( The following article first appeared in the CRIMSON during last April's crisis at Harvard. )
THE feature pages of the CRIMSON have made it clear that there are two distinct sets of reasons for seizing, striking, occupying, acting-radicalism and romanticism. The two sets are easily identifiable: the first is associated with words like "demands," or "grievances" or "conscience," the second is associated with any words other than "reasons," with words which deny cause-and-effect. I use the word "reasons" only because I have no other, and that should reveal to you the type of person I am.
Two weeks ago, University Hall was filled with people who took on various combinations of these reasons. They were all of them serious people, those who were there for the power and those who were there for the aesthetic alike were serious. Romanticism is serious business.
One might argue that it must be serious, since it is forbidden. But I would prefer merely to say that it is serious because it is the major commitment of the best undergraduates at Harvard. No one can pretend to have a clear vision of what happened two weeks ago if he fails to realize that the brightest and most creative people at Harvard were in University Hall at 5 a.m. Thursday morning.
I was in bed then, asleep in Winthrop House. At two a.m., I had left those best and most creative people, walked guiltily down the stairs between their files of eyes, walked across that dark yard past the reasonable student-government people who had stayed up to argue and to observe, walked more guiltily yet past the friendly University policeman on Quincy Street, walked home in the cold, past the Houses where slept the Great Uncommitted with whom I felt I had less in common than with those romantics, or even those radicals.
I do not need to tell you why I left the radicals-politics is always a consideration of marginal differences, of weighing gains and losses, of technicalities. At least, so I now say to myself, having then determined not to act. Besides, radical politics on campus have been written to death.
But romanticism is alive and well.
( Definitions-if you understand already, advance to 3 )
WHEN I say romanticism, I am not being purposely insulting. I am not talking about Carlyle or Clean Gene, though clearly the word is the same. Nor is romanticism something to be viewed strictly in contrast with radicalism.
Rather, we might imagine, to supplement the right-to-left line for political stances, a linearly independent vector for romanticism. Left-romantics want to change people because they despair that systems can be changed or because they believe that systems will change to fit the change of people's needs. Left-unromantics (pragmatists?) want to change the system to change the man (or perhaps for more abstract reasons, justice, etc.). George Orwell, in his essay on Charles Dickens, recognized the trends, saying, "They appeal to different individuals, and they probably have a tendency to alternate in terms of time." We are now, perhaps at midphase, the most difficult time.
Conservative romanticism has been with us for a while-an example is any form of hero-worship, the idea that the best government is that which in an orderly fashion gives strength to the best governor.
Radical romanticism is what you read about in those oddly-numbered CRIMSON radicalism articles on Wednesdays. It seems, at present, to have something to do with rock music, mysticism, the carpe diem motif, and the notion that "things aren't caused, they just happen-then we react or categorize." It has a lot to do with self-expression. That's why the best and most creative people can afford to be romantics. But perhaps there are times when none of us can afford to be romantics.
I LEFT the romantics because they were happy.
Of course, this is because I fear the retribution of a puritanical God. If you enjoy it, it can't be good for you. But there's more.
If I had felt that the painful jolt of the occupation might have the power to open people's lives, I could have stayed. But the enjoyment of the jolt itself, the aesthetic pleasure of rebellion, is a horrifying thought. For it is unanswerable; there is no return. The Faculty can rap on love and the Corporation can let the poor clip its coupons, all to no avail. Grant what concession you will, unless you turn American society upside-down and free the consciousness from the tyranny of the corporate state-and maybe even after all that-there is no answer to a man who enjoys his act of rebellion, who says isn't-it-wonderful-look-at-the-art-and-music-it's-in-spring-o-hear-people-communicate-o-dammit-I-feel-free. What do you concede to a man who has no demands?