It is by conscious design that I borrow the title of Norman Mailer's famous report of the march on the Pentagon of October 1967 for a report of the disturbances at Columbia University in the spring of 1968—the two events, Mailer's and the University's, were continuous with each other in political and moral style. But it could only have been by a special conjunction of the stars that I selected the morning of April 23, the day that the uprising began at Columbia, to read The Armies of the Night, the volume in which Mailer brings together “On the Steps of the Pentagon,” his History as a Novel, as he calls it, and “The Battle of the Pentagon,” his Novel as History, which completes his account of the Washington demonstration. Although I had read the first and longer section of the book on its original magazine appearance some months earlier, I had been so blinded by the brilliant literary energies Mailer mobilizes for a job that in other hands would at best have been no better than superior journalism that I knew I would have to return to it at some later date. It was obvious that the report was an essential text of contemporary left-wing politics. But on a single reading it was impossible to separate its political content from its coruscating display of language, wit, perception, its public and private discernments—this exercise in cool judiciousness would have to wait until I was less bedazzled. The day I had consecrated to The Armies of the Night promised to be undisturbed; the air held no portents. But by afternoon my telephone was jangling with news of the seizure of Columbia's Hamilton Hall, the building which houses most of the offices and classrooms of the undergraduate college, by white student members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and black student members of the Students' Afro-American Society (SAS) and of the imprisonment of Acting Dean Coleman of the College. And in the course of the next sleepless night—it would be the first of many—word came that the black students had expelled the white students from this first captured building and that the white students had moved into Low Library and occupied the President's offices. Columbia is my husband's university which he first came to as a freshman of sixteen and has never left except for a distant year at Wisconsin and a recent year at Oxford, and we live close to the campus. An uprising at the University could be no minor episode in his life, nor in mine. Inevitably, like much else that mattered in accustomed existence, Mailer's book went into the discard, not to be picked up again until mid-June when, the school year having staggered to its close, I was at last able to put the space sf an ocean between me and what had been happening on Morningside Heights.

And yet Mailer's Pentagon story was seldom out of my mind—how could it be when its cultural and political “message” was so much the same message that was being dinned in my ears by the event on my doorstep? To be sure, the march on the Pentagon was organized as a protest of the Vietnam war while the war was all but absent as an issue of the University protest. The Washington occasion, taken as a whole, had also permitted a rather broader representation of political views than was manifest in the early stages of the Columbia uprising: it was only as time went on that various shades of moderate opinion came to the side of the Columbia demonstrators, but this is just the opposite of the situation in the Pentagon march, where moderate opinion gradually dropped away, leaving the field to the extremists. But these differences are of secondary importance compared with the similar philosophies and tactics of the two events. Both were acts of civil disobedience initiated by people who regard the law as the instrument of established power, the arm of a particular and despised form of social organization. (The fact that in the months that intervened between the assault on the Pentagon and the Columbia sit-in the New Left learned to refuse the concept of civil disobedience, on the ground that it grants an unwarranted authority to the existent government, represents a sophistication of argument but doesn't alter the illegal character of the Pentagon assault or the University sit-in.) Both dramatized drastically-opposed ideas of what is meant by social responsibility. Both had the intention of forcing on us a new examination of the workings of democracy: the discrepancy, that is, between the democratic ideal in theory and in practice. Both proceeded by, or at least were begun in, outrage of the conventions of educated speech and behavior that have long obtained in our society. Both events faced us, whether or not we were prepared to look at what was being shown, with the capacity for hatred and violence which many of the educationally-privileged left-wing young of the world share with those reactionary elements they most condemn for hatred and violence. This is no small likeness. The two occasions, indeed, can be significantly separated only in terms of their results—that is to say, in terms of their practical outcome and the emotions consequent on this difference in their capacity for effectiveness.


At the height of the Columbia disorders Mailer was quoted as approving the University uprising because it was “existential.” Whoever is familiar with his work will recognize this as his well-established criterion of the worthwhile; Mailer has for some years served faithfully at the ceremonies of experience. But the word “existential” is also generally used of the contemporary revolution to describe its improvisational character, its disdain of ideology and of any fixed political program and its appeal as a means of personal definition, and in this accepted and acceptable sense Mailer's honorific designation is an accurate one. The Columbia revolution was nothing if not improvisational, scornful of systematic political thought, especially of systematic planning for the future, dependent for its appeal on the immediate gratifications to be discovered in the release of bitterness and rage against society as we now know it. In fact, so pressing were the emotions called upon or created by the Columbia revolution that they quite precluded involvement in the subjective emotions which are the heart of Mailer's Washington report—one's own existential moment yields to no other. Even at my remove from direct participation in the affairs of the campus, the Columbia disorders became my total absorption simply because I was in their orbit. In the light of what was taking place on the steps of Low Library or, more grimly, within its walls, “On the Steps of the Pentagon” was like a narrative of last year's illness intruded into today's sickroom.

But even apart from one's inability to accommodate another person's subjectivity when one is oneself acutely concerned in an event, Mailer's Washington story was bound to be lacking in emotional relevance to the Columbia disturbances. Existential the two occasions might be, and morally and politically continuous with each other, but the march on the Pentagon was wholly a symbolic enterprise whereas the University uprising, although not without its large symbolic impulse, was shatteringly actual. The Washington demonstration was a protest of the Vietnam war; as such it logically directed itself against the building which houses the Department of Defense. But no one supposed the Pentagon could be occupied or its work halted. The University made a quite different case. For the present-day revolution, all universities are representative of the society in which they exist. This is why they are under assault—for the revolutionary young their schools are their most immediate symbol of the hated social authority. But here symbolism ends. Touch with hostile hands the building which houses your Department of Defense and you perhaps flick the soul of your nation, but your building and your nation remain intact. You have made a statement but you have not delivered death or even necessarily the premonition of death. Touch a university with hostile hands and the blood you draw is immediate and copious and real. There may be disagreement on the quality of the blood but there can be no doubt of the actuality of the wound you have inflicted.

Too, the operation at the Pentagon, even for its most radical participants, had a built-in finiteness that was not present in the University occasion. Although the march was organized as a united front of many disparate groups opposed to the Vietnam war, it was its ultimate intention of mounting an overt attack upon the legally-constituted authority of government that represented its attraction for many of the demonstrators, including Mailer himself: These would move upon the giant structure, capture a step or two, conceivably some small corner of some remote corridor, create a disruption, provoke a confrontation—sanctified contemporary word!—with the police or military, and clearly announce to the world the distance in thought and feeling between those who power the war and those who most actively oppose both the war and its makers. A plan like this requires that whatever momentum is generated in the event must be expended on the spot and, more important, within the period of time allotted to it. It puts definite boundaries to the enterprise, both objectively and subjectively, not only limiting the range of decision but also altering the quality of feeling brought to the situation or produced in it.

It was not necessary for anyone to put his life on the line in the Pentagon march unless, like Mailer, in private test of a manhood he could as well have tested and has as well tested (Hemingway before him) in the prize-ring or in casual street or bar encounters. No career or old commitment or old loyalty or even old friendship was at stake, as in the University event which continued for long weeks and involved daily, hourly decisions of men whose professional lives are inextricably interwoven with each other and with the life of Columbia. I am not suggesting that the Washington event was free of personal challenge, or of danger. There was the possibility that the marchers might be clubbed, or that tear gas or Mace might be used against them—this gave what Mailer would call the cutting edge to the mood. And some of this bad possibility was indeed realized for the hippies in the contingent who, perhaps because they are already so far gone in their own shadowed universe of metaphor that the line between the real and the fancied is blurred, stayed around to offer always larger and more ingenious provocations—chiefly of a sexual sort—to the military guarding the building. Nevertheless, once a demonstrator had joined the march, he had only to decide how much discomfort he was prepared to take in counter-measures by the police or in arrest and jailing before he could be rid of involvement. And whatever his choice, whether to go for an extra bonus of excitement, whether to get a more or less bloodied head, refuse arrest or invite it and thereby delay his return home, there was still home to return to when the march was over. His protest accomplished, there was not the distance between civilizations to retrieve, or even between old commitments and new positions. The same assumptions, the same world the demonstrators had left at the start of the weekend awaited them unchanged at its end.

Mailer's Washington occasion was thus of a different existential order from the Columbia uprising. Its bearing on the Columbia disturbances is moral, political, cultural, rather than finally experiential. There was therefore less feeling connection between these two man-made occasions than there was, for me, between the Columbia upheaval and an upheaval in nature that I experienced some years ago: a hurricane followed by flood at the Connecticut shore. Although the black students who held Hamilton Hall might refuse to regard the uprising as a revolutionary act and insist, as we are told they did, that it was no more than a demonstration, the white insurrectionary students made no such distinction, nor did other members of the University who had to suffer the full force of the disruption. In the flood at the seashore, the emotions we experienced were fitting to an occasion which, even apart from its immediate threat to life, was bound to alter our familiar landscape, perhaps permanently, and at Columbia, too, the emotions of everyone connected with the University, whether as student, teacher, administrator, or only faculty wife, were appropriate to an event which, although the University might sustain it, could leave no commitment or loyalty or familiar occupation as it had been before the uprising. They were appropriate, that is, to a revolution. Many new and no doubt important loyalties were formed in the Columbia disorders, and not merely for the students brought into uncommon intimacy in the sit-in but for their teachers as well, thrown into the unaccustomed tensions of University emergency. As in the flood at the seashore, people were brought into sudden urgent relation with each other who previously had lived in only formal or casual association. And even old friends revealed new aspects of character—generosities one might not have expected, courage or flexibility of mind of which one had not been as aware as one perhaps might have been. Recording his Pentagon event Mailer is not a novelist in depth; he does not need to be. He is, so to speak, a novelist in width—his imaginativeness makes a sufficient arc over the relatively flat field laid out for our inspection. The novelist of the Columbia revolution has not yet appeared and may never appear, but the material that awaits him is necessarily of another dimension.

Out of his own rich literary resources Mailer tries to supply the dimension which the Pentagon march lacked. Illegitimately he makes a tragic confrontation out of what was merely a nervous confrontation. He asks for our pity and terror in a situation in which the heroic protagonist of the story is himself wholly responsible for his fate—after all, if one exceeds one's permit for a peaceful march and assaults a federal building, one invites retribution; one is not at the mercy of tragic forces which one has not oneself set in motion and over which one has no control. This confusion that Mailer makes between victimization by fate and self-victimization, or at least self-implication, robs his book of more than political authority, of moral authority as well. Inevitably self-pity presides over—no, this is perhaps too strong: inevitably self-pity haunts a story in which heroic grandeur would require sterner emotions if only on the part of its author if not of its other actors.


Documents of the Columbia disturbances now also appear and they too, although making no claim like Mailer's to cross-fertilizing fiction and history, reveal the curious confusion the contemporary revolution makes between external and internal reality. One reads, for instance, Dotson Rader's report in Evergreen Review of his experience in the sit-in and one is bound to be struck by the ease with which it transforms a self-created battle into a brutal social coercion—even in the act or provoking the authorities the demonstrator is convinced that he is the innocent victim of an organized social assault. In any revolution, no matter how circumscribed, we can assume that the rationale of one's own direct action is that one is acting against an aggressive force. But usually this doesn't preclude acknowledgment of one's own aggressive intent; revolution is usually ready to take responsibility for its own move and for what it sets going in counter-activity. But what is interesting both in Mailer and in the reporter from the Columbia sit-in is the moral stance of blamelessness, even of passivity, that they seem to insist on, as if, even when they are most provocative, they are only the inert recipients of their social destiny. For both the SDS and the SAS this non-culpability was of course a stated premise of insurrectionary action. The University alone bore responsibility for the uprising; those who rose against the University had no responsibility for what they did or its consequences. A premise like this makes thought unnecessary: one searches Rader's memoir or that of another Columbia demonstrator, James Kunen, in New York magazine, without finding a vestige of idea, let alone of revolutionary ideology. And the presence of political intellection in Mailer's book comes to seem incongruous with its prevailing mood of non-responsibility for the action it reports on, a reassuring left-over from the radicalism of an earlier generation.

For the students in the occupied buildings, as for Mailer, the emotions of heroism experienced in the demonstration stemmed chiefly from the conquest of personal fear, in particular fear of counter-measures by the police, of a more extreme sort, even, than were actually employed when the police were finally called into action in the early morning hours of April 30. And these first-hand accounts make plain what someone like myself who, until their publication, largely depended for her understanding of the moment-to-moment developments among the demonstrators on Columbia's station WKCR (the deservedly celebrated student radio), together with such poor intuition of the psychology of insurrection as she could bring to bear on the uprising, would have been reluctant to surmise: the extent to which the thought of police brutality provided the emotional motive of revolutionary intransigence. So central, indeed, to Mr. Rader's appreciation of his revolutionary action is his fear of being man-handled by the police that one is impelled to conjecture that had there been an absolute certainty that no hand would be laid on him he might very well have deserted the whole insurrectionary enterprise. It was not that the prospect of suspension from the University was absent from the minds of the students engaged in the sit-in, or that they had no worry about arrest and going to jail, but simply that it was not this which absorbed their thoughts with anything like the vividness of their detailed fantasies of beatings, gas, Mace—especially beatings. The fantasy of beatings by the police was of course to be made all too real on the morning of April 30, and the careful instruction the demonstrators had received in the correct fetal position to assume in self-defense would turn out to be small protection: they would be picked up and thrown from the buildings, punched and kicked and knocked about the head with billies. But at least chemicals would not be used; this adumbration of legal force had to wait for a non-university scene several months later, the demonstrations in Chicago. At Columbia the students' preparations against gas served in the main as evidence of the existence of large supply lines betwen the occupants of the buildings and sympathizers outside the University. WKCR had student reporters everywhere on the campus throughout the disturbances, on window ledges, on rooftops, sometimes it seemed that they must be in the very crevices of the walls. Listening to its reports like an idiot addict, especially alone at night when my husband was still at the University doing whatever it was that the faculty was then doing, or trying to do, I learned of the regular visits to the occupied halls of friendly doctors and nurses and the frequent delivery of medical supplies, in particular large quantities of vaseline and plastic bags for use against burns.


