Sidney Hook, philosopher and educator, here offers his proposal for meeting one of the most complex and crucial problems facing our schools today—how check the spread of totalitarian organizations via fellow-travelling teachers, without undermining academic freedom?
The current discussion of the question whether members of the Communist party should be permitted to teach in our schools and colleges has been conducted in such a way that it has eclipsed much more important problems concerning the character and direction of American education. Granted that some administrative measures may be necessary to prevent the process of teaching and learning from being subverted by zealots of undemocratic political faiths. Such administrative measures, however, can never be a substitute for the long-range educational philosophy and strategy that should have as one of its aims the intellectual sophistication which alone gives lasting immunity to infectious myth and dishonest argument.
Even if our schools and colleges were over-night to be liberated from every card-holding member of the Communist party—and formally all Communist party teachers will soon surrender their cards—the fundamental problem will remain of how to meet the challenge to the liberal temper which comes from the exploitation for totalitarian purposes, either deliberately or through misunderstanding, of liberal catch-words and slogans. Here no administrative measures can or should be invoked. Here the struggle can only be waged in the educational arena with educational weapons. This struggle is particularly difficult to conduct, not merely because academic decorum must sometimes be sacrificed in the interests of academic integrity, but because the effective exercise of the critical function, without which education is lifeless, arrays all reactionary groups, irrespective of their labels, against the teacher as honest inquirer and scholar.
During the last fifteen years—which roughly begin with the Popular Front reorientation of the Communist party in the United States—there has emerged on the campuses of the nation a complex of ideas and a form of social action which has had a profound influence on the attitudes of students. These ideas, generous in intention even if vague in expression, centered around the ideals of equality, freedom, and peace. Their roots were not found in Marxist doctrine, which regards all such abstractions with suspicion, but in the traditional unanalyzed ideology of American democracy. Their dynamism was not the result of a calculated political tactic but a consequence of the fervors and moral idealism of youth.
Two things were characteristic of this awakened liberalism. As distinct from previous liberal movements, which ebbed and flowed spontaneously with student interest but had no cumulative force, it was carefully channeled in a definite political direction. Every large social action to which it led turned out to be in behalf of a cause in which the Communist party took leadership, either from the outset or by gradual organizational manipulation. No other political tendency offered competition, partly out of weakness but mainly because such competition entailed full-time activity and a sacrifice of academic for political life which few, except for the professionally dedicated, were prepared to make. Secondly, the implications of these liberal ideas and ideals in their devastating critical impact upon Soviet culture in theory and practice were never drawn. Any attempt to do so provoked the most vehement denunciation from the leaders of social action on the campus. Thus the peace movements of the 30’s among students and the splendid support of the Spanish Loyalist government among both faculties and students were either organized or soon captured by the Communist party. The evidence that this was so had little effect even when the crassness of party control was revealed, as in the typically sudden transition from the pacifist “Oxford pledge” slogans among students in 1934 to the nationalist war cries required by the new party line. In further documentation, we need only cite the reaction in the universities to such liberal efforts as the organization of the Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials, headed by John Dewey, in 1936, and the launching of the Committee for Cultural Freedom, again under John Dewey’s leadership, in 1939.
The continuity of ideas and action which made almost every movement on the campus that called itself “progressive” or “radical” a recruiting ground for the Young Communist League and the Communist party, was provided not by students but by members of the faculties, most of whom could, with clearer conscience than political understanding, deny that they were Communists. Statistical studies show that to this day members of the professoriat constitute the strongest and most influential group of Communist fellow-travellers in the United States. And when I say this I am not speaking of disguised Communist party members, or even of theoretical “Marxists” of the Stalinist persuasion. The vast majority of academic fellow-travellers are not Marxists and hold views in their own fields for which they would be “liquidated” or dismissed from their posts in the Soviet Union. Yet they constitute the most loyal battalion of that little army of “progressive” intellectuals who are invariably found lending their names and prestige to Communist party front organizations, championing the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, defending Communists against even the mildest and most justified of administrative measures, and never defending or speaking for the victim of Communism anywhere.
