Berkeley more than Paris, more than either Cambridge—more certainly than Palo Alto—has now and for decades been known as the place where things begin. I do not exaggerate; on matters as diverse as the Vietnam war, the civil rights of minorities, the protection of politically significant open space, to the styles of life and personal hygiene of scholars, the Berkeley leadership has been consistent, impressive, and, on occasion, unduly innovative. I am here to plead that this tradition of leadership now be even more strongly assumed. One of the two matters for which I ask it is vital to life itself.
My first plea is for a strong revival of what anciently has been called the social ethic, what more simply is a good sense of community. This is not a subtle or sophisticated thing: it is the will, in an increasingly interdependent world, to be as concerned with what one must do jointly with others, to have as much pride in this achievement, as one has in what one does for one’s self.
In the last few years we have witnessed the rise of a contrary mood, and nowhere more articulately than here in California. That is the celebration, even the sanctification, of self-concern. A person’s highest duty, it is held, is to his own income, his own personal enjoyment; freedom is the freedom to get money with the minimum of constraint and to spend it with the smallest possible contribution for public purpose.
So defined, freedom is purely a first-person affair. No attention may be given to public action that enhances the freedom of someone else. In accordance with the first-person ethic, deduction from private income for public schools, hospitals, playgrounds, libraries, public assistance to the disadvantaged or the poor, means a net loss of liberty; there is no compensation in the enlarged well-being of those who need or enjoy these services. The fewer the services, the greater the freedom. You measure the progress of liberty in the modern metropolis by the depth of the uncollected garbage. Not even the provision of income to the deprived does anything for freedom—although to be without income, all must agree, is a rather confining thing.
There are some exceptions to this inimical role of public services. A large and even an expanding defense budget is not in conflict with liberty. Nor is the payment of interest on government bonds. There can be a quiet preference even among powerful partisans of freedom for adequate measures on behalf of air safety. Partly because it is unwise to be too specific, the new concern for self regularly takes the form of an attack on government in the abstract. Government and the associated bureaucracy are the great and faceless enemies of liberty. This avoids mention of the many good things that government does even for the self-concerned.
There is a further advantage in so disguising things: we do not wish it thought that this new preoccupation with self is a revolt of the rich against the poor. When so revealed, it loses some of its appeal. For some crusades there must be a decent camouflage.
We should not be misled. The services of modern government—national, state, and local—are paid for by all citizens. In principle and to a lesser extent in practice, they are paid for in largest amount by the affluent. The everyday public services, in contrast, are most used by the poor. The very affluent can, if necessary, have private schools; the poor must have public schools. The very affluent, if they are very affluent, can buy books; poorer children need a public library. It is the poor who inhabit the public playgrounds and the public hospitals. Police and fire protection are especially important in the inner city. Welfare payments have a special beneficence for the woman or man or family that has no other income. They are not needed by those of us with regular salaries or wages. Messrs. Jarvis, Gann, and Milton Friedman, if I may single out the most notable Californians in this new crusade for self, do not present themselves as enemies of the poor. They are friends of freedom, enemies of government. But none should be in doubt about the nature of their crusade. It is against the least fortunate of our citizens.
There are consequences of this revolt against the poor that should, I urge, be of special concern to conservatives. Capitalism did not survive in the United States, or in the other industrial countries, because of a rigid adherence to individualist precept—the sacrifice of those who could not make it in a stern competitive struggle. It survived because of a continuing and generally successful effort to soften its harsh edges—to minimize the suffering and discontent of those who fail in face of competition, economic power, ethnic disadvantage, or moral, mental, or physical incapacity. It was the ability of modern industrial society to develop and, on occasion, to enforce a sense of community that Marx failed to foresee. The new paladins of individualism would, if thoughtlessly, seek to retrieve Marx by consigning the least fortunate of our people to the neglect and despair that a purely individualist society prescribes. This is not, I submit, a sound conservative strategy. Perhaps the disadvantaged are now too few to make a revolution. But they could make life uncomfortable for all.
