Democratic Vistas

The Crossroads Papers

edited by Hans J. Morgenthau
Norton, 279 pp., $5.50

Seeds of Liberation

edited by Paul Goodman
Braziller, 551 pp., $7.50

Hans Morgenthau, in his Introduction to The Crossroads Papers, a volume of essays initiated by Americans for Democratic Action, delineates a problem with which contemporary political analysis might well begin. “The abdication of political will on the part of the electorate is duplicated by the abdication of political leadership.” The great issues of the day—especially those involving foreign relations—present themselves to ordinary people as questions too remote and too abstract to elicit strong feelings and opinions. Political leaders then cite public indifference as an excuse for drifting along with policies which long ago proved to be inadequate. “How can the gap be bridged between these great issues and our modes of thought and action?”

But the authors of The Crossroads Papers do not explore these questions. They try conscientiously to strike out in bold new directions; they sense that much of what passes for political discussion has nothing to do with the kind of society America has become. But their commitment to new ideas is largely rhetorical. Many of them still see “conservatism” as the enemy and take inordinate satisfaction in the Democratic victories of 1960 and 1964. The general tone of the volume is closer to John Roche’s concluding essay, “The Breakthrough to Modernity,” than to Morgenthau’s Introduction. In its vulgarity and sentimentality, Roche’s piece reads like a parody of contemporary liberalism. The “breakthrough,” we learn, was Kennedy’s election, coming after eight years of Republican stagnation. Recalling the election of 1952, Roche, former chairman of the ADA, says: “We all died a little on that somber November night as we learned that the Age of Banality had begun.” Kennedy changed all that, and the reaction to his death “indicated a new mood of public maturity.” “To the great dismay of European ideologues…we did not launch a great hysterical witch hunt for ‘conspiracy,’ but rejected social paranoia for the common-sense assumption that the deed was done by an isolated psychotic.”

Bad as it is, Roche’s essay merely echoes themes that recur, in slightly more sophisticated form, throughout The Crossroads Papers. There is altogether too much “common sense” tells us that American society is basically sound, that the voters are sensible if misinformed, and leadership capable if badly advised. This is the essence of the liberal view. Leon Keyserling concludes an essay on the economy by reminding our leaders that their “duty” is to lead and that public opinion, meanwhile, must be “properly informed and articulated.” But anyone who really confronts the issue raised by Morgenthau’s Introduction has to consider the possibility that it is precisely such traditional democratic concepts as leadership and public opinion that have to be reconsidered if we are to “bridge the gap” between social and political realities and our outdated “modes of thought and action.” If American leaders have “abdicated,” what good does it do to remind them of their duty? As for the voters, the problem goes beyond “informing and articulating” them in the traditional sense …

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Letters

The Banality of Liberalism November 11, 1965

The Banality of Liberalism November 11, 1965

The Banality of Liberalism November 11, 1965