On any view of academic freedom these men and women have every right to be members of the academic community. They have not made the total commitment of membership in the Communist party which compels them to uphold or remain silent about distasteful party dogmas and Soviet actions in the interests of a fancied ultimate historical good. Nonetheless, because of their numbers and because of the passivity of their colleagues, they have had and still have far more influence upon students’ political habits of thought than any other group—an influence which in its mildest form substitutes a “radical” philistinism for the conventional kind, and in its more vicious forms softens students up for participation and membership in the Communist movement and all that this implies.
These professionals of good will who play the role of ideological “typhus Marys” are not, I repeat, the concern of legislators and administrators. They are the concern of educators who must solve the problem within the framework of democratic education.
Three general questions must be raised about this type of academic fellow-traveller. What are his most easily identifiable intellectual habits? What are the causes of his fellow-travelling? What can be done about him?
Perhaps the most depressing feature of the habits of the fellow-traveller is the completely unscrupulous character of his intellectual procedures as soon as he discusses a political question which concerns Communists or the Soviet Union. A man who would rather starve than misreport the evidence of an experiment, who would sooner sacrifice popularity and preferment than risk making a snap judgment about a manuscript, feels not the slightest compunction, once his political sympathies take on a Communist tinge, about inventing his facts as he goes along, or refusing to investigate and verify evidence crucial to his arguments. I am not now referring to deliberate duplicity, which is rare and which, because it is conscious, covers its tracks so carefully that it is difficult to expose except by experts. I am referring to the half-conscious belief, born of political euphoria, that everything goes because one knows in one’s heart that it is all in a good cause, and that in the interests of human welfare it is not necessary to put too fine a point on truth. Especially when one is dealing with the “enemy”—the enemy being anyone who disagrees on a matter of political importance. Intellectual integrity thus becomes the first victim of political enthusiasm.
Of many available illustrations I choose one from a recent discussion in the American Scholar (Summer 1949) on whether members of the Communist party should be permitted to teach. In commenting on the kind of thinking allegedly behind the decision to dismiss members of the Communist party from the University of Washington, about the wisdom of which genuine liberals can honestly disagree, Dr. Helen M. Lynd of Sarah Lawrence College quotes from a speech by Mr. Albert F. Canwell, of the Legislative Investigating Committee, as follows: “If anyone insists there is discrimination against Negroes in this country, or that there is inequality of wealth, there is every reason to believe that person is a Communist.”
No evidence is offered that this shocking sentiment actually influenced the recommendation of President Allen or the decision of the Board of Regents. But certainly it is bad enough that Mr. Canwell or any other figure in public life should have uttered it—if he did. And here is Mrs. Lynd’s evidence buried in a mass of footnotes at the end of her article: “Mr. Canwell spoke from notes and there was no stenographic report of his speech. Several responsible people took notes independently, compared them later, and found themselves in substantial agreement on what Mr. Canwell had said.”
All this in a scholarly journal! And in the official organ of Phi Beta Kappa! No reference to newspaper stories, if any, no indication of who these “responsible” people were, how they came to compare notes, and how she came to get them, whether her informants were members of the Communist party or not—but simply a synthetic quotation of other people’s words flatly presented as a direct statement whose source is not given in the immediate text but “explained” in small type, pages away, where only the most careful reader would see it. We could all be hanged by scholarship of this sort.
Not believing that Dr. Lynd would dare use such a damning quotation without having additional evidence, I wrote to Mr. Canwell to inquire about the circumstances of his speech. Under date of July 16 he wrote me as follows: “I did not make such a statement at Cheney or at any other place. Such a statement would be at complete variance with my thinking and I can assure you that I have never made such a statement either publicly or privately.” He also asserted that the quotation credited to him was one “made up out of whole cloth” by the Communist party and its sympathizers in the State of Washington and widely used by the apparatus. What is particularly significant is his revelation that Dr. Lynd made no attempt to verify through him the fantastic and damaging statement she attributed to him.
Nor was this Dr. Lynd’s only violation of the ethics of scholarship. She sought to give the impression that in his testimony before the Tenure Committee hearings, Professor Sophus K. Winther had disavowed the article he wrote for Harpers about his experiences in the Communist party—a disavowal Professor Winther has indignantly denied. And as if this were not enough, she insinuates that the recommendation of President Allen and the decision of the Board of Regents was influenced by the appropriation of twenty-five million dollars by the Legislature for a new medical school, so that the dismissals were a kind of “thank you.” One wonders whether Dr. Lynd is aware of how serious such charges are. But there can be no doubt at all that Dr. Lynd would never descend to this level in her own field of study and that she would be horrified if anyone sought to defend the dismissal of Communist party teachers with methods similar to those with which she attacks it.
