Tag Archives: student radicals

Tolerance and toleration


“No offense intended. None taken.”

That old tried and true cliched axiom of American social relations seems to have been lost in the latest outbreak of campus madness; we have lived through several you know!

In a free society where the fundamental issue of freedom of speech is sacrosanct, it is obvious that there will be virtually constant friction.

You are allowed to say anything which is not actionable to the detriment of others. There is the dictum of Oliver Wendel Holmes, perhaps the most distinguished American jurist of all time, in his famous “clear and present danger” opinion for a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in the 1919 case of Schenck vs. United States. One of Holmes great attributes was that he could lay out the law in language anyone could understand. In this case, he said that free speech did not cover crying “fire” in a crowded theater when there was otherwise no real danger of an incendiary. That obviously could produce a stampede which would indeed be a menace to life and limb.

Free speech is therefore likely to go off the rails, in the U.S. as in other democracies, when it wobbles in either direction: that is, when it goes over the line out rightly advocating violence in what would be construed as an inevitable manner. On the other hand, there is current wave of violating the very essence of free speech among a growing little band of university students. They see all criticism of totems of their particularly prejudices as prohibitive. Or they take it upon themselves to determine what is allowed or what is not permitted, what is in accordance with morality and what is immoral. .

Young people will be young people, and that includes their “knowing” that they can replace ancient verities with their new found knowledge and insight.

What is disturbing about the current wave of intellectual warfare in what are supposed to be the seats of higher learning in this country is that the raging students either are able to immediately intimidate the recognized authorities, or worse still, get faculty acquiescence to their fantasies.

Neither of these phenomena are unknown. Courage in the face of a screaming rabble is a rare commodity. That is true even if it is a crowd composed of what could be well dressed young people whose parents have the wherewithal to pay enormous tuition and other costs for a vaunted education. That kind of intellectual courage has never been nor will it ever be abundant.

And that the students’ worst violations of logic are endorsed by the generation of academics who still cling to their idiocies of the 1960s – their half-understood accumulations of socialist thought that had been debated over several centuries and always found wanting. That was, too, to be expected. Having not accomplished their revolution, these parlor guerrillas have followed some of their leading lights of those days and pledged to make their transformation of society through “the long march through the institutions”. Supporting loud and misguided young student revolutionaries is better than putting their own highly paid careers in jeopardy through a forthright advocacy of their own pseudo-revolutionary agenda.

This too will pass.

But the concern is with a group of young people, soon emerging into adult life and its responsibilities, presumably as our elite, who do not seem to grasp the fundamental premise of democracy. That is, the old saw that I oppose your ideas with all my being, but I would fight to the death to defend your right to express them.

There is an essential difference, therefore, between tolerance and toleration. To tolerate is to permit others to express their opinions and be heard. Tolerance is a well honed ability to listen to opposing opinions with receptive understanding to better appreciate the views of others and to examine, studiously, whether they may indeed be better than our own. That is what is being lost at the moment, and puts us in great jeopardy.





Politically correct: a little history



It’s interesting and informative to remember the origins of that phrase “politically correct”, now being thrown, probably accurately, at the young student demonstrators at the University of Missouri, Yale and other campuses.

Literally, of course, the term means an attitude toward public affairs or in general human concerns that is legitimate in that it falls within a certain political framework.

It came alive in the late 1920s and 30s, used by the Soviets and their Communist allies around the world, to describe the views of certain of their followers who might differ on a number of issues.

The arch-typical example, of course, was the world renowned Spanish-French artist Pablo Picasso. Picasso, as much a commercial opportunist as a gifted original artistic thinker, signed on to Communist causes from his sinecure in the West. [It was always more convenient – and healthy – in the days of Josef Stalin’s dictatorial rule of the Soviet Union and arbiter of world Communism to support it from a safe distance.. One did not risk thereby becoming part of the terrible toll Stalin took of his domestic enemies as his ideology zigzagged according to the needs of the Kremlin’s hold on power.]

Among the many dictates for every aspect of Communist life, Stalin had proclaimed “Soviet realism” as the only norm for painting in his realm. That was a sort of poster art, less inspired but as realistic as the then contemporary Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. Abstract art which deviated from “photographic realism” was taboo, and the product of Soviet artists who dared to stray would never see the light of day, or worst still, they might suffer for even attempting anything original.

