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 are unrepentant spokesmen. The issue for them, no less than for their opponents, is power. When the rhetorical camouflage is removed, they have one message for their brothers: hold on to your own.
Once upon a time, as they insistently remind us, Boorstin and Hook were genuine intellectuals and radicals. That time is long gone. Now they are conventionalist inside-men who have abandoned the intellectual’s arduous critique of reason, which, from Kant to Marx, and from Nietzsche and William James to Sartre, has always been at the root of sustained radical reflection.
Not only do they deplore the antics of particular wild-men on the New Left, they condemn the entire movement, intellectual and anti-intellectual, lettered and unlettered, white and black, young and middle-aged, nonviolent as well as violent. The causes of deracination mean nothing to them, nor have they any interest in removing those causes. To hear them tell it, one would gather that violence exists nowhere in America except on the lunatic Left. Purblind, they deplore the ever-deepening polarization of opinion throughout the present decade, while never giving a passing thought to the fact that they themselves are already polarized.
Initially, I was disposed to think that Hook’s and Boorstin’s purpose is to divide still further the already tragically divided radicals in America. I was mistaken. By neither style nor tone nor argument are these books intended to convert any of “the New Barbarians,” as Boorstin calls them, to the ways of traditional American civil society, scholarly decorum, and right reason. Just the contrary: Hook and Boorstin take it for granted that these barbarians are unregenerate outsiders against whom the gates of the open society and its liberal academic institutions must now be closed by main force. For them the time has passed for the characteristically American practices of pragmatic compromise and negotiation. Who can negotiate with those who present us with “non-negotiable” demands? Who can compromise with power-mad deviants who scribble their nauseating grafitti on the sacred halls of American learning and defense? Such questions are now academic. These books, make no mistake, are addressed exclusively to “us,” the confused insiders who must be made to realize (which is true) that the radical students and their faculty camp-followers cannot be appeased by self-taught courses in the new “relevance” and that the blacks cannot be bought off with free paintbrushes, bigger hand-outs from the welfare-state, or the substitution of Senator Brooke for Agnew as Nixon’s next vice-president.
Do I exaggerate? Then consider the books themselves.
In the first part of his book Boorstin provides a commentary on the many new communities which are the products of “Our new ways of thinking about and classifying ourselves, our myriad new products and services offered in unimagined quantities, our new ways of advertising and distributing, our new institutions for promoting philanthropy, the arts, and education, our American Standard of Living—almost everything most modern and most American [that] has drawn us together [and apart] in unprecedented ways.”
Most conspicuous among our new communities are the “Consumption communities” whose members are drawn together by a common taste for Scotch, three-button-suits, sports-cars, king-sized cigarettes, or Doublemint chewing gum. Naturally enough, such communities are thin, volatile, and transient. Unlike more traditional communities in America, they are held together not by “a shared religious or civic dogma, not a shared booster-enthusiasm, not even a shared economic interest [sic], but something much vaguer and more attenuated.”
All the same, Boorstin has kind words for them. For a Consumption Community still “consists of people who have a feeling of shared well-being, shared risks, common concerns…” Above all, there is the high standard of living which, because it is a public fact, has become a public benefit. Says Boorstin, “You can become rich without my becoming richer. But it is hard for you to have a high standard of living without incidentally raising mine” [italics in text]. Booster enthusiasm, it seems, is not dead after all, even if there are not as many as there once were to share it.
Throughout this discussion of consumer and average-man communities, what most intrigues me is Boorstin’s systematic inattention to those who do not, or will not, belong to them: the unemployed and unemployables, the rural and urban slum dwellers who have to scrounge, not for a standard of living, but for a living itself, the people who are not deluded by laws of averages.
In the second part of his book, Boorstin suggests how some of the very agencies “which draw us together also stir Americans to fear, to distrust and even to hate, one another.” He remarks, in the book’s best chapter, “The Perils of Indwelling Law,” on the dangerous tendency to derive rules for the interpretation of the law from general notions about the manifest destiny of American society. Yet even here Boorstin draws inferences which are, to say the least, ambiguous. He tells, truly, that “The conviction grows—and is expressed in the curricula of our best law schools—that the lawyer must not only know the law. He must know the facts of life, the facts of our society, the laws of social behavior inherent in the society itself.”