Another characteristic feature of the non-party worker in the academic vineyard is his refusal to be bound by consistent standards of judgment. Absolute consistency, of course, is not always possible or desirable, but the departure from it in apparently similar cases always requires explanation or justification. Otherwise judgment has no rational basis and words become systematically ambiguous, no more than a cloak for political hypocrisy. Of myriads of illustrations of this attitude, three may be briefly mentioned.
After the publication of the photostatic copies of the checks issued by the so-called Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee to Gerhard Eisler, accused by former leading Communists of serving as the chief Cominform representative in the United States, a government agency demanded that the books and records of the Committee be submitted for inspection. Refusal was adjudged as contempt and punishment upheld by the courts. Whereupon an intense campaign against the alleged violation of the civil rights of the responsible officials of this notorious Communist front organization was conducted on the colleges and campuses of the country, spearheaded by fellow-travellers. (Incidentally, none of the defenders of this organization showed the slightest qualms about the ethics of raising money for the “orphans and widows of anti-Fascist refugees” and diverting the funds, at least in part, to the support of Communist functionaries.)
Let us assume that the point at issue is at least debatable and that the Supreme Court, which in the Terminiello and other cases has not betrayed an illiberal spirit in interpreting civil rights, was mistaken in refusing to set the conviction aside.
Not so long ago the director of the Ku Klux Klan of the state of Alabama was sentenced to jail for contempt for refusing to produce Klan records of membership before a grand jury. He pleaded that he was bound by a sacred oath of secrecy and that revelation of the names of the Klansmen would be an act of betrayal and prejudicial to the interests of his fellow-members. Not a single one of the staunch defenders of the refusal of the Communist front organization to submit its records, or of the Hollywood “ten” to answer questions concerning their membership in the Communist party, so much as raised a murmur against the conviction of the Klan leader. It is a safe guess to say that they applauded it, as every genuine liberal—it seems to me—should. But not one vouchsafed an explanation of why it was wrong to withhold evidence of membership in the Ku Klux Klan but right to withhold evidence of membership in the Communist party.
A second illustration is provided by the denazification procedures in occupied Germany. Anybody who has been on the scene knows that with all its limitations the American denazification policy has been the most stringent of all. This has not prevented the academic fellow-traveller from bitterly complaining that the United States was giving aid and comfort to former Nazis. But when Walter Ulbricht, the leading German lieutenant of the Kremlin, openly proclaims in the Russian-licensed Nacht-Express that formerly active Nazis are welcome to leading posts in the new Germany, it evokes no similar response. And yet the motivation of the Kremlin in wooing these formerly active Nazis is transparently clear. “Even if they have not completed their conversion,” says Ulbricht, “they clearly realize now that the aggressive forces in the United States aim at the destruction of the German nation.”
The final illustration is the crassest of all. With hardly any effort at concealment, the Communist party recently organized a Bill of Rights Conference in New York City to consider the “unprecedented attacks” on civil rights in the United States and to take measures in their defense. Apparently not believing that the United States Supreme Court, the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL, CIO, and other organizations of the labor and liberal movement have acted sufficiently in defense of our civil rights, a number of leading academic figures came forward as sponsors of the Conference, at which a resolution was unanimously adopted condemning the trial of the leaders of the Communist party and expressing opposition to the Smith Act under which the indictments were drawn. But at the very same session a resolution calling upon the President to grant pardons and restore the civil rights of eighteen Socialist Workers party members convicted at Minneapolis in 1940 under the very same statute—the Smith Act—was howled down, with Paul Robeson declaring that the Trotskyist victims of the Smith Act deserved defending no more than Fascists or Ku Kluxers. Not a single academic sponsor withdrew from the Conference in protest against this brazen declaration that the civil rights only of Communists and of those approved by them were worthy of being defended.