So while the Commintern directing world Communism made maximum use of Picasso’s name to support and to recruit for every Communist initiative in the West, there had to be for more loyal members an explanation of the contradiction. It was then that the phrase “politically correct” would be introduced; it was the “but” of why a public figure could be nominally considered a loyal and faithful member of the Party even though the product for which he was famous [and useful to the Party] might stray.

So now we have come full circle. The young “revolutionaries” on the college campuses, who style themselves “leftist” [whatever that may mean in this day and age of a totally discredited Communist and socialist ideology], are politically correct. Though they call for suppression of opposition to their own catalogue of virtues – many of them acceptable to a large part of the public opinion, as for example, anti-racism – it is “politically correct”. That is, it is politically correct to suppress free speech, one of the essentials of the democratic tradition and our own contemporary freedom, if it is in the pursuit of what they consider unassailable noble ambitions.

Liberty and freedom of expression have always been extremely vulnerable in any society. Their defense requires a subtlety far beyond being politically correct. The quote [falsely attributed to Voltaire but much older and anonymous] has to be our guide: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it:”

Our young self-proclaimed idealists are far from understanding, appreciating and implementing this basic demand for human liberty. It is a tragic comment on our times that the university, which is supposed to be the heart of free discussion and exchange of ideas, should be a vulnerable battleground for this old and battleworn principle. And it is well to remind the more vociferous that they are as wrong as their Communist forbears who invented the term politically correct to camouflage their destructive machinations of idealism for totalitarian purposes.


“The long march through the institutions” halts – temporarily?

In 1967 Rudi Dutschke, a flamboyant leader of post-World War II European student radicals looking back on two centuries of failed revolutions, had an epiphany: instead of attacking prevailing institutions head on, he advocated his fellow revolutionaries should take a “long march through the institutions’ of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.In the decades since, more than one aspiring revolutionary has attempted to implement his strategy, some even claimed credit for inventing it.

But American students, more intent on panty raids and Florida spring break orgies when not on their iphones, have never been serious politicians. That is especially true compared to the history of student activism bringing on regime crashes in Europe and Asia. Looking back, the anti-Vietnam War student protests – including the tragic 1970 clash at Ohio’s Kent State that claimed four student lives and one permanent paralysis – were atypical. In fact, the American anti-Vietnam War protests were more conceived in guilt by ill-informed, ahistorical, cosseted collegiates unjustly spared Vietnam military service.

That all comes to mind, now, trying to make sense of Obama Administration policies through the fog of its obvious overwhelming incompetence. One begins to discern a pattern, a template that does come right out of the 60s. And alas! It is, willy-nilly, by accident or design, a success — albeit temporary — for “a long march through the institutions”.

We know less than we should about Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s own scholastic life, mainly because he has expended every effort and vast sums to block the normal scrutiny given politicians. But enough is known to perceive him as one of those young radicals who took “the long march”. Policy in the second administration — now free of any new electoral veto except for next year’s mid-term Congressional elections –reflects all the old attitudes of generations of dissent from the left to traditional American values and resulting domestic and foreign policy.

The current tempest over Obamacare is, of course, not only quintessential but expresses the state of mind of the country’s current elected executive. One is tempted – seeing the unbelievable extent of the disastrous rollout – to see conspiracy. For even to the least computer-literate among us, whose daily lives involve constant contact with remarkably skilled IT marketing and billing in the private sector, it is inconceivable that the federal government could not have employed commensurate skills. Was this incredible mess just an accident characterizing the incompetence of the Obama Administration? Or did “the evil geniuses” behind Affordable Care – for example, the estimable “bioethicist” Dr. Zeke Emanuel – really intend chaos? Could it have been they meant to destroy former health care patterns, whatever their shortcomings, to create a situation so enervating that an exhausted body politic would accept Obama’s favored solution: “single payer”, “socialized”, government mandated medicine?

Probably not, simply because it’s clear the technicians, at least, suspected a coming disaster which has overtaken the purported “chief legacy” of the Obama Administration. The Obamacare chaos has now jeopardized, at least temporarily, the whole “liberal”/left agenda. But what we do see, in fact, is an aspect of that same “long march through the institutions”. Individuals have reached the government zenith with the mindset of earlier generations of American pseudo-revolutionaries who along the way enthralled a less astute and pampered academic and media elite.

Evidence for this hypothesis is even more dramatic in the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. For there, except in moments of crises, the U.S. public’s interest and direct involvement is minimal. American lifestyle with its abundance not only of the necessities of life, but increasingly luxuries in the pursuit of elaborate leisure patterns, has given determined leadership an opportunity: making external policy has been a plaything of the elite because of largely apolitical citizenry.

