Wer nicht die Welt in seinen Freunden sieht
Verdient nicht, dass die Welt von ihm erfahre

Torquato Tasso—GOETHE

Who was Caffi?

A man of ideas, admired during his lifetime in Paris, in Leningrad, in Rome, and in Berlin, but always by a circle of friends. And now some of his texts—they are quite extraordinary—brought together under the title A Critique of Violence,1 have been made available to a much larger circle, to people who, if they did not happen to know him, may happen to like ideas. I must add that Caffi’s ideas are of the utmost pertinence, so the Critique should find readers. And I hope no reader is going to be put off by occasional blemishes, many of which are due, I can attest, to faulty translation.

Caffi’s style, as I knew it in the original, was supple in statement, clear, though nuanced. In fact, I recall his saying to me once that any statement without nuance was very likely to be false. One could, of course, say “two times two makes four,” but to say this would be, as Dostoevsky noted, uncharming. Could one, though, without nuance, state some complexity truly? Caffi thought not.

Complex things are said by Caffi again and again in his texts; but now the nuance, without which he thought one could hardly say them, is gone. Reading over again, in A Critique of Violence, passages I first read in his own hand in letters to Nicola Chiaromonte, I was struck by the crudeness and heaviness of a prose which in the original, I must insist, was deft, light, and often deadly. Poor Caffi! Confronted with the present translation (it is by Raymond Rosenthal) I can imagine him protesting: “I don’t mind going into English, not even into American English, but why can’t I bring my rapier?”

It was left out of this collection of his papers along with the raffishness and old-world charm which were such important aspects of his style. But I should point out here that Caffi, who could write an excellent prose when he wanted to, hardly ever wrote anything for publication. Most of the pieces which appear in A Critique of Violence were culled by Nicola Chiaromonte from personal letters sent to him by Caffi during the 1940’s. So these texts do not express the ambition of a writer to be made much of or remembered for, forceful thinking or brilliant style; rather, they represent the effort of one individual to stimulate another, to make his knowledge available—and always to someone in particular.

Caffi had style, yes, but not in the sense that he was able to make himself “irresistible” to a public he did not know—Valéry has said that an inventor in the spiritual order must make himself “irresistible.” However, Caffi’s more modest concern was simply not to disappoint the expectation of insight present in those friends to whom he chose to write. Should these pieces then be offered to a public composed of persons with whom Caffi was not intimate? I recall a luncheon in Paris for the Italian poet, Ungaretti, at which Caffi announced: “Abel has a fantastic idea. He thinks that I can write. . . .” Now was this such a fantastic idea? Caffi had even told me of a novel he had written. A poor novel, he said, and he had destroyed it. (Trotsky, I have been informed by Jean van Heijenoort, also wrote a novel; also poor, it too was destroyed.) Moreover, Caffi admitted to having written a play, a “Racinian tragedy” in Alexandrines, of which all he could remember was one line, which, translated, would run, “For that experiment one had to have a cat,” and will hardly recall to anyone the verses of Racine. But, in any case, these secret writings of Caffi’s do indicate some will to contact and enter into communication with persons not yet known to him. So if Caffi was perhaps not a “writer” in the normal meaning of that term, yet to some degree, I think, he wanted to be a writer in that sense, too. And I recall a letter of his to Nicola Chiaromonte during the late 40’s in which he indicated that he hoped to bring his notes on mythology together in a volume not unworthy to be set beside Marx’s Capital, Proudhon’s Justice, and Simmel’s great book on money. (It is to be noted that Caffi did not place Capital above Proudhon’s masterpiece or Simmel’s.) In any case, of the projected work on mythology, only some notes, a few of which have been published in A Critique of Violence, remain, and if there is to be any work on mythology comparable in scope or achievement with the great texts cited by Caffi in his letter, it will no doubt have to be the structural analysis of myth now being brought off with such learning and intelligence by the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss.

I must note here, though, that even from the few fragments on mythology by Caffi that we have, it is evident that what he projected about myth would have been very different from what Lévi-Strauss has achieved—in fact, it would have been the very opposite kind of study. For one thing, Lévi-Strauss follows the path broken by Rousseau, whom he calls in Tristes Tropiques his “master” and “brother,” telling us that Jean-Jacques “. . . of all the philosophes comes closest to being an anthropologist” and that “every page of this book [Tristes Tropiques] could have been dedicated to him, had the object thus proffered not been unworthy of his great memory!”



Caffi, for his part, followed Voltaire. Unlike Lévi-Strauss, and his “master” Rousseau, both interested in origins—the origin of society, the origin of equality, the origin of culture—Caffi would only talk lightly and laughingly about origins, as Voltaire did about the origin of religion, deriving it from the meeting of the earliest scoundrel with the very first fool. Myths were important for Caffi because he found the great questions of philosophy unsolved, and thought they would remain so. For Lévi-Strauss, on the other hand, a proper structuralist elucidation of mythology points to a final answer to the questions of philosophy, and to the fact that this answer will be a materialist one. He suggests in The Raw and the Cooked that it might be very desirable to show that “. . . when the mind is left to commune with itself . . . it shows itself to have the nature of a thing among things.” He has also said: “I would not be dismayed if it were demonstrated to me that structuralism must lead to the restoration of a vulgar materialism.” And undismayed by this prospect, Lévi-Strauss often goes out of his way—even when the references are forced and inappropriate—to speak approvingly not just of the political economy or of the sociology but of the “philosophy” of Marx.

