A Reviewer's Notebook - 1971/6
JUNE 01, 1971 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
There are affinities between the nineteen thirties and the nineteen sixties. There are also some significant differences. Nobody has, as yet, done a searching comparative essay on the two benighted epochs, but in default of the omission the republication of Eugene Lyon’s study of the thirties, The Red Decade (Arlington House, $8.95), after being out of print for thirty years, offers the best possible perch from which to view the disastrous period that is just behind us.
The parallelism between the two decades is apt. In the thirties we had terrible domestic troubles and the growth of an isolationist spirit. But the rise of European Fascism and the ferociously militant expansion of
During the whole period, as Gene Lyons points out, our cultural life was subjected to the Machiavellian penetrations of a foreign power that used a bewildering variety of "Innocents Clubs" and "transmission belts" and other "fronts" to lead artists, journalists, scientists, teachers, labor leaders, and important political figures around by the nose. We ended up in a war for "democracy" that enabled the malevolent Josef Stalin to move further to the West in
The New Isolationism
In the sixties our domestic troubles were of a different order, but their impact on our spirit was even more appalling than the effect of the street corner apple-selling and the CIO strikes of the thirties. The new isolationism grew as our difficulties in maintaining the 1945 division of the world became more onerous. We haven’t had to face a big confrontation with the
Oddly enough, one reads Gene Lyons’s study of the thirties with a good bit of nostalgia for a period that combined, in Max Eastman’s description, "the charms of the South Sea Bubble and the insane pathos of the Children’s Crusade." As Mr. Lyons says in his author’s preface to the new edition, "literally millions of Americans, some knowingly and most innocently, allowed themselves to be manipulated by a small group under tight control from Kremlin headquarters."
But the Muscovite Comrades could not have pulled the wool over the eyes of thousands of liberals from Eleanor Roosevelt on down if the Idealisms of the thirties hadn’t been compelling. After all, Hitler was a monster. From a safe distance at a
The Unmentionable Famine Three Million Starve
My own disillusionment with the Soviet utopia came in the middle thirties when Walter Duranty, the cynical Moscow correspondent of The New York Times, remarked casually to Simeon Strunsky and myself in the Times elevator one day that three million Russian peasants had died in a man-made famine in the Ukraine in 1932-33. The magnitude of Mr. Duranty’s figures was appalling, but even more appalling to me, as an idealistic young journalist, was the fact that Duranty had never breathed a word about the famine in print. (After all, he had his return visa to
The communists in the thirties had a virtually unshakeable grip on
Stalin Joins Hitler — Saws Off Liberal Limb
One could say, as it was often said in the thirties, that collaboration with the communists in a "front" was both honorable and harmless as long as it was a matter of fighting Nazis. But the day came when the perfidious Stalin signed his notorious pact with Hitler. On that day it was too late for the "four hundred fools" to recall their letter to the Nation expressing an ineffable trust in Stalin, a letter which happened to appear on the newsstands at the very time the headlines in the dailies were proclaiming the news of Stalin’s abrupt switch. Gene Lyons extracts the last bit of farcical comedy from the discomfiture of the Stalinoid liberals in 1939 when their master sawed off the limb on which they were crowded. But Lyons is also aware of the tragedy involved when the supposed cream of a country’s intelligentsia can be deluded into thinking thistles can grow figs.
Let us come back to the sixties, when the figs-from-thistles illusion started to take hold all over again. The big question is what happened to an educational system that failed to make use of Mr. Lyons’s book during all those years between 1940 and 1971. If it had been read in the colleges, wouldn’t there have been a little more skepticism among the young about the aims and uses of the New Left? Since the gods themselves contend in vain against thick-headedness, the availability of one good book probably would not have made a tremendous difference. But it might have saved a few promising boys and girls from going along with the movement that wrecked
Again, if Gene Lyons’s account of the euphoria that accompanied the birth of the Popular Front in 1935 had been digested by our leaders, would we now be taken in by the ping pong diplomacy of the Red Chinese?
Student Violence by Edward Bloomberg (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1970, 91 pp. $3.25)
Reviewed by Allan C. Brownfeld
Most analysis of campus turmoil seek to locate responsibility for it off campus. They blame the war, or the "Establishment," or "the system." But Professor Bloomberg, of the
Most professors do not condemn violence for "absolute relativism is the fashion right now. Few intellectuals would be prepared to defend anything as absolutely true or absolutely good. The result is that many feel — without knowing precisely why — that nothing can be really false or evil. Therefore nothing is absolutely forbidden."
What, then, is the connection between the relativism of the college faculties and the absolutism and dogmatism of the radicals. In this instance, Professor Bloomberg points out, "the former encourages the latter. The relativism of adults prevents them from condemning any behavior at all, even their own vilification. Students are thus free to follow their own inclinations wherever they lead." The unfortunate result is that many academicians are not even prepared to speak in behalf of academic freedom, which has been destroyed at too many campuses.
Those who believe in relativism, charges Professor Bloomberg, have abandoned the mission of the Academy: "reason is now in low repute with the New Left. It is relativism and its result, authoritarianism, which have given reason such a bad name. In relativism there is no truth. How, therefore, can reason, as it claims, discover truth? In authoritarianism, truth is absolute, but only authority can discover it. As there will inevitably be a conflict between authority and reason, the former rejects the latter." Thus, the barbarians storm the academy, and the faculties, devoutly believing that nothing is right and nothing is wrong, do nothing to defend it.
Professor Bloomberg carefully examines other logical contradictions and double standards in the New Left lexicon. Unlike radicals of the thirties who compared the American society to the allegedly idyllic life in
Dr. Bloomberg is especially good in his analysis of environmental determinism. If "we" are wholly innocent and yet the situation is so very bad, our troubles must be the fault of "the system"; human nature has been corrupted by evil institutions. This Rousseauistic theory has always bred violence, leading those who embrace it to conclude that their societies must be destroyed at all costs in order that human nature might display its pristine goodness. Student violence in contemporary
Students for a Democratic Society and others of the New Left are inconsistent when they condemn everyone in the so-called "Establishment." "Logically, they (the Establishment) too should be seen as victims of society rather than perpetrators of evil. This contradiction points up one of the strangest aberrations of the SDS: They arrive at two humanities, the good ‘people’ and the evil `pigs,’ in the fashion of those who believe man is evil. This permits them to treat ‘pigs’ as totalitarians treat the general population. Since, in fact, practically all Americans do fit into the pig category (most of us favor the system and own property), most of us are only getting what we deserve when we are treated violently. Pigs `should be put in pig pens,’ as SDS members are wont to say. Love becomes hate, and utopia becomes a concentration camp."
Professor Bloomberg demolishes a number of other such building blocks of radical philosophy. But the blame for campus violence does not rest with students who are immature and uninformed about both political systems and political theory. The responsibility lies elsewhere, and it is to his colleagues on the nation’s college faculties that Professor Bloomberg turns in assessing the real responsibility. Wrong ideas have gained ascendancy, and our colleges cannot resume their true educational function until sounder ideas replace them.