March 27, 2006

Why we need history

Now that Frances Fukuyama has rediscovered history, the Nation Magazine's Katrina Vanden Heuvel would like to put it to bed again. In the best tradition of the establishment's view of "civil discourse" - i.e. avoiding the real issues - Vanden Heuvel suggested in the :Washington Post that we "stop equating our opponents with famous dictators, their chief executioners, police apparatus or ideologies. I'm all for learning from history, but times are hard enough in American politics - with war, threats to national security, the greatest divide between rich and poor in our history and deep cultural divisions. Present differences deserve to be described in contemporary terms. The purpose of public speech is not just to restate anger but to clarify the principles and evidence that fuel it -- in ways that invite discussion, not inhibit it."

Vanden Heuvel is dead wrong. The reason people get away with bad historical analogies is because we don't discuss history enough. We are left with an assortment of myths, stereotypes, and trite metaphors. Our present state is in no small part the result of not understanding and discussing our past. For example:

Have we always been so publicly callous about torture before?

Why have we passed more laws in the past 30 years than we did in our first two hundred?

Whatever happened to the Tenth Amendment?

Have corporations always been granted the status of individuals in our society?

The list is endless, but let's just consider the aspect of history that Vanden Heuvel doesn't want us to mention: similarities between present day American politicians and politics and some unpleasant precedents.

Her examples remind us that people can make these analogies crudely, wrongly, or for nefarious purposes. But if Vanden Heuvel felt more at home with history she would realize that this is part of a great American tradition: putting up with a certain amount of nonsense in order to preserve our freedoms including that of speech.

But what if we ignore Vanden Heuvel's advice and ask ourselves, for example: how close are we to Hitler's Germany? What can we learn from even a cursory consideration of history?

In the first place, one needs to separate Hitler, Nazism and fascism. Conflating these leads the unwary to assume easily that all three are inevitably characterized by anti-Semitism, when in fact only the first two are. By avoiding this distinction we don't have to face the fact that America is closer to fascism than it has ever been in its history.

To understand why, one needs to look not at Hitler but at the founder of fascism, Mussolini. What Mussolini founded was the estato corporativo - the corporative state or corporatism. Writing in Economic Affairs in the mid 1970s, R.E. Pahl and J. T. Winkler described corporatism as a system under which government guides privately owned businesses towards order, unity, nationalism and success. They were quite clear as to what this system amounted to: "Let us not mince words. Corporatism is fascism with a human face. . . An acceptable face of fascism, indeed, a masked version of it, because so far the more repugnant political and social aspects of the German and Italian regimes are absent or only present in diluted forms."

Thus, although the model generally cited in defense of organized capitalism is that of the contemporary Japanese, the most effective original practitioners of a corporative economy were the Italians. Unlike today's Japanese, but like contemporary America, their economy was a war economy.

Adrian Lyttelton, describing the rise of Italian fascism in The Seizure of Power, writes: "A good example of Mussolini's new views is provided by his inaugural speech to the National Exports Institute on 8 July 1926. . . Industry was ordered to form 'a common front' in dealing with foreigners, to avoid 'ruinous competition,' and to eliminate inefficient enterprises. . . The values of competition were to be replaced by those of organization: Italian industry would be reshaped and modernized by the cartel and trust. . .There was a new philosophy here of state intervention for the technical modernization of the economy serving the ultimate political objectives of military strength and self-sufficiency; it was a return to the authoritarian and interventionist war economy."

Lyttelton writes that "fascism can be viewed as a product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly." It was a point that Orwell had noted when he described fascism as being but an extension of capitalism. Lyttelton quoted Nationalist theorist Affredo Rocco: "The Fascist economy is. . . an organized economy. It is organized by the producers themselves, under the supreme direction and control of the State."

The Germans had their own word for it: wehrwirtschaft. It was not an entirely new idea there. As William Shirer points out in the Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich, 18th and 19th century Prussia had devoted some five-sevenths of its revenue on the Army and "that nation's whole economy was always regarded as primarily an instrument not of the people's welfare but of military policy."

Has "civil discourse" been harmed by knowing the foregoing and the uncomfortable similarities it bears with what is happening to our country today?