But for those not inside the captured buildings there also was fear, whose source was other than the law. Columbia, the campus itself and its immediate vicinity where many of the faculty live, has for some years been an island, a white island, constantly shrinking. This is not something that is much talked about among the faculty, but it makes itself felt in the steady migration of the faculty to the suburbs; and among those who continue to live in the University-owned apartment houses on Claremont Avenue and Riverside Drive, west of the campus, or in the Amsterdam-Morningside Drive area to the east, it plays a not inconsiderable part in curtailing the freedom of movement of the residents, especially after dark, and in the venturesomeness they can permit their children. It is the proximity of Harlem to Columbia that made the student uprising of this spring a great deal more than a mere campus manifestation, both bigger and more delicate to handle by the University authorities, and warrantedly or unwarrantedly, frightening to everyone in the neighborhood as no disturbance confined only to an educational institution would have been. In fact, judgment on the conduct of the Columbia administration which assumes that it had no more than a student outbreak to take into account and which fails to appreciate the credence that everyone involved in the University emergency gave to the possibility of a move against Columbia by a supposedly inflamed Negro ghetto rather misses the point of an insurrection in which the first building to be taken, Hamilton Hall, was within a few hours held wholly by black militant students. That President Kirk and his coadjutors were unequal to the demands made on them in the revolt, and in ways that showed not only a grave deficiency of statesmanship but also a perilously inadequate reading of present-day student emotion, is, I think, unquestionable. But their understanding of the changes that have taken place in the attitudes of the young over recent years could have been all one might wish for in a present-day University administrator and the Columbia administration would still have been effectively paralyzed to meet the situation confronting it in the sit-in, when the occupancy of Hamilton Hall by black students alone meant that any action taken by the University which would include this building might be interpreted by Harlem as an action not against student rebels but against the black race. Mayor Lindsay vests much of his political future in his empathy with the young and in the trust placed in him by the black population of New York; but called on for advice by the University he had little counsel to offer. Nor were his experts in Harlem affairs, some of them themselves Negro, able to be more helpful.


It would probably go too far to say that the reason Columbia was picked for a campus offensive against American society, the first in a major private university in the country, was because of its closeness to Harlem. Although a Columbia demonstration had been planned some months before this one took place, there was a large element of accident in the early stages of the uprising; even the occupation of Hamilton Hall had not been precisely designed, and the expulsion of the white student seems to have been an ad hoc decision, though one with precedent in recent black militant practice. But unmistakably the physical closeness of Columbia to this region of disquiet and social grievance made Columbia infinitely more vulnerable than universities normally are, which is vulnerable enough. When the administration said that universities everywhere in the country were looking to Columbia as a model—they might have said a lesson—in the handling of campus disruption, they were unfair to themselves in neglecting to emphasize an aspect of the rebellion which made Columbia a very special and charged instance of campus insurrection. Even without the danger of invasion from Harlem, there was sufficient in the Columbia disturbance to suggest a catastrophe in nature, but with Harlem on its borders a measurable catastrophe might have become an unmeasurable disaster—the University might be overrun or burned down.

All through the last week of April and throughout the month of May this was indeed the potential horror that hung over our island. At night, my husband on the campus, I, like (I suppose) all wives of faculty, obeyed the instruction to stay behind bolted door. But sleep was impossible. It was impossible for everyone I knew in the vicinity—the most decorous of us had no hesitation in phoning each other at any hour of the night, two o'clock, four o'clock, whenever the lonely waiting got to be more than we could bear. One sat through the seemingly endless hours, an unopened book in one's lap, the unceasing radio at one's side, straining for the unfamiliar sound on the street beneath one's shaded windows, the tramp or rush or scuffle of the expected invasion.

Had Harlem risen as in our exacerbated social anxiety we thought it would, obviously more than the life of a university would have been lost. At no point, however, did the black population outside the University make more than a token contribution to the revolt. But this was through no lack of effort on the part of the revolutionary students who launched the insurrection and who continued to have it largely in their charge. For some time before the April outbreak the organized radical activists on the campus, members of the SDS and SAS, had been chiefly focusing their hostility to the University “establishment” on the issue of the new gymnasium that Columbia planned to build in Morningside Park, to serve not only Columbia's own students but the residents of Harlem on the other side of this small little-used stretch of open land. A project once gratefully approved by a wide range of Harlem civic organizations—but this was in the long-ago days of the late 50's, when Negroes and whites were joined in the civil-rights movement—had recently given rise to the charge of racism against Columbia. It was felt to be racist that the facilities of the building were not to be used jointly but severally by Harlem and the University, although these arrangements, insofar as they could be said to be discriminatory, represented a division between town and gown rather than a division of color—the black students of Columbia would of course swim and play with the white students of the University. It was also said to be racist that the new building was to have two entrances, a “front” entrance on Morningside Drive, on the University side of the park, for Columbia students, and a “back” entrance in the park itself for non-members of the University—but actually the land in the park slopes sharply, so that were the people from Harlem to have been made to enter on Morningside Drive they might well have had cause to complain about the distance they had to walk and the hill they had to climb. Too, the fact that the University had been able to acquire an inexpensive long-term lease on a piece of public land confirmed the revolutionary students in their belief in a conspiracy between the University and the city against the interests and just claims of the black population; but these interests and claims of course announce themselves differently at different moments, according to changes in the current of black political opinion.

These charges of Columbia racism and Columbia economic privilege and ruthlessness had been agitated in a series of demonstrations at the site of the proposed gymnasium to which militant groups in Harlem had sometimes contributed participants. Harlem had even made anti-gymnasium demonstrations of its own, though they were never very impressive. But once the first buildings at Columbia were seized, one of them by black students who now held it alone, it was reasonable for the revolutionaries to hope that black dissatisfaction with Columbia, not only on the score of the gymnasium but also because Columbia had engendered a considerable enmity as landlord of buildings largely tenanted by Negroes and Puerto Ricans, or only because it was a powerful white institution bordering the black ghetto, might be triggered into a significant black uprising. There is probably no single answer to why this hope was disappointed other than that Harlem is not, as a whole, as roused to militant action as we have come to believe. Apparently the people of Harlem, not their militant leaders but the people themselves, care less than one had been led to suppose about this building of an only semi-public facility in a public park that up to now has had recreational facilities of no sort at all and which for many years has chiefly been consecrated to the use of small-time criminals making their getaway after purse-snatchings on Morningside Drive. I myself, in long years of residence on Morningside Heights, have never known anyone, black or white, who has dared use the park even for a short-cut, let alone for relaxation. It may also be, that the people of Harlem regard their black children studying at Columbia as fortunate among their black generation, the beneficiaries of an advantage they would wish to see multiplied rather than sacrificed. The existential revolution of our day clearly has its populist bent, but so far it seems to be more apt at subverting the natural intelligence of self-interest among our better-educated than among our less-educated classes.


At any rate, Harlem was not delivered. This fear, the most awful of the fears attending the Columbia disturbances, turned out to be baseless. Charles 37X Kenyatta, Stokeley Carmichael, H. Rap Brown did indeed visit the campus—it was no doubt politically mandatory, for the militant record, or perhaps they still hoped for a tie-in of their own programs and that of the students. But the only palpable effect of their interest in what was happening at Columbia was to keep us in mind of yet-unleashed possible black furies, and, in fact, for some of us their appearance, however threatening, came to seem rather more appropriate—in better taste, if one is allowed to put it so—than that of many of the other non-University visitors to Morningside Heights, whether the sightseers for whom the disruption of a great university represented the newest fun spectacle in our famous fun city or the fellow-travelers of the revolutionary young, the literary intellectuals. The militant Harlem leaders at least had a demonstrable political motive based in the genuine grievances of their race and class. Could one say as much for the white tourists, for Robert Lowell, for Dwight Macdonald, for Paul Goodman, for Mailer? Is the University an appropriate symbol of the hated white authority for them? I mention only the people who are also present in Mailer's report of the Washington march, the busy “notables” about whom Mailer writes so winningly in The Armies of the Night. There were of course many others.

But on the early morning of April 24 when the SDS were being expelled from Hamilton Hall by those they presume to call their black brothers, an act of racial separatism, of black racism, in which the white students had to accede in deference to the rule of the New Left, that one accepts the dictate of one's black comrade, one doesn't dispute or resist him—but also the blacks, that first day, were reputed to have guns and gasoline—the reluctance of Harlem to add its fuel to the fire this time was not yet known, nor would it be for many weeks. And throughout this first week, while increasing numbers of students joined the original occupants of Low Library and even added three more buildings to those taken in the first day of the outbreak, and while the faculty quickly organized itself into something it called the Ad Hoc Faculty Group and met around the clock to try to negotiate the conflict and persuade the students to terminate the sit-in, it was Harlem that was the ace in the hole of the demonstrators. They remained adamant in their refusal of whatever peace plan was offered them—when Mark Rudd, Chairman of the SDS and now its best-publicized character, left his headquarters in Ferris Booth Hall to hear the latest proposal of the faculty, he greeted their offer with a stunning economy: “Bullshit.”

The occupation lasted a long week, the longest in memory. Despite the insistence of the Ad Hoc Faculty Group that the police not be used until every most remote recourse of mediation had been exhausted, and their pledge physically to interpose themselves between the sitters-in and the police should this insistence not be respected, on April 30 the administration ordered the buildings to be forcibly cleared. By this time it was of course manifest that the students had no intention of leaving the buildings of their own accord and the Ad Hoc Faculty Group had by now been pushed to such unlikely expedients as calling on Governor Rockefeller or Mayor Lindsay for personal intervention. But in bringing in the police without the consent of the Ad Hoc Group, the administration opened a deep chasm between itself and the faculty. No force was required against Hamilton Hall: the removal of the black students was arranged through Professor Kenneth Clark, the eminent Negro psychologist—the fact that he had a son in the building must have made his undertaking a peculiarly subtle one. The black students peaceably evacuated their stronghold and peaceably got themselves booked by the police; they then joined the strike which was to halt classes for the rest of the term. Throughout the strike, however, the University's alleged depredations against the “community” continued to make the focal issue of the revolution and the proximity of Harlem to Columbia continued to be the chief explosive potential of the uprising.

I put “community” in the quotation marks it should properly have worn whenever it was spoken at Columbia, which was incessantly. At Columbia “community” has now come to mean, really, only one thing: the black community to the east and northeast of the campus, Harlem, although when necessary it can be made to include anyone in the Columbia vicinity who is or might be antagonistic to the University. “Community” is thus to be distinguished from neighborhood, by which one means those in the vicinity of Columbia, whether residents or storekeepers, for whom the University is either a neutral presence or comfortably integral to their lives. Expanding, as all universities are now forced to expand in the new programs of educational opportunty in the democracies, but with no open land available for its growth—how does a shrinking island extend its boundaries?—Columbia decided several years ago that its own best needs could be served simultaneously with the public welfare by the University's buying for its own respectable use derelict apartment buildings in the surrounding streets: by tearing down or improving these dwellings, they would eventually improve the general tone of the area. The question the University failed to consider, or certainly failed to answer to the satisfaction of many scores of long-time inhabitants of these deteriorated buildings, a good majority of them Negro or Puerto Rican, most of them poor, many of them with little tie with the world other than of physical root in their own houses and streets, was whether they desired an improvement in which they were unlikely to have a share and which, in fact, robbed them of what small sense of place they already had. The University, that is, let itself remain unaware not only of the dismays of displacement from one's familiar surroundings, but also of the always-mounting hostility of present-day progressive thought to unilateral social actions de haut en has. In an earlier day, when the plan was conceived, it was felt to be civic-minded and forward-looking.


I have no breakdown of the subjects being studied by the students who either sat-in at Columbia or urgently joined the strike that all but paralyzed the campus throughout the month of May. It is my impression that the most radical members of the student body major in history, political science, government, anthropology, sociology, architecture, city-planning: the subjects which most directly involve them in public affairs and the problems of society. Moving in on the unfriendliness of the “community” to the University, or, more precisely, since the anger of persons the University has displaced from their homes, understandable as it humanly would be, seems, actually, to be more sporadic than massive; moving in on what it (wrongly) anticipated would be fertile soil for more than mere campus protest, the SDS turned the better part of its agitational energies to non-academic issues: the construction of the gymnasium in Morningside Park, the behavior of the University as landlord, the University's character as a power-structure within the larger power-structure of the State. It was interesting that in this social-political effort the word “capitalism,” with its reference to specific economic injustice rooted in the organization of the society, was never mentioned—for someone who had first learned her politics in the Marxist 30's, the omission was glaring. At Columbia, as in France, the revolution had its mysterious intangible references to the superiority of the Communist system, but it had no reference at all to the programmatic doctrine of Marx and Lenin or even of Mao, only, vaguely, to what is thought to be the more directly human and certainly the more romantic Communism of Castro, particularly of Che Guevara—here as abroad the red flag hung along with the black flag of anarchism. The commonest decoration of disorder, however, was Che's picture; in fact, it was Che far more than Professor Herbert Marcuse, prime ideologue of the non-ideological revolution of our time, whose spirit presided over the boiling campus—this is no doubt explained by the unwillingness of Marcuse, a product of the German professorial tradition, to encourage the application of his revolutionary teachings to the universities. In New York at the time of the uprising, Professor Marcuse stayed disapprovingly away from an insurrection wholly consonant with his view of a correct and vital democratic process,

If one is to be an urban guerrilla—and along with such improvisations as Arabic Belly Dancing and Liberated Genetics, guerrilla warfare both urban and rural stood high in the curriculum during the strike, when the University was said to have been “liberated” and classes were being held anywhere but in classrooms—one needs streets to fight in and, reasonably enough, it was to the meaner streets of the vicinity that the SDS beamed its message. The appeal to “community” was tireless throughout the strike: through microphones and bullhorns, written, typewritten, xeroxed, mimeographed, posted on placards on the now-barred gates of the University through which one could enter the campus only (supposedly) on presentation of an ID card. And in the meanwhile one's friendly neighborhood suffered in its own existential fashion and went unnoticed except by those—they have not the makings of revolutionaries or their eyes would be elsewhere—for whom it happens to be their familiar social place, their defining community.