But the conclusion he draws is not that these facts may enable our lawyers, as they enabled Brandeis and his successors, to resist the tendency to find the imminence of the law in the supposedly inevitable tendencies of the society itself, but, on the contrary, that they lead them into “the temptations of social narcissism” that convert statistical averages into rules of law. Boorstin blandly ignores the strenuous efforts now being made in our more enlightened law schools to overcome the dangers to the whole society of a narrowly trained legal profession and judiciary bereft of any rules for interpreting and applying the law except for hand-me-down social, political, and moral prejudices which, at any time and place, pass for common sense.
He tells us nothing about the brilliant young professors of jurisprudence who, making use of the new philosophical techniques of semantical analysis and the knowledge of the world which they have gained in and out of the classroom, show us how our grand old constitutional and common law can still be used as powerful vehicles of justice and common good. “One of the most difficult problems in our society today,” says Boorstin, “is to get a message in from the outside.” Yet when outside news comes to us from our own people, Boorstin ignores it or else rejects it as a manifestation of the new barbarism.
In a shallow chapter on “Dissent, Dissension and the News,” Boorstin draws an invidious line between “disagreement,” which produces debate, and “dissent,” which merely produces dissension. He reminds us that some of the greatest American champions of the right to disagree, including Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and John Dewey, “were also great believers in the duty of the community to be peacefully governed by the will of the majority.” Yet he seems to have forgotten Jefferson’s revulsion against flaccid, unenlightened majorities, James’s disgust with the popular imperialist progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt, or Dewey’s insistence that majority rule becomes a tyranny when large numbers of men are denied access to the political processes whereby conventional majorities are formed.
In fact, Boorstin is less concerned with the problems of improving the quality of American democracy than with deriding “the rise of minority veto” as manifested above all in the conduct of black power leaders and student rebels who, although they represent “a group which is not very numerous,” know that they occupy crucial positions in which they can exercise inordinate power. Boorstin writes, making a point which Hook more loudly echoes, “Small groups have more power than ever before. In small numbers there is strength.”
Indeed so. I can still remember, with pleasure, the widespread disillusionment with the Vietnam war that forced Lyndon Johnson to retire from the presidency after a single elected term in office, the grass-roots peace movement which supported Senator McCarthy’s campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, and the continuing spread of that movement during the past year when a president, elected by the barest plurality, is obliged in desperation to appeal to a mythical “silent majority” for support of an endless war that he has now made his own.
All of these were outgrowths of pitifully small movements. The veto-power of small numbers, I agree, is very great. But the veto-power which most impresses me, alas, is not that exercised by black and student dissidents, but that continually exercised, for example, by jingoistic and segregationist Southern senators, by university trustees and presidents whose “formal” powers can be reconverted into over-bearing real power in a single day, and, not least, by the lobbyists and confidence men who have such ready access to the suites of those who pretend to rule in the name of the people.
Boorstin rightly deplores the influence of the polls and the media upon public taste and opinion. He does not, however, make an issue of the silent majorities upon whom poll-minded presidents rely for support of their wars and their discriminative deflationary policies of welfare budget-cutting and “acceptable” rates of increase in national unemployment. Again, Boorstin’s target is the “Professional dissenters [who] do not and cannot seek to assimilate their program or ideals into American culture.” And he criticizes the media for the dramatizations of these dissenters and their unholy works. So he says, “…expressions of disagreement may lead to better policy but dissent cannot. The affirmations of differentness and feeling apart cannot hold a society together. In fact these tend to destroy the institutions which make fertile disagreement possible and fertile institutions decent.”
He tells us nothing about significant dissent throughout the land which is not a creation of the media but an awareness of systematic injustice and apparently irremediable inequality in our country. To be sure, the media do show us the ghastly effects of “a sniper’s bullet”; they also, thank God, provide eloquent witness to the incredible frivolity of high-placed ladies and gentlemen whose example to the rest of us is merely one of all-too-conspicuous consumption and self-aggrandizement. I am not over-addicted to commercial TV, the national news magazines, and the front pages of the metropolitan newspapers. Yet even they let us know, one way or another, not only how divided are the infractious dissidents from the great majority of the American people, but how that majority too often accepts the domination of established bases of institutional power in government, in the armed forces and the police, and in education. Boorstin does not even perform that service.