No doubt this is why, as Edmund Leach sees it, “Lévi-Strauss persistently maintains . . . he is a Marxist. . . .,” also “. . . a Marxist materialist.”2 But what are we to make of the following passage from Tristes Tropiques on man in the Neolithic period? “In that myth-minded age Man was no more free than he is today; but it was his humaneness alone which kept him enslaved. As he had only a very restricted control over Nature, he was protected, and to a certain degree emancipated, by the protective cushion of his dreams.” So this is what Lévi-Strauss thinks of man in the far past; but what can he suppose Marx would have thought of man of that time, Marx so unequivocal in his rejection of any kind of myth-making? And specially severe with regard to myth is the Marx of the much-admired Eighteenth Brumaire. Yet for this particular work of Marx’s, Lévi-Strauss tells us his excitement has “never cooled.” “Rarely,” he writes, “do I tackle a problem in sociology or ethnology without having first set my mind in motion by a reperusal of a page or two from the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Buonaparte.” Now does Lévi-Strauss really want us to believe that to set his mind in motion for writing one of his celebrated defenses of myth-mindedness and dreaming, he dips into one of the most uncompromising attacks on myth-mindedness and dreaming ever to have been set down? The proletarian revolution for the Marx of the Eighteenth Brumaire would be better than the bourgeois revolution insofar as it would be freer of illusion, freer of myth. In his pamphlet Marx wrote: “The bourgeois revolution was more word than deed. The proletarian revolution will be more deed than word.”

Caffi, as interested as Lévi-Strauss in the Eighteenth Brumaire, sums up its meaning thus: “For Marx, the proletariat is all the closer to redemption when it has nothing to lose but its chains, and among these chains he gives first place to the residues of mythological creation which he terms ‘alienations’: we must annihilate once and for all these dreams and chimeras which still impede total revolt; then, and only then, a new humanity naked of myth [italics added], and guided by reason alone, will build a new society, in which life will be governed by the consciousness of reality, the whole of reality, and nothing but reality.”

Can it be that Lévi-Strauss felt justified in ignoring the plain sense of Marx’s pamphlet while approving the form or structure of Marx’s thought? This may indeed be the case, for the anthropologist has taken a similar line on the topic of the Siberian peoples, who believe that the touch of a woodpecker’s beak can cure toothache. Lévi-Strauss approves that belief, though not on the grounds that it is of practical effect. He writes: “The real question is not whether the touch of a woodpecker’s beak does in fact cure toothache. It is rather whether there is a point of view from which a woodpecker’s beak and a man’s tooth can be seen as ‘going together’ (the use of this congruity for therapeutic purposes being only one of its possible uses). . . .” Perhaps the anthropologist believes there is a point of view from which myth and the attack on myth can be seen as “going together,” but this was certainly not Marx’s belief; and Marx, in separating his attack on myth from myth, had precisely therapeutic purposes in mind, as no doubt did the Siberian peoples in connecting teeth with the woodpecker’s beak—or so it would seem, anyway, to a layman.3

Caffi opposed Marx’s vision of mythology demolished, though admitting it to have an “apocalyptic grandeur.” As for Lévi-Strauss, in judging myth, as he freely concedes, he ignores its content, just as he ignores the content of Marx’s pamphlet. He writes: “The truth of myth does not consist in a privileged content. It consists in logical relations deprived of content. . . .” Now I do not here propose to dispute with the celebrated anthropologist on the truth of myth, and I do not want to suggest, as I have already indicated, that Caffi’s notes on mythology, even taken with other papers of his which may turn up, may be said to equal in any respect the work of analysis Lévi-Strauss has already given us. I do want to say, though, that the attitude of Caffi toward myth was a very different one from Lévi-Strauss’s, and to my mind a very much wiser one. We already have Lévi-Strauss’s The Savage Mind. Had Caffi completed his work on mythology he might well have entitled it The Civilized Mind. For if Caffi did not believe that science is a myth, he did not believe either that such civilization as science makes possible requires the destruction of myth. He argued, in fact, that civilization, requiring science, also requires myth, and suggested, too, that barbarism may be defined as a “poverty of mythological life.” Moreover, he thought that the very special and “. . . conscientious modern barbarism, that durch Wissenschaft bösartig geworden [becoming wicked through science] of which Heine spoke . . .” is characterized “. . . by the will to reduce mythology (that activity which among all others is most free) to a surrogate destined for abject uses.” Thus Caffi felt free to criticize any period of civilization which failed to encourage or which destroyed the growth of mythology. And he does not conceal his animus in this regard against the anti-mythological bent of scholasticism. But Lévi-Strauss, looking at scholasticism through Lévi-Straussian spectacles, to be sure, might very well see it as still another myth—that is, as a myth of anti-mythology.

Caffi could be, and was, the moralist of certain high points of civilization, whereas Lévi-Strauss, as a moralist favoring the primitives, has to be critical of civilization taken as a whole.4 Yet even here Lévi-Strauss is unable to free himself from a certain ambiguity. If he prefers the primitives to us in certain respects, he also prefers the most scientific terms for expressing this preference, and these belong to us and not to them. Caffi, I repeat, could be unambiguously in favor of civilized life, whose real model, as he understood it, permits a good deal of myth-making. To be sure, Lévi-Strauss has indicated that he hopes to show how the structure of our most recent science tallies with the structure of the very earliest myths. But what will he have accomplished in demonstrating this? He will not have overcome the ambiguity of his attitude toward the civilized and the primitive—“the raw and the cooked”—he will merely, I think, have consecrated that very ambiguity with still another feat of mind.




In his fine introduction to A Critique of Violence Nicola Chiaromonte has not failed to mention Caffi’s political activity as a socialist, anti-fascist, and anti-totalitarian, including the facts, cited by Caffi himself, of his experience in a Soviet jail. Socialist activity formed an important part of Caffi’s life and must be taken into account in any understanding of his ideas. For my own part, I would have wished the story of his life to have been given in somewhat greater detail, but in any case, from those facts about Caffi which Chiaromonte thought most important, and other facts about Caffi which I know at first-hand, it is clear to me that in Caffi one is confronted with an individual life led in such a way as to make possible a particular kind of thought. For in the intransigence of this “rebel” there was not merely the expression of a moral criticism of the established order, and of the desire for a more just, a better society, there was also a realization of the transcendental worth, or value to radical reflection, of a politically valid life.

