The Banality of Liberalism

In response to:

Democratic Vistas from the September 30, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

I am fascinated by the ad hominem categories which Professor Christopher Lasch uses in his review (“The Banality of Liberalism,” NYR Sept. 30) of Morgenthau’s Crossroads Papers and Goodman’s Seeds of Liberation which absolved him of the need to tell much about what the contributors actually were trying to say. I am a great believer in ad hominem arguments myself; but it does seem that Lasch creates an impossible situation for himself in the intriguing juxtaposition of banal and unbanal liberals which he conjures up. In the case of the ADA contributors to Morgenthau’s book, banality is a function of expertise; since all the contributors to the Crossroads Papers are by definition “experts” they are therefore banal; they are all locked up in the Liberal Establishment and unable to take the great, broad, critical view of things which Lasch deems necessary. On the other hand, while Lasch seems more greatly to admire the spirit which inhabits, the other book under review (Seeds of Liberation) for its perspective (“from the outside looking in and from the bottom up”) he seems to consider these people lunkheads precisely because they have nothing constructive to suggest and only do a lot of complaining and rebelling. Lasch fortunately extricates himself from this difficulty by pulling a new categorical rabbit out of his hat (“scholarship informed by moral passion,” “better thinking, better scholarship,” “reasoned criticism in the fullest sense”). He may find himself in this pleasing, unbanal third group; but he had better watch out; some day a Professor Morgenthau (of the “Anti-Establishment”!) or a Paul Goodman (as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare) may invite him to join the Anti-establishment lunkheads or the Establishment experts. Then he will experience for himself the category-panic which I, a non Establishment non-expert contributor to Morgenthau’s book, underwent on reading his review.

Paul Seabury

Department of Political Science

University of California (Berkeley)