadopoulos appeared on a list of “foreign-policy advisers” to Donald Trump—and, according to Mueller’s court filings, resolved to make his mark by acting as a liaison between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
While Mueller tells the story of Papadopoulos’s adventures in the dry, Joe Friday prose of a legal document, it could easily be the script for a Peter Sellers movie from the Cold War era. The young man’s résumé is enough to impress the campaign’s impressionable officials as they scavenge for foreign-policy advisers: “Hey, Corey! This dude was in the Model United Nations!”
Papadopoulus (played by Sellers) sets about his mission. A few weeks after signing on to the campaign, he travels to Europe, where he meets a mysterious “Professor” (Peter Ustinov). “Initially the Professor seemed uninterested in Papadopoulos,” says Mueller’s indictment. A likely story! Yet when Papadopoulus lets drop that he’s an adviser to Trump, the Professor suddenly “appeared to take great interest” in him. They arrange a meeting in London to which the Professor invites a “female Russian national” (Elke Sommer). Without much effort, the femme fatale convinces Papadopoulus that she is Vladimir Putin’s niece. (“I weel tell z’American I em niece of Great Leader! Zat idjut belief ennytink!”) Over the next several months our hero sends many emails to campaign officials and to the Professor, trying to arrange a meeting between them. As far we know from the indictment, nothing came of his mighty efforts.
And there matters lay until January 2017, when the FBI came calling. Agents asked Papadopoulos about his interactions with the Russians. Even though he must have known that hundreds of his emails on the subject would soon be available to the FBI, he lied and told the agents that the contacts had occurred many months before he joined the campaign. History will record Papadopoulos as the man who forgot that emails carry dates on them. After the FBI interview, according to the indictment, he tried to destroy evidence with the same competence he has brought to his other endeavors. He closed his Facebook account, on which several communications with the Russians had taken place. He threw out his old cellphone. (That should do it!) After that, he began wearing a blindfold, on the theory that if he couldn’t see the FBI, the FBI couldn’t see him.
I made that last one up, obviously. For now, the great hope of scandal hobbyists is that Papadopoulus was wearing a wire between the time he secretly pled guilty and the time his plea was made public. This would have allowed him to gather all kinds of incriminating dirt in conversations with former colleagues. And the dirt is there, all right, as the Manafort indictment proves. Unfortunately for our scandal fetishists, so far none of it shows what their hearts most desire: active collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
An affair to remember
All this changed with the release in 1967 of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and Mike Nichols’s The Graduate. These two films, made in nouveau European style, treated familiar subjects—a pair of Depression-era bank robbers and a college graduate in search of a place in the adult world—in an unmistakably modern manner. Both films were commercial successes that catapulted their makers and stars into the top echelon of what came to be known as “the new Hollywood.”
Bonnie and Clyde inaugurated a new era in which violence on screen simultaneously became bloodier and more aestheticized, and it has had enduring impact as a result. But it was The Graduate that altered the direction of American moviemaking with its specific appeal to younger and hipper moviegoers who had turned their backs on more traditional cinematic fare. When it opened in New York in December, the movie critic Hollis Alpert reported with bemusement that young people were lining up in below-freezing weather to see it, and that they showed no signs of being dismayed by the cold: “It was as though they all knew they were going to see something good, something made for them.”
The Graduate, whose aimless post-collegiate title character is seduced by the glamorous but neurotic wife of his father’s business partner, is part of the common stock of American reference. Now, a half-century later, it has become the subject of a book-length study, Beverly Gray’s Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation.1 As is so often the case with pop-culture books, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson is almost as much about its self-absorbed Baby Boomer author (“The Graduate taught me to dance to the beat of my own drums”) as its subject. It has the further disadvantage of following in the footsteps of Mark Harris’s magisterial Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008), in which the film is placed in the context of Hollywood’s mid-’60s cultural flux. But Gray’s book offers us a chance to revisit this seminal motion picture and consider just why it was that The Graduate spoke to Baby Boomers in a distinctively personal way.T he Graduate began life in 1963 as a novella of the same name by Charles Webb, a California-born writer who saw his book not as a comic novel but as a serious artistic statement about America’s increasingly disaffected youth. It found its way into the hands of a producer named Lawrence Turman who saw The Graduate as an opportunity to make the cinematic equivalent of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Turman optioned the book, then sent it to Mike Nichols, who in 1963 was still best known for his comic partnership with Elaine May but had just made his directorial debut with the original Broadway production of Barefoot in the Park.