But more is involved than compassion—and caution. At risk in this revolt is our pride. Of what do we speak when we wish to remind people of our achievements? Of what do Californians speak? Admittedly there is mention of swimming pools and hot tubs. And while they lasted, there was much talk of sunshine and climate. None of these has its origins in community sense. But the greater pride of Californians has always been in the public elegance of its cities—of San Francisco and Berkeley and even Los Angeles. And in Yosemite and the other great parks. And in the great bridges and in the schools and colleges and above all in this university. It is of these that Californians speak and have always spoken, sometimes to the despair of their audiences. And it is this pride in community that the archons of self now assault.
Thus my first plea—to all here and beyond. Let word go out from Berkeley that, in a highly interdependent world, the sense of community must be strong and ever stronger. Let us agree that government, the first expression of that sense, can always be improved. Public bureaucracies are not perfect; neither are private bureaucracies. There were shortcomings, we are told, even in the great Chrysler Corporation. Let us see this attack on community for what it is—an attack on our sense of compassion, a revolt against the poor, a design for alienating the least fortunate, an assault on the greatest sources of our pride. Let all in this university, the inevitable and valued eccentrics apart, be evangelists for a revived sense of community against the new cult of self. There is, after all, no other community with so much to defend.
I have a second and yet more important matter for the Berkeley agenda. That is survival, a far too easy word. Its specifics do not come easily to our tongue; the mind turns almost willfully to more pleasant matters.
I would like to plead that members of my university—faculty, graduates, and students alike—unite now in a crusade to get nuclear energy under control. My concern does not embrace the Rancho Seco nuclear project alone, important as that may be. It involves the more devastating, indeed the final, threat of nuclear confrontation and conflict.
The mind, as I have said, moves away from this horror. And thus it delegates decision to those who are professionally acclimated to horror. It accords power to those for whom the ultimate and final death of civilization is not the reality. It gives power to those who have made communism in its Soviet version the ultimate and timeless preoccupation of mankind. After the first nuclear exchange, the ashes of Soviet communism will not be different from those of American capitalism. And this university with all else that man has accomplished in the last five thousand years will be gone forever.
We must no longer exempt ourselves on any excuse from concern for this threat. We have been too confident and casual too long. We must resolve now to work to dissipate this threat. We must have a powerful citizen force to this end. Nothing in our time or in all history is or has been so important.
The Soviet leaders are not, I believe, less aware of this threat than are we; from their close association with the devastation of war, I would judge them to be deeply concerned. It is inevitable that there will be differences with the Soviet Union—as in the past and now. It is less inevitable but probable that, out of economic interest or for political advantage, some will exploit these differences. Let us be relentlessly wary of those who find pleasure in these differences—or in the resulting improvement in the prospects for the defense industries. Whatever our differences with the Soviets, they must not be allowed to escalate into uncontrollable hostility. That, in the nuclear age, neither side can any longer afford. There must be a firm veto on all politicians who would accept or exploit such risk.
Nothing in the past has been more salutary in our politics than the speed with which we have discarded those politicians who have seemed to be casual about nuclear weapons and war. All who would risk uncontrolled hostility with its ultimate threat must now be placed under this same ban. Let us disagree as ever on all less apocalyptic matters. But let us be sure that no one is elected this fall, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, who thinks nuclear war an option. Let us be sure that all so elected are committed to continuing and serious effort, whatever the intermediate diversions, to get the nuclear horror under control.
The University of California, more than any other institution in the world, was present at the creation—the ushering in of the age of the atom. I plead that we all now join in a new effort to get this world in hand. Let us leave our representatives in government in no doubt about our concern. Let this be the newest Berkeley initiative and crusade.
There are more pleasant topics on which I could end. But even on occasions such as this pleasure must give way to need. Our need is for a greater surge of the common sense and concern by which alone, whatever the provocation or digression, we can rise above national and ideological differences and survive.
July 17, 1980