At the Connecticut shore it was my (our) neighborhood that was flooded, it was my (our) community that suffered the insult of nature: child, kittens, manuscripts held high in the air, we had pressed through the rising water—but we had swum in it every day, how could it turn on us so fiercely?—until a better-situated house than our own had given us refuge. From its roof we had at last the fine safe funny spectacle of summer beach-life swirling beneath us, deck chairs and beach umbrellas, beach balls, swings, grills, beer bottles and boats and picnic baskets bobbing under our eyes in a wild pre-psychedelic orgy of random association. The swirl of a campus in convulsion brought to the level of perception no such happy arrangement of the frivolous and banal. Nevertheless it too made its accidental work of art of all too familiar contemporary tendency, its form the form of sullen and agitated crowds, its elements the ugliness of desecrated buildings and raging young faces and voices, overturned police barricades or, worse, police barricades in dead alignment, police in their uniforms, police horses, police cars, sidewalks thick with the casual throwaways of persuasion: pamphlets, leaflets, posters, printed or stencilled demands and protests, bulletins, denunciations, exhortations. There was no business as usual for the Columbia neighborhood, I suppose there never is in the neighborhood of revolution—in Paris, I gather, it was considerably worse. But even at Columbia one was everywhere pressed upon by the disorder, unable to be clear of it. One was everywhere as of the audience at Marat/Sade—between oneself and a demented world there was no curtain. The teaching of modern subjects in our universities, especially literature, proceeds of course on some unadmitted (because inadmissable) assumption of a drastic discontinuity between art and life. It is as if the professor who sanctions the revolutionary content of the contemporary literary works that he teaches were still speaking from the platform of a hundred years ago, when art was outside the stream of “real” life, the real life of action and political choice, its influence upon public affairs a matter of the slow mysterious interpenetration of the public consciousness by some strange remote thing called culture. Among the many assumptions undermined by the attack on Columbia, not the least important was the illusion that contemporary art is an academic subject like any other, one that is adequately dealt with without doctrinal commitment. It was only the blindest eye that could refuse to see the extent to which the revolutionary scene at the University represented the moral substance of contemporary art brought to actual life, indeed the triumph of culture over politics.


The detritus of communal compassion piling up at their doors, the Columbia shopkeepers studied a confused and embarrassed stoicism. What was it all about, they would inquire shyly of their old University friends, and when would it end? But how did one explain to one's grocer, say, whose disappointment that his son had not become a doctor or a lawyer but had elected to carry on in the family store was his most nagging chagrin, that his hopes for his boy had been socially retrograde and that the University was a power-elite fashioned in the image of the malign State, designed only for its own greedy self-perpetuation? The shops, excepting the butcher's and Takome, local emporium of the Hero sandwich, were bleakly empty: the one thing people don't do in the neighborhood of a revolution is buy pyrex bowls or asparagus or early lilacs. On the other hand, of the buying of sandwiches by the young—it seems that the girl-students in the occupied halls had refused the order of their male comrades that they be the cooks of revolution—or of hamburger by faculty wives, there was no discernible end. A faculty wife became short-order chef at any hour of the day or night for her husband and his exhausted colleagues working without rest to protect, not the abstract idea of a university—abstract speculation on the nature of a university had to wait for the excellent panel discussions set up when the strike had begun to lose its excess of fervor and some of the less excited students were ready to return to thought—but the living University which must be kept alive for its students and faculties.


Wherever liberal people gather—and I speak of the consciously liberal and therefore of the radical, since for thirty years now both sections of political opinion have been pretty much at one in their response to political events in which they are not personally involved—the current outbreaks in the universities of the world receive some welcome. Or at least it is felt that they must have a justification, or certainly that they further the general cause of progress. This is as true in England as in America, and I daresay it is so everywhere. In part this is to be accounted for by the fear under which people of conscience now live of being looked upon as conservative (it has come to be thought synonymous with reactionary), opposed to useful and necessary social change. But this fear, in turn, has to be accounted for, and it is generously explained only by the ill repute into which that which is given us in modern democratic life has fallen. Virtually no one of liberal mind, no one with a developed imagination of how life might be or ought to be, now approves of life in the democracies. True, even before Prague the condition of Communist Russia might be shown to be as bad or worse. But liberalism has the long habit of excusing this on historical grounds—the Communist countries, we are quick to explain, have not had the time or ease to improve themselves, and anyway it is democracy in which we have our citizenship: what right have we to accuse others when our own house is in such poor order? In fact, under the pressures of recent years, and especially since the Vietnam war, even people critical of the abrogation of civil freedom under Communism have found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the social and political outcome of the two systems, the democratic and the Communist. What good, they ask, does our free vote do us when we cannot even halt a war we hate or use the billions and billions of dollars of its cost to help our mutiplying poor and relieve the blight on our cities?

Well, our universities are presumably the place where our best knowledge resides, they are our grand founts of public wisdom, the guardians of our humane tradition. If life in our society is as bad as it is, is it not reasonable to think that the universities must be at least somewhat to blame and that the lesson they teach is a wrong or insufficient lesson? Do they not then need to be shaken out of their self-satisfaction, cleansed of the error they tolerate or even nurture? Perhaps there is still hope for a world whose students refuse to comply in complacency and cooperate in error but, instead, take a stand against the wrong in their educational institutions.

Reasoning like this is of the essence of progressive thought and does some credit to conscience. Who of liberal persuasion would not welcome a movement of the young directed to the reconstitution of the democratic ideal so badly damaged in contemporary practice? If the young do not reform us, who will, and if we are not reformed, what kind of future do we face?

The first and eminently sensible question put to one, then, by conscientious people outside of Columbia is, what are the student demands and will they be met? Clearly, the question intends to ask what deep-rooted fault exists in the University which, rectified, would promise an improvement in American life insofar as it is within the power of our students to extend the benefits of their schooling. And specifically the question has reference to those bad aspects of contemporary life to which liberals and radicals are now most alert: its inequity and harshness, its depersonalization, the alienation of the individual from his fellow-man and government, the loss of personal identity, affectlessness nourished in lack of concern for those less fortunate than oneself.

The question, taken on its highest level of intention, could not be more difficult to answer because inevitably the answer is circular. Is there, has there been, that in the condition of Columbia which reflects or even reinforces the bad condition of our society? Obviously, yes. How could it be otherwise, since Columbia, like any institution in society, is part of the society, part of its bad together with its good. We cannot imagine a school in any country which would not reflect the condition of that country, or anywhere in the modern world which would not reflect the condition of the modern world. It is therefore in the degree that one is dissatisfied with the state of one's country and world that one will be, must be, dissatisfied with its institutions of learning—all of them. There can be no doubt, for example, that just as the sense of the individual's alienation from his fellow citizens and his government, his sense of loss of personal and social identity, has so markedly increased throughout America in recent decades, the sense of the student's alienation from his fellow students and from his educational institution has similarly increased, at Columbia as elsewhere, and from much the same cause: the increase in human numbers and the consequent decrease in the individual's connection with his government and in his sense of his personal-social definition and worth. But the very effort, the progressive effort, which tries to correct these troubling modern feelings is also involved in their spread.


It is not only the growth of population which has overcrowded and depersonalized our universities. It is also from our enlightened desire to enhance the individual and collective well-being of our citizens that we have undertaken to give a higher education to as many people as want it—we would consider it retrograde indeed to cut back, on behalf of a more personal relation between student and student, or student and teacher, on the number of people we send to college and on to the graduate schools. What is both right and wrong with America and in fact with a great part of the modern democratic world is therefore what is both right and wrong with any university, including Columbia: it has a dream of progress, a sweet dream of the good, but it has not solved the problem of modernity. And thus in some important measure any student rebellion in a university is not so much a rebellion against the particular institution as against modernity itself.

Still, though we accept a generalization such as this, we all of us know that any given nation may have a greater or lesser capacity to solve its problems, and any given school may have a greater or lesser power of social transcendence; one university may offer solider reason for student complaint than the next. What then was particularly wrong with Columbia that the uprising, the first of size in a private American university, took place there—no, not that it took place there, perhaps this did in fact have to do with its closeness to Harlem, but that it took hold as it did there, to the point where a revolt that had begun with a handful of rebellious students won to its side, in the space of a week, a large proportion of the student body and even in some degree a considerable section of the faculty?

I admit a possible bias. When one marries a university teacher one marries into his university much as one might once have married into one's husband's family: there develops a not insignificant attachment and a perhaps distorting intimacy. The university commonly talks of itself as a family, and when dissension arises there is much to remind one of angry family emotions: one speaks of insufficient respect for this or that member of the group, failures of tenderness or trust, the wrong distribution or use of authority, even misapplication of funds. But I make the not too daunting effort of objectivity and find myself unable to locate a sufficient reason for revolution at Columbia—reason for complaint, certainly; reason for protest, yes, especially in the graduate schools which are the more crowded and anonymous sections of the University, but surely no reasonable reason to tear the place to pieces. Columbia is not the Sorbonne, where nothing less than a major disorder could hope to blast the authorities into awareness that the institution existed to educate students and not merely to honor the abstract idea of higher learning. It was not even Berkeley. It may be absurd to call Berkeley a “totalitarian think-factory” as it was called by some of its dissenting students, but surely it was justifiable to call it a factory, it was so gigantic and dehumanized. But even in the Columbia graduate schools, where the classes are often too large, they are smaller than in many undergraduate courses elsewhere—for instance, at Harvard. Lecture courses for as many as a hundred students are uncommon. And in the undergraduate college I have heard bitter faculty complaint over classes of forty; the College, in fact, is celebrated for its insistence on keeping its classes small. In the graduate faculties, again, there has for a long time been warranted complaint about lack of close student guidance in the writing of theses and dissertations, and the absence of regular easy association between professors and students. The professors, especially in the social sciences, have been accused—justly, it appears—of being too busy with their research or non-University consultations to have time for their students outside the lecture halls. But there was never such complaint in the undergraduate school. There the most one heard were criticisms of the curriculum, inspired by political partisanship: there must be more courses in African history, African literature and art. And even this demand, proof though it was of the presence in the College of a group of students committed to current left-wing educational doctrine—that is, to preference for the black as against the white cultural heritage—was not sufficiently widespread to have prepared anyone for imminent revolt on the campus.


Genuine intimations of trouble had come only from the small group of student radicals whose sights were fixed elsewhere than on campus concerns, students opposed to the whole of the social authority, in which they include the University authority. From this quarter there had indeed been substantial warnings of insurrection. The President of the University having promulgated a rule against indoor demonstrations, this radical minority had undertaken a direct defiance of his order by gathering in Low Library to protest Columbia's membership in the Institute for Defense Analyses, a consortium of some dozen or more universities which supervises the distribution of government contracts for university research projects. Six of these demonstrators, five of them undergraduates and one a graduate student, had been identified—they came to be known as the IDA Six—and had been asked to report to their Deans for discipline, which meant probation. The Six refused the order; one of them demanded that instead of their appearing before the Deans of their Schools, the Vice-President of the University should come to meet them. It was these IDA Six and their supporters whose rally at the sundial at noon on April 23 launched the disturbances of the next weeks. Vice-President Truman did not come to meet them as requested but he sent the group a letter saying that he would meet with them in Columbia's McMillin Theater. This offer was found inacceptable and the group attempted another demonstration inside Low; when they were prevented in this attempt they moved on to the site of the proposed new gymnasium where excavation had begun and tore down the fence that surrounded it. Scattered by the police—one of them was arrested—they re-formed at the sundial and came to the decision to hold an indoor demonstration in Hamilton Hall at the office of Acting Dean Coleman, before whom five of their number had been supposed to appear for disciplinary action. They imprisoned the Dean and announced their occupation of the building.

In other words, the issue the SDS and SAS were making was an ultimate one. They were challenging the basis and nature of the University authority as indeed they would continue to do in their demand for amnesty—the use of a word associated in most peoples' minds with the exercise of executive charity would come to be confusing in a situation in which what the white insurrectionary students meant by amnesty was the acknowledgment that the government of the institution had no right to exercise authority of any sort and in which what the black insurrectionary students meant by amnesty was the acknowledgment that the white government of the institution was racist and therefore solely to blame for the uprising. Certainly the SDS and SAS were not making merely a “protest,” even of Columbia's membership in the IDA or of the plan for the gymnasium. By any customary standard, no one could accuse the University of an excessive disciplinary severity, nor was this actually the students' point. Rather, the position taken by the SDS was that the University, like the State, had no legitimate power such as it claims for itself. The protest of Columbia's membership in the IDA provided one useful means of defying this “illegitimate” University authority. But even more useful as a ground for defiance was the plan for the gymnasium, for here one brought the University into confrontation with the “community.” The occupation of Hamilton Hall by the black students served two simultaneous, even inseparable, purposes: it put the University authority under question, even though not precisely the same question it was being put under by the SDS, and it gave the rebellion the wider social and political reference it would not have had if the demonstration had stayed with only academic concerns. In fact—and this is perhaps the chief point about the Columbia revolution, they were not its incentive. The Columbia pation of the buildings, or, rather, upon the strike after the police action; they had no part in the original outbreak. They appeared in the revolution, they were not its incentive. The Columbia uprising had the declared intention of large social destructiveness, the largest. In an open letter to President Grayson Kirk on April 22, Mark Rudd wrote: “We will destroy your world, your corporation, your University.” He reverses his schedule—first the University must be destroyed, then its world—but he plainly states his actual purpose. So extreme an intention certainly didn't motivate everyone who participated in the occupation, but the uprising is not properly understood unless this avowed goal of its leadership is held firmly in view.


