I am not comfortable with the acrimony that has crept into this blog, and since it is my blog, I bear the principal responsibility for it. I am not by nature a happy warrior. I do not enjoy fighting, especially with those with whom I share both a world view and a normative orientation toward that world. During the more than six decades of my career, I have derived my greatest pleasure from thinking through complex ideas until they are clear to me and then showing those ideas, in their elegant and beautiful simplicity, to my students and to my readers.
I first recoiled from the acrimony of public political debate fifty-five years ago. Deeply frightened by the threat of nuclear war, I had for some years been writing, speaking, and arguing in favor of nuclear disarmament with ever greater urgency until, in the midst of an angry argument in Harvard’s Freshman Union – I think with Zbigniew Bzrezinski – I snapped. I must have wigged out, because I found myself running as fast as I could down Massachusetts Avenue toward Harvard Square, hyperventilating.
It was obvious that I had to step back from the daily struggle if I was to survive, and so I did what seemed most natural to me – I retreated into political theory. The first result was a lengthy essay written a year and a half later that, five years further still, was published as a little book called In Defense of Anarchism. After the events of ’68, I left Columbia for much the same reason, happily rusticating at UMass Amherst where I plunged deeply first into Kant’s ethical theory, then into the thought of Karl Marx, and finally into the creation of a doctoral program in the Afro-American Studies Department.
Now, in my dotage, I seem to have stumbled into a role that is quite unnatural for me, that of a political inside dopester, to resurrect a lovely term invented by David Riesman and Nathan Glazer. But I am not really any sort of expert on politics. As the cowboy humorist Will Rogers liked to say, all I know is what I read in the papers. If I still have a contribution to make, it must be to the clarification of complex ideas, not to the handicapping of political races or to the decrying of the manifest and intractable evils of the world.
I apologize for the tone of this blog these past months. The current political scene has once again driven me a little bit crazy.