So it was that idealists [and some realists] seized world leadership vacated by an exhausted Europe after World War II. An increasingly prosperous American public was willing to pay the bills without too many questions, especially since it offered new opportunities in foreign trade. It permitted Washington to contribute mightily to the reconstruction and growing prosperity of the Europeans. At the same time, it called for continuing sacrifices for policies – not always astute — in defeating the new totalitarian menace of the Soviet Union and world Communism. It even took a hand, with not all that much success, in efforts initiated by the former European colonial powers, to lift so-called Third World countries out of their misery.

But always at their back were the minority voices on the left. They were armed, often, with sound argument based on gaps in strategy and policy – or the obvious failures such as unresolved wars in Korea, Vietnam, skirmishes in Latin American, and now Iraq and Afghanistan Their litany was never exclusive. They often shared common cause with individuals in the political center and the right. And that old cliché about the commonality of extremes was certainly often the case; “isolationism”, for example, on the “far right” was often shared by the “far left” if for very different reasons. But today in part because of the vacuum created by the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind”, bereft of American leadership destructive regional forces in almost every quarter of the globe have been unleashed.

This arrival of the left at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue via the long march zigzags back to an earlier time. But its fundamental beliefs, again allowing for its performance inadequacies, are clear:

  • A cultural war against traditional American institutions, disparaging and denigrating historic icons, emphasizing the foibles and transgressions [e.g., the unresolved issue of slavery] of The Founders Their unique contribution to Western political thought through their major achievement, the American Constitution, is seen as a “bourgeois” formula, its fundamentals to be amended or circumvented by “progressive” thought supposedly allied to changing economic and social conditions.
  • Increasing government intervention as the solution to all social and economic policies. Mounting evidence that many of the governmental social programs have had enormously damaging unintended consequences has not been a deterrent. Broader government powers of direct intervention and regulation have been seen as the only solution to the increasing complexities of modern life.
  • Anti-anti-Communism whereby Soviet totalitarianism was given a pass. Supporting its satellite proponents in Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Vietnam, or even North Korea in its earliest days, was a “progressive” pilgrim’s progress. In its most extreme forms, advocates proclaimed the necessity for an inevitable compromise between Marxist-Leninist values and those of traditional American capitalist democratic society.
  • Abnegation of American leadership and sovereignty in favor of promises of multilateralism in which the U.S. role would be marginalized. Reliance on the United Nations where a plethora of corrupt, demagogic and unrepresentative voices dominated was seen as an alternative to the exercise of American power. NATO, the most successful alliance in history, was either opposed or at every turn sought to be sabotaged.
  • A blind faith in negotiations for their own sake, with authoritarian regimes who do not know the meaning of compromise. The use of force in international relations was seen as a violation of the moral code; the concept of even a war of defense against evil forces was questioned. Instead naïve solutions were sought to problems which had long decades of complex history.

·        A blind faith in technology as a replacement for detailed knowledge and historical perspective and judgment achieved through accumulating large bodies of statistical “fact”. It is “Scientism” which the philosopher William James warned us about more than a century ago. This was reflected often in a marriage of convenience with the diplomatic corps, which for whatever its skills at protocol and the “modalities” of negotiation, falls a perfect victim of what the French call “déformation professionelle”. Foggy Bottom has rarely had a strong claim to a realistic view of the perils of international affairs.

The President has expounded repeatedly on almost all these theses, if not directly by indirection. Overturning the established order through “transformation” as he has labeled it is the order of the day for Obama and his close associates in either formal or informal positions of power. Where law and custom is contrary to their new concepts, a stretch of executive privilege and discretion is a major tool for trying to create a new order even if the legislative arm has demurred.

Yet, if we accept the hypothesis that a radical leftwing minority American leadership has reached the apex of their “long march” by capturing the presidency and Democratic Party Congressional leadership, it is by no means certain their victory is not pyrrhic. The fact that Obama’s once seemingly fanatical following among the so-called sophisticated young is turning away seems to be proof positive of the disaster which has overtaken the Administration. The debacle of Obamacare is so great as to deal the left a blow from which they cannot recover, at least in the near term.

And thus “the long march”, while a temporary victory, has led to such chaos at home and abroad that it is increasingly rejected by a traditionally complacent American body politic. Americans, falling back on legendary common sense, as always, will try to get on with their “pursuit of happiness” promised them in their fundamental political agenda. What is lacking for the moment is leadership out of the swamp.