In common with the liberal public, a significant part of the University population did, however, lose sight of it. This is not to say that there was broad campus approval for the action of the radical minority in seizing the University buildings. On the contrary, at the outset of the disturbances the methods of the SDS aroused strong opposition on the campus. But as the days went by, many even stern opponents of the SDS, both students and faculty, went over in some measure to its side, or at least to the side of radical protest, bringing with them the academic issues which had been missing at the start and thereby transforming the face that the rebellion would otherwise have shown the world. Now, to be sure, academic complaints began to be voiced, academic demands were grafted on to the original non-academic demands. Just as in Chicago several months later a demonstration whose ruling purpose was anarchic was able, because of the way in which it was met, to mobilize the sympathies of people who would have wanted no part of its original disruptive intention, just so at Columbia the way in which the occupation was handled by the administration—or perhaps just the fact that the sit-in could take place, and throw the University off balance as it did—made it possible for the SDS to activate a campus which hadn't previously realized that there was anything spectacularly wrong to be active about, or against.

Primarily, the wide disaffection from the University that began to announce itself after the buildings were evacuated by the police on April 30 and during the strike that followed the police action was a response to the use of police on the campus. The brutality of the police on the morning of April 30 outraged virtually everyone who saw or heard about it. Not content with releasing their week-old hatred for the students who held the buildings, the police would seem to have swung wildly at whatever head there was to hit, not only in the halls themselves but outside the buildings. Hordes of innocent spectators had come to the campus as word spread of a bust, students who had had no love of the sit-in: they were ridden down, assaulted, pressed to the edges of the campus where there was no refuge. True to their pledge to interpose themselves between the occupied buildings and the police until they should themselves have decided that the police must be called, the faculty tried to hold the steps of Low, Fayerweather, Avery, Mathematics: they too were brutalized. It was easy in such a situation to forget that were it not for student lawlessness the law would never have been brought to the campus. Not only a good portion of the student body but many faculty, members of the Ad Hoc Faculty Group which had agreed in principle to the use of police, insisting only on its postponement until every conceivable avenue of peace had been explored, now forgot who had brought rage and disorder to the University and turned on an administration that could employ such brutality against its own students. In effect, that is, everyone, students and faculty, not to mention the public, blamed the University for the ugliness of the police. The SDS could not have hoped for a greater victory.

But although this was in largest part the cause of the swing in campus sentiment, disaffection from the University had another source as well, in the conduct of the administration since the start of the crisis. The inability of the President and Vice-President to address the campus except in the language of traditional authority, except in self-defense and defense of established practices and procedures, had opened a hitherto unseeen or only dimly-seen gulf between the will of administration and the will of students and teachers, which now filled not only with new dramatic remembrances of old quite minor complaints but with a new angry recognition of faults in the structure of the University. Few members of the Columbia faculty had, to my knowledge, been upset because they had insufficient voice in the running of the University or even of their own departments. Just the opposite: the departments were democratic enough and the faculty was glad to have administrative details taken off its hands so that it could get on with its own work instead of spending all its time in meetings and committees. And it was only in the last year, under the SDS slogan of “participatory democracy,” that students at Columbia had come at all to think that it would add to their educational opportunities to be involved in the direct management of the institution; and even in this last year what they had sought was much more a channel for the expression of student opinion than actual “student power.” It was only when administrative power showed itself to be so simple-mindedly jealous for its own safety and yet so inadequate in crisis to the authority it claimed for itself, that faults in the institutional structure which had previously gone all but unmarked took on importance. This is of course what the SDS and indeed the whole of the New Left has in mind when it undertakes to “politicize” the unpolitical—put enough pressure on an institution or a government, offer it enough provocation, and the sad likelihood is that it will reveal itself in the worst possible aspect, thus confirming the radical assumption of its basic and entire unsoundness or corruption.


And, finally, most subtly but forcefully, disaffection from the University described the disaffection from modern society and its authorities of people everywhere today. When the moderate students of Columbia were outraged by the police action of April 30, they were responding not merely to the harshness of the police. That is to say, they were responding not merely to the conduct of the police as to an act of isolated human ugliness. What the brutality of the police represented for them was some better-hidden brutality of modern life in our own democracy. It was as if there had now been fully disclosed to them something in the American condition to which they had let themselves be blind while their more radical fellow students had seen it for what it really was. They felt that their moderation had been a form of self-deception and of propitiation of evil, of which they needed to be ashamed and for which they had to atone by some radical move of their own. Clearly this sense of wakening to the true state of affairs would not have been possible had there not existed, though perhaps not at the level of full consciousness, a generalized suspicion of the society. But this suspicion has now been well implanted even in the moderate young not alone by their mass culture but by their classical modern culture (if we can call it that), all the great works of modern art which are precisely designed to subvert our confidence in the values and authorities by which we once undertook to live.

Nor, of course, is it only the young who have been educated to this dissatisfaction, even disgust, with the given of society. A Columbia faculty sympathetic to the strike was in largest part sympathetic not to the political motive or strategies of the uprising but (even without need or wish to formulate such a position) to the idea of necessary revolt of some kind against a social force which, by its nature or perhaps only by its existence, disappoints our best hopes for life. For this is the idea that now binds the cultural generations, gives them a shared moral premise for social action, keeps full the reservoir of guilt when action is taken by others and not by oneself. The brutality of the police made many of the faculty feel morally laggard in not having matched the certitude with which their radical students had perceived the connection between power and ugly force and undertaken to combat both. “Even you would have become a revolutionary,” said an old faculty friend telling me about the behavior of the police. Although only a few days earlier this same friend had retreated to the country because he had been sickened by the violent conduct of the demonstrators, he was now certain that to be disgusted with the police required that one go over to the revolution. And even faculty who did not respond so simplistically, faculty who were perhaps less susceptible to social guilt and therefore better able to see the moral double-dealing that underlies the absoluteness of the judgment the contemporary revolution passes on our society, were bound to respect some new seriousness that suddenly appeared on the campus in the wake of the police action. When the strike was first called, the day after the bust, far from a majority of the faculty immediately supported it. But as the days passed and the professors got to talk with their students, their moderate students, fewer and fewer of them found it possible to make the breach with them that would have been the consequence of their insisting that classes be held in the struck buildings—their newly-politicized students were too genuine in their commitment to the strike, and too impressive in their new gravity. For most of them it was a first experience of political involvement; the moral investment in it was not to be lightly regarded.


Thus, when people ask, will the student demands now be met, will the University reform itself, one must be sure one understands what they mean by the question. If they mean, will dissatisfaction and anger disappear from the campus, one can answer only with a question of one's own: Is a new happier consciousness about to be given us in our modern world? But if they are asking the more immediate and practical question: Will there be useful reform at Columbia, will the student demands be met, will the students be given participation in decisions of curriculum and departmental management, and will the University be restored to its proper peaceful functioning as an educational institution?—then the reply must be that no one can answer with certainty even any part of the question, let alone the question as a whole; for in grouping together all these inquiries as if they were one inquiry, it implies that student “demands,” whatever their character, must necessarily be useful simply because they forward social change and, more, that the future good of Columbia depends on the readiness of the University to concede their worth. Even before the spring term ended, machinery was put in motion to explore all possibilities of useful change in the structure of the University. And over the summer, under the guidance of the various faculty-student committees, much progress has already been made toward achieving greater student, and also faculty, representation in University procedure and decision. Too, the resignation of President Kirk and the appointment of Andrew Cordier as Acting President of Columbia promises a new administrative responsiveness to student and faculty opinion. None of these moves, however, provides any firm assurance that the University will be restored to peace or even, if it is peaceful, that it will be the better educational institution for what will have been altered in its structure and functioning as a result of the uprising. While social responsiveness suggests that the more that students and teachers in a University participate in its decisions, the more the institution will serve their best needs, in the actual educational outcome this may prove to be anything but the case. Some of the educational changes proposed by the students are on their face perilous to democratic education—for instance, a plan formulated by graduate students in political science that there be substituted for the traditional Ph.D. something called an “action Ph.D.” in which the candidate, instead of writing a dissertation, might choose a street in some disadvantaged New York area where he would organize the residents for social-political activity. Patently, a proposal like this, far from freeing the University from old academic bonds, is asking for academic dictatorship; for how else, except by dictate, would one determine the correct social and political activity into which the poor of the city were to be inducted by these “action” candidates for a Ph.D.? As to peace on the campus, I should think that this has—finally—relatively little to do with reform of the University but depends, instead, on the course that will be taken by the SDS or other campus extremists.

For while one can surely say that without University change, or at least the clear expression on the part of the administration of its availability to change, the SDS would have an open field for its activities because of student restiveness, even the best administrative will is no guarantee against continued SDS subversion. The leadership of the revolution has not abandoned its original purpose. The rebellion having started in the wish to “shove” our society, as one sympathizer euphemistically puts it, and to “shove” the University as a significant part of the society, it is hard to suppose that the insurrectionary minority that initiated the disorders will now withdraw quietly in favor of a movement for University reform. On the contrary, it would seem to me that virtually in the measure that reform is accomplished and gives sign of satisfying a good portion of the students, the revolutionary leadership may put itself to the stimulation of fresh disorders on the campus and to forcing fresh confrontations, preferably of the sort that invite the use of police. It doesn't take very many people to design and perpetrate a provocation of authority. If the provocation is permitted to go unchecked, authority is gravely threatened. Certainly it is grievously weakened in the minds of those who look to its command. But if law is invoked, this means police. And by this time, with not only the campus busts but the experience in Chicago behind us, we know what we can count on from the police not only in terms of excess but in terms of popular reaction as a result of this excess. The New Left doesn't need the situation spelled out for it. Even in the eight months between the march on the Pentagon and the move against Columbia, even in the fewer months that have elapsed between the outbreak at the University and my present time of writing, the white revolutionary movement in this country has enormously gained in confidence and visibly perfected its techniques of disruption; it begins, not without justice, to feel that it has us all, the society as a whole and not merely a single university, considerably at its mercy. What more could it ask, for instance, than that on the largest public front, that of the nation, it should have managed to contribute as substantially as it did to the discrediting of one of our two major political parties? It may very well be, indeed, that what will save our universities will be the decision of the New Left to concentrate on larger than university fields, on acts of larger social disruption, leaving the universities to be only indirectly affected.


So those who welcome the Columbia uprising as a perhaps overly strenuous but yet required occasion in the reform of our universities may be clinging to liberal hopes that have no basis in the Columbia political reality. The Columbia revolution was not a liberal reformist revolution. It was not even a radical revolution in any sense for which we have been prepared in the political history of this century, which has taught us how to overthrow the unloved State and replace it with another—no new and better form of government, either for the university or the nation, has been described by this revolution. It is not even properly understood as a university revolution, though it took place at a university, badly hurt a university, even (eventually) may have produced some good for a university. It was an event in contemporary life, an event in the culture of our time, a revolution in and of modern culture.

And of that aspect of the cultural upheaval of our American time which was being presented to us in the Columbia disturbances, Mailer's The Armies of the Night is the best—and really superb—document. It might not make one's chosen companion during the disturbances themselves, when one had one's own consciousness to tune to circumstance; but no one can properly comprehend our general revolutionary circumstance who has not studied Mailer here in all his wisdom and folly, complexity and oversimplification, reasonableness and unthinkingness, vision and blindness, idealism and disgust, love and rage, amiability and fierceness, self-aggrandizement and humility, exaggeration and precision, absolutism and accommodation. It is a book of staggering ambiguities, of which the author himself openly proposes the one we can most readily comprehend: politically, Mailer tells us, but he also means culturally, for the cultural and political are symbiotic in him and even undistinguishable from each other, he is a Conservative Radical. The Armies of the Night is also something close to Tolstoyan, and strikingly unfamiliar in its wish to find resolution of ambiguity in the teachings of Christianity, about which Mailer is also, naturally, ambiguous. In sufficient humility but also in full exulting awareness of himself as player of a star public role, a person of many-faceted “image” for those of our young who are most irreverent of the past and distrustful of the present, Mailer joined the march on the Pentagon in protest of a war which he feels is the worst and most unjust in American history, a proof of the near-total moral sickness of a society that once had at least an intuition of God. What made the march a commanding act of conscience for him, rather than merely yet another among many all too wearisome and doomed exercises in political conscientiousness, was the plan to extend a legal demonstration into an act of civil disobedience, even of overt (though limited) insurrection. If one overstepped the boundaries of protest designated by the police, one could get oneself arrested, and the story that a “notable” had been arrested, perhaps beaten by the police, would make the headlines and the TV screens. The line that separates liberal and revolutionary opposition to the war would be made plain.


As it turned out, it was rather less easy than might be expected to get oneself arrested at the Pentagon. Equally eager but less skilled than Mailer on the field of battle, Robert Lowell and Dwight Macdonald never managed it—Mailer is gentle with their failure. And even the hippies, who remained longest on the scene and who can usually provoke the police just by the way they look, seem to have had to exercise some ingenuity in order finally to excite the full terror they attribute to the civic or national power—the hippie girls bared their breasts to tease the soldiers, many of them young boys, into some kind of direct assault. But throughout the Washington weekend Mailer found himself placed where reputation and temperament could best meet in service to the cause of peace. There were rallies, and Mailer likes to speak to big audiences. Unlike many left-wing intellectuals he has always preferred to address the potential many rather than the predisposed few—he stretches to exhibition like a professional athlete. He happily accepted the invitation to speak to a meeting on the eve of the march.

One had read about this speech in Time: how the famous author, drunk, traded not-to-be-mentioned obscenities with his audience. Mailer, to whom nothing in his own humanity is alien, gives an unedited report of the occasion. The speaker, it seems, had not prepared his speech; Mailer feels that to work out a speech in advance takes the cutting edge off the mood. His “fuck you's” and “bullshits” were ad hoc, like the politics to which he now gives his approval. It must have been a sudden providence—no, that is not right, it is not providence, certainly not Mailer's Christian providence, to which the existential revolution looks for guidance in its program of programlessness, but some intuitive knowledge of the fitness of things, of need and the fitting response to need—it must have been his nicest intuition of fitness, then, that suggested to Mailer the possibilities of political persuasion in his need to go to the bathroom and evacuate his bowels. Earlier in the evening, a pint of bourbon tormenting his bladder, he had missed the urinal in the men's room of the meeting hall; it had created a trenchant moment of struggle between the radical and the conservative in him, and this too Mailer now recounted to his audience.

