A Berkeley Professor decries University complicity: "Neutrality is only conceivable with isolation"
Richard Lichtman is an assistant professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from Yale. "He's as close as we can get to the ideological leader of the New Left," said one Berkeley grad student. The following is excerpts from a speech--"The Ideological Function of the University" -- which Lichtman presented at the Berkeley Faculty Peace Committee's "Convocation on the War and the University" in April of this year. -- ed.)
NOTHING can better illustrate the collapse of the University as an independent, critical agent in our society than a comparison of the remarks of two observers, separated by one hundred years, on the nature of a university education. In the middle of the -19th century one of its astutest critics noted:
. . . a University is not a place of professional education. . . . It is very right that there should be public facilities for the study of professions. . . . But these things are no part of what every generation owes to the next, as that on which its civilization and worth will principally depend. . . . Men are men before they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers; and if you will make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians. What professional men should carry away with them from a University, is not professional knowledge, but that which should direct the use of their professional knowledge, and bring the light of general culture to illuminate the technicalities of a special pursity, is not professional knowledge, but that which should direct the use of their professional knowledge, and bring the light of general culture to illuminate the technicalities of a special pursuit. . . .
"We come at last to the scholarship of civility, devoid of passion, lacking love or outrage, irrelevant to the agony of man."
But this view has given way in our time to a very different conception.
Knowledge has expanded and expanded. . . . More knowledge has resulted from and led to more and more research on a larger and larger scale. Research has led to service for government and industry and agriculture. . . . All of this is natural. None of it can be reversed. . . . Small intellectual communities can exist and serve a purpose, but they run against the logic of their times.
The campus has evolved consistently with society. It has been pulled outward to society and pulled to pieces internally. . . .
The welfare-state university, or multiuniversity . . . made the welfare of its' concern . . . the university has served many masters in many ways.
As the university becomes tied to the world of work, the professor--at least in the natural and some of the social sciences--takes on the characteristics of a nenterpreneur. . . . The two worlds are merging physically and psychologically. . . . (The university is) a mechanism held together by administrative rules and powered by money.
The first of these comments is from John Stuart Mill; the second, from Clark Kerr.
We need not romanticize Mill's age, nor pretend that the university students of whom he spoke acted in radical concert to revise the foundations of their time. They were, in their own way, as readily absorbed into the hierarchy of domestic civil service and foreign imperialism as students of our own society are absorbed into comparable institutions.
But what is of crucial significance (today) is that the very ideal of autonomy (for the university) has been denied and that those who speak for higher education in this country come increasingly to derive their definition of purpose from the existing agencies of established power.
The pronouncements of Mill and Clark Kerr differ in several ways; the first is exclusionary, the second is ready to incorporate any interest that society urges upon it; the first distinguishes between higher and lower knowledge, while the second distributes its emphasis in accordance with available financial support. Most important, perhaps, the older view regards itself as bound by intrinsic canons of culture, while the current conception accommodates and molds itself to prevailing trends. . . .
For contemporary doctrine the ancient tension between what the world is and what it might become has all but vanished. The current perspective is an apologia, a celebration, an ideological consecration of this most lovely of all possible worlds, in short, a consenting academy.
This conclusion follows directly from Mr. Kerr's own analysis, for if the university performs all the functions which society imposes upon it, it will in course most ably fulfill that predominant function which every social system requires for its very existence--the justification of its established structure of power and privilege, the masking or idealization of its deficiencies and the discrediting of dissent. This is an ideological function.
The most important internal need for ideology grows from the slowly developing awareness of a profound discrepancy between what this social system has the power to provide its members and what it actually makes available to them. Technological resources are adequate to provide a very high level of material welfare to the entire population if the control over these facilities can be made to pass progressively from the hands of a self-high level of material welfare to the entire population if the control over these facilities can be made to pass progressively from the hands of a self-authenticating business autocarcy to the authority of the people as a whole. . . .
The development of technology in this century is making it progressively clearer to the impoverished in this country and to the underdeveloped countries of the world that they suffering and injustice they are forced to undergo is not inevitable.
