More on student radicalism at Harvard (including catching Digby Baltzell in some misleading omissions)

We were previously shocked to discover that the general tenor of the 1970s pro-Khmer Rouge Harvard Crimson was Jewish.

You will be further surprised to learn that 1960s student radicalism didn't start at Harvard, and 1960s student radicalism at Harvard didn't start with "WASPs".

The excerpts below come from The Protestant Establishment Revisited (along with other sources, where noted, to correct Baltzell).

Note that Baltzell is pushing a ridiculous narrative of his own (namely, that "WASPs" doomed themselves by being too exclusionary), is eager to maximize the role of his subjects (elite "WASPs"), and leans heavily on a slanted source (a Jewish radical who in ranting about inter-leftist squabbles was evidently more interested in airing his hostility toward "WASPs" than in historical accuracy); yet he still acknowledges the primacy of Jews in 1960s student radicalism:

While the main reasons for the turmoil on the best campuses in America during the 1960s were the black revolution and the war in Vietnam, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the turmoil was also closely related to the decline of the WASP establishment and the rise of other groups, especially the affluent and newly suburbanized Jews, to elite status. Nevertheless, in viewing the generation gap within the old-stock upper class that resulted in its children's radical behavior, let us bear in mind that throughout the 1960s only a small minority of students were, as the saying went, "radicalized." Although in stable times students have always held more or less the same political opinions as their parents, those of the 1960s moved steadily away from the values of the Republican WASP establishment. For instance, in a 1960 presidential straw poll taken at Harvard, John F. Kennedy received 60 percent of the vote--more than Franklin Roosevelt or any other Democratic candidate had ever mustered on that campus since the Civil War. [. . .]

In the late 1960s, the student meritocracy at Harvard was very much like Princeton's--the ratio of students from private and public schools being a similar 40 and 60 percent. Harvard had, of course, been heterogeneous and meritocratic for a longer time, with its proportion of Jewish students higher than at Princeton and far higher than in President Lowell's day. In this connection, it is important to stress one factor in the generation gap within the upper class: the brighter young people were far more opposed to a general, blanket anti-Semitism than were their parents. [. . .] But for a clue to the values and attitudes of the brightest sons of the fourth-generation WASP establishment, let us look at the behavior of private school graduates at Harvard in the late 1960s.

The Berkeley campus revolution came in 1964, Columbia's in 1968, and Harvard's in the spring of 1969. The book on Harvard by S.M. Lipset and David Riesman includes a study of all the student revolts on that campus since the "Great Rebellion" of 1823, when John Quincy Adams's son John was expelled. "Harvard's year of the 'bust,' 1968-69," write these two authors, "was the most momentous year in the University's history in the century since Eliot took office." The history of that second Great Rebellion in 1969 has been thoroughly documented and need not be gone into here. But one thing is worth stressing: it was the sons of the WASP establishment who finally occupied the central administration building--an act that led to President Pusey's disastrous summoning of the local police.

This assertion ("it was the sons of the WASP establishment who finally occupied the central administration building") is, to say the least, questionable, as we'll see below.

Student radicalism at Harvard, as on most other campuses, was led by members of the SDS. Students for a Democratic Society was founded at Port Huron, Michigan, in 1962, and its Harvard chapter was by 1966 the largest in the nation. One of its founders at Harvard (his father was an ADA Democrat and a member of the Kennedy administration) was a great-grandson of James Stillman, John D. Rockefeller's banker.

Baltzell is referring here to Nat Stillman (Whit Stillman's brother), who was at one point "a vice-president of Harvard-Radcliffe Students for a Democratic Society". A fact not reported by Baltzell: "According to Nat Stillman, an early Harvard SDS leader who joined and later left the group, well over half of the Harvard SDS executive committee in its early days was made up of people who identified with or were members of the old-line Communist party, U. S. A."

Also not reported by Baltzell: Harvard SDS was "organized in 1964 by Carl Offner '64 and Michael Ansara". These appear to be the actual founders of the Harvard SDS chapter, and the surnames do not strike me as "WASP". Michael Ansara was also the leader of the University Hall occupation, and Offner, as a graduate student, was still involved at that time as well.