On the platform with Mailer, Lowell and Macdonald were discomfited: the author of The Armies of the Night shows them to be more traditional characters than himself. They were the friends of the drunken orator, having to handle him in public without compromising their own acquiescence in the radical culture of our time, with all that the radical culture of our time offers in support of the radical dispensation in contemporary politics. Lowell, Mailer tells us, sat sternly aloof at the side of the stage: if you are put out of countenance, you avert your countenance, you look only within yourself, as a poet should. Macdonald, a critic and therefore less the private man than Lowell, made stumbling moves of public responsibility; they were calculated not to offend but to get Mailer off the platform. The situation must have been painful for them both, for both Lowell and Macdonald: one wonders in what light it presented itself to them afterward, when they were going to bed that night, or, more soberly, when they were shaving the next morning. But Mailer, describing it for us, manages not only to seal, as between himself and them, a political comradeship immune to such fortuitous violations. He also communicates his belief—and is it not ours as well? is it not the belief of all of us whose advanced politics are indissolubly wedded to the advanced culture of our time?—that he himself stands an important few paces forward of these more cautious, more traditional friends of his in the larger march toward freedom, the march that must continue past the shared Washington target. The scene is wonderfully written, no one now writing could match it. It is worth isolating from The Armies of the Night for its bearing on the outbreak at Columbia, the parallel it proposes between the cultural styles, the political styles, the moral styles, the life styles of the two events, that in Washington and that on Morningside Heights.

At Columbia it was Mark Rudd (but he encompasses, one knows, none of Mailer's ambiguities; he will never be a novelist) who launched the act of university insurrection with his letter to President Grayson Kirk. Addressed “Dear Grayson,” it announced, as noted earlier, the intention of the SDS to destroy President Kirk's world, corporation, university. The letter concludes with the words of LeRoi Jones, “Up against the wall, motherfucker, this is a stick-up.” Such was the opening volley in a barrage of violent and abusive language and behavior which was sustained throughout the disturbances. It was not alone President Kirk who was addressed as a motherfucker. Vice-President Truman was a motherfucker, Acting” Dean Coleman was a motherfucker, the police were—naturally—motherfuckers, any disapproved member of the faculty was a motherfucker. Rudd's response to the mediating efforts of his faculty was “bullshit.” In a Mediterranean importation, the revolutionary students spat at people they disliked, including senior faculty members. An old couple crossing the campus was shouted at: “Go home and die, you old people, go home and die.” A law professor, my neighbor, walking with his wife near the campus gates, was gratuitously punched in the stomach by a passing student wearing the red armband of his militancy. President Kirk's occupied offices were ransacked, his personal correspondence photostated for campus broadcast. His waste basket was urinated in, the windows of his office were urinated out of. At a tense moment on the steps of Low Library a Barnard girl-demonstrator jumped up and down in front of the faculty line—the faculty were wearing their white armbands of peace—shouting “Shit, shit, shit, shit.” In the police bust another girl-demonstrator bit a policeman in the stomach. A professor's papers were taken from his office files—they represented ten years of research—and burned: he was an opponent of the revolution. During the occupation of Mathematics Hall, it was debated whether or not its library should be destroyed; although this plan was decided against, quantities of notes and other personal papers were taken from various of the faculty offices in the building and scattered around the stairwell—because later, in preparation for the expected bust, liquid soap was spread on the stairs to deter the police, hoses had to be used and the papers became an irretrievable mash. The day after the strike began a member of the faculty who had helped persuade the President of the need for student participation in matters of campus discipline learned that the students were erroneously being led to believe that the membership of their new tripartite disciplinary committee was self-perpetuating; when he then went to a strike meeting of radical students and faculty to explain how in future the disciplinary board would be elected, his request for the platform was refused; he was told that the chairman, a faculty colleague, could “not take responsibility for the physical safety of anyone who came with such a message.” The most gravely injured person in the two police actions at Columbia was not a student but a policeman—he was permanently paralyzed when a student jumped down on him from above. On a terrace overlooking the campus some students managed to lift a potted tree which they crashed down over the side of the terrace—this was in the bust of May 22, when the second attempt was made to seize Hamilton Hall; it was only by good luck that no one was killed.


A press which could not have been more diligent in covering the happenings at Columbia, or less capable of getting to the heart of the situation, reported little of this to its public. Certainly it reported none of the obscenities: the proprieties of decent American middle-class life forbid it. But one has to ask what decent American middle class our public media can have in mind when they exercise this censorship. Where do they locate this propriety they are so intent on protecting? The phenomenon being reported on was not of the gutter. This violence and nastiness took place at an Ivy League university. The speech and acts that our newspapers and television hid from the public were the speech and acts of young people who supposedly represent the American educated classes in their most ardent desire to rid us of the indecencies of our present society. And one discovered that a decent proportion of the decent American middle-class mothers and fathers of these young people, as well as other energetic spokesmen for progress, supported them. Mr. (Lt. Col.) Rudd, father of Mark, strode the campus boasting his paternity; Mrs. Rudd, mother of Mark, gave the proudest and tenderest of interviews to the Times about how her son-the-rebel plants tulips in their suburban garden. Some 200 or so mothers and fathers of students at Columbia banded into a Committee of Concerned Columbia Parents to back their children and further harry the administration. Dwight Macdonald, who is supposed to loathe all violence, wrote his friends a letter of appeal for funds for the SDS and took it amiss when his friends, or at least one of them, wrote back harshly in refusal. And the Columbia clergy, with the exception of its Catholic officer, threw themselves with hearts bleeding and souls aflame into this newest movement of youthful idealism—it was the Reverend Starr, counselor to Protestant students and the most muscular of campus Christians (there was much for the Pentagon reporter to admire in him, appreciative as Mailer had been in Washington of the Reverend Coffin's split-second furious reflex when an officer of the law dared place the lightest of hands on the clerical arm) who manned the barred gates of Columbia one evening during the strike, exhorting the “community” to join Columbia's liberation classes and make the campus its own, while the adjacent streets blackened with rank after newly-formed rank of police. And in a parallel though less athletic manifestation it was Rabbi Goldman, counselor to Jewish students, black patch over an eye—it was injured not by the police but by a dissident parent at a Concerned Parents' meeting—who stood on the sidewalk that same threatening May evening sighing heavily and regarding with his one free eye, not his colleague the Reverend Starr and Starr's student-followers trying to incite the “community,” but only and woefully the malign civic power. One of course knew of the Reverend Starr. It was he who had read a wedding service for a pair of demonstrators in occupied Fayerweather: “I pronounce you children of the new age.” Tonight he was too well surrounded with student militants to be recklessly approached at his post, but it was to her enlightened co-religionist, the Rabbi, that a faculty wife, quite lost to humor, issued her invitation—no, I guess it too was an exhortation—that the Rabbi sit down with her for a liberation class of their own, right there on the 116th Street pavement; its subject would be the history of the Weimar Republic.


It is of some significance, however, that this style of white revolution at Columbia was not the style of black revolution at Columbia. It would surely go too far for a critic of insurrection to isolate the black militants as the heroes of the Columbia disturbances—after all, they were well forward in the insurrectionary column, they cooperated in the imprisonment of Acting Dean Coleman, they refused negotiation of the sit-in, and they are said to have expelled the whites from Hamilton Hall for more reasons than that of black separatism, because they felt that the white students would not use guns and gasoline, that they were not ready to die for the cause. Eventually the conduct of the black occupants of Hamilton Hall was nevertheless of a different stylistic, and therefore a different moral-political, order from that of the SDS-led demonstrators. The distinction necessarily includes the fact that all blacks in our society, even the most privileged, those in the universities, have ground for revolutionary feeling against American society such as no white college student has the right to pitch his tent on. But this is not alone what I have in mind here; I am talking of their actual conduct during the occupation, the way in which they made their existential occasion. These were serious people, these blacks, and they comported themselves like serious people. They were frightening—all demonstrated power not of one's own election is frightening—but they were serious even in their menace, and certainly in their stance. They were not cosseted middle-class boys playing violent games whose consequences they felt there was no need to assess. For them the authoity of the white world is an illegitimate authority, it is not the parental authority despised as much or more for the gifts it so prodigally gives its fortunate white children as for the inequities it tolerates and for its concealed ambitions and intractability.

A day or two before the police action of April 30, an emergency meeting of the joint Morning-side faculties—such meetings are unprecedented but this was the second within a week—had appointed an Executive Committee of the Faculties, ten senior professors who then co-opted to their Committee two members of the non-tenure staff, to examine the need for reconstruction of the University and to try to bring peace to the campus. In the next days and weeks this Executive Committee interviewed as many as possible representatives of campus opinion, including several black militants, one of whom was asked to speak to the similarities and differences between his position and that of the SDS. I had report of his remarkable response. The SDS, he said, wanted to “apply a gangrene” to American society in order to destroy it, and he was opposed to this. What his group wanted was to “test the tolerance” of the society—he meant this, he said, in a physical, not a social sense—to see how much play it allowed. The black students had occupied Hamilton Hall because they wanted to be inside a society that excluded them, but they wanted to keep the society in good condition for themselves, and this was why, if they could help it, the black students would in no way harm a building they occupied.


And indeed Hamilton Hall, unlike the buildings that were held by the white students, was undefaced when it was evacuated, the refuse of the occupation was for the most part stacked in containers, no office or classroom had been disturbed, no file broken into. (The black students had also held a dance in Hamilton while they occupied it. A white passerby, hearing the music from behind the barricaded doors, could comprehend with some poignancy the emotions of exclusion for color.) It is of course possible that Professor Kenneth Clark, in his long hours of talk with these black students, had spoken to them of the necessity of decorum and of the practical advantages to be gained if they continued in the dignity they had shown ever since they had rid the hall of the white demonstrators. But I doubt it. I doubt the situation required any such appeal. I suspect that these black students had already early in their militant careers proposed to themselves the argument from self-respect: it has something in common with the argument from idea. In the course of the Columbia disturbances note was taken by various members of the faculty of the fact that a high percentage of the student extremists were honor students; four, I think, were elected to Phi Beta Kappa while they were engaged in the sit-in. And it was commented upon by a historian that this was his first knowledge of revolutionaries on fellowships—also, for that matter, of a strike in which its salaried participants were kept on full pay. He spoke in wryness, of course, but not in bitterness. Such is the affection in which most university teachers hold their students that there was little bitterness against the demonstrators even among conservative faculty. But except for younger teaching staff—preceptors, readers, research and lab assistants—whose future is not necessarily tied to that of the University and those few faculty who automatically subscribe to any radical action whatever the form in which it offers itself, the Columbia faculty seemed at times to be almost as much distressed by the lack of idea in the revolution as by its methods. Though they might support the strike, those who had the education of these striking students in their charge lamented the failure of thought on the campus, tried, when the situation had quieted a little, to supply it where it had been missing in the emotional heat of the rebellion. No one, however, accused the black militants of scorning thought, no one at any rate who saw them as they actually were. Respected for their self-respect, the black students were also held in regard for what self-respecting and dignified conduct can promise in the way of thoughtful political conduct. Intransigent the black students at Columbia assuredly are, but they are concerned with racial, not personal, definition. And black racial definition in a white-dominated society is an enterprise of more than “existential” interest.

The blacks kept separate on Mailer's occasion too, which, I should guess, upset him more than he admits. And the reader misses their presence in Mailer's book—it would be interesting to know whether black militant behavior is now everywhere as orderly and impressive as it was at Columbia and one has a natural curiosity about the style in which these black separatists now conduct themselves among themselves: how much and what kind of talk they carry on; whether their “participatory democracy” is an actuality or only a form of manipulation by their leaders; how much, if any, humor they bring to their revolutionary occasion. The talk in the buildings occupied by the white students at Columbia was apparently marathon; one hears of the endless debate and putting-to-the-vote as the leadership reported on new developments, new steps in negotiation, new strategies and prospects. From information that now emerges there is reason to believe that this non-stop discussion of how the sit-in should proceed, on whether a new offer of mediation by the faculty or a new proposal by the administration should be accepted or rejected, didn't necessarily refer to the actual terms that were being presented to the leadership for consideration—unquestionably as a participant in the democracy of revolution one fully exercises one's franchise, but there is some question whether one always exercises it on the point that is actually at issue. As to humor, one must wonder if contemporary black revolution can conceivably be as humorless as contemporary white revolution—in the Marxist 30's it was, of course, marvelously funny, at least among literary intellectuals.

The humor or, more precisely, the wit in Mailer's Pentagon report is abundant and most attractively wicked, particularly in the scenes with his fellow writers. But it is Mailer's wit; no one with him in Washington seems to have made a contribution. His brilliantly caustic and entertaining portraits of his fellow notables introduce into contemporary literary practice something which has scarcely been its recent freedom: the right to treat one's political and intellectual acquaintances and friends as if they were live and breathing human beings, quirky, deficient, ostentatious, vain or redundant, deserving of one's malice no less than of one's comradeship, and not simply as if they were mere bundles of political rectitude or its failure, to be labelled and shipped off for the final moral weighing-in. His own ignorant army, however, was apparently as humorless as the army with which it clashed—this left a rather considerable hole at the center of the Pentagon adventure, which presently filled with ugliness.