The era of the Great Depression—in the days of his own intransigent youth, Boorstin tells us—witnessed a host of bona-fide radicalisms which included large numbers of our academics, intellectuals, men of public conscience, many of them dominated by Marxist ideas. These dedicated people, convinced of the necessity of a general reconstruction of corporate social life in America, helped to promote a new and wider labor movement, helped FDR to popularize the welfare state, and sought to persuade their fellow-citizens to join in the war to stop Hitler. They had their faults: they fenced in American social scientists by new orthodoxies, and many of their (socialist?) policies were misguided. All the same, they did much to awaken the lethargic American conscience to facts of life which had been swept under the rug by the prosperous manipulators of the American economic and political system.
“That,” says Boorstin, “was radicalism. And those who were part of it can attest to some of its features. It was radicalism in the familiar and traditional sense of the word. The word ‘radical’ does, of course, come from the Latin radix, meaning ‘root,’ and a radical, then, is a person trying to go to the root of matters” [first italics mine]. To be sure, “those radicals never were quite respectable.” But they shared in common with their forebears, going back to the Antinomians of Massachusetts Bay and the Quakers of Pennsylvania, a search for meaning, a doctrine with a specific content, and, above all, an affirmation of community and of the awareness that all of us share the same root problems and are implicated in the same social crimes and evils. These radicals and radicalisms (as we know) did not always succeed in their wider social or political aims; all the same they served as a “tonic” to the whole society.
What then is the paradox? Of course there is none. Nowadays, according to Boorstin, there is a lot of talk about new radical movements in America. This is a hoax. The new so-called radicals are not radicals at all, but barbarians, bereft of ideas, a sense of purpose and community. Who are they? “Student Powerites” and “Black Powerites,” who merely “preen…the egoism of the isolationist self.” Ever and ever it is “Students [who] seek power for ‘students,’ Negroes [who] seek power for ‘blacks’—and let the community take the hindmost.”
One might go on indefinitely quoting in this vein, but I shall not. How dare Boorstin tell us that our contemporary radicals have (to employ his own three standards of true radicalism) abandoned the search for meaning, that they have no specific ideas or “subject-matter,” that they have no concern for community? True, many contemporary radicals, who have been reading (among other things) the writings of the younger Marx are more profoundly disillusioned than Boorstin with the shibboleths of conventional Marxism and the socialisms based upon it. But they also demand a reconstitution of American institutions so that all the people may participate more justly and equally and freely in a meaningful communal life. And this is no less true of most advocates of student and black power than it is of the thousands of artists, writers, clergymen, academicians, jurists, and business men who have joined the resistance movement that is now awakening considerable numbers of Americans to the infamies of which the Boorstins, in their turn, seem so heedless.
Sidney Hook, in his tragic way, is more impressive. He has an articulate point of view. He hates what Boorstin hates, but more systematically and more ruthlessly. As they say, he has also done his homework. His quotations from Tom Hayden, Mark Rudd, Hal Draper, et al., not to mention such elder statesmen of the New Left as Herbert Marcuse, and such alleged sell-outs as former president James Perkins of Cornell and (of all people) Judge Charles Wyzanski, are no less effective (if one is making points) than some that the reader will recall from such notables on the other side as, say, Boorstin and Hook, not to mention the latter’s new-found allies and supporters, S. K. Hayakawa and Spiro Agnew.1
Hook is a master of the polemical case study, and he uses it here persuasively, at least for those already prepared to be persuaded. His lengthy appendices which include his “second thoughts” on what happened at Berkeley in the fall of 1964, his accounts of “some recent incidents at Columbia and New York University,” and his treatment of “the case of the University of Colorado” are full of facts, although there are many other facts he fails to cite, and although, as he knows, no facts, uninterpreted, can lead us to a responsible conclusion. At Berkeley, for example, he tells us all about faculty self-division and indecision, but little about the incompetence of the then Chancellor Strong and the vacillations and false statements and false promises of other administrators, including Clark Kerr. The abusive language and violent actions of students and non-students are richly cited. Yet the violent police, as well as those who make use of them, are unfailingly treated as well-disposed agencies of proper law and order.
