The insecurity of my employment status was beginning to take its toll on our marriage. Steffi was very reluctant to close up her shop again in Irasburg and trek back across the country for another temporary job with no realistic prospect of renewal. What’s more, in San Diego in September 1975 we had received the very disquieting news that someone had broken into our house in Irasburg and stolen some tools. Fortunately they did not get into the main part of the house, but only into the Schuppen (shed) in the back. Pretty much everyone in the village knew who the burglars were, but nobody had any proof or was willing to provide it. From one day to the next, our home went from giving us a wonderful sense of security to posing a constant worry. In 1976 Steffi seriously considered staying in Irasburg all winter rather than relocating to another temporary home for another year and risking another episode of vandalism to our Irasburg home. If she were to accompany me, she wanted to be persuaded to do so; I wanted it to be her own free decision—on condition that she not complain later about having to be in Eugene and away from her beloved Vermont because of me. In the morning I felt strong enough to go it alone; in the evening I wanted the family to come along. Steffi felt the same way: in the morning she felt strong enough to cope by herself in Irasburg; in the evening she felt less inclined to go it alone, even in her beloved Irasburg home. We finally compromised: She and the children would join me in Eugene at the beginning of November and return to Vermont at the end of April. These were not particularly auspicious conditions for the long-term health of our relationship.
In late August I set off by myself for the Northwest in our VW bus, stopping off to visit my cousin Ellen (Edmonds) and her husband Roger Fleenor in Boise and spend a day with them at their vacation home in McCall.
In Eugene I rented a 1950s three-bedroom, ranch-style house at 3425 Onyx Street and furnished it with rented furniture and things I picked up at the garage sales I scoured around town. Of all the temporary positions I held before finally settling in Spokane, the one at the University of Oregon was the most desirable one. This was not only because Eugene was a delightful place to be, with its youthful counter-culture still in full swing in the mid-1970s, but also because of the teaching conditions. Except for my graduate assistantship at the University of Massachusetts, this was my only experience of teaching at a “research university” in my entire career. After teaching four courses every semester at SDSU, three of them at the introductory level, I found the teaching load of two courses every semester at Oregon ideal for pursuing scholarly interests and projects. Of course, it did entail teaching graduate students in a PhD-granting department, which led to a peculiar conflict of interests, as in some cases I would actually find myself competing for jobs with the very students I was supposed to be training and whose careers I was supposed to be promoting! But the additional challenge of teaching graduate students carried its own special rewards in intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to remain abreast of research at the cutting edges of the discipline. On the introductory level, my only (and very enjoyable) duty was to lecture to a large group of several hundred freshmen and sophomores twice a week on the history of western civilization in the modern era, while graduate teaching assistants conducted the small once-weekly discussion groups and handled all the grading. It is hard to overstate the relief that this liberation from the responsibility of correcting exams and papers represented. It allowed me to put correspondingly greater effort into preparing my lectures and my upper-division courses, activities from which most university teachers derive their greatest satisfaction. The obligation to write and do research that went along with the lightened teaching load felt much more like an opportunity than a chore.
In 1976 the second of the three articles I carved out of my dissertation appeared under the title, “Völkisch Literature: The Case of Friedrich Lienhard” in The Wiener Library Bulletin, a respected peer-reviewed journal on German-Jewish history and anti-Semitism published by the Institute of Contemporary History in London. Lienhard (1865-1929), an arch-conservative, Alsatian-born dramatist, novelist, and publicist, was one of the founders of the anti-urban, nativist Heimatkunst (local or regional art) movement in Germany at the turn of the century. By propagating Heimatkunst, Lienhard wanted to mobilize such traditional rural values as deference, duty, patriotism, and religious faith against the intellectual culture, permissive lifestyle, commercial ethos, and social democracy of Berlin and other urban centers. Lienhard prided himself in his “idealism”—the rejection of “modern” materialistic values, among which he would have included the political values of liberalism, democracy, and socialism. The problem presented by such literary figures as Lienhard to scholars was how their “idealism” related to the militantly racist völkisch movement that emerged in strength in Germany in the late nineteenth century and culminated in Nazism after the First World War. “Respectable” conservatives like Lienhard criticized the “materialistic” racism of the radical right and their resort to physical force, but shared all their ight-wing anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and anti-egalitarian values. While they rejected the violent tactics of the radical right, they could not help but embrace their general political perspective. This ambivalence, expressed in simplistic literary or journalistic forms, is what turned Lienhard’s aesthetically undistinguished works into fascinating historical documents despite themselves. They unintentionally give readers insight into the mental and psychological contortions through which avowedly quiescent and “spiritual” conservatives rationalized the excesses of the radical right by attributing to them good, patriotic intentions even if their methods were flawed. Lienhard rejected racial justifications for his right-wing prejudices, but he did not reject the prejudices themselves; instead he gave them a “spiritual” or “cultural” dimension, thus actually reinforcing and strengthening the very racism he ostensibly opposed. For me this insight from Lienhard’s works became one key to the crucial question that all historians of Germany face at some point: how could the Nazis have gained power in a nation justly celebrated for its high culture, artistic creativity, and advanced level of civilization? The corollary question of course is, could it happen again? Many of these conservative “idealists” eventually turned against Nazism (especially after its defeat in the Second World War), but much too late, when the damage had already been done. For me there was an even larger lesson to be drawn from the often willing, sometimes grudging, but ultimately essential support that conservatives in Germany gave to Nazism: the importance of having national debates not just about political tactics or specific policies but about fundamental values, particularly the political values subsumed under the broad headings of “left” and “right.” Lienhard’s cautionary example also convinced me that at the heart of any truly liberal outlook is its rejection of the principle, “the ends justify the means.” Pacé Lienhard, the means are always part of the ends and can never be neatly disjoined.