It may of course be the balance that Mailer is able to hold between grimness and gaiety that accounts for his final hesitation before the revolution. At any rate, his book makes a curious ideological case for humor, tracing a connection between humor and obscenity, on the one hand, and politics on the other. “There was,” he writes of himself, “no villainy in obscenity for him, just—paradoxically, characteristically his love for America: he had first come to love America when he served in the U.S. Army, not the America of course of the flag, the patriotic unendurable fix of the television programs and the newspapers, no, long before he was ever aware of the institutional oleo of the most suffocating American ideas he had come to love what editorial writers were fond of calling the democratic principle with its faith in the common man. He found that principle and that man in the Army, but what none of the editorial writers ever mentioned was that that noble common man was obscene as an old goat, and his obscenity was what saved him. The sanity of said common man was in his humor, his humor was in his obscenity.” And he adds: “And his philosophy as well—a reductive philosophy which looked to restore the hard edge of proportion to the overblown values overhanging each military existence.” One wants to pause on that “unendurable fix” of television and the newspapers: surely Mailer must understand that the real corruption they work on the American spirit is not that of inspiring us to a suffocating patriotism but, rather, of leading us to, and fixing us in, false and vulgar personal and social values, to the point where even our acts of dissent, such as an illegal move on the Pentagon, are planned as a seduction of the “media.” Mailer himself admits, though only well on in his book and with a disarming sheepishness, that throughout his Washington weekend he had a special (British) TV crew at his side recording his every most pictorial possibility. But notwithstanding: No statement could be sounder than this of Mailer's or probably more accurate of the America Mailer got to know and love in the Army. But the armies of our present night (he would agree) represent a different America, on both sides of the Pentagon steps, and on Mailer's side the batallions produced not a single intended joke, not a single moment or slogan of natural American fun, of natural and native obscenity, certainly not of the kind that would have been bound, in the ideological revolution of an earlier decade, to have done the job of restoring the hard edge of proportion to one's own enterprise too—“Intellectuals of the world, unite, you have nothing to lose but your brains!” Mailer's obscenities may not have been prepared. But they were calculated. Similarly at Columbia the baptism in obscenity was calculated. This makes the obscenity phenomenologically different from the old-goat obscenities of Mailer's noble common man in the U.S. Army. The saving sanity of Mailer's report, in fact, is not its obscenity but, on the contrary, its complex (if not always reliable) intelligence. For the complex intelligence there is nothing saving about obscenity, unless perhaps as it is used to assert a bond with the non-complex intelligence—and this, obviously, is a motive less complex than it is sentimental. Reductive Mailer's or anyone's use of obscenity can be and is, this is sure. But used by educated people as a weapon in the cultural-political war, it can backfire and blow their own saving values instead of reducing the overblown values against which it is directed.


Manifestly, the rhetoric of the Columbia revolution was meant to deflate the University establishment. To call the President and the Vice-President, the Deans and the faculty of one's university motherfuckers is no doubt meant to restore the hard edge of proportion to the overblown values of the university authority, and of all established power. But obscenity and humor had not even a nodding acquaintance with each other at Columbia, except as an occasional much-beset professor looked to them in consort, but perhaps on too much impulse to mimicry, to save his sanity: the professor, for instance, who decided that the insurrectionary students were “Alma Materfuckers.” Obscenity did, however, make the necessary tie between cultural and political intention, even between artistic and political intention. And it brought in its wake a perceptible sentimentality—it too has its necessary place in a politics based in culture—such as one finds in Mailer's appeal to the rock-bottom Americanism he shares with his beloved GI's. Suddenly there was much talk at Columbia about “fathers”: how there weren't enough of the right kind of fathers on the campus, and how the fathers should have been where they were not. If one had been shaken by the internationally-publicized presumption of the undergraduate demonstrator who had been photographed sitting in the chair of the University's Top Authority, his feet on the desk of the Top Authority, smoking the Top Authority's cigar, one was even more to be startled when the same student, fresh out of jail a few short hours after the first police bust, grabbed an immediate phone to demand why one's writer-husband had not been present to protect the writer-student against the police. This was revolutionary score-keeping, make no mistake. Its tone couldn't have been nastier and it spoke of guillotines or their later historical manifestation, the concentration camp, the knock on the door in the night—indeed, the writer-professor's wife, who in her husband's absence had taken the brunt of the student's charge, was herself soon well up on the list of those who, come the tribunals of the young, would never be missed. But it was also—or so it sounded to one's third ear—the wail of a child coming out of tantrum, when, before he takes quieter, crueler stock of his new-found power, he touches home base, makes a sentimental ploy of the family sentiment.

Yet the analogy to temper tantrum is a dangerous one. It sets up vibrations from a world of easy psychological explanation of phenomena, both social and personal, which are not to be written off by quick accustomed reference to, say, the excessive permissiveness of our culture, or to the lack of sufficient parental supervision and discipline in the modern home, or to the too-great affluence of our society which is supposed to spoil our children. No more than we can properly explain Dr. Spock's illegal public action against the Vietnam war in terms of a permissiveness he has himself tried hard to keep in proper dimension in his lessons on child-rearing, or no more than one can sensibly interpret the uprisings in German universities as having been caused by the excessive permissiveness in German upbringings or in German schooling, can one seek recourse in these familiar easy explanations of the present-day nihilism of the American young. To its credit, the Columbia faculty did not take refuge in prepared psychological positions. It was the administration—and this was more than a deficiency of human insight, it was a failure of social understanding—that gave sign of regarding the sit-in and even the sudden new voicing of student complaint as if it were a tantrum, best handled by being ridden out with no show of parental affect. The administration failed, actually, to understand that even a tantrum, however undesirable as a mode of communication, is still a mode of communication—it says something, usually something we are not ready or pleased to hear, that must nevertheless be listened to.

As the chief parental figures in the campus situation, the Columbia administrators were indeed fathers in an anxiety dream—uncomprehending, unyielding, there but unreachable. To the obscene and fierce rhetoric of student power they opposed the gray grinding rhetoric of establishment power: power threatened, power now suddenly uncertain of itself, benevolently-intentioned power, but power nonetheless, most jealous for its preservation without interference from the citizens on whose behalf it is exercised. This scarcely makes for pride on the part of the constituency, and one could only be puzzled at how it had come about that these decent benevolent men, these conscientious hard-working heads of what had been truly a family, and a reasonably contented family at that, could all at once be revealed as so inadequate in speech, so remote from those they were meant to guide, so insensitive to the internal stresses to which even the most contented family can be liable, so poor in the imagination of our present-day tormented culture.


From the rhetoric of President Kirk and Vice-President Truman one might have thought that what was happening at Columbia was a wholly egregious instance of unrest and social rage, that the world inhabited by Columbia was only harmonious and balanced, and that the future course of the University, as set by themselves in decency and good purpose, was unavailable to question, like a contract binding on all men of honor. It is total error to ascribe “racism” to the Columbia administration: these are men of good if old-fashioned social principle, for whom the construction of a gymnasium to be shared by the University and Harlem was embarked on to put good social principle as they understood it into practice. It is total error to charge them with being the instrument of a war-making government: no one was forced or even “influenced” to participate in the research projects of the IDA, and the University's membership in the consortium was never allowed to interfere with the free expression of anti-war opinion on the campus. When Noam Chomsky, the distinguished professor of linguistics at M.I.T. and a passionate opponent of the Vietnam war (he was one of Mailer's “notables”), came to Columbia during the month of May to take part in one of the panels set up by faculty, he was booed for saying no less for the freedom of dissent permitted him by his own university, also a member of the IDA. The public meeting rooms of Columbia have always been open for anti-war rallies, and a recent day-long moratorium on classes in protest of the war was fully accepted by the administration; the administration has also backed the faculty in its refusal to give the class standings of their students to the Selective Service. Again, it is total and willful error to accuse the administration of wanting and inviting police brutality. The fact that the administration bypassed the faculty in calling the police indicates only its inanimate readiness to bypass the faculty, not any cruel intention toward the students; the faculty had itself accepted the idea that it might finally be necessary to take the step. The outrage perpetrated by the police on April 30 was evidence perhaps of administrative misjudgment or misinformation. It requires four policemen to remove a person who physically, even passively, resists removal; the administration believed, and had told the New York police, that there were only a few hundred students in the occupied halls when by that time there were more than 700. But the administration is not to be held accountable for the private rages of the men who enforce the law. It abhorred calling the police but, rightly or wrongly, thought it was unavoidable and that the faculty was only making matters worse by delaying the police confrontation that the demonstrators so intractably insisted on.

But neither President Kirk nor Vice-President Truman was present, physically and observably present, on the campus when the police went into action—and although Dr. Truman explained that the police had asked them not to appear, their absence perhaps suggests in greatest brevity their disconnection from the actual life of the campus. They were incapable of looking at, seeing, what really was happening at their university as in their present-day world. They had never perceived the need to set up any apparatus for discourse between students and administration. They seemed to be unaware of any difference between the students they had once addressed and the students a university administration must address today; any difference between the culture in which the University had once functioned so comfortably and our present tortured culture. It was not only that they were unable to speak persuasively to the revolutionaries—who could? yet the attempt is of course required, and required again and yet again of people who propose the life of reason, and perhaps had there been an overture of genuine respect and concern earlier in the day it would have made a difference, not with the SDS, of that one can be fairly certain, but at least with its less extreme followers. They were also unable to speak persuasively to the yet-uncommitted general student population or even to the “jocks,” the college athletes who, as part of the Majority Coalition (as it was called) of students opposed to the sit-in, constantly tried to take matters into their own hands, even threatening to break into the buildings and themselves remove the occupants if the University continued not to act. It was faculty and younger administration who circumvented this miserable prospect, much as they circumvented the potential crisis of Kenyatta's visit to the campus and of the march on Columbia of a group of high-school students who wished to widen a day of opposition to the war to embrace opposition to Columbia: the faculty invited these youngsters on to the campus and managed to make a (melancholy) picnic out of what had promised to be a freshly-disturbed scene. Strategies such as these are of course not readily accommodated in the traditional view of authority even when this traditional view is modified by benevolence.


Even in relation to the faculty, with whom the administration had lived on amicable terms, administration feeling was not trusting but defensive. This was a lamentable mistake, though understandable, I suppose; after all, if you are in authority yourself and fail to perceive the degree to which your culture is in conflict on the problem of authority, you are bound to believe that whoever lends an ear to the attack upon authority is attacking you personally. There was much unsuitable reference to faculty loyalty. The Vice-President went so far as to name, in a public interview, some of the professors he felt were sufficiently loyal. And faculty loyalty, which obviously includes the recognition that the unrewarding dull endlessly-detailed practical work of administering a vast institution has to be done by someone and thank heaven it isn't the professors, was in fact increasingly strained by the humiliating discovery—it required no effort to make it—that in the eyes of the administration it is not finally the students and their instructors who constitute the living core of the University but, apparently, the administration itself. Tireless WKCR disseminated administration statements as it disseminated the ceaseless pronouncements of revolution, of dissent, or of just plain confusion. It was not only on a single occasion that the faculty was to learn that for Vice-President Truman, himself only so recently a teaching colleague, the Columbia faculty had now suddenly become to all effect a paid convenience—the most shattering instance was when he was asked by the press what the administration would do if there were another sit-in and the Vice-President replied that he didn't know, perhaps they would have to call the police again or perhaps they would “use the faculty.” The faculty had never proposed to be “used.” Whether or not to good purpose, it had acted in conscience, in independence, in honor, on an initiative it felt it had the right to claim. The inference of the Vice-President's allusions to the faculty was not to be missed: it was not alone the expression of student will that the administration would wish to deny, it was also faculty will, all will except its own. It is not necessary to subscribe to the concept either of student power or faculty power to reject the concept of administrative power—there came the moment, the many moments, when even faculty thoroughly critical of the demonstration could say, “My God, the students are right.”

And as it had become only tedious to try to discriminate between the President and the Vice-President as the source of the views that emanated from administration, so it became futile to try to figure out when it was that these University officers spoke in their own persons and when they spoke for the Trustees. No sooner would the faculty make its wishes known on, say, the subject of University discipline or the subject of the gymnasium—obviously construction should be halted; simple common sense dictates that when your gift is not wholly acceptable to people you don't force it on them—and no sooner had it become convinced that now at last it had the administration's agreement, than an official counter-announcement would be made contradicting the announced new administrative position. Day to day the official “line” on the gymnasium shifted: now the gym would be halted, now the whole subject would be re-investigated, now construction was being only temporarily stopped. Similarly with the Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs, a committe of seven students, seven faculty, and three members of the administration, whose formation was the first solid gain in campus reform as a result of the uprising.


One would suppose that in our period when the young come at least to social and sexual if not to intellectual maturity so much faster than they once did, it would not take a great deal of argument to persuade an administration that university students cannot be treated like children answerable only to the grown-ups for their conduct. But there were statutory powers not to be so quickly yielded, there was insistence on the right of the President to ultimate word on campus discipline. No more than one knows whether any response of the President's was his alone, one has no way of knowing whether this represented a personal indisposition to relinquish parental authority, or whether in fact it followed on a directive of the Trustees taking refuge against change in the inviolability of the University charter. The role of the Trustees in the handling of the Columbia disturbance is a record yet to be fully divulged, but it is hard to believe that at the time of the uprising their understanding of present-day student feeling was any firmer than that of the administration. They were even more—indeed, much more—remote from actual feeling on the campus than the President, their minds occupied with the management and financing of the institution rather than with the emotions of its students. They had never met with faculty until the upset at the University forced faculty opinion on their notice; since the uprising, a committee of Trustees has frequently met with the Executive Committee of the Faculties, and the Trustees as a body give sign of learning—it must be a stringent education—that the world they govern is not necessarily ordered by the plan they think the right one. The arrogance of power that they first exhibited in the disturbances, however, will not soon be lived down on the campus. The folly of supposing, as some campus radicals seem to, that a great private institution need pay no respect to the money that builds and equips its buildings, pays its faculties, takes up the slack between student fees and the actual costs of education, is matched only by the folly of supposing that money still speaks in our society with the moral or even practical authority it once did. It was early in the revolution that a member of the Executive Committee of the Faculties undertook to instruct the Trustees of the University, these practical and powerful men of affairs, in the now long-available knowledge that just as the industrial revolution brought into being a conscious working class with “grievances” and “demands” and “interests,” so our cultural revolution has brought into being a new class, youth, with its special demands and interests. Only a short time has elapsed since this pilot lesson. But it already appears that the Columbia Trustees, who last spring at the height of the disorders could recommend a professional public-relations man, Sydney Baron, to fashion the language in which the head of Columbia would address his disturbed students and faculty, are no longer this disoriented. The new Acting President of the University steers a different course from President Kirk's, and so far with no sign of conflict with the Trustees.