Therefore, the more that technology develops, and the more its benefits are expropriated by the privileged of the world, the greater becomes the need of the dominant class to cloak its injustice and to pretend that its actions are in the common interest or beyond the powers of men to change. The growing division between what the world is and what it might become is the primary force behind the intensification of organized efforts to legitimate established authority. . . .
THOSE in power recognize the importance of domestic consensus to achieve these ends, and the educational views of men like Mr. Kerr, which stress the need for molding reason to the pattern of contemporary power, appear conveniently upon the scene to facilitate economic and military service and the soothing of discontent.
While a university patterned after Mill's ideal could not possibly perform this task, the contemporary university does perform it masterfully. Approximately 75 per cent of the research budget of the university derives from federal contracts, and as Mr. Kerr notes, "Expenditures have been largely restricted to the physical and biomedical sciences, and to engineering, with only 3 per cent for the social sciences and hardly any support for the humanities." But this distribution is defended on the grounds that it represents the national interest and the flow of money after "the most exciting new ideas."
In this mood, reason--the university--gives up the claim to direct social change, and settles instead for the immediate rewards of technical manipulation and becomes an efficient means to ends beyond its power or judgment. It is strengthened in this tendency by a widespread assumption that in America the good life has already been achieved in a system of democratic, corporate pluralism. The quest of the ages having been completed, there is nothing more for reason to do than maintain the current structure and make the necessary corrections. . . .
The American educator has chosen to capitulate to one of the tendencies of his time; he agreed to relinquish his rational autonomy, and having made this specific decision, he is now incapable of regarding himself as anything more than the medium through which the course of the future blindly passes. But this logic unmasks the myth of neutrality--for it was the choice passivity, the commitment to subservience, which produced the observer's sense that he is the mere conductor of an irreversible process. . . .
If it (the university) is not immediately useful to established power it tends to withdraw, and place itself between itself and the anxieties and responsibilities of the world, what Auden in one of his poems referred to as "lecturing on Navigation while the ship is going down." The university can accommodate itself to national power in one of two ways--overtly or covertly, through subservience or indifference, through the performance of assigned tasks, or the distraction and trivialization of potentially critical thought.
For subservience we can do no better than the introduction to Semour Martin Lipset's Political Man. We discover there a number of astounding things: "that the United States Martin Lipset's Political Man. We discover there a number of astounding things: "that the United States (is) a nation in which leftist values predominate"; that "the values of liberty and equality became institutionalized within America to a greater extent than in other nations"; that "the values of socialism and Americanism are similar"; and that, economic systems apart, Herbert Hoover, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller "advocated the same set of social relations among men" as Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
History may yet record these sweet reflections less as a hymn to quietude than as the last muffled cry of the ostrich as its mouth fills up with sand. . . .
The prevaliing credo of contemporary social inquiry limits reason to an analysis of those means which will lead most efficiently to given ends; reason is strictly precluded from passing judgment on the ends themselves. The value of the exercise is said to lie in the accumulation of stores of neutral knowledge, useful for whichever ends we intend to employ them. There is no time here to discuss the simplicity of the underlying assumptions of this enterprise, but something must be said about its social consequences.
The significance of this position is that it places reason and technological expertise at the disposal of prevailing power. The thinker who has abdicated responsibility for the purpose of his life by placing control over his action in powers beyond his authority, has made himself a hostage to the times. Having relinquished his claim to normative reason, he is without mooring in the world. The tides of current times, degenerate as they may be, will sweep the uncommitted in their course.
WE ARE witness to the spectacle of the men of small imagination, limited in comprehension to diminishing areas of inquiry, lacking the capacity to note the import of their activity for the more pervasive aspects of the human enterprise, subservient to an establishment that does not hesitate to use them for the most inhumane and obnoxious ends. Men of technical reason, as skilled at killing as at helping, progressively unconcerned with the distinction, and unaware that value resides anywhere but in techniques itself. So, crippled reason pays obeisance to power and the faculty in man most fit to nurture life becomes the instrument of violence and death.
The consequence of these processes of fragmentation and division in the life of reason is the destruction of human autonomy. The university is thickly populated by cynical or silent men. . . .