Marxism offers a guarantee of superior insight into society and politics by those who adopt its methods and principles; Caffi thought any such guarantee of superior insight laughable, even absurd. He did think, though, that one could limit moral error in the judgment of things political and social; intellectual error was, of course, always possible. And Marxism, which proposed to make intellectual error less likely, often tended to blind one to the important part good moral judgment plays, and has to play, in political and social matters. Thus, for instance, one could be a Marxist and go over to the counterrevolution as did Parvus, who set forth the theory of permanent revolution and then, during the First World War, went over to the side of Germany and worked for the German High Command.

The development of science has of course tended to promote the view that moral probity is inessential to scientific judgment; and who is going to deny the fact that our contemporary doctors, not much better morally perhaps than those of Molière’s time, are of considerably more value to their patients? Now Caffi was particularly suspicious of political, social, and historical theories which propose to supplant or make unnecessary the individual’s moral judgment. Does Marxism offer to eliminate intellectual error? On the other hand, it seems to induce, if not to require, an initial error of judgment on the part of those who adopt it, that initial error being a wrong judgment of Marxism itself. And I am not speaking merely of the misjudgment of Marxism which was imposed on supporters of Marxism in Stalinist circles. Even among the Fourth Internationalists who followed Trotsky, one was at a political disadvantage if one was critical of what was known as dialectics, that peculiar mixture of epistemology and cosmology developed by Engels, and about which even Lévi-Strauss has recently gone out of his way to speak with a certain respect. But if we turn to “Marxists” noted—at one time or another—for their intellectual work rather than for their politics, we again see an erroneous judgment of Marxism itself as the price of that deliverance from error of which the doctrine is supposed to be the guarantee. For Louis Althusser, for instance, what is important about Marx’s thought is not so much tied up with Marx’s special judgments of European society and economy of the 19th century, as with the “scientific” methodology he is supposed to have originated, a methodology which, as it turns out, Althusser has derived as much from his reading of Bachelard and of Lévi-Strauss—and of Michel Foucault, too, according to Raymond Aron5—as of Marx himself.

This is not so dissimilar from—and, I think, less good doctrine than—the view advanced by Sidney Hook almost forty years ago in his Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx, in which he claimed a scientific character for Marx’s methodology in economics and sociology, and on the ground that it was the very methodology advocated by Dewey’s instrumentalism for any and all disciplines that wanted to be called “scientific.” If Dewey’s notions about what makes a given discipline deserving of being called “scientific” seem more profound to us than do those of Bachelard, Lévi-Strauss, or Louis Althusser, they can hardly be as convincing today as when Dewey first advanced them, for we have become aware that scientists themselves are in violent disagreement about the nature of scientific method, a good many of them denying that there is such a thing.

As for Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Critique de la Raison Dialectique, he declares: “I consider Marxism to be the ultimate philosophy of our age. . . .” One may ask here, though, what Sartre means by a “philosophy.” Does he mean a cosmology? I think he has indicated that he does not. An epistemology, perhaps? But would it not seem odd to say of the epistemology one supports that it is “the ultimate” epistemology “. . . of our age”? One speaks as an ideologist in making this kind of statement. Which tells us that when Sartre calls Marxism “the ultimate philosophy of our age,” he must mean by philosophy not a mixture of cosmology and epistemology, to be sure, but a mixture of ideology and epistemology. But if it is odd to call an epistemology “ultimate,” would it not be even more odd to say that of a mixture of epistemology and ideology?



It is to be noted that the notions of these three “Marxists” on Marxist philosophy are to be explained, in part at least, by purely political considerations. Now Caffi, who recognized no political obligation to say anything about Marx he did not think was true, says flatly in the two pieces in which Marxism is considered in A Critique of Violence, that Marx was neither an epistemologist nor a cosmologist. He writes: “It is absurd to look in Marx’s work for a ‘system’ or even a group of rules that could guide us in the elaboration of ‘every possible science.’ There does not exist a Marxist theory of knowledge just as there is not a dialectical materialist cosmology. Marx and Engels had the right to call ‘scientific’ their special inquiries into the actual state of affairs of society in the middle of the 19th century, and also their more general considerations insofar as they documented and reasoned about them in accordance with the norms universally adopted by the men of science of their time; but . . . they were unaware of the fact that every ‘scientific’ truth is provisional, indefinitely rectifiable, and also capable of being overturned.” He adds that “. . . for everything that concerns the history of the Industrial Revolution, the class struggle in France and England in the 19th century, Marx’s work has the value of enduring knowledge.”

As against Jean-Paul Sartre’s judgment that Marxism is the “ultimate philosophy” of our age, Caffi asserts that “. . . one can only assign Marx a rather honorable but minor position (between a Hobbes or a Feuerbach?) among philosophers.” But that Caffi did not lack appreciation for Marx’s power and vitality of thought is evident from the following judgment:

This capacity of Marx to bring out facts—masses of facts—and grip them in the vise of penetrating judgments exerted an irresistible power on the best minds between 1890 and 1900, when one found in so many other thinkers, historians, and scientists in every field only diluted analyses and the shapeless generalizations of specialists or eclectics. Perhaps one will end by identifying the mentality of an epoch (that of the two or three decades which followed 1848) decisively refractory to metaphysical constructions by a “philosophy” scornful of systems and pure ideas, enthusiastic about facts in their harsh complexity, in which Marx could stand beside Darwin and Claude Bernard on the one hand and Flaubert, Ibsen, and Tolstoy on the other.