Indeed, I do not fault Hook for his harsh criticisms of book-burners, of ex-student weirdos who tell the students to abandon their studies, of faddist admirers of the anti-libertarian rhetoric of Herbert Marcuse, of witless people who deride our bill of constitutional rights without pondering the human uses to which it continues to be put. Like Hook, I too want liberal democracy to survive in America, though I have very different notions of the terms of its survival. Not least, I want activist-philosophers to survive, though I hope they may not all suffer from the counter-conversions that afflict philosophers like Sidney Hook. Like Emerson, and still more Thoreau, I would be my own man, ready to speak out for repressed minorities, fearful of great unmanageable governmental industrial combinations, anxious about property rights that no longer represent human rights, harsh in criticism of those who place the security of institutions above the well-being of men.
This is not to argue that liberalism, whether old or new, has ever provided a fully adequate philosophy or ideology. In every age even the greatest liberals have lacked a certain depth, an adequate sense of history. They suffer from a curious obliviousness to forms of intransigence which the characteristic agencies of the strongest liberal democracies in the West seem powerless to remove. As Boorstin points out, the ideal of community has not been wanting, but it remains at best some-what abstract, and those who adhere to it lack that strong sense of collective responsibility for the removal of palpable causes of want, suffering, and alienation which drives desperate men to apparently gratuitous acts of lawlessness and violence. Most liberals expect too much of time, good will, and the arts of discussion. Or rather they fail to see that what seems so eminently reasonable to them appears to their critics and adversaries as mere manifestations of vested interest which can be coped with only by acts of resolute disobedience, defiance, and rebellion. There is a sense of existential peril of which William James alone among American liberals seems fully aware.
But I do not quarrel, here, that Hook lacks the imagination of a James or a better power to give it articulate expression. My quarrel with him is that his liberalism is so attenuated, so formalistic, so dominated by hostility toward “the others” and by the manias of the counter-conspiratorial mind. How diminished is his sense of freedom and justice, his passion for equality and fraternity. How accusatory is his logic, how rigid is his concern for established forms of decorum, no matter how invidious.
Hook’s doctrine of academic freedom is a version of the doctrine of Lehrfreiheit developed in the essentially graduate universities of nineteenth-century imperial Germany. According to him (n.b.), academic freedom is “the freedom of professionally qualified persons to inquire, discover, publish and teach the truth as they see it in the field of their competence. It is subject to no control or authority except the control or authority of the rational methods by which truths or conclusions are sought and established in the respective disciplines.”
The definition is worth pondering. In the first place it applies to no one but research scholars and teachers. Learning as such is not mentioned among the activities covered by academic freedom. Nor is this an accident. The rights it confers are limited exclusively to professionally qualified persons; it protects no one, either to teach what he believes to be true or to seek the truth save within the field of his “competence.” And, although in principle it admits of no authority, apart from that of “the rational methods” by which truths are sought and established in the various disciplines, it serves only those who have a “discipline” and who do not range adventurously beyond it. Finally, it assumes without argument that all reputable disciplines have authoritative rational methods.
In this book Hook at times seems to hedge his bets about the universal authority of something called the “scientific method,” though elsewhere he still treats science as the paradigm of human understanding. Perhaps one day he will come to see, with Santayana, that the life of reason itself may be essentially pluralistic. Even so, the qualifying phrase “rational methods” raises doubts about the academic propriety of all forms of creative thought and insights for which no methodology can be provided. And (to go no further) this places all imaginative literature and art in a precarious position, except as objects of study for scholarly inquiry. But even if we grant him the doctrine of rational methods, Hook’s notions of academic freedom, and the idea of education behind it, remain singularly old-fashioned and, in this age, illiberal. Many disciplined philosophers, for example, have grave doubts whether their own problems and subject matters comprise a discipline at all; indeed when one is doing philosophy rather than recording its history (and that in a not very deep way), disciplinary questions scarcely arise.