Another more complex example is Adolph Hitler. On many grounds, the analogy does not serve us well:

Germany's willingness to accept Hitler was the product of many cultural characteristics specific to that country, to the anger and frustrations in the wake of the World War I defeat, to extraordinary inflation and particular dumb reactions to it, and, of course, to the appeal of anti-Semitism. Still, consideration of the Weimar Republic that preceded Hitler does us no harm. Bearing in mind all the foregoing, there was also:

- A collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.

- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. Many of the actions were taken in the name of efficiency, an improved economy and the "rationalization of production." There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a hyped version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.

- The Nazis as the first modern political party. As University of Pennsylvania professor Thomas Childers explains, the Nazis discovered the importance of campaigning not just during campaigns but between elections when the other parties folded their tents. With this "perpetual campaigning" they spread themselves like a virus, considering the public reaction to everything right down to the colors used for posters and rally backgrounds. Knowing this, one can not watch the manic manipulations of public moments by the Bush regime without a sense of déjà vu.

- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies.

- The Nazis as the inventors of modern political propaganda. Every modern American political campaign and the types of arguments used to support them owes much to the ideas of the Nazis.

- The suddenness of the Nazi rise. The party went from less than 3% of the vote to being the largest party in the country in four years.

- The collapse of the country's self image. Childers points out that Germany had had been a world leader in education, industry, science, and literacy. Much of the madness that we see today stems from attempts to compensate for our battered self-image.

So while many of the behaviors that would come to be associated with Nazis and Hitler - from physical attacks on political opponents to the death camps - seem far removed from our present concerns, there is still much to learn from their history.

We are clearly in a post-constitutional era; the end of the First American Republic. Depending on what day it is we think of its replacement variously - ranging from an adhocracy to proto-fascism. But one does not need to know the end of the story to know that we headed at a rapid pace away from the extraordinary principles of American democracy towards the dark hole of power with impunity, to the sort of world in which, as Rudolph Giuliani has calmly asserted, "freedom is about authority."

If we describe present differences only in contemporary terms then we have nothing to guide us but what happened yesterday.

George Bush and his capos have capitalized on this disinterest in history to rewrite the Constitution and other things. He's not the first.

For example, Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic stated, "In case public safety is seriously threatened or disturbed, the Reich President may take the measures necessary to reestablish law and order, if necessary using armed force. In the pursuit of this aim, he may suspend the civil rights described in articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153, partially or entirely. The Reich President must inform the Reichstag immediately about all measures undertaken . . . The measures must be suspended immediately if the Reichstag so demands."

It was this article that Hitler used to peacefully establish his dictatorship. And why was it so peaceful and easy? Because, according to Childers, the 'democratic" Weimar Republic had already used it 57 times prior to Hitler's ascendancy.

There are eerie similarities between Article 48 and George Bush's approach. When you add to this the remarkable incompetence of the current regime, the collapse of both traditional liberal and conservative politics, and the economic crises, it feels like a new Weimar Republic setting the stage for awful things we can not at this point even imagine. It may be that history has something to tell us after all.

By Thomas Childers

March 25, 2006


ONE OF THE MORE enjoyable conspiracies in which I have been involved was helping to start the DC Community Humanities Council, which just celebrated its 25 years anniversary. At the time, every state as well as Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico had a humanities council, but not the capital colony. This was not accidental. Beyond the normal indifference shown to the city by the federal government was the fact that DC was where Congress met and if the local humanities council did anything untoward it could hurt the humanities across the nation.

But the Marion Barry administration was putting on the heat, and finally the NEH began looking for some safe, responsible, non-trouble-making citizens to form the council. At one point they got the list up to 400 names, and I remember a worried looking NEH official coming to our office and interviewing me.

In the end, the vetting down to seven founding members wasn't particularly effective. Not only did they let me in but also Rod French of George Washington University, whose scholarship included a close look at America's free thinkers, the very freethinking author Sophy Burnham, the similarly liberated poet Ethelbert Miller and Del Lewis, later head of NPR and also ambassador to South Africa, who was frequently excellent even before they made him an Excellency.

At the time I noted, "I had voluntarily agreed to serve a cause whose meaning and purpose I thought I understood, but which I couldn't decently explain to anyone who didn't understand. I had done so somewhat whimsically and capriciously, in part because I sensed it all had something to do with constructive irrelevance, a subject which has come to interest me after years of excessive relevance and the not totally satisfying product of the same. It also seemed to favor my anarchistic side, since the humanities like to ask questions without providing answers while politics tends to provide answers without asking questions."

