Pusey's Mystification

IN HIS Baccalaureate Address, President Pusey exposed himself. He unburdened himself of some of the emotions that must have been inside through the last years.

Pusey has come to feel that young radicals are neo-fascists. We knew how feel feels anyway, particularly from Harvard's increased commitment to political repression of students on campus and in the courts. His speech has been hailed as a courageous re-assertion of reason over the anarchic chaos of student power.

Pusey's honesty was itself perversely refreshing, but the most important thing about his address is that it allows us to see how the man works for long enough to begin to understand where his mistakes lie and how best to fight them.

Pusey warned that extremist radicals, and the mindless "self-styled moderates" who back them up, are using "distortion and misrepresentation designed to magnify indignation and sow distrust." From this, Pusey has sadly come to see that what moves student politics is the drunken aura of power. That greatest scourge of academia, popular anti-intellectualism, is again, as in the-time of Joc McCarthy, panting and slobbering. Most frightening of all, it is coming not from smelly old Washington, but from "in our midst."

Student radical fascists are threatening to break apart "the values and modes of living of the enlightened society based on reason, tolerance, and the advancement of science which humane people have dreamed about, and through generations been struggling to create." Perhaps Pusey cannot understand that it is hard to fully savor those values when they contribute or assent to genocidal war and truly anarchic destruction of environmental resources of life.

Pusey admits there are problems these days, which is comforting. He longs for a part in a University long past whose role as social critic was gilded by that special political impotence which academia has always cherished as a positive value. The university exists, we suppose, to say what a better world would look like. The "wisdom" of scholars rests with their appreciation that working for ideals in a non-theoretical way is useless. Or as Pusey says, "regard for individuals as opposed to masses of people, and a restraining awareness of the dubiety of all human ends." This cynical elitism fuels the enterprise of scholarship.

Pusey's appeal is somewhat like that of the medieval church to peasants. We must trudge on, with blinders affixed, through these troubled times, eyes always on the "world of reason, modesty, charity and trust." This is the liberal dream-world; its theatric the mortar of the ivory tower of the bourgeoisie, no more concretely responsive to the anguish of the world now than it was a hundred years ago.

TO BE HONEST, one must acknowledge the sincerity and appeal of the dream. Desire to flee the temporal world for a finer one motivated the great art of the western world. The inspiration that built the cathedrals of Europe needs no argument as a possible response to theworld. Yet modern man must finally have learned that such a response is wholly insufficient. Art cannot redeem the human suffering necessary for its creation.

It is no mere accident that Pusey is a devoutly religious man. His dreams are the legitimizing abstractions that have traditionally allowed intellectual men of faith to feel good about their lack of involvement with the world. The world is miserably dirty and oppressive. The choice is whether to flee that reality, or give oneself to trying to change it.

Pusey might be cheered to know the attraction his dream-world still holds for students. It is comfortable; we have all been educated to enjoy its detachment, privilege, and intellectual self-indulgence. A part of all of us lingers near that world. It is in our blood, and can surge out of us with debilitating power. Yet we cannot consciously dedicate ourselves to the vision once we have perceived it as a lie in the face of history. We cannot in conscience accept a bloody heritage, dependent on an oppression of the majority of the world that has historically accompanied any "magnificent flowering" of a privileged minority.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French existential Marxist, speaks very convincingly in Humanism and Terror about the liberal illusions. He says: Communism is often discussed in terms of contrast between deception, cunning, violence, propaganda [Pusey used many of these same words] and the respect for truth, law and individual consciousness... Communists reply that in democracies, cunning, violence, propaganda, and realpolitik in the guise of liberal principles are the substance of foreign or colonial politics and even of domestic politics. Respect for law and liberty has served to justify police repression of strikes in America... The material and moral culture of England presupposes the exploitation of the colonies. The purity of principles not only tolerates, but even requires violence.

Merleau-Ponty thus believes that there is a "mystification" in liberalism, through which one comes to believe out of faith that the abstracts in whose name one conducts oppression actually exist. Harvard asks to participate in the Cambridge Project in the name of an academic freedom it will not apply to the radical Soc Rel 148-49. The principles of the liberal state, the bourgeois freedoms, finally benefit only those who propound them. The history of black people in America teaches us that.

But when it comes to popularly-based action on the rhetoric of principle, liberalism must of course put down its foot, as Pusey has done. Privilege must be defended, because masses of poor and hungry, like the Vietnamese, will not tolerate an abstract fantasy which, when translated from the muted wood-paneled tones of the University into political reality, equals napalm and saturation bombing. Merleau-Ponty explains how we can penetrate the rhetoric:

In refusing to judge liberalism in terms of the ideas it espouses and inscribes in its constitutions, and in demanding that these ideas be compared to the prevailing relations in a liberal state, Marx is providing... a formula for the concrete study of society which cannot be refuted by idealist arguments... To understand and penetrate a society one has to penetrate its basic structure to the human bond upon which it is built.

If you want to see what that human bond looks like in America, turn on your television set.

WHAT OF Pusey's charges: that radicals have championed the Hitler/McCarthy tactic of the "big lie." Pusey recalls in his speech the first bombasts of the new left, when, "the big lie let loose among us began to take shape; that is, that the University is a hopelessly bigoted, reactionary force, which serves the interests of a hideous military-industrial complex by doing its chores and by intellectually emasculating the young..." Pusey coyly adds that he knows that must sound ridiculous, but there are people who actually believe it.