What explains this calamitous lapse from elementary justice on the part of men and women who in their own fields are so circumspect about intellectual consistency and moral decency? Many things, not the least of which are justifiable indignation against administrative stupidities and injustices by state and school and outrageous acts like those committed at Peekskill. But most of it can be traced to an assumption deeply held, even when it is unspoken, that the Communist movement is an integral element in the wider movement of progress and enlightenment. Communists, it is held, are people of “the Left,” uncouth perhaps, but undoubtedly sincere. Despite our legitimate criticisms of their amusing ideological crotchets, they are after all people “on our side.” Whoever criticizes them too severely or refuses to work with them in a common enterprise “breaks the unity of all progressive forces.” Besides, the Communists are not always wrong, while our own government is often and clearly wrong. Even those academic fellow-travellers who are in no sense revolutionaries themselves can be heard to say, “The Socialists just talk, but the Communists mean it,” as if this were a point in the latter’s favor. And then there is the Communist rhetoric about democracy. Communists are staunch and aggressive fighters, we are told, but after all they are for peace; they lie, but in the interests of a higher truth; they may seem to be disloyal to this country, but it is out of loyalty to the Soviet Union, which in turn is loyal to the human race.
How can intelligent men and women believe such nonsense? And at this late date, too? Here again there is a baffling inconsistency about the academic fellow-traveller. He knows there is no transference of training from one field to another, and he doesn’t know it, and he applies this alternating scepticism and faith with a characteristic selective bias. When he reads that a Nobel Prize winner in science has come out for free enterprise or the immortality of the soul, he murmurs: “Another smug scientist pontificating in a field in which he knows nothing.” But let the same Nobel Prize winner say that the United States constitutes a greater threat to peace than the Soviet Union or that our supply of atomic bombs should be turned over to the UN, and he will quote these opinions as authoritative.
Intelligence may be a native power but political intelligence is something that is slowly acquired, and only by hard study. The study, however, must not be confined merely to official documents but must be guided by a leading principle, which Marx himself formulated almost a century ago when he declared that we should not judge a class by what it says of itself any more than we judge an individual. This sounds elementary enough but is something that was never learned by that professor of political science who once argued that the Comintern had nothing to do with the Soviet regime because there was no mention of its existence in the Soviet Constitution.
The best method—although not infallible—of acquiring political intelligence about political realities is political experience. It is an interesting fact that the vast majority of academic persons who have had any experience in political activity or in the genuine labor movement, in the course of which they had to deal with members of the Communist party, rapidly learn the truth about them. But since such interests must be peripheral for most scholars and teachers, the absolute number of the politically sophisticated is small.
Short of actual experience, a close study of Communist theory and practice is indispensable to developing a minimal awareness of the situation in the world today. This brings us to the question of what can be done to meet the challenge of the academic fellow-traveller.
A few things by this time should be clear. First, the general situation is such that it cannot and should not be met by administrative measures. Even when justified against out-and-out party members, administrative measures, unless authorized and implemented by the teachers themselves, are apt to worsen the situation. Nor are loyalty oaths of the slightest aid in restoring intellectual integrity where it has been undermined, or in preventing the academic fellow-traveller—and for that matter even the party member—from battling for the party line. For many years in the State of New York all teachers have been required during the course of their careers to take an oath pledging themselves to support the Constitution. No one has ever refused to take such an oath; no one has ever been punished for violating it. It is an empty gesture, recognized even by those who administer it as pointless.
Not pointless but dangerous is the directive by the New York State Board of Regents to all public school authorities under the Feinberg Law to report on the measures undertaken to enforce its provisions, which call for the dismissal of all subversive teachers. For the main issue, even as far as Communist party members are concerned, is not one of political subversion but of professional ethics, about which the teachers themselves are the best judges. It cannot be too often repeated that it is not because of his ideas that a Communist party member is unfit to teach but because of his professional misconduct in joining a conspiratorial organization, one of whose declared purposes is corruption of the teaching process for political purposes. But what makes the Feinberg Law pointedly dangerous is that one mistaken application of its provisions can easily create an incident which the Communist party will exploit to the utmost, swelling the ranks of the fellow-travellers and imbuing them with crusading self-righteousness. If such an incident is not created by some zealously reactionary superintendent, we can be certain that the Communist party, which did not hesitate to denounce its political opponents, especially on the Left, to the Gestapo as secret Communists, will do its best to create one.