Lastly, it's interesting to note that Stillman too turns out to have apparent Jewish ancestry. While Nat Stillman's father was a grandson of Rockefeller's banker, not mentioned by Baltzell (and something I was not previously aware of) is that his (Deputy to the Under Secretary of Commerce in the Kennedy administration, John Sterling Stillman's) maternal grandmother was Jewish (or probably half-Jewish), a daughter of one Marcus Derckheim Boruck (who was apparently a newspaper editor and politician in mid/late 19th-century San Francisco). While this inheritance may be of little significance genetically, to the extent Nat and his father were aware of this minority ancestry it would not surprise me if it exerted some influence on their identity / politics.

By the time of the rebellion, the Harvard SDS had broken into two opposing factions, as left-wing movements often do: the more conservative SDS caucus and the more radical PL group, linked to the Maoist Progressive Labor party. From our point of view, the most useful description of the contrasting roles of these two wings in the 1969 "bust" is found in the book Push Comes to Shove: The Escalation of Student Protests by Steven Kelman, a student at Harvard between 1966 and 1970. Kelman came to Harvard as a convinced socialist and was the leader of the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) on the campus. From his first day there, he strongly disapproved of, indeed despised, the "pallid preppies." "On the second day," he wrote in his diary," I saw a tall, bond, not-quite-fat kid around the dorm. . . . One time he was gazing down at the rest of the world from his pedestal on the ledge of the staircase one floor up, and once against, later in the afternoon, downstairs. His eyes eyed me in a superciliousness so classic that I felt like photographing it. The lips seemed delicately positioned so that he could voice his contempt without saying one audible word . . . Disgusting prep school kid!" This reversal of the kike-on-sight syndrome held by private school boys in the 1930s prevails throughout the Kelman book. Young Kelman somehow never seemed to apply the "preppie" epithet, however, to preppies of Jewish background, some of whom were his friends.
But . . . I though moldbug explained Jewish radicals were driven only by an unexceptionable desire to assimilate with elite "WASPs".

"Who's in Harvard SDS?" Kelman asks, and immediately discards the Freudian approach in the Yale psychologist Kenneth Kenisston's "sycophantic accoun in The Young Radicals."

As more of a follower of Marx [Kelman writes], I think it would be useful to apply a class analysis to the sole phenomenon to which SDS refuses to apply this method: themselves, of course. Family income: average for U.S., $8,000 a year; average for Harvard, $17,000 a year; average for SDS, $23,000 a year (Source: poll of family incomes taken in Soc. Sci. 125, an SDS-run course taken almost entirely by New Leftists.) Secondary school education: of the 150-odd Harvard students arrested after the occupation of University Hall, approximately 50 percent attended prep school, with the largest representation from the most exclusive ones like St. Paul's. Just over 40 percent of the Harvard student body as a whole comes from prep schools.

Kelman divides the affluent SDS membership into the "hereditary left," which dominated the SDS caucus, and the Maoist PL group, made up of preppies whom he calls "WASP" rebels." The SDS at Harvard, according to Kelman, "never could have gotten started without the initial services of the hereditary radicals." This group became radical in the same way a Boston Irishman's son becomes a Democrat--by instinct. Their fathers had come of age in the 1930s and were now members of the increasingly affluent American intelligentsia. According to Kelman:

Irving Howe estimates that during the thirties and forties a million Americans may have passed through membership in the Communist party. Many are still radicals, if only under the table--or, to put it more accurately, at the dinner table--today. Around these talkative dinner tables the hereditary radicals absorbed from early childhood certain notions about who the bad guys and who the good guys are. . . . The hereditary radicals came to Harvard with their political commitments already well established.

Although the hereditary radicals founded and kept SDS going at Harvard in the 1960s, they lost out tot he Maoist PL leaders in the April 1969 rebellion--the taking over of University Hall and the calling of the police by President Pusey. Thus, according to Kelman, "almost none of the leaders of the New Left caucus, up to and including SDS co-chairman Kazin, were arrested. . . . The hereditary radicals tried to conceal their fears in a hocus-pocus of SDS rhetoric, . . . but the real source of their hesitancy was easier to understand . . . they might get jail and expulsion. That was more than Mom and Dad had led them to bargain for."