Both men saw that The Graduate posed a problem to anyone seeking to put it on the screen. In Turman’s words, “In the book the character of Benjamin Braddock is sort of a whiny pain in the fanny [whom] you want to shake or spank.” To this end, they turned to Buck Henry, who had co-created the popular TV comedy Get Smart with Mel Brooks, to write a screenplay that would retain much of Webb’s dryly witty dialogue (“I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends”) while making Benjamin less priggish.
Nichols’s first major act was casting Dustin Hoffman, an obscure New York stage actor pushing 30, for the title role. No one but Nichols seems to have thought him suitable in any way. Not only was Hoffman short and nondescript-looking, but he was unmistakably Jewish, whereas Benjamin is supposedly the scion of a newly monied WASP family from southern California. Nevertheless, Nichols decided he wanted “a short, dark, Jewish, anomalous presence, which is how I experience myself,” in order to underline Benjamin’s alienation from the world of his parents.
Nichols filled the other roles in equally unexpected ways. He hired the Oscar winner Anne Bancroft, only six years Hoffman’s senior, to play the unbalanced temptress who lures Benjamin into her bed, then responds with volcanic rage when he falls in love with her beautiful daughter Elaine. He and Henry also steered clear of on-screen references to the campus protests that had only recently started to convulse America. Instead, he set The Graduate in a timeless upper-middle-class milieu inhabited by people more interested in social climbing than self-actualization—the same milieu from which Benjamin is so alienated that he is reduced to near-speechlessness whenever his family and their friends ask him what he plans to do now that he has graduated.
The film’s only explicit allusion to its cultural moment is the use on the soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” the painfully earnest anthem of youthful angst that is for all intents and purposes the theme song of The Graduate. Nevertheless, Henry’s screenplay leaves little doubt that the film was in every way a work of its time and place. As he later explained to Mark Harris, it is a study of “the disaffection of young people for an environment that they don’t seem to be in sync with.…Nobody had made a film specifically about that.”
This aspect of The Graduate is made explicit in a speech by Benjamin that has no direct counterpart in the novel: “It’s like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don’t make any sense to me. They’re being made up by all the wrong people. I mean, no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
The Graduate was Nichols’s second film, following his wildly successful movie version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Albee’s play was a snarling critique of the American dream, which he believed to be a snare and a delusion. The Graduate had the same skeptical view of postwar America, but its pessimism was played for laughs. When Benjamin is assured by a businessman in the opening scene that the secret to success in America is “plastics,” we are meant to laugh contemptuously at the smugness of so blinkered a view of life. Moreover, the contempt is as real as the laughter: The Graduate has it both ways. For the same reason, the farcical quality of the climactic scene (in which Benjamin breaks up Elaine’s marriage to a handsome young WASP and carts her off to an unknown fate) is played without musical underscoring, a signal that what Benjamin is doing is really no laughing matter.
The youth-oriented message of The Graduate came through loud and clear to its intended audience, which paid no heed to the mixed reviews from middle-aged reviewers unable to grasp what Nichols and Henry were up to. Not so Roger Ebert, the newly appointed 25-year-old movie critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, who called The Graduate “the funniest American comedy of the year…because it has a point of view. That is to say, it is against something.”
Even more revealing was the response of David Brinkley, then the co-anchor of NBC’s nightly newscast, who dismissed The Graduate as “frantic nonsense” but added that his college-age son and his classmates “liked it because it said about the parents and others what they would have said about us if they had made the movie—that we are self-centered and materialistic, that we are licentious and deeply hypocritical about it, that we try to make them into walking advertisements for our own affluence.”