The group was - and remains - the only urban humanities council in the country. It consisted of three blacks, one latino and three whites, four academics and three philistines, and four men and three women. In another first for humanities councils, it had co-chairs, one black and one white.

So on paper in 1981 we looked admirably diverse. What the NEH perhaps wasn't expecting was that we were actually quite unified, got on exceptionally well, had lots of fun, and right under NEH chair William Bennett's nose funded things like a film on liberation theology and another on the role of the sleeping car porters in the civil rights movement.

As a philistine on the council I tried to explain to my readers what a humanities was: "It's probably worthwhile for a city with a budget of over a billion dollars to spend S300,000 on something that only our souls say is cost-effective. . .

"So what's a humanities? I can't really give you one answer. But I can give you several. It's asking why before we say yes. It's remembering something someone wrote two centuries ago when we can't remember what we wrote yesterday. It's mistakes we don't have to make because they've already been made and solutions we don't have to dream up because someone has already thought of them. It's how we got where we are and where we might go from here. It's things we can't measure yet know have depth and breadth. It's parts of our culture we might lose like the Indian tribe writing its language down and putting it in a book. It's parts of our culture that we're often slow to recognize as such, like the legislature in Georgia finally making "Georgia on My Mind" the state song and inviting Ray Charles to come down and sing it. It's the moral, philosophical, and historical issues hidden behind the political babble. It's rights and beliefs and their protection. It's preserving the past and the future as well as exploiting today. It's thinking as well as talking, questioning as well as answering. And it's placing human values and culture at the center of our world and making machines and technology and Channel Seven serve us rather than the other way around.

"If we talk about things like these, we'll be talking humanities whether we know it or not. And I think we'll be reminded that they really do matter. And have all along."

After five years of the Reagan administration I wasn't so sure. Speaking at the fifth anniversary I said,

"Five years ago the DC Community Humanities Council was formed, charged with the diffusion of ideas, the encouragement of thought and the inspiration of rational discourse within this our nation's capital. This was a little like trying to sell Bibles in a brothel, and I think that any fair assessment of what has occurred around us since we began would indicate that we have failed miserably. The best efforts of the council and its sainted staff have failed to halt a national and local stampede towards what is perhaps the most anti-humanistic era of our lifetimes.

"It is an era, to be sure, not without ideas and a sense of history but what ideas and what history. It's as if the worst of the past had been resyndicated and put on Channel 20, with none of the other stations working. We draw from the economics of Morgan, Mellon and the British East India Company, the morality of Comstock, the civil liberties of Palmer and McCarthy, the civil rights of Tara, the lifestyle of Babbitt and Gatsby, the religion of Gantry, the political ethics of Teapot Dome, the business ethics of Ponzi, the gentleness of Nietzsche, the altruism of Ayn Rand, the ecological sensitivity of General Sherman, the spiritualism of Warren Gameliel Harding, the imagination of Rutherford Hayes the brilliance of Franklin Pierce, the expressiveness of Calvin Coolidge and the evolutionary theories of William Jennings Bryan. . . 

"We have become the first society to know more about the external world than we do about ourselves. And now we even seem to be losing the ability to talk or write about the problem. It is an era in which, like the fifties, the man in the gray flannel suit is in the ascendancy, but unlike the fifties, when he was viewed with the ambivalence that economics forces upon us, he or she is now a cultural role model, and, unbelievably, even considered hip, charismatic and sexy.

"And it is an era in which we know how to promote, facilitate merge, network, manage, integrate, finalize and bottom line, but are losing the ability to make or to create. I have a nightmare that one day the country will awake and discover that there is nothing to manage, finalize and facilitate. There will be no one left to build anything.

"So we have failed -- here in the jaws of the lion -- but I would argue that given the powers arrayed against the humanistic ideal, failure has been the only sane and honorable course. And the failure, one hopes, is only temporary. Long ago, John Locke warned of the constant decay of ideas, and how they must be 'renewed by repeated exercises of the senses.' If not, 'the print wears out, and at last there remains nothing to be seen.'

"The print is fading, but, thanks in part to this band of happy humanistic warriors, it could have been a lot worse. . . In a city that is obsessed with style, it is one of the few real class acts. So a toast to the Council for all it has done and will do and to the humanistic spirit. May we live to see it once more."

Twenty years later, we are still waiting.