So far I have merely indicated that Caffi in his judgments of Marx and Marxism did not fall into the characteristic errors suggested by these topics. But now I want to point out a deeper judgment of Marxism by Caffi, and a judgment he could hardly have made without consulting his political life. I quote from “Concerning Marx and Marxism”:

An essential point remains to be examined, that is, the claim, advanced by Marx with much more absoluteness than by the philosophes of the 18th century, to have brought about the junction between science and utilitarian action: i.e. the idea of a strict application of scientific methods to industrial production as well as to the organization of society and the direction of moral life.

That there exists a techne for the governing of men is certain: it is an art-science like medicine, pedagogy, the art of war, etc. But can one conceive that there exists a techne of social transformations, class struggle, revolutions, “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”?

In Short, one can certainly “scientifically” manipulate the masses. But is it thinkable that, by doing so, one shapes and regulates the “human condition”? To pose this question means to raise the question of justice, and of that which, through this word, can be glimpsed and understood.




Perhaps even more important, though, than Caffi’s judgments of Marx and of Marxism, is his judgment of violence, and of the declared readiness to use it for socially good ends. His consideration of violence, in the essay from which the whole group of his papers takes its title, is not just the expression of some further opinion on this matter, but a decisive act of thought. Caffi’s is probably the most powerful argument against the use of violence ever presented, and makes all that has been written in recent years about violence by even such people as A. J. Muste and Paul Goodman seem unsophisticated, when not downright foolish. And evidently Caffi’s thought on this subject would have not been possible if in his own life he had pursued violent ends or if he had been particularly concerned to protect himself against the violence of others.

But, as a matter of fact, Caffi’s criticism of violence is not fundamentally a moral one. He does not think it wrong to fight, and he certainly does not support or argue for pusillanimous flight when facing an evil enemy. What he says, rather, is this: There have always been people ready to use force, and there have always been people ready to criticize the use of it. Is there any reason why at the present time (his essay was written in 1945, just after the close of the Second World War) those who want to criticize the use of force should go over to any of the contemporary groups who are relying on it? Moreover, he brings out something else which is often omitted from the consideration of those who try to justify force in terms of a single deed (as an act of self-defense or in protection of someone else); Caffi points out that when people talk about force as justified they must mean the continued use of force, and not its employment on a single and exceptionally dramatic occasion. And Caffi asks: Is there any reason why the critic of the use of force should share his criticism of it with any of the present-day groups utilizing it? This question, of course, takes on concrete meaning if we relate it to the original claims of the Russian Bolsheviks. For it was they who asked the critics of force to yield up to them, the Bolsheviks, all criticism of all other users of it. Thus Lenin and Trotsky, with the armed forces of Russia, the Red Army, and the secret police at their command, were not only to use force themselves, but also to be the only true or proper critics of its use. They, not their victims, among whom there were not a few socialists and anarchists. Now Caffi was far from thinking that this was a piece of illogic on the part of the Bolshevik leaders. If they were going to direct the masses in a “final conflict,” after which with the worldwide victory of the proletariat, force, or at least the massive application of force, would no longer be required, then were they not right to say that they, the users of force, were the real critics of its use, and that the pacifists, anarchists, and socialists were in fact an encumbrance to the proper criticism of force, as indeed to the proper criticism of many other things?

The Bolsheviks were mistaken on only one point, unhappily a decisive one. The conflict in which they tried to lead humanity was by no means the final conflict called for in the “Internationale.” We cannot think today that force will be used once and finally and never be called upon again. We must think of the historical future as a long and complicated labyrinth in which there will be many combats and not just a single decisive bout with one single monster. Force, then, may on occasion be used wisely; but we will know after and not before its use, and certainly no one has the right to assert that he or his group represents a valid synthesis of both force and its criticism.

Let us be very clear about this point. The claim to use force seldom relinquishes the claim to be the proper critic of all others using it. But is it not the case that at least one of the credentials persons may show for criticizing the use of force by others is that they have thus far not used force themselves? This credential cannot be conceded, for example, to the leaders of the Black Panthers, who demand weapons for their organization and insist on the right of their members to use these, at the same time that they abusively attack the police, whose violence they describe as being directed essentially against them. Now, to be sure, there is a special problem about the Panthers, insofar as they represent a distinct ethnic group which may well claim not to be genuinely represented by the local police agencies and which in fact may be victimized by such agencies. All this, however, has little bearing on the question I am considering here. The Black Panthers have won support from many people because they are thought of as weak and exposed to the violence and prejudice of local constabularies. But the Panthers, in their turn, present themselves not as weak, or at least as hoping not to remain weak. They insist that they are—or will become—strong, and that they have the right to use strength, not just weakness, violently. They are by no means hesitant in their expression of prejudice, and in addition to all this, they insist on retaining the right to criticize the violence of other groups, notably the local police agencies.

From Caffi’s point of view, no group can be trusted to hold in its hand the instruments of violence together with the right to determine when and how they can be used, and at the same time be regarded as the best judge of the use of force. Here Caffi’s view, largely historical, is based on the political fate of Jacobinism in France and Bolshevism in Russia. I must admit that when I first read his piece on violence more than twenty years ago in Politics I was not convinced by it. The essay is far more convincing today. But I should like to point out that the position for rejecting the use of force is, even without Caffi’s subtle argument, much more persuasive today than it was twenty years ago. If we are to look forward to a long period of many struggles, with no final denouement in sight, is there not a strong case for the critics of violence never to invalidate their criticism of it by making themselves responsible for its use, and for denying to any group which is willing to use violent methods the same authority to criticize violence possessed by those who have rejected it?




