One of the much touted virtues of capitalism is that it dissolves all ancient feuds, religious passions, and ideological antagonisms into the cash nexus. The entrepreneur cannot afford to yield to irrational antipathies because the object of his obloquy today may be a customer tomorrow. Here in the United States, we associate this capitalist temperament with the hale fellow well met hearty false cheerfulness of the Mid-Western businessman. I first encountered the phenomenon on the occasion of the wedding of my first wife's young brother. Cynthia's father was a successful Sears Roebuck executive who, during her teenage years, ran the Cleveland group of Sears stores. Jim Griffin was what might be called a political Catholic. I never was able to figure out whether he had any genuine religious beliefs, but he raised enough money for the church to be made a Knight of Malta by the Pope, sat on the Board of John Carroll University, and at one point was Chair of the National Catholic Boy Scouts of America. My marriage to Cynthia was, as they used to say in the old days, a scandal to the faithful, and many of Griffin's Catholic business friends cut him dead for a while because of it [thereby revealing that they had not entirely internalized the capitalist ethos.]
But Cynthia's brother was marrying in the church, and so we all gathered in Shaker Heights for the wedding. [Griffin had to get a special dispensation at the downtown club to which he belonged to bring a Jew along for the rehearsal dinner.] Now, I knew that the people I would be meeting had shunned Griffin for a while because of me, so I was uncertain what sort of reception I would get, but I was determined to behave myself and not embarras Cynthia, putting on my Sunday go to meeting smile for the reception. Despite my preparations, I was completely unprepared for the treatment I received. People who considered me one generation from having horns came up to me, took my hand in both of theirs, and said with oleaginous sincerity, "Oh, Bob, I am so glad to meet you. I have looked forward to this for such a long time." I was completely inadequate to the occasion, and never managed to get more than a strangled "Please to meet you" out of my mouth.
But we radicals, having rejected capitalism on high ideological grounds, are free from such social hypocrisy. Indeed, the besetting sin of those of us on the left is a tendency to hold grudges over matters of principle for days, weeks, or even decades. Freud's wonderful phrase, "the narcissism of small differences," perfectly captures our ability to convert minor disagreements about subordinate theoretical matters into lifelong feuds.
All of this flashed through my mind as I sat in the Carolina Cafe eating my lemon poppy seed muffin and doing the NY TIMES crossword puzzle. Because the Monday puzzle is dead easy, I finished it long before I had eaten my muffin, and my eye caught a story at the top of Page 3 of the Arts section where the puzzle was located. It seems that Dissent Magazine is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary, and the story about the gathering at the New York headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers was headed by a photograph of the celebrants, one of whom was Michael Walzer. Walzer, as readers of this blog no doubt are aware, is a famous political theorist, Professor at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, and long-time co-editor of Dissent.
Mike and I were friends back in '59 to '61, when I was a young Instructor at Harvard and he was a grad student in the Government Department. But a dozen years later, during the Nixon impeachment days, Mike chose to support Nixon because Nixon was a good friend of Israel. That caused a breach that has lasted another forty years. Maybe I should practice a firm two-handed handshake and a cheery smile. I mean, do I really want to take all of that to my grave?