The Revolting Academy

Young Radicals: Notes on Committed Youth

by Kenneth Keniston
Harcourt, Brace & World, 368 pp., $5.95

The Academic Revolution

by Christopher Jencks and David Riesman
Doubleday, 600 pp., $10.00

A specter of revolution haunts the land. Or, rather, a congregation of revolutionary specters. For it is a major problem simply to sort them out and then, when possible, to relate them to one another. There seems to be general agreement that the working classes at least are out of it; their conservative unions, for example, belong as firmly to the established order as Hubert Humphrey, and for the same reason. To this extent, certainly, Marx must be updated by anyone who still finds him relevant. One major revolt (we may as well begin by distinguishing revolts, which are, as the term implies, active and intentional, from revolutions, which, in their loose common usage, may not be) is that of the Black Power movement. Like the revolt of individuals involved in the resistance against the war in Vietnam, it concerns us here tangentially: in so far, that is, as it relates to the student-young faculty revolts now occurring at great universities here and abroad. However all these revolts, in one way or another, are a part of the sophisticated scientific-technological “revolution” which has converted the university into the indispensible feeder institution to the immensely rich and powerful post-industrial national society of which Daniel Bell and Zbigniew Brzezinski, among others, are exponents. The latter revolution, in turn, was made possible by the products of the “academic revolution” which preoccupy Professors Jencks and Riesman in their new book, The Academic Revolution: the revolution, this is, initiated in the last decades of the nineteenth century, which transformed the old sectarian liberal arts and land-grant colleges into modern “graduate school universities.”

As it turns out, Professor Brzezinski has lately published in The New Republic an essay—or a position paper—“Revolution and Counter Revolution” which, despite the ironical disclaimer in its parenthetical sub-title “(But Not Necessarily about Columbia)” directly forces upon us the central issues which, I believe, connect these revolts and revolutions. Accordingly it helps to bring into common focus both the problems which concern Jencks and Riesman and those discussed in Professor Kenneth Keniston’s book, Young Radicals: Notes on Committed Youth. The relevance of Brzezinski’s piece owes much to the fact that its author is at once a major prophet of the new epoch, which he calls the “technetronic society,” an acute typologist of revolutions and counter- or pseudo-revolutions, and a harshly realistic strategist for establishmentarians. In Brzezinski’s view, the future belongs to those who have mastered the scientific-technological and administrative methods and tools upon which the governance of the technetronic society depends. It is not, I think, incorrect to describe him and his allies as benevolent elitists, for whom “participatory democracy,” as young radicals now call it, must recall the Brook Farm experiment, itself the gesture of an archaistic American dream of an era that had already disappeared by the middle of the nineteenth century. These academicians accept as a fact that democracy in our time is not really a major issue, and they prefer not to discuss it. Opposed to ideologies of…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.