Caffi’s notion of the “revolutionary,” whom he counterposes to the mystic, is a very surprising one, and may not immediately gain one’s assent:

I do not consider it absurd to counterpose to the mystic, as his equal in the effort to conquer a full measure of humanity, the authentic revolutionary. I will add that, for me, real revolutionaries are not only a Proudhon and a Bakunin, but also a Voltaire, a Herzen, a Tolstoy. By revolutionary I mean a man who has (1) an irresistible passion for arousing and setting in motion the men who meet him; (2) an active, pulsating sympathy for all those who suffer, are victims of injustice, have need of a help that is not only that of words. The fanatics of the revolutionary “idea,” that is, or some abstract scheme, such as Blanqui or Lenin, have the same relationship to the true revolutionary as the rigorous discipline of the Jesuits when compared to the mysticism of Dionysius the Areopagite.6

What is surprising in Caffi’s judgments is, of course, his refusal to regard Lenin as a revolutionary, and his attribution of that term to intellectuals and writers who did not lead revolutionary actions as Lenin certainly did. Moreover, if Lenin is not to be regarded as a revolutionary, then how could one apply the term to such lesser men as Nasser, Castro, Guevara, Cleaver? Would Caffi have considered even Mao a revolutionary? If he could not consider Mao a revolutionary, then maybe his use of the term “revolutionary” is a wrong one; perhaps we should reject it out of hand. But very clearly the reason Caffi would not regard Lenin as a revolutionary and would not have regarded Castro, Nasser, Guevara, or even Mao, as revolutionaries, is that all of these men, while they did indeed overturn existing governments, also participated in the setting up of more efficient terror apparatuses, replacing the ones they had overturned. As Caffi will not accept the user of force as the critic of its use, so he will not accept the dictator as the revolutionary. In the unwillingness to keep the figure of the dictator distinct from the revolutionary, he even sees one of the major aberrations of modern times.



Caffi’s view of the “revolutionary” is an extreme one, but it may serve to correct some of the totally wrong notions of the “revolutionary”—also of the “radical”—now prevalent. To make this point with some fullness of detail, I must turn for a moment from Caffi’s text to events I was recently witness to on the campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

I would summarize what happened there as follows: a group of students, determined to shut the university down, subjected the campus to vandalism and violence as a result of which the acting president, Peter Regan, turned to the local police agency to restore order. The restoration of order on the part of the police was also violent, even more so than the original disruption by the students. In any case the campus, as a result of the police action and the student disruption, was in chaos for some time.

What concerns me here is the attitude taken up by the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo toward the two eruptions of violence, that which came from the students and that for which the police were responsible. In general it may be said that the faculty, at least in the departments of arts and letters, was concerned to protect the students who had been violent and turned its anger against the police, and also against the university authorities, notably acting president Regan who had called the police. Now the assumption of the liberal faculty who took this attitude was that the violence of the students was an expression of radicalism, the violence of the police an expression of conservatism or reaction. But were the students really revolutionary or radical in their violence? The whole question lies there. Is it revolutionary or radical to burn books, throw fire bombs, steal or destroy office equipment, and prevent classes from being held? In what sense can any such activities be called radical? Is it in any sense more radical to do any of these things than to do what the police themselves did when called upon, which was to try to break the heads of the so-called student “radicals”? Thinking over the events, I have to conclude that there were no radicals on the Buffalo campus, nor was “radicalism” involved in the student disruptions. There were on the Buffalo campus only two different police forces, a police force of students in the first case, involved in a kind of police riot, and the local constabulary in the second case, also involved in a kind of riot, though having superior force at its disposal. That my colleagues of the liberal arts faculty could see only the one police force and took the other group of policemen for radicals, is only an indication of their regular weakness of mind when it comes to judging social and political matters.

Why do I say that the student “radicals” acted as a kind of police force? Let it be perfectly clear that I am talking only of those who had resolved to shut down the university, something the vast majority of students and faculty members by no means desired. Now a shut-down could only be achieved by applying force. How do I know that the so-called “radicals” wanted the university closed? If they did not conceal that such was their aim, on the other hand they did not broadcast it, either. But I have first-hand evidence that this was indeed their objective. When, at the height of the disruption, with the police off the campus, the administration temporarily suspended a number of students who were thought to be leaders in the disruptions, the department of American studies issued a statement in behalf of some of the most “radical” among them, including one who has since been expelled. The statement announced that its signatories would not abide by the administration’s decision, that they would provide teaching space for those of the suspended students who were engaged in teaching, and try “to procure financial support for these activities.” The statement declared:

This community cannot tolerate judicial procedures that deny due process, the right to confront accusers, and specification of charges. Such procedures constitute an illegitimate use of authority. . . .

One might suppose this statement was gotten out by resolved and intransigent believers in democracy. One of the signatories was the chairman of the department of American Studies.

Also among the names appended to the statement was that of a teaching assistant whom I knew to be a friend of a former student of mine. I had reason to think that this teaching assistant held political views not too unlike my own, and so I telephoned him. What I wanted to know was why he had signed a statement in behalf of students who were thought to have led disruptive acts and some of whom were known to have said their aim was to shut down the university. He replied that such was his aim, too. He also wanted the university shut down, for it was an immoral institution serving a government fighting an immoral war. There was not a word about this of course in the statement he had signed—it called for struggle against “repressive measures,” but he himself was aiming at repressing the entire university, and certainly without authority to do this from its members. Now it was quite impossible to argue with him. His notion was that his behavior was “revolutionary”; thus he was in some way connected with Cleaver and Castro, and through them with Mao and Lenin. His idea that he was acting like a “revolutionary” served to hide from him the fact that in trying to repress an entire university he was behaving not as a socialist or liberator, but as a policeman.