March 19, 2006

The care and feeding of unsolved mysteries

We recently ran an excerpt from the History News Network about a controversial article on the JFK assassination written for the Nation magazine by Max Holland. We included, with certain gratuitous glee, a snipe of two at the Nation which has long struck us as a bit too close to the foreign policy establishment.

We subsequently received a nice note from the Nation's publicity director pointing to a number of letters highly critical of the Holland piece. It is all, in the best manner of JFK assassination literature, complex, contentious, and highly time consuming. The links are below

But our own complaint is not with Holland's conclusions about the assassination but with the contemptuous tone in which he writes about the matter. A sample: "Then-Senator Gary Hart was more responsible than most of his committee colleagues for twisting unpalatable truths into the logical equivalent of pretzels and milking the tragedy for political gain."

In any one of the great mysteries of our time, there tend to be a number of conclusions worthy of consideration. The one thing many have in common is that they are more worthy of consideration than the accepted wisdom on the matter as approved by official commissions and so forth.

It is safe to say that we have not found the full story behind the JFK assassination, the TWA 800 crash, Vincent Foster's death and a number of other matters. In fact, this verges on conventional wisdom outside the mainstream media and other establishment circles. And even within the conventional media there is an ambivalence or even acceptance, witness this comment on JFK by the Washington Post's Stephen Rosenfeld more than a decade ago: "That the assassination probably encompassed more than a lone gunman now seems beyond cavil."

It is also safe to say that there is no common understanding of what the rational explanation of these unsolved mysteries is. Intelligent inductive thinkers will continue to come to differing conclusions as long as the mysteries remain.

Finally, it is safe to say that those who ridicule these inquiries, describe their researchers as conspiracy theorists, and are generally dismissive of any residual curiosity fall into a number of categories themselves including fools, CIA or similar operatives with a vested interest, sedated members of the establishment, or those fearful that the land of Oz may not, after all, exist and would like to postpone their acceptance of the fact.

The very use of the term 'conspiracy theorist' is an anti-intellectual attempt to silence argument for which the labeler has no factual answer. Ironically, it is often the very accuser who is more inclined to believe in conspiracies, albeit benign ones, because it implies a small number of people deciding the course of history, which is how these critics were taught in college that society properly functions. They are, after all, more likely to be Skull & Bone or Council on Foreign Relations members than they are to be social historians or anthropologists who view change as occurring in less elite ways.

Thus anyone who attacks someone else as a conspiracy theorist should be ignored on grounds of simple incompetence with the possible additional liability of disingenuousness.

At the end of the film Match Point is an instructive episode involving two detectives. As described in the Movie Spoiler: "The police know about the affair from Nola's diary, but do not suspect him. Then, that night, the lead detective has a dream, and wakes proclaiming that Chris Wilton murdered Nola and the old lady. When he gets to the office the next day, he details out exactly as it happens to his partner. The partner says that would be a plausible story, if they hadn't already solved the case. The night before, a robber was shot after burglarizing a house. In his pocket was the old lady's wedding band, engraved and everything. Case closed."

What is striking is that neither man berates or disparages the other. They act like good detectives rather than like spoiled members of the establishment. What determines the outcome are the perceived facts of the matter (with the emphasis on perceived).

If Max Holland does not believe the CIA was involved in JFK's murder then he should prove it, understanding, however, that the proof does not in any way lie in the personal imperfections of, say, Mark Lane.

The same applies to anyone investigating anything. To do the job right, one must follow the evidence and be clear when it stops. The rest is theory or hypothesis, acceptable and worthy of debate, but in a lesser category than fact. We know, for example, that it is highly likely that Oswald did not act alone. But were the other parties connected to the Mafia, rightwing Cubans, or the CIA? The facts overwhelmingly suggest that Vince Foster was not killed at Ft. Marcy Park. Did he commit suicide in some inconvenient locale or was her murdered someplace else? And if so, why?

We don't know yet. But the massive effort to stop people from wondering about such matters is itself reasonable cause for suspicion to the inductive mind since the effort relies so heavily on ridicule and so little on fact. Not probably of the result of a conspiracy, mind you. More likely, one might theorize absent further evidence, just common stupidity.


March 11, 2006

Integrity doesn't need a law

THERE IS A WIDESPREAD ASSUMPTION that once the Bush mob leaves office, things will get better. I'm not so sure of that. After all, America has been deteriorating since the Reagan administration took office regardless of who was in the White House. The president is the ultimate canary in the mine shaft of our culture, more typically reflecting where we are rather than determining it. 