If the militarized, economic bureaucracy that defines established power in this country has no need for cultures, if neutral technology is what it wants, the handmaiden of power but compliant to its ends, what shall we expect the "service-station" university to become but the internalized, refined, and rationalized conception of this barbarism?
We come at last to the scholarship of civility; devoid of passion, lacking love or outrage, irrelevant to the agony of man. "The advancement of learning at the expense of man," Nietzche wrote, "is the most pernicious thing in the world."
What is the moral obligation of the university as a corporate body? It is no use telling us now, as we were told recently by Mr. Hofstadter, that while individual members of the university may voice conviction, the university as a public institution is bound to strict neutrality. Mr. Kerr has demolished that argument for all time. It is no less neutral to oppose society than to support it, to refuse a place to military service than to credit it. Neutrality is only conceivable with isolation.
NOTHING in the public realm can fail, at specific points, to aid or undermine established power. The being of man in the world is only possible through action, which requires the selection of one alternative and the foreclosures of others. One cannot, in all instances, avoid choice; the only hope is to choose responsibility, in light of the largest understanding and the most humane commitment. As the university is rooted in the world, it must, at given moments, choose a public course; the liberal contention that the university refrain from criticism is an expression of "preferential neutralism," a transparently hyprocritical device for the maintenance of continued service.
Of course, it is not the corporate function of the university to speak to every public issue, nor even to the vast majority of prevailing social concerns. The fundamental purpose of the university does not encompass any special policy in regard to most contemporary matters, and in its public pronouncements, and corporate activity, the university should refrain from endorsing particular views in the overwhelming number of cases.
But when the university's support is solicited by established agencies of power, it must decide if the services requested of it violate its defining purpose, and reject them if they do. And so, it is also obligated to protest when society has undertaken to violate, either in regard to the university itself, or humanity at large, those values the university is specifically charged to honor as a requirement of its public function.
To discover the public function of the university one must begin with its internal imperative--the gathering of a community of scholars in devotion to disinterested knowledge. Such, at least, is the traditional wisdom. But it is not adequate to our time. . . . Today the distinction between pure and applied science is disappearing with the growth of state power so imperious and technologically competent, that it can transform the most esoteric knowledge into techniques of terror.
Science has itself contributed to the creation of that state machinery which now makes the enterprise of science hazardous. It has done so because it has lacked responsibility for its growth. It is too late now to fall back on the platitudes of academic freedom; no biochemist can be sure that in pursuing the structure of an enzyme he is not perfecting a lethal form of warfare. . . .
What is the obligation of the university in a world in which one nation is reducing the people of another to the most primitive functions of its existence; when the very rudiments of civilization and culture are being extinguished and the orders of life upon which reason grows destroyed by systematic violence?
In such circumstances it is the obligation of the university to rebel against the violation of man and align itself in public with humanity. Today, the university is required to condemn the government of the United States for its barbaric crusade against the life and spirit of the people of Vietnam. A university that will not speak for man, whatever tasks it continues to perform, has ceased to be a human enterprise.
It (the university) has a special capacity to transcend its social constraints because it embodies a tradi- tion of intellectual diversity and articulate criticism; and because of all human functions, thought is the most difficult to curtail. But while the university is uniquely promising, it is also uniquely promising, it is also uniquely threatened by the pressures of ideology to which we have already referred. The university is in constant tension between its ideal critical capacity, and the powers of secular service that delimit its hope.
The university has been molded by current powers and we (the university) have been formed and malformed in our turn. The alienation of society has become our apathy and fragmentation; its anti-intellectualism and glorification of technology, our play at neutralism in an inversion of ends and means; its crude devotion to wealth and power, our imbalance and intellectual prostitution.
To reconstitute ones self is for a man to remake the world in which he is defined. To know what we might become is not a simple test of the intellect, but it requires that we engage in such committed action as can destroy the deforming boundaries of our lines. So, action and thought require each other, inform each other, and complete each other, and the obligation imposed on the intellectual, as it is imposed on any man, is not merely to speak against the world, but to refashion it.
It is not a violation of the purpose of a university that some part of its activity serve society; but the university must determine, through its own critical agency, that the society it is to serve is a place in which the spirit of man may be nurtured and advanced