But to come back to Caffi’s notion of the revolutionary. I know that Caffi did regard Gandhi as a revolutionary, and of course Gandhi did lead a revolutionary movement, though he led it, to be sure, with the preachment of nonviolence or, if one is to translate correctly the Indian term he used, spiritual conflict. I must confess that for most of the time that I was interested in radical social action, I would have awarded the palm of “revolutionary” to Lenin almost without reflection and would even have denied it to Gandhi. Today I am rather inclined toward Caffi’s view. Quite recently I read with interest Erik Erikson’s excellent Gandhi’s Truth, and the very convincing portrait of the Mahatma which emerged from Erikson’s description of a fateful moment in Gandhi’s life, was certainly that of a revolutionary and of a political genius at that. And so in raising the question, Gandhi or Lenin?, I find I cannot answer in favor of Lenin as I would have some years back. Take this one remark which I have from Trotsky’s New Course. Of Leninism, Trotsky says in that book: “It is warlike from head to foot.” Warlike. The word sounded better some years ago than it does today, for have we not come to think that a policy which is warlike may express a minus rather than a plus of political content? Has not Theodore Draper pointed out that American policy over the past twenty years has been misguided and aberrant precisely insofar as it was determined by military rather than by political calculations?

It has been said against Gandhi’s doctrine that it could not serve in any struggle against a totalitarian state like Hitler’s or Stalin’s, that Gandhi owed his success to the fact that his antagonists, the British, were so civilized. But the answer is very clear. Hitler was not overthrown by violent means from within; he was defeated only by the superior weight of metal in the hands of enemy troops; nor was Stalin overthrown from within. So the fact that Gandhian methods would not have prevailed against Hitler or Stalin is by no means a proof that other, more “revolutionary” methods would have prevailed against them. Suppose then we raise the question of Lenin against Gandhi somewhat differently.

I propose to take as a model situation for testing Leninism against Gandhism—and both of these against liberalism—the problem of opening residence to blacks on a restricted street.

I have seen what happens when someone is persuaded on a street restricted to whites to sell a house or land to blacks. Almost invariably there is a decline of the house and land values on that block. This, the liberal may say, is not his affair, and people ought to pay personally for having associated the stability of land and property values with the absence of black residents. But what the liberal here no doubt refuses to see is that white owners do in fact suffer from the entrance of blacks into their neighborhoods. It is their property which loses value, their investments which are depreciated. By refusing to recognize the suffering of the white property owners in this situation, the liberal often alienates them, sometimes to the defeat of his program.

The Leninist in this situation would not at all ignore the fact that he is causing the white property owner some degree of suffering. Nor would he ignore the great likelihood that such suffering might be politically disadvantageous to him and threaten his program. The Leninist, to put his program through, would realize the necessity of threatening the white property owner with still greater suffering than that which would follow naturally from the purchase of residences or land on his block by blacks. Undoubtedly the Leninist procedure here, at least in terms of a short-range view, must be judged more realistic than the liberal’s.

Now let us see what a Gandhian approach to the same situation would be. Gandhi, if one may infer from the techniques he used in the major campaigns he waged, and from his general understanding of men and their ways, would, I think, never have ignored any more than the Leninist the degree of suffering or deprivation that the opening of residences to blacks in a white district might cause the whites. I do not think, though, that he would have judged such suffering as his policy might cause the whites as a mere prelude to even harsher policies toward them. I think he would have sympathized with the whites who suffered even though he would not have approved the cause of their suffering, that is to say, the type of segregation on which the house and land values of their property had been based. If determined to act against segregation, Gandhi—or in any case my model of Gandhi—would very probably undertake a fast so as to show the white property owners that their suffering had not been lost sight of, but was in fact inconsequential as compared with the kind of suffering he, Gandhi, the leader of the policy of desegregation, was willing to undergo. Moreover, the cunning of the technique, for there is cunning in it, lies in the fact that in any such case the suffering of the desegregationist leader would be in the present and dramatic, whereas the suffering of the white property owners would be in the future and speculative. It seems to me that if we compare the three approaches to the problem of desegregating a given block in the terms described here, it is the Gandhian approach alone that would give promise of success, and without the use of police or military force, and hence of the three it is the only one which, in any true sense of the words, can be called “radical” or “revolutionary.” Is one really a radical or a revolutionary when one depends on the military and the police to the degree that Lenin and his heirs have done?




Behind caffi’s judgment of the revolutionary, and his various, but I think connected, judgments of violence, Marxism, justice, mythology, there is, I think, a view of society, which I take to be his most fundamental notion, though one which is very hard to describe and is nowhere clearly stated in his text. Deriving it only in part from his text, I have taken the liberty of adding some enlargements of my own, based, to be sure, on details which I remember from many conversations with him.

What was society to Caffi? I shall answer this question indirectly by pointing to the ideas of someone else, namely, the Polish phenomenologist Roman Ingarden, in whose Das literarische Kunstwerk (some ideas of which have been given popular expression in this country by René Wellek) four levels of the literary work are distinguished: the signs, that is, the mere sounds of the words employed, or the mere notations of the words on the printed page; the meanings of these words or signs; the objects designated by such meanings; and, finally, what are referred to as Die Ansichten, or appearances, but which also may be referred to as tonalities, atmospheres, or perhaps even as nuances. No doubt many would agree with Ingarden’s structuring of the literary work, and would accept, too, the judgment that in this kind of structuring, that which we may refer to as appearances, atmospheres, tonalities, nuances, must be conceded a pervasive if imprescriptable importance. How many, though, would accept Caffi’s rather similar structuring of society, in which, he thinks, as in the literary work, what most eludes definition is most important and most real?