A year after the release of The Graduate, a film-industry report cited in Pictures at a Revolution revealed that “48 percent of all movie tickets in America were now being sold to filmgoers under the age of 24.” A very high percentage of those tickets were to The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. At long last, Hollywood had figured out what the Baby Boomers wanted to see.A nd how does The Graduate look a half-century later? To begin with, it now appears to have been Mike Nichols’s creative “road not taken.” In later years, Nichols became less an auteur than a Hollywood director who thought like a Broadway director, choosing vehicles of solid middlebrow-liberal appeal and serving them faithfully without imposing a strong creative vision of his own. In The Graduate, by contrast, he revealed himself to be powerfully aware of the same European filmmaking trends that shaped Bonnie and Clyde. Within a naturalistic framework, he deployed non-naturalistic “new wave” cinematographic techniques with prodigious assurance—and he was willing to end The Graduate on an ambiguous note instead of wrapping it up neatly and pleasingly, letting the camera linger on the unsure faces of Hoffman and Ross as they ride off into an unsettling future.
It is this ambiguity, coupled with Nichols’s prescient decision not to allow The Graduate to become a literal portrayal of American campus life in the troubled mid-’60s, that has kept the film fresh. But The Graduate is fresh in a very particular way: It is a young person’s movie, the tale of a boy-man terrified by the prospect of growing up to be like his parents. Therein lay the source of its appeal to young audiences. The Graduate showed them what they, too, feared most, and hinted at a possible escape route.
In the words of Beverly Gray, who saw The Graduate when it first came out in 1967: “The Graduate appeared in movie houses just as we young Americans were discovering how badly we wanted to distance ourselves from the world of our parents….That polite young high achiever, those loving but smothering parents, those comfortable but slightly bland surroundings: They combined to form an only slightly exaggerated version of my own cozy West L.A. world.”
Yet to watch The Graduate today—especially if you first saw it when much younger—is also to be struck by the extreme unattractiveness of its central character. Hoffman plays Benjamin not as the comically ineffectual nebbish of Jewish tradition but as a near-catatonic robot who speaks by turns in a flat monotone and a frightened nasal whine. It is impossible to understand why Mrs. Robinson would want to go to bed with such a mousy creature, much less why Elaine would run off with him—an impression that has lately acquired an overlay of retrospective irony in the wake of accusations that Hoffman has sexually harassed female colleagues on more than one occasion. Precisely because Benjamin is so unlikable, it is harder for modern-day viewers to identify with him in the same way as did Gray and her fellow Boomers. To watch a Graduate-influenced film like Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming (1995), a poignant romantic comedy about a group of Gen-X college graduates who deliberately choose not to get on with their lives, is to see a closely similar dilemma dramatized in an infinitely more “relatable” way, one in which the crippling anxiety of the principal characters is presented as both understandable and pitiable, thus making it funnier.
Be that as it may, The Graduate is a still-vivid snapshot of a turning point in American cultural history. Before Benjamin Braddock, American films typically portrayed men who were not overgrown, smooth-faced children but full-grown adults, sometimes misguided but incontestably mature. After him, permanent immaturity became the default position of Hollywood-style masculinity.
For this reason, it will be interesting to see what the Millennials, so many of whom demand to be shielded from the “triggering” realities of adult life, make of The Graduate if and when they come to view it. I have a feeling that it will speak to a fair number of them far more persuasively than it did to those of us who—unlike Benjamin Braddock—longed when young to climb the high hill of adulthood and see for ourselves what awaited us on the far side.
1 Algonquin, 278 pages
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
“I think that’s best left to states and locales to decide,” DeVos replied. “If the underlying question is . . .”
Murphy interrupted. “You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?”