In general the intrusion of the state in affairs of the school involving professional misconduct is to be deplored. But if the teaching profession (like labor) fails to clear up its own sore spots—and no one can reasonably deny that there are evils to be remedied—such intervention is to be expected.
Since government intervention is inadvisable even in treating the problem created by card-holding members of the Communist party, a fortiori it should never be invoked in the struggle for intellectual integrity against the careless, the irresponsible, and the half-witting accomplices of the party line. In the interest of honest dissent, there must be no legal proscriptions of doctrines of any kind.
What then should be done? Until the threat to the democratic culture of the West disappears, the theory and practice of official Communism should be made a required study in the curriculum of all colleges. It is the great merit of President Conant to have realized the importance of this. We can expect President Hutchins to denounce the proposal as a concession to temporalism, and to interpret the temporal as the immediate, and the immediate as the instantaneous. But as anyone knows who has even a bowing acquaintance with Communism, the issues it raises are not only immediate—they involve the foundations of belief for our age, and, according to Communist claims, for all recorded history and class societies. There is plenty of meat in a curriculum so expanded. But we must hasten to add—to safeguard against misunderstanding—that it cannot be the only subject of curricular emphasis. More important still, democracy is to be studied not as a conflicting ideology in a war but as a way of life to be independently explored, developed, and criticized in relation to the problems of contemporary society.
What good will such a study accomplish? The good not only of understanding the enemy but of recognizing what must be done in the reconstruction of our own culture to realize the promise of democratic life. As a by-product, it will no longer be possible—let us hope—for so many college-trained persons, not to mention their teachers, to believe that the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar rather than a political system which Lenin himself had characterized as the freest in the world. Using official Communist sources, students will become acquainted, at least as an hypothesis, with the view that the official Communist parties in all countries are organizational tools of the Soviet regime, employed for every purpose including espionage, and not at all an integral section of the indigenous “Left” movement. They will perhaps begin to understand what a politics based on a Weltanschauung involves, and the far-reaching consequences of a movement which openly declares that any means is justified to achieve the victory of the proletariat, whose dictatorship is “substantially” identified with the dictatorship of the Communist party.
The end of such instruction should be not only to clarify the issues between democracy and Communism but to make all persons aware of what they are doing when they reject, accept, or travel along with the Communist party and its organizational fronts. The age of political innocence in the colleges and universities will come to an end. Instruction properly given will also make clear how one kind of reaction helps another, and that just as Communist attacks on “fascists” are often the prelude to the extirpation of democracy (as in Czechoslovakia), so fascist attacks on “Communists” may (as in Spain) be aimed at all liberals and democrats. At the same time it is to be hoped that the fashionable and undiscriminating trend against the welfare state and welfare economy as an expression of “statism,” as a forerunner if not a weaker version of totalitarianism on the Soviet model, will be halted, and the arguments for all sorts of alternative systems of planning, from the New Deal to democratic socialism, will be considered on their merits.
How necessary instruction in the actual theory and practice of the Communist party is may be gathered from the discussion of the issue whether members of the Communist party should be permitted to teach. This is not an open-and-shut question either way. But it is noteworthy that practically every defender—though not all—of the right of the Communist party teacher to hold his post has ignored the concrete documentary evidence which shows that members are under instruction to inject the party line in the classroom, to build cells and capture departments. Nor have they paid the slightest attention to the character of the anonymous party-cell literature, in whose preparation and distribution on campuses every member of the cell is involved.
A case in point is provided by the discussion of Dr. Alexander Meiklejohn (New York Times, March 27, 1949) who oddly enough in his book on education maintained that “the purpose of all teaching is to express the cultural authority of the group by which the teaching is given,” and that “teacher and pupil . . . are both agents of the state”1—essentially illiberal Hegelian notions. The nub of Dr. Meiklejohn’s argument on the question of Communist teachers is that since “the primary task of education in our colleges and universities is the teaching of intellectual freedom, as the first principle of the democratic way of life,” we would be interfering with “fair and unabridged discussion” if teachers were dismissed on grounds of membership in the Communist party.