To be sure, Caffi sees one very great difference between the reality of the literary work and that of society. When a literary work becomes unreal one can put it down, while one still remains enclosed by society, whatever is happening in it. Let us suppose that a sonnet, as one continued to read or reread it, gradually lost its nuances, or, as Ingarden termed these, its appearances. One would stop reading the sonnet. Society, however, is that which continues to hold us in its grip even when it has lost the reality it has once had for us. No sonnet can force us to adapt a whole judgment of literature to rhymes in it which we may not like. Society, however, continually forces us to adjust our notion of the social good to the social facts we are presented with. And society’s pressure on us in this regard is backed up not only by physical force but also by the force of intellectual opinion. Now Caffi has two points to make about all this, the first being that the power of social actuality has to be challenged. The social facts are not to be regarded as powerful beyond their realities as values, that is to say, as appearances, atmospheres, tonalities, nuances. And the second point Caffi has to make is that it is very important socially not to forget whatever experiences of the good one has had in society, and, most especially, when that good is gone from society.

Thus society for Caffi can be called real only in that normative judgment which finds the social facts to its liking. Society, he tells us, exists “in its true sense wherever . . . a preeminent importance” can be attached to living “in a network of spontaneous, equalitarian, and ‘civil’ social relations. . . .” For only then can “the problems of justice and happiness have real meaning.” And society for Caffi is once again the recollection with others—no matter how small the group be—of what society once was when it was valid, together with the projected hope of restoring it to that state again. The appearances that constitute the tissue of the social need never disappear entirely; they can be created and recreated in the discourse of persons who assemble freely to testify that these have not been forgotten. To be sure, society in this ultimate and highly refined sense may seem indistinguishable from what Caffi has also referred to as “mythology.” He tells us this himself: “. . . in my view, the proper sphere of mythology is that species of human communion which I call society par excellence. . . . .” Seeing the efforts of the early Christians as fundamentally social in this very special sense, Caffi insists on “. . . the force and freshness of the Gospels and the strange frenzy of Paul’s Epistles, which remain intact after we have made the maximum effort to free ourselves from the prejudice some twenty centuries of adoration have instilled. . . .” But I think I should quote at some length from Caffi’s most unusual judgment of the Gospels. It gives the substance of his whole notion of society:

. . . . What strikes us above all is the genuinely popular enthusiasm of the Gospels in which are wholly fused the story revealing astonishingly new qualities with the imperious demand that one change one’s life at once. . . . There is here neither a hierarchy of “holiness,” of virtuosity in the practice of spiritual life, as in Buddhism, nor an army marshalled together with a leader at its head armed with all power, as in Islam. Paul’s “church” alone entails a true community: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? . . . Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers . . . for we the leaders are laborers together with God . . . even until this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place. . . .”

The “good tidings” are addressed to the real society, not the organized one; to a people completely extraneous to the state, who do not even struggle against Caesar since between their universe and that in which Caesar rules there is no common measure.7



Perhaps it will be said that Caffi’s notion of society points to something much more like a meeting of friends than to that interlocking system of manipulation and coercion for which, in the minds of many, the term “society” stands. But then is not Caffi’s notion of society one much too refined to cover the social facts we nowadays confront? Here I should like to point out that it was Caffi, and precisely, I think, because of the refinement of his ideas, who alone of our contemporaries properly assessed the social facts, and knew that bourgeois society was quite gone when the rest of us thought it still extant. In one of his finest texts, entitled “Bourgeoisie and Bourgeois Order,” a text dated 1952, he asks:

But what is left of the very principle of private property, guaranteed, intangible, “sacred”? What is left, above all, of the “good conscience” with which every boss at one time called himself “master of his house”?

And answers his question thus:

There isn’t a financier, an industrialist . . . an exporter-importer . . . who would dare hope to maintain his privileges for a single day without the constant, active, and legal aid of “public authorities”; and it is under the control of such authorities that all questions of wages and prices are regulated.

In historical terms, though, here is his answer:

Feudal society, the society which lasted from the 10th to the 13th centuries, was dead before a formation equalling it in the clarity of its structure had been affirmed its heir. “Bourgeois society” did not issue from the pre-capitalistic magma until the period between the 17th and 18th centuries. In its turn, bourgeois society had died without its place being occupied by a valid successor. We live in the disorder caused by this absence.

This judgment goes to the heart of the present social facts. Bourgeois society, according to Caffi, is dead, and this despite the continuing existence of the system of production on which it rested. Bourgeois society thus was dead even before the clever Keynesian economists had refuted the predictions of our Marxists that capitalism had to go. Society does not exist today: this is the all-important fact, and it is unchanged by the continued existence of democratic forms. (This, I should say, our liberals have not understood. On the other hand, it is not true that democratic forms have disappeared, as many radicals insist. What is true is that the society which gave such forms their meaning is quite gone.) Now it is the absence of what was once known as bourgeois society which explains the astonishing changes we have seen in this country since the early 60’s. This is why the young have taken to altercations, often violent, with their elders. And this is the reason why television has had such extraordinary effect, and not, as some fancy, the magic of the machine itself. And when we think of the bands of young men led by priests and ministers pouring blood on draft records and even trying to set fire to the official buildings which house them, we should reflect that when bourgeois society still had some life in it, it was considered an honor, not a moral disgrace, to die for the fatherland. Bourgeois society lived by the deaths of the young; the value we now accord to the lives of the young is the sign that we think it dead.