The plain fact is that Hook’s notion of academic freedom is both undesirable and inapplicable. Its legalism and formalism, were they seriously invoked, would turn academic freedom, not into a charter of educational liberty, but into a virtual criminal code against undesirables. Unfortunately this is just how Hook himself appears to conceive its use. He tells us in an expansive moment that “the very nature of free academic activity implies an openness to all points of view, provided only that they express the conclusion of honest inquiry.” But this does not mean, he goes on at once to say, that teachers who enjoy tenure (not to mention those who don’t) are licensed to think and say what they please.
Here Hook invokes his pat inquisitorial distinction between “heresy” and “conspiracy.” “Conspiracy” is here defined as “a deliberate act in violation of the canons of professional ethics and integrity” which, of course, is itself defined recursively by Hook’s own formula for academic freedom. One may agree, to take one of his own examples, that after very thorough investigation a university may be obliged to reprimand professors of mathematics who, “seized by one or another variety of religion,” insist on denouncing sin or socialism or capitalism before their classes.
However, such examples merely distract the reader from a central issue at stake in Hook’s underlying theory of higher education and, behind it, of knowledge. He makes a great point of the contention that while academic freedom entitles a man to seek the truth it does not thereby entitle him to teach it. He admits, or rather insists, that this thesis runs counter to all thinkers—from Augustine to the present—who have thought they had the truth. The conclusion is plain: If academic freedom is the right not to teach but to seek the truth then teachers “must enjoy freedom from any ecclesiastical, religious, economic, or political dogmas that would bar the road to further inquiry.”
Now I am aware of no dogma that makes further inquiry impossible in any absolute sense, including those which Augustine came to accept after much soul and mind searching. Dogma and interpretation are in fact inevitable parts of a continuing human dialectic to which the writings of the magnificent Augustine bear eloquent witness. Dogma is not the enemy of thought, but its progenitor. And the medieval universities, whatever their limitations, are proof of the fact.
No one, Hook included, is free of dogmas (nowadays we call them “points of view”). But the dogma of the open mind, which Hook professes, is not only a myth; it is a bad myth which leads only to self-deception. The great evil is not dogma but the refusal to recognize one’s own dogmas for what they are. Hook’s principle looks liberal, but in practice it is just the reverse. It is not a defense of inquiry, but a principle for academic inquisitions such as occurred during the McCarthy era when professors whose work had long since earned, and justified, their academic tenure were summarily dismissed because their political convictions happened not to conform to established views concerning the nature and conditions of a decent society.
What intrigues me here is Hook’s own forgetfulness of the details of his own doctrine of academic freedom when adherence to them suits his own purposes. “We are not,” he tells us later on, “restricting the university to an impossible purism and absolutism.” Of course the university may justifiably sponsor research in areas of military defense “if its staff is willing and qualified to undertake it, and the nature of the research project does not interfere with its strictly educational functions….” Nor, when classified research is in question, does Hook raise close questions about the correlation between qualifications for such research and those which established a scholar’s competence within a particular discipline and which presumably provided the basis of his academic tenure in the first place. On the contrary he now tells us that scholars “must be free to determine their own field and line of inquiry” [italics in text]. That this plays hob with his formal thesis about the conditions of academic freedom gives him no qualms whatever.2
It is time, however, to turn to the question of Lernfreiheit, the freedom of students. This freedom, once more, is not included in Hook’s original definition of academic freedom and, as we shall see, for a very good reason. For him, the freedom to teach and to do research (at least within the precincts of the university) is neither a civil nor a human right; it is in short a corporate right, earned by the teacher and researcher, and granted to its members by the self-perpetuating governing bodies of the university. The freedom to learn, on the other hand, is treated as a purely human right which everyone has, so to say, by nature. A brave thesis. But what is its relevance to higher education where students are also expected to earn their right to continue simply as learners by passing entrance examinations, keeping up with their studies, and paying attention when there is something to be learned from their instructors?