Dr. Meiklejohn does not feel called upon to explain how “fair and unabridged discussion” can be carried on by those who are under instruction to inject and indoctrinate party dogmas and who have clearly expressed their intention to do so by virtue of their membership in an organization which gives them these instructions and does not countenance refusal to abide by them. The only assumption on which this glaring inconsistency can be justified is that none but members of the Communist party can give an adequate and fair statement of Communist theory and strategy. But such an assumption is clearly absurd. If generalized, it would imply that objective teaching on any issue in dispute is impossible. If anything, members of the Communist party are prepared to suppress evidence (e.g., in their denial of Lenin’s testament, the early history of the Red Army, etc.) in accordance with the exigencies of the Kremlin’s policy. “Fair and unabridged discussion” by all means. But in matters of the class struggle, which according to party doctrine pervades every aspect of our culture, the ideal of “fair” discussion is considered in Communist theory as a bourgeois illusion. “Objectivism” is in fact one of the great heresies in the international Communist movement.
Even more startling is Dr. Meiklejohn’s discovery that despite the fact that Communist party members shift their ideas “as the policies of the party shift,” and that despite the fact that they are under “an unusually rigid and severe discipline,” the only explanation of their behavior is that in general they “are moved by a passionate determination to follow the truth where it seems to lead.” Communist party members must believe, then, if what Dr. Meiklejohn is saying is the case, that the shifts of the party line are also motivated by a passionate determination to follow the truth. Apparently they have somewhat mistaken the Politbureau for an Academy of Science.
But there is a simpler question still which stares out of Dr. Meiklejohn’s words. If the explanation of Communist party members’ behavior is their search for the truth, then why the necessity of the “unusually rigid and severe discipline” he admits exists? The scientific methods by which the truth is reached and what they disclose are certainly sufficient discipline for democratic educators. Why then is there need for the organizational discipline of the Communist party in respect to belief?
It is at this point that Dr. Meiklejohn makes his most momentous discovery. The organizational discipline of the Communist party is not really discipline, or is discipline only in a Pickwickian sense. According to him, members of the Communist party are not forced to believe anything. For their actions are voluntary. And then, in a sentence for which I predict immortality as a classic illustration of fallacious thinking, he adds: “If membership is free, then the beliefs are free.” In other words, because an action is free, i.e., voluntary—joining the Communist party—the beliefs which are held in virtue of that membership are also free, i.e., a result of the quest for the truth.
Let us examine this. Suppose a teacher accepts money from the National Association of Manufacturers or from a foreign government on the understanding that he champion its side on any issue. I assume that in such a case Dr. Meiklejohn will grant that he has betrayed his trust and is unworthy to teach. I am also confident that Dr. Meiklejohn would say of such a person that he was under orders to reach predetermined conclusions, that he was bound by a discipline that was foreign to the scholar’s proper objectivity. But note: the teacher’s action is free, i.e., voluntary. No one compelled him to accept the offer. He could take it or leave it. Were he to argue that because his action was free therefore his beliefs were free, i.e., a result of the quest for the truth, Dr. Meiklejohn would be the first to expose the sophistical ambiguity by which he sought to gloss over his intellectual dishonesty.
The fact that a man is paid to work for the NAM or a foreign government is irrelevant to the free or voluntary nature of his act. He might even believe in the program of the NAM or the goals of a foreign government and work for nothing. What makes him intellectually dishonest as a teacher is that by his action he has signified his willingness to teach according to directives received and not in accordance with objective methods of searching for the truth. If a scientist is paid money by an industrial firm to undertake research, that does not make him intellectually dishonest. If he is paid money on the understanding that his research will “prove” what the firm tells him to prove, he is.
Certainly, membership in the Communist party or in the Ku Klux Klan is free. Even in the Soviet Union no one is compelled to join the party, so, on Dr. Meiklejohn’s principle, no thought control exists there. But what he fails to see, despite mountains of evidence, is that the nature of a member’s commitment to the Communist party is incompatible—because of (a) his party pledge, (b) the party dogmas, and (c) clearly defined party duties as given in official instructions on how to behave in the classroom and on the campus—with commitment to the scientific method of inquiry.