It goes without saying that the charge bears little relation to the world as Pusey sees it. But the question is not whether radical changes match up to liberal rhetoric, but what they say about the actual functioning of the liberal state. We must agree to penetrate Pusey's illusion more honestly than he himself is able. What is the objective relation of this University to a government which sanctions the murder of Black Panthers? To a country that simply declares enemy-held areas as "free fire zones' in which any movement is judged as complicity?

If one uses Merleau-Ponty's historical objectivity, the mere fact that this University continues to exist in America links it, and all who attend it, to the horror of the war. What of a less rigorous standard?

Let us break apart the components of "the big lie." Pusey says we call Harvard hopelessly bigoted. This, as it intends, summons images of Birmingham, Alabama, and Sheriff Bull Connor spitting juice from his "Mail Pouch" chewing tobacco. And of course Pusey is right. Harvard does not look like that. It wears a coat and tie, and on a broad-based scale, it is less reprehensible than some other forces in society. But racism is practiced here, in its liberal dress. A prime example is the issue of the painters' helpers.

Some years ago, Harvard's civil rights image needed some beefing up. The order went out from on top to hire more blacks. The Chase Manhattan Bank, and just about every other businessman around, sent out a similar order. So blacks were hired (by benevolent Harvard) to be painters.

But although they were hired to do the work of painters, they were called (and paid as) painters' helpers. They had to prove to Harvard, because they were black, that they were truly skilled in their craft, skilled enough to be journeymen, and rise above what Harvard must have congratulated itself on: the "new" position to give poor old black people a chance. Sonny Gordon, a black man who had worked as a master painter in Britain, came to Harvard looking for a job and was told that the University was hiring (black) painters. He was given a job as a helper, which meant that the University could pay him a dollar less an hour, and feel good too. Thus a program was started less to deal with the problem than to reinforce the illusions which deny it.

As for the charge that the University serves the Military-Industrial Complex, there is convincing evidence both in Pusey's chicanery two years ago to subvert the Faculty and keep ROTC here, and in the University investment portfolio, which includes 33 of the top 100 defense contractors. What of the more difficult issue of the CFIA? The question is subtle, perhaps more subtle than the Weatherman raid of the CFIA implied, but infinitely more so than Pusey's pointless vindication of their "fine scholarship" implies. Of course they do "good" work. The Harvard Faculty is made up of intelligent men. But what is the function of their work? Who gains and who loses?

The CFIA is one of the keystones of "liberal" policy toward the Third World. It is seeking to do the job of the Vietnam war without the embarrassing muss and fuss. So the CFIA seeks to deny the conditions (rather than the more obvious CIA policy of denying leaders) that fuel revolutionary situations. Thus the CFIA does not oppose, for example, land reform, if it is a necessary condition for ensuring order, and keeping leaders friendly to our interests in power. It counsels economic reform so as to better bypass the troubling social unrest that accompanies popular programs of modernization. This translates quickly to anti-communism.

And since the story of the Third World today must be that of an angry anti-colonial revolution working itself out, our liberal commitment to order, although apparently harmless at first glance, is objectively counter-revolutionary. And we attack the CFIA because we believe that no force, no matter whether it wears a uniform or not, has a right to tamper with the process of social liberation that revolutionary change opens up to the people of the old colonial empires. And of course we have learned from Vietnam what the next step is if peaceful counter-revolutionary attempts fail.

SINCE PUSEY goes to uncharacteristic lengths of self-dramatization in recount his role as St. George in the early '50's production that featured McCarthy as dragon, it is important to analyze the content of his actions. For Pusey holds out his response as the prime vindication of his liberal system.

What Pusey said then was essentially that although it might be true that communists had no right to teach at universities, there were no communists left at Harvard. He had already removed any he could find. He told McCarthy that Harvard had to be free to police itself. We begin to see that what repulsed Pusey about Joe McCarthy was not his politics, for Pusey too disliked communism. Rather it was McCarthy's piggish style. A liberal system must always weed out its enemies, but with understated elegance.

Our sanctification of law is an example. If the worst repression can be called "legal" then it is OK. "Illegality," becomes an aesthetic judgment. McCarthy had to be dealt with, for he too challenged the subtly-honed instrument of the liberal state, dragging it into the mire of recognizable personality. As Pusey says, those were not pleasant times. He finds them analogous to the present because he is once again threatened by voices which claim to speak for the people. Yet it is impossibly ignorant to say that because both right and left threaten the liberal center, they are the same.

We need not, as Pusey has, throw objective analysis out the window. There is a difference between good ideas and bad, and only a very frightened man loses the ability to differentiate. Finally Pusey is probably right. We no longer respect his Pantheon of rationalism above human life. And so we are threatening to bring down his tower, built, as he admits, upon the most tenuous of foundations. We believe that we are fighting for a better world. Objective proof of that must await the judgment of history. But on what we can understand here and now (and we must always make our decisions on that information alone) we believe that we are rejecting elitist dream-lies for a reality which the Cubans, Vietnamese, and Chinese understand and see in their lives every day.

We are tormented by the fact that the contradictions of our society make it almost impossible to see that new world in our own lives for any longer than an instant. It all looks sensible on paper, and on paper we can deal with Pusey's simplistic attack. Is the vision worth fighting and dying for? What is the final efficacy of violence? These are questions which are uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and increasingly necessary.