The point of this question becomes clear when new questions are raised about the rights not merely of abstract learners, but of students as an academic class. For if, unlike his teachers and preceptors, the student’s own well-earned accomplishments leave him, academically, forever in the position of the mere learner, then it follows that he can claim no right to participate, except in a purely dependent and “advisory” way, in any of the basic decision-making processes of the university. But this is precisely the position into which he is locked by Hook’s analysis. For in Hook’s view, the academic freedom of students derives entirely from the natural freedom to learn. This freedom, so he claims, entitles the student accordingly to freedom of certain curricular choices, freedom to doubt, challenge, contest, and argue within the context of “inquiry.”
Beyond this, Hook concedes, students are justified in presenting three kinds of “demands” wherever a situation exists that makes these demands relevant. They are justified in demanding “educational participation” (in matters of policy) in the form of “consultation” [italics in text]. But this includes no right to participate in the decision-making process which rests, or should rest, with the faculty and the administrative officers who presumably represent it.
Second is the right to “the individualization of the curriculum as far as possible within the resources available—and where not available, the right to request the reordering of educational priorities to make it feasible.”
Third is the right “to expect those responsible for their education” to maintain “a central and continuing concern with the character of teaching on the college level, and the corollary right to evaluate their teachers on the basis of their classroom performance” [italics mine].3
This sounds tolerably liberal. But even if we grant that these rights of students derive from the human right to learn, Hook does not thereby establish his more important thesis that, in the academic context, a student is, or is to be treated as, a mere “learner.” The rights of the learner are one thing; the rights of the students, especially in institutions of higher learning, include or should include much more. Many of them, to my knowledge, are wiser and have more liberal notions of higher learning than their instructors. Many of them have learned far more about the common realities of academic life than have university presidents closeted in their executive suites. Many, in fact, are better teachers than their professors, and know more about their subjects, not to say about what it means to be an educated man, than the professional grantsmen preoccupied with theoretically low-grade problems of scientifictechnology. To be sure, not every student is a light to the world. But Hook’s applications of the doctrine of Lernfreiheit in contemporary America are based not less upon intellectual distinctions than upon institutionalized class distinctions which many conservative academicians now regard as indefensible.
Why should students not enjoy the same freedom to seek the truth as their elders, especially when their elders refuse to seek a truth which all of us most desperately need to know? Even if Lernfreiheit depends entirely upon Lehrfreiheit it by no means follows that students must learn only from their teachers or that teachers should not be obliged on occasion to learn from their students. Why in practice—and praxis, as Marx and Dewey have taught, is the great teacher—should not all the academic classes (including administrators, professors, and students, not to mention trustees) participate in all the essential enterprises of a true community of scholars?
If they did, in my opinion, everyone would benefit. What a welcome change it would be if every trustee were obliged to assume the position of student from time to time, or if professional administrators should have to return to the classroom every year or so. Similarly, how useful to everyone concerned would be a recognized practice that would ensure the participation of both undergraduates and graduate students in teaching and administrative functions.4
But it is pointless to continue in this vein. Plainly, Hook’s theory of academic freedom, were it consistently enforced, would increase the very anarchy he deplores. Why does he fail so completely to see this? The generic reason, I believe, is that Hook’s own mind has lost its old power of thinking problematically and concretely. He announces principles which, abstractly considered, have an air of reasonableness, but which, when applied, merely intensify the issues they are presumed to resolve.
More specifically, Hook cannot, or will not, relate the problems of academic freedom to the realities of academic power. He writes, indeed, as though nothing much had changed during the last quarter-century either within the university or the other social and political institutions to which it is now umbilically tied, save the eruption on the campus of a small but determined group of hostile under-graduates. He might see matters differently if he took into fuller account the extra-mural pressures exerted upon the university by industry and government and their profound effects upon the contemporary functions of the higher learning in America. He deplores student power, as we know, because it interferes with what he understands by Lehrfreiheit. But the effects upon Lehrfreiheit of the enormous accumulations of administrative and extra-administrative institutional power that now exist are never faced. In his view, both students and faculty members have never enjoyed so much freedom as they do now. Why then do both groups feel so profoundly frustrated? To this question Hook gives us no intelligible answer.