But faculty, too, suffered its disorientation in the uprising, and of a subtler and profounder kind than that of Columbia's administration and Trustees. If in recent decades liberals and radicals have been able to coexist in sufficient harmony, the happenings at Columbia suddenly made it clear that this was no longer feasible: one had to locate political opinion of the Left within a quite new spectrum. As in most of our universities, the faculty at Columbia is generally liberal in its social and political sympathies. But the social and political message of the revolution was anti-liberal. The sit-in was anti-liberal in its lawlessness and in its refusal of reasonable process. It was anti-liberal in its scorn for the entire liberal good-will with which the largest part of the faculty tried to meet it. In fact, the demonstration was a demonstration against liberalism—more (if the two can be separated for purposes of comparison) than Mark Rudd's “bullshit” expressed a lack of personal respect for his teachers, it communicated the contempt of the revolution for any embodiment of liberal purpose, liberal hope and confidence such as the faculty predominately represents. This anti-liberalism of the rebellion not only carried the moderate students who came to its support rather further in political action than they perhaps realized; it also destroyed—it may be, only temporarily—the old friendly relation between liberalism and radicalism on the campus. Such common ground as they may have had in the past was now apparently to be permitted neither of them—in real effect what the revolution demanded was that one choose between a conservative, even retrograde, view and the view of the insurrectionary students. Some few faculty members might be prepared for the choice and even exult in its being forced on their liberal friends, but the great majority felt they were being deprived of a position for which they were offered no acceptable substitute and without which they had no bearings.


In the months that have passed since the Columbia outbreak, this campus dilemma has of course spread throughout the nation. It is the undertaking of the New Left to overthrow our society and in the process it means to destroy any common ground among Democrats, even left-wing Republicans, liberals, and radicals, and to push the population into an extreme polarization between reaction and revolution; and it has succeeded in its plans better than it could have dreamed it would before the Chicago convention. The extreme Left never really supported Senator McCarthy but it welcomed his presence as a divisive force in the Democratic ranks. If he seemed, temporarily, to be returning the disenchanted young to legal political participation and even to be uniting certain quasi-radical elements in the population with the liberals, the New Left understood that this could not last even under the best of circumstances, those of quiet defeat, and certainly not under the bad circumstances that they themselves had it in mind to create. In France, student disorders, while promising necessary academic reform and providing an impetus for a strike that won much-needed economic gain for the working class, had restored de Gaulle to power and frustrated hope for a more liberal regime. At Columbia, liberalism had suffered as much damage in the uprising as the institution itself. And before that, in Berkeley, when the New Left movement was still young, the campus disorders had brought about the election of Reagan as the Governor of California and the resignation of the liberal Chancellor of the University, Clark Kerr, a consummation in which the New Left had mightily rejoiced. Johnson would not have had to maneuver as triumphantly as he did to unman Humphrey, or Humphrey conspire as disastrously as he did in his own emasculation, for the New Left to know that, given enough disorder in Chicago, the Democratic party and, with it, the country would be presented to the world as offering the American people only a most extreme choice, between Nixon (or even Wallace) on the one hand and revolution on the other. Mayor Daley's contribution to the occasion, the violence with which he met the long-planned provocations of the New Left, was merely the devil's crown to an already-prepared achievement. After the hideous police action in Chicago, the liberal McCarthy, like the liberal Columbia faculty after the police bust of April 30, was properly outraged. But, also like the liberal faculty, he failed to hold two ideas in his mind simultaneously, or at any rate to announce two ideas simultaneously and with equal force—in his public statements, McCarthy condemned the shocking operation of Daley and the Chicago police, but he failed to condemn the New Left for deliberately designing an action that would provoke the use of police and invite excess. And by neglecting to perform this job of education that was mandatory for someone in his position—by, in effect, disavowing the party organization and its works but failing at the same time to disavow the revolution and its works—he, like the liberal faculty at Columbia, bowed in significant degree to the view of the New Left, that any liberalism which means to go forward with history, as opposed to a liberalism in thrall to the establishment, has no move to make except to dissolve into the arms of the revolution. Of course what other path a vigorous and on-going liberalism must take in our present situation, where the democratic establishment has so overtly shown its bankruptcy, is now far from easy to chart. But at least this much should be clear: If liberalism lacks the fortitude and intelligence to stand up to the New Left, if it deceives itself that the principles of liberalism betrayed by our present democratic establishment now depend for their preservation on support of the contemporary revolution, it will have a major responsibility for the triumph of reaction in this country. A simple dependable guide to liberal intelligence and fortitude is available, of course, in an examination of the morality of the revolution as this reveals itself in its actions and even in its rhetoric. Obviously the correction of the evils of contemporary society is no more to be found in lawlessness and licensed rage on the part of our radical population than in lawlessness and licensed rage on the Right.


It might have helped McCarthy, inspired as he was in his campaign chiefly by opposition to the war, to a clearer assessment of the Chicago demonstration if he had known how little part the Vietnam war played in the Columbia uprising. Of all problems now confronting America, surely the war is the one that brings liberal teachers most into conjunction with their dissenting students. Had opposition to the war been a major issue in the Columbia protest, the Columbia campus would have looked like Central Park on May Day. But the Vietnam war, whatever the share it undoubtedly has in creating present-day unrest in this country especially among the young, was as little a determining factor in the uprising at Columbia as in similar disorders in countries not involved in the war: France, Germany, Italy, Mexico. Naturally, Vietnam appeared in the oratory of the Columbia revolution. But only ritualistically, not as a major concern. Even the demand that Columbia sever its connection with the IDA was intended to emphasize the identification between university power and government power rather than the actuality of our Vietnam engagement. During the strike several participants in the panel discussions on the campus, Stuart Hampshire, Stephen Spender, Jean Floud, Noam Chomsky, made the point—it was received with some apathy by their audiences—that students today tend to confuse their university citizenship and their national citizenship. Because they are aware of the acute problems with which the nation deals wrongly or insufficiently, they involve themselves in action within their universities which conflicts with their interests as students and endangers their educational institutions. The speakers were at great pains, however, to explain that they were not urging the students to forsake all political activity, and they particularly stressed the entire appropriateness of student protest of the war. But the revolution obviously took a different position. It was as if the war were not real for them, or real merely as a subordinate charge in their indictment of the social authority. It was realer than this for a liberal faculty much worried lest suspensions of students might lead to their being drafted.

The readiest explanation of the disappearance of the war as a campus issue is, of course, that in the weeks just before the Columbia outbreak President Johnson had made his peace speech and the Paris peace talks had been initiated. Too, with Senators McCarthy and Kennedy in the field, the prospect for a peace candidate in the presidential elections was (for the moment) much improved. Yet, the draft continued, the war continued, Americans and Vietnamese still were dying in quantity. Students who would soon be graduating could have no confidence that they would be able to go on to graduate school. Something other than the hopeful turn in public affairs had to account for the relegation of the Vietnam issue to virtual obscurity—and this, one must reason, was the reluctance of the revolution to emphasize a cause it shared with liberalism and moderation; its refusal, that is, to join up with campus forces of the kind, the liberal kind, the pacifist kind, that in Washington swelled the ranks of protest but then backed away from actual assault on the Pentagon or settled for peaceful arrest. The small importance of the war in the University uprising was another, negative but most telling, way in which the revolution communicated its contempt for liberalism, adding to the already-sufficient store of guilt and insecurity that a liberal faculty brought to this occasion of trial. If even its opposition to the war failed to validate liberalism in the eyes of the Left, or in the eyes of the young, surely to be “merely” a liberal must be to be morally retrograde and retrograde to history.


The offense, personal, moral, intellectual, suffered by the Columbia faculty in the uprising was momentous. It is to be thought of only with pain. Pride dictates that insult of this degree be shunted off from consciousness, or at least not spoken of. If Columbia has pioneered the future of the universities of this country and there are to be other insurrectionary uprisings on our campuses, we can suppose that the loneliness consequent upon rejection by those one has well-loved will be somewhat dispelled for the University teacher, as it seems to be rapidly being dispelled, or at least alleviated, for the rejected parents of our time. Of course it was not only the Columbia faculty that had this hidden knowledge of insult. Everyone who was not of the revolutionary faction had offense to suffer, not teachers alone but the administration even more, and, one can guess, the non-revolutionary students: one of the lessons taught in the uprising, and one which bears on that old question of why “the center cannot hold” against anarchy, is the speed with which whatever makes its appeal to immediate and direct action attains emotional advantage over whatever is committed to the slower and more passive (as it would appear) process of reasonableness—how to activate decency and teach it to stop feeling deficient and humbled because of its low quotient of drama is patently one of the urgent problems of modern society. What makes the terrible near-endemic ache of contemporary parenthood, especially in our most enlightened homes where parental love and hope are so regularly and casually and, in most part, inexplicably flouted by children grown to a sudden harsh scornfulness of which their parents could have had no expectation, was now suddenly the experience of university professors who also could have had no expectation of such an unprecedented violation of natural feeling—does it not almost amount to a mutation in the species?—and who indeed had believed that they were perhaps the single remaining bridge between the dissident young and their elders. And what had built this bridge except liberalism? What had made the special tenderness of the teacher for the young except the teacher's commitment to social continuity, social improvement, all the vaults of imagination and feeling that define the liberal enterprise? There were emotional breakdowns among the faculty due to the disturbances, several car accidents attributed to exhaustion. It is a fair conjecture, I think, that had the administration behaved better, had it shown more sensitivity, if not to the radical position of the demonstrators, at least to the feelings of the student population in general and thus left the faculty with nothing to be angry at—nowhere to stand except at the administration's side, looking together at the deep and perhaps permanent chasm that had opened up between themselves and a generation in such newly-bitter revolt against them—had this occurred, the toll in health might have been considerably more severe.

But this is senior faculty I speak of. Junior facculty, non-tenure faculty, preceptors, readers, teaching assistants, research and laboratory assistants, are most of them still of an age to depart from their elders rather than be departed from, to reject rather than be rejected, to ask rather than give tenderness, to demand rather than share or cede power. Not that they had been demanding power at Columbia before the uprising and been refused their due share: the possibility of improvement in their status came to them only by student example and in the strangeness of the situation. There is irony in the failure of political forethought involved in the welcome of junior teaching staff into the shaky councils of the Ad Hoc Faculty Group during the sit-in. Anyone had a vote in these loosely-organized faculty meetings, anyone could tie a white handkerchief around his sleeve and join the faculty cordons at the occupied buildings: the younger, the sturdier. In this sudden heady alteration of status, the non-tenure staff decided that if it could assist in faculty emergency, it could demand full share in faculty decision—one form (but perhaps it is not to be generalized from) in which this particular “radicalization” proclaimed itself was in the unsmiling question put to a senior professor by a much-junior colleague: there being a scarcity of chairs at a meeting, must the junior rise for his senior? As I write, the junior staff is busily formulating its corporate right, equal with that of senior professors, in the shaping of departmental policy and in decisions on appointments and promotions in a university to whose future they bring only such sense of responsibility as they may have as individual persons.

And yet how are we to know—the question bears in on one with an always increasing weight—the proper character in which responsibility now announces itself, or should announce itself? How do we even know that we will recognize it when we see it, since it may show a wholly unfamiliar face? For many among the educated classes, the right aspect of responsibility has for long been a centrist moderation, a cautious mature deliberation in the implementing of social ideals; it has been difficult to envisage responsibility in any other way than this, which is the liberal way. But an inescapably more urgent sense of our public dilemmas and of the extreme inequities that are permitted to exist in what is called a liberal democracy makes it always less possible for us to be content with our habitual knowledge of what responsibility looks like. It becomes harder and harder, almost with each passing day, for liberalism itself to insist on the old description with which it was once satisfied, or to claim that it has been adequate to the tasks it undertook. We caution against capitulation to the revolution designed by the New Left, point to its violence and ruthlessness, warn whoever deceives himself into supposing that it represents a movement of progress that it has no program to which people committed to the reconstruction of democracy can pledge themselves, underscore its clearly-announced goal of destructiveness and the methods it employs to achieve this goal, methods that inevitably and with the revolution's full understanding and complicity give aid only to the forces of reaction and repression. But surely we can caution no less against the comfortable assumption that liberalism has only to shine up its old medals and resurrect its old rhetoric of responsibility to be equal to the actual responsibility that now devolves upon it. To deal only with campus problems: Would the useful changes now being instituted at Columbia, would even the change in administration, have been this quickly accomplished without the violent disruptions of the uprising? No one, I think, can honestly answer this in the affirmative. There wasn't that much quiet will for change. This gives substance, surely, to the claim that revolutionary action is required to improve our society; and here liberalism must take its share of blame for the disorders. By confusing quiet and reason with quietism, by buttressing legality with inertia and complacency, liberalism earns its present poor reputation on the campus. But it will suffer more than disrepute, destruction, if in admitting its deficiencies it either rests with these as its cozy guilt or, in its desire for revitalization, takes the revolution as its alternative.


And so through the month of May, in dissension and anxiety and confusion, with no resolution of these terrible conflicts of the modern world that had suddenly been brought to the campus, the University struggled to maintain at least a semblance of its accustomed life. Yet of course resolution of a kind, temporary, unreliable, uneasy, was approaching with the end of the term and graduation. Commencement was scheduled for June 4. There had been no regular classes in the College or even in some of the graduate schools since April 23—how were students to take examinations and be graded? This problem was resolved by the decision to call off final examinations and to give all students a grade of either Pass or Fail according to the work they had done before the disruptions; should a student desire a more precise grade he could arrange with his instructor for a private examination. Less encompassable was the problem of discipline, of suspensions. The newly-formed Joint Committee on Disciplinary Affairs had had little time to construct a body of law and begin functioning. It was May 9 before it could make known its new rules for student government: a first student offense was punishable by probation, a second by more severe penalties—suspension or expulsion. Whoever was charged with offense would be summoned to appear before the Dean of his School to learn the charge that had been made against him and the punishment that the Committee had assigned to it. If the charged student denied his guilt or even stood mute before his Dean, his Dean would bring the case (if he had enough evidence to support a case) before a tribunal of his School, composed, like the Joint Committee, of representatives from the student body, the faculty, and the administration. And from the decision of this tribunal the student might again appeal to the Joint Committee itself.

