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.