“Well, I will refer back to Senator Enzi and the school that he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming, I think probably there, I would imagine that there’s probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Murphy continued his line of questioning unfazed. “If President Trump moves forward with his plan to ban gun-free school zones, will you support that proposal?”
“I will support what the president-elect does,” DeVos replied. “But, senator, if the question is around gun violence and the results of that, please know that my heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence.”
Because all this happened several million outrage cycles ago, you may have forgotten what happened next. Rather than mention DeVos’s sympathy for the victims of gun violence, or her support for federalism, or even her deference to the president, the media elite fixated on her hypothetical aside about grizzly bears.
“Betsy DeVos Cites Grizzly Bears During Guns-in-Schools Debate,” read the NBC News headline. “Citing grizzlies, education nominee says states should determine school gun policies,” reported CNN. “Sorry, Betsy DeVos,” read a headline at the Atlantic, “Guns Aren’t a Bear Necessity in Schools.”
DeVos never said that they were, of course. Nor did she “cite” the bear threat in any definitive way. What she did was decline the opportunity to make a blanket judgment about guns and schools because, in a continent-spanning nation of more than 300 million people, one standard might not apply to every circumstance.
After all, there might be—there are—cases when guns are necessary for security. Earlier this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill authorizing some retired police officers to carry firearms while working as school guards. McAuliffe is a Democrat.
In her answer to Murphy, DeVos referred to a private meeting with Senator Enzi, who had told her of a school in Wyoming that has a fence to keep away grizzly bears. And maybe, she reasoned aloud, the school might have a gun on the premises in case the fence doesn’t work.
As it turns out, the school in Wapiti is gun-free. But we know that only because the Washington Post treated DeVos’s offhand remark as though it were the equivalent of Alexander Butterfield’s revealing the existence of the secret White House tapes. “Betsy DeVos said there’s probably a gun at a Wyoming school to ward off grizzlies,” read the Post headline. “There isn’t.” Oh, snap!
The article, like the one by NBC News, ended with a snarky tweet. The Post quoted user “Adam B.,” who wrote, “‘We need guns in schools because of grizzly bears.’ You know what else stops bears? Doors.” Clever.
And telling. It becomes more difficult every day to distinguish between once-storied journalistic institutions and the jabbering of anonymous egg-avatar Twitter accounts. The eagerness with which the press misinterprets and misconstrues Trump officials is something to behold. The “context” the best and brightest in media are always eager to provide us suddenly goes poof when the opportunity arises to mock, impugn, or castigate the president and his crew. This tendency is especially pronounced when the alleged gaffe fits neatly into a prefabricated media stereotype: that DeVos is unqualified, say, or that Rick Perry is, well, Rick Perry.
On November 2, the secretary of energy appeared at an event sponsored by Axios.com and NBC News. He described a recent trip to Africa:
It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out to those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, “One of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I won’t have to try to read by the light of a fire, and have those fumes literally killing people, but also from the standpoint of sexual assault.” When the lights are on, when you have light, it shines the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that.
This heartfelt story of the impact of electrification on rural communities was immediately distorted into a metaphor for Republican ignorance and cruelty.
“Energy Secretary Rick Perry Just Made a Bizarre Claim About Sexual Assault and Fossil Fuels,” read the Buzzfeed headline. “Energy Secretary Rick Perry Says Fossil Fuels Can Prevent Sexual Assault,” read the headline from NBC News. “Rick Perry Says the Best Way to Prevent Rape Is Oil, Glorious Oil,” said the Daily Beast.
“Oh, that Rick Perry,” wrote Gail Collins in a New York Times column. “Whenever the word ‘oil’ is mentioned, Perry responds like a dog on the scent of a hamburger.” You will note that the word “oil” is not mentioned at all in Perry’s remarks.
You will note, too, that what Perry said was entirely commonsensical. While the precise relation between public lighting and public safety is unknown, who can doubt that brightly lit areas feel safer than dark ones—and that, as things stand today, cities and towns are most likely to be powered by fossil fuels? “The value of bright street lights for dispirited gray areas rises from the reassurance they offer to some people who need to go out on the sidewalk, or would like to, but lacking the good light would not do so,” wrote Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “Thus the lights induce these people to contribute their own eyes to the upkeep of the street.” But c’mon, what did Jane Jacobs know?