It is illuminating in this connection to compare Hook’s position with that of Clark Kerr whom he so much admires both as an administrator and as an educationist. In his book The Uses of the University, of which curiously Hook makes no mention, Kerr candidly admits that the university and other industries are becoming more alike. Says Kerr, “As the university becomes tied into the world of work, the professor—at least in the natural and some of the social sciences—takes on the characteristics of an entrepreneur….” This requires freedom of a sort, but it is certainly not, in any traditional sense, academic freedom. According to Kerr, the two worlds of industry and education are in fact merging both “physically and psychologically.” Where does this leave the old-fashioned academic knight of curiosity, especially if he lacks tenure and depends for his preferment upon some professorial entrepreneur whose only interest is in getting on with his grant-covered project? Kerr is at least candid. But Hook gives scarcely a thought to the bearing of corporate academic science upon the problem of academic freedom in America.
Again, Kerr acknowledges (and he should know) that in the new multiversity, it is not the teachers or their students, but the benevolent bureaucracy of administrators who often make the basic decisions about academic policies. Never, to my knowledge, does Hook rebuke Kerr for acquiescing in this doctrine of academic power; he simply bypasses it. On the contrary, he reserves his wrath for Kerr’s disciple, ex-President James Perkins of Cornell. Perkins, who having contended in his own writings that “public service” is one of the primary “missions” of the American university, briefly employed his own administrative power, in a time of crisis, in the service of social justice” to the black students, at some expense to Hook’s doctrine of Lehrfreiheit. Well, what about social justice? That, in Hook’s view, is no part of the university’s concern. He simply assumes, without argument, that some invisible hand of human progress guarantees that “the quest for social justice cannot conflict with principles of academic freedom….”
Faced with the importunate demands of students for fuller participation in educational policy-making, he conveys the impression that the authority of the faculty is a kind of inalienable Rousseauean general will that can be shared with no one. But vis à vis wise administrators, trustees, and state legislatures, he leaves no doubt that the authority of the faculty, even in central educational matters, is eminently alienable.
But of course the issue is not one only of authority, but of power to enforce it. Hook remarks upon the long-suffering administrators who “have been goaded into summoning police because of the demoralization produced by prolonged occupation of university buildings or because of threatened acts of vandalism and violence…” Imagine what would happen if the students or even the faculty were to summon the police because of the demoralization produced by still more prolonged occupation of university buildings by the ROTC or by government agents engaged in classified research. Or imagine what would happen if they phoned the governor to summon the state militia to protect them against the threatened acts of violence of administrators who announce that they will call in the local police if a student (or faculty) sit-in is not terminated within the hour. Merely to ask such questions is to answer the question where the lines of actual power lie. Kerr does not need to ask such questions, for he has already provided the answers, whether he likes them or not. Hook does not ask such questions because, on the whole, he wants the power, regardless of the authority, to stay where it is.
Like Boorstin, Hook is quick to denounce students who, as at Harvard, “frankly want power” and who have the temerity “even [to] demand…that research projects be dropped in areas related to defense.” But we hear not a word about the passion for power on the part of professorial entrepreneurs or administrators and, behind them, the industrialists, the militarists, and the other politicians. Who curbs their power? To this question, Hook has no answer nor does he, presumably, need one. But the question of academic freedom, especially from the point of view of the student rebels and their faculty sympathizers, is, as we say, academic, unless it is related to the question, “Who rules?”
In his book, Hook’s answer is muffled, but in a recent article in The New York University Alumni News, we gain a clearer view of his position. There he tells us that in the building of a great university, including a great faculty, administrative leadership is essential. No doubt this is true, but what if, like Hook, we should reply with the students and the faculty, “Leadership yes; power, no!” Hook’s implicit rejoinder is this: “In the affairs of the mind and in the realm of scholarship the principles of simple majority rule or of ‘one man one vote’ do not apply. The most ‘democratically’ run institutions of learning are usually the most mediocre.” This statement is not uncharacteristic. Hook has nothing but kind words for “unhappy administrators” who, when “called upon to make important decisions in many fields in which [they] can only guess,” are unable to count on the gratitude, and “in the pinch of crisis” even the confidence, of their faculties. And his book, make no mistake, is a call to arms against every form of resistance to legitimated power.