I was reminded of this by a nasty incident, small yet so revealing  of how engrained the American institutional culture of cruelty and inhumanity has become. A student at George Washington University went to the hospital for depression and because he was feeling suicidal. According to the Washington Post, "Within a day and a half of arriving there, he got a letter from a GWU administrator saying his 'endangering behavior' violated the code of student conduct. He faced possible suspension and expulsion from school, the letter said, unless he withdrew and deferred the charges while he got treatment. . .

"GWU was Nott's dream school, he said recently. He'd always wanted to study foreign relations in Washington, he said, so after starting classes, making friends his freshman year and getting straight A's, he was the happiest he'd ever been.

"But it was a tough year for GWU, with several sudden student deaths. One evening in April, near the end of the semester, a freshman jumped from the fifth floor of a dorm. He was one of Nott's closest friends; they had planned to room together sophomore year.

"When he jumped, the complaint says, Nott and two others were trying to open his locked door to help.

"In fall 2004, when Nott came back to school, he started feeling depressed, he said. He kept thinking about how his friend had died. In September, another student committed suicide."

According to the American College Health Association, 38% of college students experience some depression and nine percent seriously consider suicide.

Could this have anything to do with the future college students see for themselves? The false expectations of parents?  Or how they are treated at places like George Washington? Such questions don't get asked and don't have to because today it is the responsibility of individuals to conform to the rules and, if they can't, there are plenty willing to take their place as the country's employment opportunities dwindle.

Where once America primarily controlled its employment market by race, increasingly it is being done by other specious moral judgments as well: the use of marijuana, weighing too much, or becoming depressed. In the end, places like GW are left with more students willing to do just what they're told.

If you want to know where things like Abu Ghraib start it is in incidents like this where simple decency and compassion are drowned in the paperwork of a bureaucratic, legalistic, institutionally self-serving society. A place where what was once handled with a handshake now takes a 52 page document.

There is no shame in GW's reaction to the incident. Shame has all but disappeared from Washington. Instead you have a suffering human being reduced to an administrative headache.

One of the ways you can tell there is no shame is when the institution - and the newspaper that covers it - reduces the matter to a legal problem. It has been wisely said that integrity doesn't need a law. And no law can create it. The same is true with compassion, wisdom, and decency. George Washington University has apparently dispensed with such virtues in its business model.

As for the student, he has recovered, left GW, and will graduate from the University of Maryland this spring at the age of 20.

March 09, 2006

Jamming with James

This recording of the Phoenix Jazz Band was made at the Central Ohio Jazz Festival in 1990 and features George James on saxophone, band leader Bob Walter on trumpet, Coleman Hankins on clarinet and your editor on piano, among others.

George James was 84 years old at the time and had to be helped to the stage. Once he got there it was a different story as is apparent on the cut. He had sixty recordings behind him and had been a regular with both Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. The tune we played was the Apex Blues written by Jimmy Noone in honor of the second floor Apex Club on the south side of Chicago where Noone had an orchestra in the 1920s. The club was raided and closed in 1930 by federal agents enforcing prohibition. One of those who played with Noone was Earl 'Father' Hines. Another was George James who played in Noone's group before going on the road with Louis Armstrong.

We played just two tunes with James - the other was Misty - but for a stride piano player like myself to go even eight bars with one of Fats Waller's sidemen is about as close to heaven as one can reasonably expect to get. And who would have guessed it would happen in Columbus Ohio? But, then, as Fats used to say, "One never knows, do one?"



The mythology of immigration

IT IS taken as a given in the immigration debate that our current system for dealing with the issue has some sort of historical logic. It doesn't. The story of immigration in the U.S. is a mishmash of hospitality and hatred, encouragement and restriction.

The Naturalization Act of 1790, for example, said that "any alien, being a free white person, may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States." Blacks, indentured servants, and most women couldn't be citizens no matter where they came from, but the underlying approach to immigration would boggle the mind of today's strict constructionists. If you were a free white male, you came, you saw, and you signed up. As the Citizenship and Immigration Services describes ti, "the law required a set period of residence in the United States prior to naturalization, specifically two years in the country and one year in the state of residence when applying for citizenship. When those requirements were met, an immigrant could file a Petition for Naturalization with "any common law court of record" having jurisdiction over his residence asking to be naturalized. Once convinced of the applicant’s good moral character, the court would administer an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States."

