Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy
The Decline of Radicalism; Reflections on America Today
These books are addressed ostensibly to different questions; they also exhibit different professional talents and draw upon partly different funds of information. On his own level, Professor Hook is still a polemicist to be reckoned with. If he wins fewer campaigns than battles, it will not be for want of trying. He directs his brief against the confusion, current among certain professors and administrators as well as students, between academic freedom and academic license, which in his view has now reached the stage of anarchy. Like Plato, the ceaselessly active counter-activist Hook can be a very practical man of affairs indeed. He also remains a philosopher who bases his case upon an updated theory about the natural telos of the university which treats all students as under-developed apprentices and places—or seems to place—responsibility for the governance of the university in the shaky and unwilling hands of the faculty.
Hook has no patience with student demands for structural changes, but his own scheme would require scarcely fewer drastic changes in the organization of the American university. Professor Boorstin, on the other hand, lacking any discernible theory of institutions, either factual or normative, offers no premise for social reconstruction. As an Americanologist whose specialty is such image-making happenings as presidential world tours and national wars against poverty, Boorstin has a cataloguer’s eye for some of the more conspicuous unrealities of contemporary life in America. As a social and political moralist, he induces his own ideals rather casually from the less troubled dreams of the fathers up to, but not beyond, the sainted FDR’s New Deal. But even these ideals are non-functional. Consequently there runs through his book a corrosive nostalgia for the dear dead days when communities really were communities, whose members shared common needs and goals, and which regarded themselves as parts of a cohesive national society.
Boorstin’s evidence shows, if anything, that the national society is now a thing of shreds and tatters and that the sense of community is less real in the suburbs than it is in the city slums where black power festers and hatred of white America has become, not unnaturally, a racial obsession. In the circumstances, I should have thought that the conclusion to be drawn is that the conservative power elites in America are now incapable of leading our people a step closer to the promised land of equality and justice. Boorstin vents his wrath entirely upon the New Left cop-outs who, unlike the sturdily loyalist radicals of yore, are merely, in his view, engaged in a desperate struggle for personal power and privilege. To Chernyshevsky’s great question, “What is to be done?” Boorstin, unlike Hook, has no explicit answers. Hence, unlike Hook who is both shaker and mover, Boorstin is only a shaker.
Such differences are superficial. More significant are the converging attitudes which Hook and Boorstin share with the ever more virulent counter-resistant forces of the social and academic center in America of which both authors …
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An Exchange on Sidney Hook May 7, 1970