The hereditary radicals "combined the confidence and optimism of members of a rising social group," says Kelman--and, one might add, the sophisticated caution born of the experience of their fathers. The WASP rebels, on the other hand, seemed to have many of the characteristics (perhaps in the extreme) of most of their declining class. Kelman reflects on his WASP rebel classmates as follows:

The sight of an aristocrat who has lost the will to live is aesthetically degrading. These declining members of the American aristocracy are not at all similar to the standard aristocratic stereotypes. They are neither self-confident men at the top, uncaring of those below, nor the humane, social-service oriented democratic aristocrats.

The left should normally expect [Kelman continues] good strong hostility and opposition from the upper class--the enemy is nothing if not powerful. If some aristocrats want to rebel, though, that's their right. But the pale, delicate face of the used-up aristocrat who goes into SDS reminds one of nothing so much as Spengler's Decline of the West. The American upper class has been an aristocracy produced by primitive dog-eat-dog competition, and it is only now that enough generations have passed for it to begin to produce soft, declining offspring who are not "up" to its standards. . . . It is in the guilty aristocrat that we see clearly politics not for politics' sake, but for self-expression, the possibility of recapturing a lost vitality that one feels to weak to create for oneself.

I'm not inclined to take Kelman as credible even on this point, but I have no trouble believing that those scions of elite "WASPs" who did become radicals were on the whole lacking in confidence and poor specimens of their class, typically resentful of their peers and easily manipulable by foreign cultural streams.

The "declining aristocrats," as Kelman calls them, were all members of PL, not a "single one of them in the New Left caucus." But it was the PL preppies who carried their convictions--shallow and temporary as they were, and born of their declining self-confidence and frustration--to the ultimate conclusion in taking over University Hall, and being brutalized and arrested in doing so. The occupation of University Hall by the "pallid preppies" was a vital, symbolic event in the history of class relations in this country. Nothing since The Protestant Establishment was written, I should imagine, better illustrates what was happening to the WASP upper class, especially in its fourth generation. Imagine the reactions of the Harvard clubmen in their fathers' and grandfathers' generation had they witnessed "virtually everyone around the exclusive clubs wearing red armbands," as preppie David Bruce, Kelman's roommate in his sophomore year, reported to him during the bust. Kelman's views of his despised preppie classmates may seem to say more about his own relations with his ideological peers than about them. But perhaps his views were not so far off base.

From what I can tell, Kelman appears to have been almost entirely off base. Here's another radical chiding Seymour Martin Lipset for relying on Kelman:

You devote a page and a half of your conclusion (p. 250-251) to a discussion of the militant "worker-student alliance" (WSA) faction of SDS, which was led by the Maoist group "Progressive Labor Party" (PLP). You repeatedly state as fact, quoting Kelman, that the most militant student leaders during the turbulent spring of 1969 were "the scions of well-to-do WASP elite" (p. 250), "scions of privileged WASP America" (p. 251), "the children of the true blue, of the WASP elite, linked by social origins to the classes which had manned the clubs" (p. 251). You devote a half-page of sociological theorizing to conjectures aimed at explaining this fascinating phenomenon.

However, anyone who sat through a few SDS meetings during that period (as I did) knows differently. There was no mystery about who the PLP-ers were. Leading the most important caucus in SDS, they were vocal participants in every debate, and were always proud to identify themselves as "party members". It is a fact taht, at the time of the takeover of University Hall, there were precisely five PLP-ers at Harvard. Of them, three(3) were ethnically Jewish. "WASP elite"??

In the same part of the conclusion you refer to "the students arrested in University Hall, almost all of whom were WSA" (p. 250). At that time, the entire WSA caucus consisted of no more than 40-50 people. (By the summer it had increased to almost a hundred.) Over 170 students were arrested at University Hall. So no more than one fourth "were WSA"! The majority of SDS members were unaffiliated with any caucus, and many of the participants in SDS-led demonstrations (including the building seizure) were not even SDS members. The group of students arrested was not nearly so monolithic as your faith in Kelman's reporting leads you to believe. In fact, the WSA caucus was out-voted on some key points. (For example, the majority of arrested students chose a popular "movement lawyer" by the name of Flynn who was intensely disliked by the WSA people for ideological reasons.)