The essence of immigration as we know it today - i.e. the restriction of immigration - didn't become a major issue until the Chinese exclusion Act of 1882, hardly something of which Americans should be proud. This was the period of the great post-reconstruction counter revolution during which corporations gained enormous power but the rest of America and its citizens lost it.

The counter-revolution was not only an attack on would-be immigrants, it was aimed at American ethnic groups who had proved far too successful at adding to their political clout in places like Boston and New York City.

Richard Croker, a tough 19th century county boss of Tammany Hall, grew almost lyrical when he spoke of his party's duty to immigrants:
"They do not speak our language, they do not know our laws, they are the raw material with which we have to build up the state . . . There is no denying the service which Tammany has rendered to the republic. There is no such organization for taking hold of the untrained, friendless man and converting him into a citizen. Who else would do it if we did not? . . . [Tammany] looks after them for the sake of their vote, grafts them upon the Republic, makes citizens of them."

Alexander B. Callow Jr. of the University of California has written that Boston pol Martin Lomansey even met every new immigrant ship and "helped the newcomers find lodging or guided them to relatives. James Michael Curley set up nationalization classes to prepare newcomers for the citizenship examination . . . Friendly judges, anticipating election day, converted their courts into naturalization mills, grinding out a thousand new Americans a day. . . . Flags were waved, prose turned purple, celebrations were wild on national holidays. . . . Patriotism became a means for the newcomer to prove himself worthy."

By 1891 the federal government had assumed control of admitting or rejecting all immigrants and one year later Ellis island opened. By 1903 we had a law restricting Mexican laborers and during and after World I, laws were expanded greatly including a ban on all Asians save the Japanese.

We did not have the equivalent of a green card until 1940 and the actual card of that name only came in during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. What we think of as our immigration system is in no small part a leftover from the McCarthy era.

It is common today to discuss immigration as though it were primarily an employment and economic matter. The trouble with this claim is that many of the people who are most anti-immigration are the same who have caused infinitely more economic harm to the country through globalization and outsourcing.

In truth, what really scares the exclusionists is the politics of immigrants, potentially more progressive than they would like. From Nordic populists in the northern middle west to European socialists, to the right immigration has meant left.

This, of course, isn't always true as in the case of Cuba but it helps to make the debate a bit clearer to understand what it is about.

In the end, we don't really have an immigration policy but an exclusion policy, outsourcing our prejudices by not letting their targets enter the country.

March 02, 2006

Premature aging

Sam Smith
One of the most striking changes in Washington culture over recent decades has been the disappearance of radical youth and their replacement  by a culture of elite, young right libertarians coming to the capital intent on increasing their own capital, financial and political. The recently jailed graffiti artist Borf is a rare exception to the rule, but the weekly paper and many local blogs, for example, rarely break out of a culture of self absorption and when they do it is with a snobbery and contempt - which they mistakenly regard as hip - towards those portions of the city not yet blessed by their gentrification.
Thus, reading that Harvard students supported the lately departed Lawrence Summers comes as no surprise. After all, the students are at Harvard to do as well as Summers did until confronted by some declasse groups such as blacks and women. And as the author of a forthcoming book on Harvard students put it, "There is not a speck of irony on the campus."
And now we learn from Donald MacLeod in the Guardian that things are no better in Britain: "Universities have appealed to lecturers to call off industrial action over pay as a student union broke ranks and condemned the strike and boycott of exam marking. Bristol students' union said it strongly condemned the tactics used by the lecturers' unions. . . in pursuit of their 20% pay claim. . . 'We will put pressure on [the unions] to resolve their pay dispute before targeting students at their most vulnerable time of their academic year.' But the unions look set to go ahead with a one-day strike on Tuesday, followed by a boycott of setting and marking exams and coursework."
Consider in contrast some of the slogans of an earlier young constituency, the French student rebels of 1968:
- Boredom is counterrevolutionary.
- No replastering, the structure is rotten.
- We want nothing of a world in which the certainty of not dying from hunger comes in exchange for the risk of dying from boredom.
- The boss needs you, you don't need him.
- Your happiness is being bought. Steal it.
From such thoughts, so odd today, we have come to student bodies that can't even tolerate a one day strike for better teacher pay. One need no better warning of the collapse of the west than that its elite young have become so, and even gloatingly, conservative. It now seems a race as to which will do us in first: the unprecedented warming of the earth or the unprecedented aging of its youth.