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Cambridge 38

From the Shelf

By Steven V. Roberts

Cambridge 38, the magazine with the perpetual identity crisis, has been slipped under our doors again. A wrap of dialogue on the cover, advertising an article by W. H. Ferry, reads: "Q. What's new? A. Everything." First of all there is that picture on the cover of a very Joan Baezish looking girl (unkempt man's shirt and stringy hair and all) gazing pensively into the darkness. She evidently belongs to a photo essay, "Letter from a Fortified City," by Kenneth Andau.

Several of Andau's pictures are very good, but the whole "face of suffering and anxiety" theme has just been beaten into the ground. One 'Cliffie remarked to his reviewer, "Why doesn't anyone take pictures of happy people any more?" That's not completely fair: several of Andau's grimaces, with a little imagination, fight be construed as half-smiles. On the whole, one gets the feeling one has seen something very much like this essay many times before.

W.H. Ferry's article (he is vice-president of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a division of the Fund for the Republic) is called "Transforming Economic Institutions," and is an adaptation of a recent speech.

His basic thesis echoes the philosophical radicalism of John Stuart Mill: economic institutions "should be recognized merely as means to be put into the service of a modern theory of political economy," and should never obtain the stature of ends in themselves. It is only by constantly re-examining and reforming our institutions, our means, that our ends can be made real and meaningful.

Having set himself his task, Ferry proceeds to attack the stock market and the modern corporation as not containing the basic elements of democracy he feels are necessary for a just economic order. He also takes a few swipes at the military and warns of the dangers of a technology that "cannot be resisted or controlled. . . only obeyed."

The article makes an extremely important point: that economic institutions must be re-examined and judged on how they actually do serve the ends of a society. The Millian tenet of re-examination could well be extented to areas other than economic.

But the piece is unpardonably long and often tedious, and I doubt that I would have finished it if I were not going to review the magazine. In any case, my main objection to Ferry's article is not on substantive grounds.

Cambridge 38 contributes little to the community in publishing an article like Ferry's. It is not as if we could not read a similar article in any one of a number of other magazines. A college magazine is most valuable when it provides a forum for undergraduate thought, and this should be its primary reason for being.

One of the most worthwhile elements of a student's education can be writing for or editing a magazine or newspaper. But Harvard is changing, academic standards are rising, the number of students able or willing to devote a great deal of time to outside activities is dwindling rapidly. Magazines like Cambridge 38, Mosaic, or Comment, which publish relatively infrequently and encompass a wide range of topics, can provide the experience of publication for students who have limited free time, and perhaps the desire to write only about limited things.

The article by Simon Lazarus III, one of the magazine's senior editors, called "The Future of the Unthinkable," is a good example of my point. Starting from his academic background (he is taking Kissenger's defense seminar) Lazarus offers a lucid and at times quite original, analysis of current problems in defense policy.

Even if Ferry's article were outstanding (and it isnt'), I would prefer to see undergraduate writing in the magazine. That outside writing might be more authoritative on certain subjects is not really the point. An undergraduate venture like Cambridge 38 is more important for educating its staff than entertaining or informing its audience. And happily, the two objectives are not incompatible.

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