I will not further tax the reader’s patience with a recitation of Hook’s own nostalgic memories of what well-bred and well-disposed student radicals were like in the days of his youth. I will also spare him the further evidences of Hook’s and Boorstin’s ghoulish gentility which matches anything I have heard from Richard Nixon. For them, as their writing shows, the new gentility is a creature, not of the cultivated mind, but of an established power so brittle that it cannot abide, let alone comprehend, such pitiful affronts to its dignity as the ancient American cries “bullshit!” and “motherfucker.” If this is the language of violence, then its habitual use by cops as well as by students, by generals of the army as well as by buck privates, and by white elephants as well as by black panthers is simply another proof that we Americans are a people given to violence on every level of our power-driven society.
Possibly President Pusey of Harvard knows no better; he appears to have been born on the top floor of Massachusetts Hall. But Hook and Boorstin know better. Once upon a time they were intellectuals, partisans of new ideas and forms of discourse, passionate critics of the possibilities of progress offered our people by the power elites. What has happened to these ex-radical conservatives that they should be so full of bile and so full of animus against anyone who dares to tip the boat of our all-too-national society? What makes them so endlessly permissive when conventional institutions reassert their own terrifying power? And what makes them so unimaginative and unfeeling when new radicals of whatever age challenge both the authority and the power of those institutions?
I do not know the answers to these questions, for I do not know what makes one man keep the faith and what makes another, in the same circumstances, lose it. But I know this: if their own constituencies listen to Hook and Boorstin, then the American Republic is in for some much grayer days than it has known during the troubled decade of the Sixties. For either, in the face of overwhelming power, the “others” will simply go underground, as until now most of them have not done, or else they will lapse into a disconsolate lethargy, as some of the weekly magazines now predict. Both ways, the republic loses incalculably. To my own friends I say: do not pause further to ask what has become of Sidney Hook or Daniel Boorstin; they already have their own reward. Let us get on with the resistance that can still make of American democracy a peoples’ government and can restore to the American universities all the services of the liberated mind.
February 12, 1970
See the Vice President’s speech of November 20, 1969, as reported in The New York Times: “Today, Dr. Sidney Hook writes of ‘storm troopers’ on the campus: that ‘fanaticism seems to be in the saddle.’ ” Mr. Agnew comments, referring to Hook, Arnold Beichman, Irving Kristol, and others whose statements he quotes: “Now those are not names drawn at random from the letter head of an Agnew-for-Vice President committee. Those are men more eloquent and erudite than I, and they raise questions that I’ve tried to raise.” ↩
In passing it is worth calling attention to Hook’s view about the basis for allocating resources among the various fields of academic study. According to him, all such allocations should be made entirely by “the citizens or their representatives on the advice of scholars and not by the scholars themselves.” As it stands, such a thesis seems to me abominable. What if state legislatures or boards of trustees or alumni associations were free, say, to cut off funds from an unpopular philosophy or sociology department or to allocate three-quarters of the academic budget to scientific departments that play ball with the military establishment? All the same I do agree that in such matters citizens and their representatives should have a voice, including in particular students and dispossessed or disadvantaged groups whose “non-negotiable” demands so outrage Hook. The fact is, as we shall see, that when it comes to the rights of students in matters of educational policy—and certainly the allocation of funds is a vital part of that policy—Hook takes precisely the opposite line: “Advice yes! decision no!” ↩
Note here the gradual diminution of the verb “to demand”! ↩
Even in matters concerning the rights of students to regulate their own “social life,” the faculty, in Hook’s view, must retain ultimate veto when basic issues of educational policy or even human rights are involved. Hook drags out the hackneyed example of the pregnant daughter whose irate parents sued the college on the ground that it had failed to exercise proper supervisory care of its dormitories. Of course he gives no evidence that matters were better in the old days when faculty proctors and fraternity house-mothers did the policing. ↩