[Serge Lang. The File (1977-1979): Case Study in Correction.]

Ansara was anti-PL/WSA, while Offner was a member of the WSA. Jared Israel and Norm Daniels are the strikingly WASP names Google turns up as founders / leaders of the Harvard PL faction. (Hilary Putnam, another person mentioned as having been a member of PL at Harvard, was half Jewish; and his father was a scion not of elite northeastern "WASPs", but of small-town Midwestern farmers who look to have been ultimately of Southern and Mid-Atlantic ancestry.) The Progressive Labor party itself was "Created in 1962 by Milton Rosen". Back to Baltzell:
Four days after the occupation, the executive editor of the Crimson "Bared his soul, in the proud Crimson tell-it-like-it-is tradition, with a piece entitled 'Non-Politics on the Battlefront.'" The following excerpts cannot be faulted as coming from an anti-prep-school point of view:

What was most euphoric was us and what we were to each other. We were brothers and sisters. We did reach out and hold onto each other . . . we were very human and very together.

None of the above is very political stuff. But there was a group of us in University Hall who were not very political people. It was a strange group, not well-defined at all, that included some girls, some people from the Loeb (Drama Center), a couple of guys from the Fly Club, at least one from the Lampoon, and one in a tuxedo who had just come from a party and was drunk. There were others. Some of us didn't even know what the six demands were.

The executive editor of the Crimson, a graduate of Saint Paul's, as was his father before him, had everything that meritocratic Harvard now looks for. He was a good athlete, very popular, and a top scholar. Not long after Kelman's book was written, this wealthy and gifted preppie took his own life. One wonders what will happen to the rest of the gilded-Harvard youth who led the rebellion that spring.

What will happen to freedom in the fourth generation from the robber barons, which dropped out and rebelled in its youth during the late 1960s? Their problem partly reflected a severe crisis of class authority in America, highlighted in a series of tragic events from the assassination of President Kennedy to the Watergate affair. It would be too facile to blame the current decline of authority in America, or the tragic fate of the editor of the Harvard Crimson in 1969, entirely on the suicidal, exclusionary values of the WASP establishment. Perhaps the very strengths of an establishment in one generation preclude its functioning successfully in another. At any rate, when I wrote The Protestant Establishment during the administration of President Kennedy, I still had faith in the ability of the WASP establishment assimilate talented men and women of other ethnic and religious origins into its ranks. I have no such faith today. I remain convinced, though, that modern republican, political institutions, in both England and America, have traditionally been based on hierarchical social systems where class authority and the threat of class ostracism have been major agents of social control. A free press is a vital virtue in any democracy; like all virtues, however, it becomes a vice when carried too far and the fear of media exposure becomes the major sanction of a normative system. An authoritative establishment, in the long run, is far more important to the protection of freedom and democracy.

But perhaps it is best to forget about the WASP establishment, and instead cultivate an open but hierarchical society where all men aspire to be like Washington or Jefferson, rather than one in which all men must overtly ape the values of Everyman, all the while covertly coveting the shallow comforts of affluence and power. Not long after the decline of the Federalist establishment (of which the "Rebellion of 1823" at Harvard was a sympton) and the rise of Jacksonian democracy, Tocqueville pointed out the affinities between materialism and egalitarianism, from which the following lines are taken:

There is in fact a manly and lawful passion for equality which incites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to raise the humble to the rank of the great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved taste for equality which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level.
The name of the implied "WASP" Crimson executive editor who killed himself, which Baltzell fails to provide: Nicholas Gagarin. The father who also attended St. Paul's was not a "WASP" but a Russian prince (Andre Sergeievich Gagarin, born 1914 in St. Petersburg). And his mother certainly seems to have been rich, but also appears to have been part Irish. In omitting these facts while expounding on the "the suicidal, exclusionary values" of "WASPs" Baltzell goes well beyond discretion into deception. Nor does Baltzell mention that Nick Gagarin was evidently homosexual:
"I lived in Winthrop House from 1966 to 1969," he recalls. "In those days only Tom Hopkins '69"--the guy I was homophobic toward--"was flamboyantly 'out.' He was a magnet for a dozen embryonic gay Winthrop men. Our homoerotic world was very like the Oxford of Brideshead Revisited, with Tom as Anthony Blanche constantly egging us on. I was a cautious Charles Ryder; my Sebastian Flyte was Nick Gagarin '70--beautiful, aristocratic, charming, and responsive. It was a time of intense romantic friendships, resonant with youthful laughter and daring and rebellion. These friendships reached sexual consummation only rarely and hesitantly--for me, just four or five times. Late-night knocks on my door, awkward passionate embraces, long intense confessions..."

The transition from 1966 (when Newmeyer got to Winthrop House and the Ivy League was still pretty much a tweedy, traditional place) to 1969 (the year of the Strike, when he left) was extraordinary. Vietnam was the catalyst, but everything changed.

"The year 1969 marked the end of an era in sexual politics at Harvard," says Newmeyer. "Dress codes, parietal rules, same-sex Houses were on the way out. The civil-rights movement, the antiwar movement, the exploration of marijuana, the Strike--for us wannabe gays it all culminated in Stonewall. That was all we needed: we leapt out of the closet, became gay activists, and hesitated no longer about our sexuality. Actually, we pretty much concluded that it was a damn lucky thing to be gay in that blissful dawn."

Not for me. Not quite yet. And not for Nick Gagarin, ever. He committed suicide in 1971.

While that particular confirmation was published well after The Protestant Establishment Revisited, Baltzell undoubtedly read the following histrionic obituary from another Gagarin "friend" in the St. Paul's alumni magazine before he decided to pass off this half-Russian, part-Irish, mentally-unstable homosexual as an exemplary "WASP" doomed to tragedy by exclusive "WASP" values.
'66 - Nicholas Gagarin died at his home in Litchfield, Connecticut. November 25, 1971. He leaves his parents. Andrew S. Gagarin, '33, and Jamie Porter Gagarin: a sister, Mrs. Raoul Pujol, and two brothers, Michael, '59. and Peter Gagarin, '63.

The absurdity of it outweighs the tragedy. The brilliant young man with everything in the world shoots himself to death, in the middle of a blizzard early on Thanksgiving morning. The family grieves, friends are rounded up for a funeral, his ashes are scattered over the fields and hills that he loved. And here I sit, the old school chum, the roommate of so many academic years, the "closest friend," stuck with the problem of making a dead man live, when I still can't believe that he's dead.

Nick Gagarin was the most talented, intelligent, and enigmatic person I've ever met. Those of you who knew him at St. Paul's did not know him at all. He changed a great deal over the past five years and became, as I hope most of us have, something far removed from the captain of this and the president of that, a spoiled and arrogant product of a classy school. His warmth and humor increased as his shyness vanished. His interest in other people was immense. He physicalized everything he felt, and was at his best hugging and holding the people he loved.

His career at Harvard was the expected success: he wrote and published a novel, he was big cheese on the Crimson, and he spent time at Esalen in California where he broadened and tested himself. By the time he graduated in 1970, Nick Gagarin had become someone quite special.

Nick always talked about being "up" - he tried desperately to be high on life all the time, and was badly let down when he failed or others failed him. The dreams got bigger the more he questioned his ability to make them come true. The strange, remote, frightening, and rather wild side of him flourished.

And so with exquisite logic Nick took his own life. It's appalling and incredible and a waste and such a shame, blah blah blah, but that's the way he wanted it and one must respect that.

A horrible thing, I find, is how quickly the image fades. There's not much left except things he said that you remember and the letters he wrote that you kept.

I wish I could could end this without being corny and obvious but I can't, so you must each supply your own endings and learn from your own conclusions.

Andre Bishop, '66

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forever in search of a significant other, she had a string of gay "husbands," most of them theater luminaries, Salamon tells us, including André Bishop, artistic director of Playwrights Horizons and later Lincoln Center Theater (two crucial incubators of Wasserstein's plays)