In a certain sense one can speak of the “integrity” or the “courage” of a person who joins the Communist party or the Ku Klux Klan openly. But so long as he remains in the organization—and the discussion is about present and active members—he is not free to profess only what he believes the scientific evidence warrants. Lenin made this crystal-clear even before the October Revolution. He reversed Dr. Meiklejohn’s argument and with better justification. Just because membership is voluntary, those who join the Communist party must accept its intellectual discipline; they are not free to think and write as they please. If this irks them, they can resign; if they remain, they are bound. A decade after the Revolution, Stalin drew the awful consequences for the whole field of human knowledge and art.
Dr. Meiklejohn is as wrong as anyone can be. It is loyalty to the Soviet regime and not “a passionate determination to follow the truth” which leads the Communist party member to teach any specific Communist doctrine on any specific point. His “integrity” is expressed only in his total commitment. This does not mean that he necessarily agrees with the truth, say, of a specific Communist characterization of Roosevelt or of the Marshall Plan at any time. It does mean that in so far as he is loyal to the Kremlin, in so far as he chooses freely to remain in the Communist party, he is not free to be publicly critical of the party line even if he privately disagrees with it. Usually, he squares this to himself with the reflection that the point on which he feels the party line is wrong is comparatively unimportant. But it is precisely this subordination to his total commitment, and his evaluation of what is important or unimportant in the light of a political objective, that makes it impossible for him to exercise the free criticism he would engage in were he loyal to the principles of scientific inquiry.
Not all those who are opposed to a general ban on Communist party teachers are as confused about where the genuine issues lie as Dr. Meiklejohn. And he is unique in allowing himself to be seduced into fallacy by the two senses of the word “free.” But he is typical in what he does not know about the Communist party at home and abroad.2
There is something more, in addition to revising the curriculum, that American educators can do to improve the quality and accuracy of political discussion in academic circles. That is to break with the genteel tradition of suffering intolerance, disingenuousness, and intellectual dishonesty in silence. One of the most amazing expressions of liberal sentimentalism and muddled thinking is the view that we cannot be intolerant of those who preach and practice intolerance, that if we oppose fanaticism we cannot ever do so passionately, and that forthright exposure of dishonesty and dangerous ignorance is somehow a betrayal of the intellectual process. This overlooks the truth that ideas can corrupt as well as power; and that ignorance, especially when it is cultivated, can be deadly. Liberalism as a temper of mind is the sworn foe of all absolutes of doctrine and program; but only because it is pledged to a self-critical and self-corrective exercise of the processes of intelligence.
A scholar who propounds anti-Semitic or racist views should be criticized mercilessly even when we grant his constitutional and academic right (provided he is not a member of the Klan, a fascist party, or similar organization) to hold and express such views. Catholic professors, wherever they are, who proclaim that secularism must lead to Communism or fascism, whose fantastic attacks on men like John Dewey and Bertrand Russell show that they are more fearful of their ideas than those of the totalitarian rival power of Communism, should be given public lessons in logic and history. The record of Catholic collaboration with Franco, Mussolini, Salazar, Tiso, Dollfuss, and others should be brought vigorously to their attention. A sociologist who defends concentration camps in the Soviet Union as a model of corrective prison labor in the face of books like Gliksman’s Tell the West should not be administratively curbed but he should be called publicly to account by his colleagues. A fellow-traveller who justifies his refusal to protest outrages against civil liberties in countries under Communist rule on the ground that we must clean our own doorstep, when he has been active on every committee organized by the Communist party to protest lack of civil rights in Germany, China, Argentina, and Spain, should be exposed as a political hypocrite.
An astronomer who couples the Soviet purge of scientists with the unenforced laws against the teaching of evolution in our three Southern states as equally bad, when he refrained from mentioning these laws in his denunciation of the Nazi purge of scientists, should be challenged to defend his discriminatory judgments. A literary critic who tells us that if he were in France he would be a Communist and who denies the facts about the suppression of civil liberties and academic rights in satellite countries should not be permitted to pose as a lover of freedom by his colleagues. A political scientist who writes that the Communist International was organized to defend the Soviet Union against invasion, when its existence was actually planned even before the October Revolution, or who invents a legend about there being two General Vlassovs in order to uphold the fiction that all the Russians rallied to Stalin’s regime after Hitler’s invasion, or who affirms that Trotsky was a fascist whose dealings with the Nazis were proved, and that he was assassinated by a bona fide member of his own organization who objected to his plotting with Martin Dies to overthrow the American government—such a man should have his credentials to competent scholarship openly questioned by his peers. Finally, anyone who professes to be appalled at Stalin’s regime of terror but who claims that the reports of Hitler’s atrocities were exaggerated and either justifies or is evasive about the brutal suppression of all democratic opposition in Spain should be subjected to the same critical exposure.