There were hundreds of summonses arising from the disturbances, they could not all go out at once. The first of them went (unstrategically) to the leaders of the insurrection and (sensibly) to the offenders in the senior class whose graduation depended on disciplinary clearance—it had been arranged that no offender would be denied graduation; if he answered his summons he would be put on probation or suspended only for the few days that remained to the term. But a great many of these students were also awaiting action against them in the police courts on charges arising from trespass and resistance to arrest. The demonstrators had their ready legal advisers—there was always plenty of legal assistance available to the students and money for bail. For the most part they refused their disciplinary summonses. Now all at once the Columbia air became thick with talk of due process, double jeopardy, indictments unsupported by legal evidence—none of the students with whom I happened to talk had troubled to read the body of law constructed by a Committee created on the students' own demand for participation in their governance—and this agitation would continue and increase throughout the summer, abate in fact only partially when the new Acting President would call on the District Attorney to dismiss the charges that arose out of simple trespass and when he would grant clemency to a good proportion of the demonstrators, those charged with only a single offense. The SDS, still led by the now-suspended Mark Rudd, would settle for no less than total amnesty.

Such was the heavily-laden atmosphere into which the University moved with its plans for Commencement. Usually, if the weather permits, graduation exercises are held on the steps and the plaza of Low Library. The administration decided that this year it would be unwise to have the ceremonies outdoors where they might be interfered with by the same people who had given the police all they could handle on the morning of May 22, when the second move had been made on Hamilton Hall in protest of the disciplinary actions stemming from the sit-in and had provoked another fierce confrontation with the police, with even greater brutality on the part both of the students and the police. Instead, they transferred the graduation ceremonies to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, four blocks away, where in the past they have been held only in case of rain.

Rumors at once began to fly through the neighborhood of new and extraordinary violences being planned by the SDS to disrupt the exercises in the Cathedral: tear gas, stink bombs, secret torments being prepared in secret basement laboratories. A group of campus militants, Students for a Restructured University, who had broken with the SDS leadership in the strike because they felt that the SDS was more concerned with off-campus than campus affairs, announced their boycott of Commencement in the Cathedral; they would hold their own counter-Commencement in front of Low Library, its traditional location. Various members of the faculty, speaking for general faculty sentiment, pleaded with the administration to call off the exercises altogether—the University was in disruption, why ask for further disruption, why not simply announce the uncelebrated end to a miserable year? But the administration refused; letters were by now pouring in from “loyal” alumni, demanding that the administration stand firm, and the administration reassured alumni that it would no longer yield to illegal pressure. However, Class Day, the most intimate ceremony of College graduation, was in fact given up when the Marshals of the senior class informed the Dean that they did not wish it to be held. And in recognition of the hostility directed to him as symbol of the hated authority, President Kirk yielded his traditional role as Commencement speaker to a member of the faculty, Professor Richard Hofstadter, the distinguished historian, whose acceptance of the assignment required, in the circumstances, a not inconsiderable courage.

One prayed for the rain one had always prayed against on other Commencements. The day was beautiful and full of promise. Or could it be threat? There was threat, surely, in the tight clusters of students one saw at various points of the campus that early afternoon, talking to each other all too earnestly, all too conspiratorially. And what except protection against threat could be implied by the big unfamiliar buses waiting on 114th Street at the entrance to Ferris Booth Hall and again on Morningside Drive at the entrance to the Faculty Club? The honored guests of the University, including those who were to receive honorary degrees, were lunching in Ferris Booth, their wives in the Faculty Club—the buses would transport them the few short sunny streets to the Cathedral. Everywhere there were police; the control-van that had been set up near the Amsterdam Avenue gates to the campus was well-staffed. A faculty wife had urged on her reluctant husband and his friends their own protection in the Cathedral: little pocket flasks of water in which to soak their handkerchiefs should tear gas be used. The offer was made as if in joke, but the situation was no more one of fun than of morbid fantasy: one doubts there were many of the faculty who marched into the Cathedral that afternoon who expected the exercises to go off without incident, even actual physical assault. I can suppose that most of them, like Mailer marching on the Pentagon, marched in fear—but here, of course, the danger was not of one's own contriving. They marched nevertheless, in what must have been larger number than ever before at Commencement. A university lived, badly weakened. They wished to be present at the ceremony of its continuing life. For this day differences of opinion about what should or should not have been done in the previous weeks must not be allowed to show, wounds must appear to be healed, rifts closed. If one had sufficient dissent from the living University, one stayed away or even went to the other Commencement—some few professors made this latter choice but they were not many, nor did anyone I know go out of his way to discover who they were. The division had dignity.


Mailer, too, sees life in ceremony. He contrives ceremony out of each existential moment of his experience, his art out of their sum. But much of the ambiguousness of The Armies of the Night stems from the strange compound of innocence and non-innocence he took with him to the ceremonies at the Pentagon, or at least brings to their report. There is innocence, one feels, in his love for America and much boldness in its statement. It is no longer easy to state one's love of country. But surely there is no innocence in his flamboyant invention—it makes a rousing little chapter in the book—of the “grandmother with the orange hair,” gone mad with lust and greed, who is made to represent an America gone mad with lust and greed, feeding dead Vietnamese babies into the slot machine of its imperial gamble. This is uncommonly-gifted radical propaganda, to be sure, but nevertheless it is too little complex for truth and therefore less than truth, a subversion—really—of truth. There is innocence in his love for the God of the Christian ethic, and its statement, too, takes courage, for it is also no longer easy to speak of one's imagination of God. But there is no innocence in suggesting a connection, in the life of spirit, between the Christian effort to improve the condition of man on earth and the hippie effort—Mailer describes it marvelously—to levitate the Pentagon, between Christ risen and the Pentagon raised. This is befuddling literary ecumenicism. And although there is innocence in Mailer's hope of rest and peace for mankind and an end to irrational violence, there is no innocence—how can there be in so conscious an intelligence as his?—in proposing this hope in circumstances where reasonableness is contemned and violence sanctioned. The same ambiguousness, or perhaps only defect in thought, of course exists in whoever, watching the disturbances at Columbia, could still propose that the insurrectionary undertaking was a good thing, necessary in order to shove our society toward greater reasonableness and peace.

I had no ticket to St. John the Divine, but as the Commencement procession began to form I stood for a moment at the University gate on Amsterdam Avenue, listening for sounds of assault upon the march. Just so, six weeks earlier, I had listened for the sound of Harlem rushing upon our white island. Then I moved homeward across the campus, pausing briefly at the counter-Commencement gathering at the feet of the statue of Alma Mater on the steps of Low Library. Here the crowd was not large, smaller than I had foreseen. And it was entirely pacific, unduly quiet, in fact; not depressed exactly, or sober, but dispirited. The students looked lost or deprived, as if left over from a festivity which, even at its height, had been disappointing. But this festivity had not yet begun; perhaps later it would be livelier. I tried to see the notables of this occasion of protest—the counter-speakers were to be Dwight Macdonald, critic; Dr. Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst; and Harold Taylor, former president of Sarah Lawrence. I especially wanted to see Macdonald, if possible exchange a friendly word, because we had had an unhappy correspondence and phone conversation as a result of his appeal for funds for the SDS. He was not in sight—later I was to hear that he, like Chomsky at one of the panel discussions, had been booed for certain portions of his speech: perhaps he had introduced modification of, or raised questions about, the SDS position and thus breached the solidarity that the revolution demands of its sympathizers. I decided to go home to my good old standby, WKCR.

But my radio knew the time of day better than I did; it had done its full stint and would be pushed no further. I could coax no sound from it.

Too restless to stay indoors, I walked to the Riverside Church where the overflow from the Cathedral was to assemble. I don't know what I had supposed would constitute an overflow from St. John the Divine, but certainly I was not prepared for a big church filled, every seat taken in row after sober row—here indeed were the faces of sobriety and even pain, the faces of mothers and fathers separated (by what distance? only the distance of a half dozen city blocks?) from their graduating young, having their parental epiphany, the ceremony of their accomplished motherhood and fatherhood, by closed-circuit radio. The loudspeaker was very clear, at moments it ebbed in volume, then again swelled, but it was never loud or brash: it was as if the mechanics of the occasion were sensible of moderation, gravity. I stood at the back of the nave and heard report of the last of the faculty and student procession into St. John the Divine—what a long line it must have been and with what measured pace it must have moved! Then there was the invocation. The presentation of degrees. The speech of Richard Hofstadter. He spoke with a luminous simplicity of the meaning and purpose of a university and of how change must come to it by means which would preserve, not destroy, the good it stood for in our world—it might be that the good the university stood for was the best we knew in our faulty world. And these parents who listened to him without seeing him, these mothers in their nicest summer dresses, these fathers who had taken off the day so that they might see their children in this moment of fulfillment (had it been awkward for them at their work, had there been laughter as they explained that they must be free to see their sons graduate from Columbia?—what Columbia?) listened to his speech as one must doubt they had ever before listened in a church. The pulpit was empty, the ceremony was an achievement of technology in our despised technological society, but education was addressing the congregation. And education is still sacred for most of us; for where else in this modern universe of ours, unless to education, are we to look for our continuing civilization, where else do we issue our passports to knowledge and enlightenment? Nothing interrupted the speech these parents wanted to hear, had to hear. When I learned, later, that just before the Commencement address some of the graduating students and a dozen or more of the faculty had risen in their places and walked out of St. John the Divine, away from their “illegitimate” ceremonies (if that is how you see it), I was surprised. From the broadcast in the Riverside Church, one knew of no disturbance of even a token kind; there had been only silence and the calm voice of reason. The emotions of the long spring weeks finally overcame me. I am afraid I began to cry.


It was a very few hours later that Senator Robert Kennedy was shot. Two assassinations framed the Columbia disturbances. Two acts of personal violence against public men bracketed the violent act against a university: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the assassination of Senator Kennedy. There had been a memorial service for Dr. King in St. Paul's Chapel, the University chapel at Columbia. The services had been interrupted by a group of SDS students who rushed the pulpit and seized the microphone from the University Chaplain. They said that Columbia had no right to memorialize the civil-rights leader, that it was hypocrisy for a racist institution to hold such services. Chaplain Cannon had condoned the SDS action with the explanation that anyone was free to speak in his church who spoke in the spirit of truth. But the spirit of truth, or something akin to it, something that bears upon a vision of the way life ought to be, of course always actuates extreme forms of political behavior and often even imputes to them some terrible impulse of the heroic. No doubt the assassins of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy acted out of a sense of isolate dedication to what, in their tortured minds, they took to be the right true way of life.

From the newspapers we learn that among the many who mourned the death of Robert Kennedy—whether as personal friend or public admirer, we are not told—was Tom Hayden, a revolutionary intellectual who helped found the SDS a decade ago. Though neither a student nor teacher at Columbia, Hayden had an important role in the Columbia revolution. One of the buildings seized in the uprising was Mathematics Hall—it was not the first of the buildings to be held but it was the one held with perhaps the greatest panache. It was to the red and black flags of liberation that flew from Mathematics Hall—it backs on Broadway—that passing sympathizers of the revolution, passing motorists, offered their salute. From its windows a basket was lowered for contributions of money and food for the demonstrators, and through its windows distinguished visitors, including some of Mailer's “notables,” also were lifted into the revolutionary future. Hayden was the Chairman of Mathematics Hall, the leader of the non-stop discussions that kept its occupiers occupied and that outside visitors to the building took to be proof that an entire and reliable democracy was being practiced in the uprising. He was important in planning the strategies that were presented to the demonstrators for their ratification—since there was constant communication among the various leaders in the various buildings, one can suppose that his influence extended well beyond his single “commune,” as each building was called, and that probably far more than the undergraduate Mark Rudd, who has been so much advertised and glamorized by the “media,” he is to be credited with the fierceness and intransigence of the rebellion. Some weeks after the Chicago demonstrations, where he was similarly a leader, I saw Hayden in a television interview. His dedication is implicit in his appearance—were one not to know his profession one would still know that whatever he did he did with an extreme intensity. There is great nervousness in his face and body, but it is nervousness under practiced control, almost to the point of rigidity: he occupies a chair, he doesn't rest in it; he allows himself no freedom or forgetfulness within his lean frame; his head and neck are joined with his body as if by visible cords. The face is long, thin, narrowed-eyed, tight-lipped, with little flexibility—here is someone who has gone beyond the need for ordinary human, ordinary social responsiveness; there is no charm, only intention and discipline and an overcast of hard dreariness.

The newspapers reported that late at night when Robert Kennedy's body lay in state in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Hayden came to the Cathedral to mourn. The Cathedral was dark, empty except for the guard around the coffin. Holding in his hand the field cap which reputedly was given him by Castro, Hayden sat alone in the shadows, weeping, until someone who saw him invited him to stand a watch at the coffin, which he did, probably glad of the invitation—in moments of grief, it is helpful to be part of a ceremony. The question this newspaper report raised in my mind—and it refuses to be answered—was: How can the strong emotion which brought Hayden to St. Patrick's in the middle of the night to mourn for Robert Kennedy so totally divorce itself from the ideas which govern the SDS and Hayden as one of its chief leaders? After all, everything that Hayden most significantly lives and works for is directed to the destruction of everything that Kennedy most significantly lived and worked for. One can indeed love one's political enemy, and not only in the way dictated by Christianity but personally. But to the degree that one weeps for him alone in the night? And when the political difference is so nearly absolute? It can be put simply: Kennedy believed in the possibility of our society and Hayden believes that our society must be destroyed. These are antithetical principles. Do they not generate antithetical emotions, or at least require some distancing in personal feeling?


I speak of the ambiguousness of Mailer's Pentagon story, in particular of the ambiguousness which resides in supposing that a higher reasonableness will be reached by acts of unreason, a more reliable condition for peace by acts of violence. But perhaps more than we can readily recognize, Mailer's ambiguousness is also the ambiguousness of our apparently most single-minded insurrectionary students and their leaders, of all our intellectuals and all our enlightened people who welcome the student revolution; the ambiguousness, in fact, of our moral and intellectual times.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link