I am struck, too, by Caffi’s notion that there is not a single boss today with a good conscience. It is to be noted that Caffi says this without censure, he does not call the bosses names. But the fact is—I think it cannot be denied—that the privileged and the wealthy of today all seem deprived—whatever their power—of any justification for such privilege or power, though they are not ready to yield up their privilege and power, and in this sense can be said to have opted for barbarism. For only in periods of what must be called barbarism have men with power and privilege not possessed ideas justifying their advantages. And at the opposite end of the spectrum we see that the youthful “revolutionaries,” bent on extremism, are not too different in character from those they have chosen as antagonists. For as the wealthy and privileged are lacking in justification for their exceptional status, and yet have no intention of yielding it up, so the youthful “revolutionaries” say they will not desist from radical and even violent action until a theory justifying such action, a theory they still lack, has been provided them. Thus on the Right, as on the Left, the barbarisms emerge, and I must say the prospect for occupying some middle-ground between them becomes grimmer every day. Now evidently Caffi saw all this coming as early as 1946 when he wrote:

So it is clear that the fabric of relations and common actions forming society is of an extreme fragility. After the hecatombs of 1914—1918 not much was left of European society . . . and after the second devastation experienced by all civilized countries, it would be hard to find even vestiges of it. Thus we can imagine . . . what remained of “the life of society” in the Paris of 1793—94, or in the St. Petersburg of 1918—19. What is involved here is not only the breaking of ties, but the fact, even more decisive, that in such parlous times, the individual can remain aloof, “above the mob and the battle,” only if he is endowed with exceptional heroism, or wisdom, or even saintliness. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he stumbles, loses his footing, and joins the pack of howling wolves, or forgetting his patrimony of culture, falls back on the elementary reactions of the patriot, behaving as a member of a specific social class, blinded by more or less sordid resentments.



But how, it may be asked, can the expression of such views help us? No doubt each of us knows someone who has already lost his footing. For we have passed the stage when we first heard the wolf packs; nowadays it is hard to hear anything else. But how are we to profit from the notion that only exceptional wisdom or heroism or saintliness can be of any avail? However, to realize how exceptional the ordeal is going to be does prepare one, I think, to be more forgiving of failure in oneself, as in others, and in this I think there is some value, morally and intellectually. Perhaps this is all that Caffi offers us, but what other thinker has offered us more? Marcuse? McLuhan? Noam Chomsky? Norman O. Brown, perhaps? Would it do us any good whatever to think their thoughts as we go on into the mounting social darkness, toward nobody knows just what?



1 Bobbs-Merrill, 220 pp., $8.50.

2 See his article, “Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologist and Philosopher,” New Left Review, November-December 1965.

3 This is also how it seems to Sir Peter Medawar, the Nobel Prize winner for medicine in 1960. See his recent Romanes lecture, Encounter, January 1969.

4 It is in this sense that I would set Caffi as a follower of Voltaire against the openly Rousseauian Lévi-Strauss. To be sure, in following Voltaire's acceptance of civilization, Caffi yet departs from Voltaire in accepting myth.

5 See Aron's excellent discussion of Althusser's brand of “Marxism” in D'Une Sainte Famille à l'Autre.

6 Caffi's association of the revolutionary with the mystic is supported, I think, by the following remarks of Gershom Scholem, the learned authority on Jewish mysticism. I quote from Scholem's article, “Mysticism and Society,” Diogenes, Summer 1967: “This brings us back to the alternative which the mystic faces: will he submit to the traditional authority and the social forms it has taken on or will he draw from his own experience a new claim to authority and set it up in conflict with the traditional one? . . . Where all and everything is centered around an experience the very nature of which implies a dissolution of all natural forms and, even more so, of all historical forms in order to bring about the act of mystical union, then it would be only reasonable to expect a definite preponderance of the revolutionary, nay, the anarchic aspect of mysticism as a social phenomenon.”

7 Just a word or two about methodology, which, since Caffi almost never discussed questions of method, I shall confine to this footnote. I take it that in making the judgment he did of society Caffi relied in the main on a literary as distinct from a scientific model. What is a scientific model? Trotsky, I should say, is using a scientific model when he argues that to dispense with the use of force in politics is like disregarding the law of gravitation in physics. (It is to be noted that the contemporary “revolutionary,” Abbie Hoffman, presents himself as ready to disregard the law of gravity in physics, but as subservient to the law of force in politics.) In Trotsky's judgment, a structural similarity is shown to link political coercion with gravitational attraction. Moreover, no values are involved; in making his judgment Trotsky refers to nothing but facts, perfectly adjusted to l'esprit gèometrique. What is a literary model? It is one that is directed to a normative judgment, a judgment that cannot be made without calling on I'esprit de finesse. An excellent example of this kind of model is given by Pascal in fragment 931 of his Pensé'es: “Nothing could make us better understand the ridiculousness of a bad sonnet than to consider its nature and model and then to imagine a woman or a house modeled like that.” And Pascal then goes on to say—though not in the same fragment—that judgments of value are incredibly complicated and cannot be made with any degree of rightness without l'esprit de finesse.

Spengler based descriptions of facts on purely literary models, and Marxists have tried to base judgments of value on scientific models alone. But a scientific model is often as inadequate for normative judgment as a literary model is for the description and analysis of facts. I must add here that Northrop Frye in Daedalus, Spring 1970, has advocated the employment in the discussion of society of two literary models. But obviously he does not understand the proper use of such models for he thinks of them in terms of the description and analysis of facts, and here is his description of what happened in connection with the People's Park in California: “. . . a vacant lot with a fence around it became assimilated to the archetype of the expulsion from Eden. . . . A student editorial informed us that the lot was ‘covered with blood’ because, like all the rest of the land in North America, it has been stolen from the Indians (murder of Abel, archetype). The expelling angels in this symbolism were (as in Blake's version of it) demonic, and the police, with their helmets and bayonets and gas masks were endeavoring, with considerable success, to represent the demonic in its popular science fiction form. . . .” I cite this as a very clear instance of literary models wrongly used. Here, a scientific model, since no value judgment was made, would have been more useful. I need not add that Caffi did not at all disdain reliance on scientific models when it came to the analysis of social facts.

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