No member of the Trump administration so rankles the press as the president himself. On the November morning I began this column, I awoke to outrage that President Trump had supposedly violated diplomatic protocol while visiting Japan and its prime minister, Shinzo Abe. “President Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond,” read the CNN headline. An article on CBSNews.com headlined “Trump empties box of fish food into Japanese koi pond” began: “President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan briefly took a turn from formal to fishy.” A Bloomberg reporter traveling with the president tweeted, “Trump and Abe spooning fish food into a pond. (Toward the end, @potus decided to just dump the whole box in for the fish).”
Except that’s not what Trump “decided.” In fact, Trump had done exactly what Abe had done a few seconds before. That fact was buried in write-ups of the viral video of Trump and the fish. “President Trump was criticized for throwing an entire box of fish food into a koi pond during his visit to Japan,” read a Tweet from the New York Daily News, linking to a report on phony criticism Trump received because of erroneous reporting from outlets like the News.
There’s an endless, circular, Möbius-strip-like quality to all this nonsense. Journalists are so eager to catch the president and his subordinates doing wrong that they routinely traduce the very canons of journalism they are supposed to hold dear. Partisan and personal animus, laziness, cynicism, and the oversharing culture of social media are a toxic mix. The press in 2017 is a lot like those Japanese koi fish: frenzied, overstimulated, and utterly mindless.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Review of 'Lessons in Hope' By George Weigel
Standing before the eternal flame, a frail John Paul shed silent tears for 6 million victims, including some of his own childhood friends from Krakow. Then, after reciting verses from Psalm 31, he began: “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. … Silence, because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.” Parkinson’s disease strained his voice, but it was clear that the pope’s irrepressible humanity and spiritual strength had once more stood him in good stead.
George Weigel watched the address from NBC’s Jerusalem studios, where he was providing live analysis for the network. As he recalls in Lessons in Hope, his touching and insightful memoir of his time as the pope’s biographer, “Our newsroom felt the impact of those words, spoken with the weight of history bearing down on John Paul and all who heard him: normally a place of bedlam, the newsroom fell completely silent.” The pope, he writes, had “invited the world to look, hard, at the stuff of its redemption.”
Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published his biography of John Paul in two volumes, Witness to Hope (1999) and The End and the Beginning (2010). His new book completes a John Paul triptych, and it paints a more informal, behind-the-scenes portrait. Readers, Catholic and otherwise, will finish the book feeling almost as though they knew the 264th successor of Peter. Lessons in Hope is also full of clerical gossip. Yet Weigel never loses sight of his main purpose: to illuminate the character and mind of the “emblematic figure of the second half of the twentieth century.”
The book’s most important contribution comes in its restatement of John Paul’s profound political thought at a time when it is sorely needed. Throughout, Weigel reminds us of the pope’s defense of the freedom of conscience; his emphasis on culture as the primary engine of history; and his strong support for democracy and the free economy.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the pope continued to promote these ideas in such encyclicals as Centesimus Annus. The 1991 document reiterated the Church’s opposition to socialist regimes that reduce man to “a molecule within the social organism” and trample his right to earn “a living through his own initiative.” Centesimus Annus also took aim at welfare states for usurping the role of civil society and draining “human energies.” The pope went on to explain the benefits, material and moral, of free enterprise within a democratic, rule-of-law framework.
Yet a libertarian manifesto Centesimus Annus was not. It took note of free societies’ tendency to breed spiritual poverty, materialism, and social incohesion, which in turn could lead to soft totalitarianism. John Paul called on state, civil society, and people of God to supply the “robust public moral culture” (in Weigel’s words) that would curb these excesses and ensure that free-market democracies are ordered to the common good.
