Two weeks from now, Susie and I will go to Cambridge, MA for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of an undergraduate interdisciplinary program at Harvard called Social Studies. I was the first Head Tutor of the program in 1960-61, as readers of my Memoir will recall. There is a day-long program of symposia and speeches on Saturday, September 25th, and I have been penciled in to make a few remarks at the lunch, which will be held in the Adams House dining room. On the program with me, I am very sorry to say, will be Martin Peretz, who was involved with Social Studies a little later than was I.
Back in 1960, Marty was an egregious little wannabe hanger-on to the group of young proto-lefties who called ourselves "The New Left Club of Cambridge," but subsequently, he married money, bought The New Republic, and turned that fine old progressive magazine into a flack for the State of Israel. Marty has done well for himself, if you ignore the sort of person he is. It seems there is a Martin Peretz Professorship of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, no less. A scholarship fund will now be set up in his name at Harvard, and he will be honored at the lunch.
When I heard that I was going to be sharing the podium with Marty, I thought seriously about canceling. I don't know how much time I have left on this earth, and somehow spending even a lunch of it in the presence of Marty Peretz doesn't strike me as a good use of my time. But I am genuinely proud of my small role in the establishment of Social Studies, and besides, Susie and I have arranged to have dinner Friday evening with our old friends, Milton Cantor and Margaret Taylor. So we will go.
Now I read that Marty has shot his mouth off about the controversy surrounding the proposed Muslim community center near the former World Trade Center in New York. Here is what he is quoted as having said: "But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."
Apparently a doctorate from Harvard isn't what it is cracked up to be. Marty is under the impression that the First Amendment protections are a "privilege" -- which, I am sure, he imagines he has earned. I wonder whether he has remembered to register as an agent of a foreign power.
I told Anya Bernstein, the current Head of Social Studies, that I was well brought up and will behave myself at the lunch, but I begged her not to seat me next to Marty at the head table. She agreed.