It is not the fact that these men lack imagination to comprehend the sufferings of the victims of totalitarian oppression, or the compassion to feel akin to the innocent and unjustly accused, or the courage to make an open and total commitment to a new political religion, which chiefly evidences their absence of academic integrity. Whatever failings they reveal on this score are the failings of human beings no matter what their vocations. Scholars or shoemakers may be morally insensitive, cruel, mean, and cowardly, and still turn out competent books or well-made boots. What crucially defines the treason to academic integrity on the part of these non-party scholars I have described is not even their violations of the canons of inquiry, which may only be occasional. It is their defense of, or silent acquiescence in, the use of police methods against their colleagues abroad—and what police methods!—to suppress ideas in any field not countenanced by party dogma, and their direct and indirect support in this country of a movement which wherever it comes to power aims to destroy every vestige of academic freedom. These “defenders” of academic freedom are its gravediggers.
Not even the most slippery apologist can deny that Communist regimes neither believe in nor practice academic freedom. It is no part of academic freedom for teachers anywhere to use the class room as concealed members of a political party to “inject” party dogmas into teaching, and “to take advantage of their positions without exposing themselves”—as the Communist party urges its members to do. The astronomers and geneticists, the artists and the historians who are purged in the Soviet Union are not punished for acting the way Communist party teachers do in the West, but for holding “wrong” beliefs or for insufficient enthusiasm about “right” ones—“wrong” and “right” ultimately depending on the fiat of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist party. It is certainly permissible—although I believe mistaken—for an individual to argue that despite everything members of the Communist party who are teaching in our schools and colleges should be completely unmolested. But when this is coupled with an ambiguous attitude toward the elimination not only of the academic freedom of teachers but often of their persons in Soviet Russia and other countries, what can this betoken but an utter lack of academic integrity? And we may include those in this judgment who up to yesterday have refused to protest academic practices in Communist countries but who now make brief and hasty references to the Soviet practice as a kind of rhetorical strategy in their campaign for the retention of Communist party members in this country.
Public criticism of the academic fellow-traveller will not be easy. Some of the totalitarian liberals who vigorously denounce administrative measures in this country and urge that things be settled in the free market-place of ideas are the first to utter shrill cries of “Red-baiter!” as soon as they and their friends are subjected to criticism. What they really desire is complete immunity from criticism.
Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, the groves of the academy have become one of the battlefields in the current struggle for freedom whose outcome will determine the pattern of culture for centuries to come. Whatever may be true for other battlefields, in the academy we must see to it that the struggle is fought under the same rules of the game which in the past have led in so many fields to clarification and new knowledge. But no one has a right to invoke the rules of the game as protection when he is detected violating them. The man of academic integrity is prepared to learn from anyone. As a scholar he recognizes no doctrines as subversive. For him doctrines are only valid or invalid in the light of objective evidence and logical inference. That is why he is responsible for keeping the sources of knowledge free from contamination by secret political storm troopers—Communist or others. That is why he must be prepared to take up the struggle, without the help of the state or the regents or the administration, against the obscurantists and professional innocents who would destroy the conditions of honest intellectual inquiry. He will have to fight on many fronts—against misguided patriots, clerical fascists, and those who are maddened by Communist intrigue into foolishness that may be harmful to free institutions.
It is a pity that so much intellectual energy must go into the defense of values which in happier times were taken for granted as integral to the life of scholarship. But it is precisely these values which are today under attack. If they die academic integrity dies, and with it academic freedom.
1 Education Between Two Worlds, 1942, page 91 (italics in the text) and page 279.
2 There are other arguments against the ban of Communist party teachers which in a fuller account would have to be considered. I have discussed some of them in the New York Times of February 27, 1949, and in the Saturday Evening Post of September 10, 1949.