When Weigel emerged as America’s preeminent interpreter of John Paul, in the 1980s and ’90s, these ideas were ascendant among Catholic thinkers. In addition to Weigel, proponents included the philosopher Michael Novak and Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine (both now dead). These were faithful Catholics (in Neuhaus’s case, a relatively late convert) nevertheless at peace with the free society, especially the American model. They had many qualms with secular modernity, to be sure. But with them, there was no question that free societies and markets are preferable to unfree ones.
How things have changed. Today all the energy in those Catholic intellectual circles is generated by writers and thinkers who see modernity as beyond redemption and freedom itself as the problem. For them, the main question is no longer how to correct the free society’s course (by shoring up moral foundations, through evangelization, etc.). That ship has sailed or perhaps sunk, according to this view. The challenges now are to protect the Church against progressivism’s blows and to see beyond the free society as a political horizon.
Certainly the trends that worried John Paul in Centesimus Annus have accelerated since the encyclical was issued. “The claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life” has become even more hegemonic than it was in 1991. “Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it” increasingly get treated as ideological lepers. And with the weakening of transcendent truths, ideas are “easily manipulated for reasons of power.”
Thus a once-orthodox believer finds himself or herself compelled to proclaim that there is no biological basis to gender; that men can menstruate and become pregnant; that there are dozens of family forms, all as valuable and deserving of recognition as the conjugal union of a man and a woman; and that speaking of the West’s Judeo-Christian patrimony is tantamount to espousing white supremacy. John Paul’s warnings read like a description of the present.
The new illiberal Catholics—a label many of these thinkers embrace—argue that these developments aren’t a distortion of the idea of the free society but represent its very essence. This is a mistake. Basic to the free society is the freedom of conscience, a principle enshrined in democratic constitutions across the West and, I might add, in the Catholic Church’s post–Vatican II magisterium. Under John Paul, religious liberty became Rome’s watchword in the fight against Communist totalitarianism, and today it is the Church’s best weapon against the encroachments of secular progressivism. The battle is far from lost, moreover. There is pushback in the courts, at the ballot box, and online. Sometimes it takes demagogic forms that should discomfit people of faith. Then again, there is a reason such pushback is called “reaction.”
A bigger challenge for Catholics prepared to part ways with the free society as an ideal is this: What should Christian politics stand for in the 21st century? Setting aside dreams of reuniting throne and altar and similar nostalgia, the most cogent answer offered by Catholic illiberalism is that the Church should be agnostic with respect to regimes. As Harvard’s Adrian Vermeule has recently written, Christians should be ready to jettison all “ultimate allegiances,” including to the Constitution, while allying with any party or regime when necessary.
What at first glance looks like an uncompromising Christian politics—cunning, tactical, and committed to nothing but the interests of the Church—is actually a rather passive vision. For a Christianity that is “radically flexible” in politics is one that doesn’t transform modernity from within. In practice, it could easily look like the Vatican Ostpolitik diplomacy that sought to appease Moscow before John Paul was elected.
Karol Wojtya discarded Ostpolitik as soon as he took the Petrine office. Instead, he preached freedom and democracy—and meant it. Already as archbishop of Krakow under Communism, he had created free spaces where religious and nonreligious dissidents could engage in dialogue. As pope, he expressed genuine admiration for the classically liberal and decidedly secular Vaclav Havel. He hailed the U.S. Constitution as the source of “ordered freedom.” And when, in 1987, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet asked him why he kept fussing about democracy, seeing as “one system of government is as good as another,” the pope responded: No, “the people have a right to their liberties, even if they make mistakes in exercising them.”
The most heroic and politically effective Christian figure of the 20th century, in other words, didn’t follow the path of radical flexibility. His Polish experience had taught him that there are differences between regimes—that some are bound to uphold conscience and human dignity, even if they sometimes fall short of these commitments, while others trample rights by design. The very worst of the latter kind could even whisk one’s boyhood friends away to extermination camps. There could be no radical Christian flexibility after the Holocaust.