My reduced teaching load at the University of Oregon gave me the opportunity to complete the third of the articles I carved out of my dissertation. “Houston S. Chamberlain: From Monarchism to National Socialism” was published in The Wiener Library Journal in 1978. Chamberlain was a quite different kind of publicist than Lienhard. Like Lienhard, he had no artistic talent (nor, for that matter, any artistic pretensions), but he had scholarly pretensions, ideological and political ambitions, and a gift for language, which he used in writing his notorious two-volume, best-selling tract, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899-1900). This was an extraordinarily influential work that popularized a racialist interpretation of history. The purpose of Chamberlain’s racialism was to give the stamp of “scientifically proven” to his political biases, thus joining science to the conservative alliance of throne and altar. For Chamberlain, modern European history was largely the result of a still-continuing contest for supremacy between the allegedly creative and spiritual Germanic race(s) and the allegedly materialistic and worldly Jewish race. According to Chamberlain, the outcome of this contest was still up for grabs and would presumably be determined by how the all-important twentieth century unfolded. His racialism represented desperation: recognition that the struggle against the “left” was being lost by ordinary methods and discourse. Chamberlain held out hope for a reversal of the momentum that the modern “materialistic” forces of the political left had gained in the nineteenth century. His practical proposals were to undo Jewish emancipation, revoke Jewish rights, avoid intermarriage, and introduce eugenic practices designed to “purify” and strengthen the Germanic race. What made Chamberlain an important historical figure was not just the astonishing international resonance of what seems to us a blatantly racist point of view today, but also his close connections to the Wilhelmine monarchy. Invited to meet Wilhelm II in 1901, Chamberlain carried on a detailed correspondence with the Kaiser that lasted beyond the First World War. For me Chamberlain personified the easy transition that so many conservative monarchists made to the activist radical right after the war. By now married to one of Richard Wagner’s daughters, Chamberlain lent the prestige of his celebrity status to the growing Nazi movement by receiving Hitler in Bayreuth in October 1923, a month before Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch” in Munich. My purpose was to show that the First World War played a crucial role in the transformation of monarchists like Chamberlain into fascists. In one of the many war-time pamphlets that Chamberlain churned out for the German war effort, he quoted verbatim from a personal letter he had written to Kaiser Wilhelm as early as February 1902:
Germany is destined to become the heart of mankind; every other nation is now finally eliminated… Of this I am firmly convinced: Germany can succeed in dominating the entire globe within two centuries (in part politically, in part indirectly through language, culture, methods) if she can be made to adopt the “new course” early enough, and that means to bring the nation to a final break with Anglo-American ideals of government.
War-time passions allowed Chamberlain to openly spread the vision of German exceptionalism and world domination that he had expressed in his private correspondence with the monarch many years before.
Chamberlain was also a devout fundamentalist Protestant, fearful not only of international Jewry but of international Catholicism as well. His example helped me to understand that deep religious faith was absolutely no guarantee against the perpetration of evil. Indeed, quite the opposite. Religious fundamentalism went hand-in-hand with hyper-nationalism in a way that we still see at the beginning of the twenty-first century. God and country merged as entities to be worshipped—as creative forces that could do no wrong. Blinded to their own (self-)destructive impulses, fundamentalist “true believers” were the very source of the evil that they so readily projected onto non-believers and other outsiders. It was the Manichaean “us versus them,” “good versus evil,” “you’re either with us or against us” mentality itself that was the cause of so much destruction in the world. When Chamberlain’s Foundations first came out, one of Chamberlain’s Wagnerian in-law relatives accused him of plagiarizing his ideas from the master without properly acknowledging his source. This was not quite fair, as Chamberlain did in fact repeatedly acknowledge his intellectual and political debt to the Wagnerian world view. But it was a perceptive comment nonetheless. Chamberlain’s work could be seen as Wagner’s posthumous revenge against his apostate disciple Nietzsche, whom Chamberlain roundly condemned for leaving the path of orthodox virtue by preaching an anti-Christian and anti-nationalist world view “beyond good and evil.” In my journal I wrote on 18 March 1977:
Nietzsche—stimulated to reflect upon “supermen” by Germany’s imperial triumphs (and a conscience-ridden Lutheran upbringing). But the “slave revolt” that he condemns is the triumph of German philistinism. Not for a moment does he equate supermen with the makers of the new Reich, though the making of the new Reich made him think in the terms that he did. In a sense (overly dialectical, I suppose), Nietzsche is sympathizing with victims: the unsuspecting, unbegrudging, magnanimous, spontaneous, cheerful, open, (overly-)trusting, proud masters—the victims of the slave morality. It is not the masses as victims he despises, it is the masses as oppressors. Like Gobineau, Nietzsche was obsessed with the decline of aristocracy (he would have had to have been blind and deaf to have been indifferent to this nineteenth-century “problem”). But what a difference in the results of their respective reflections! Of course, Nietzsche idealized aristocracy even more than Gobineau. His idealism, absorbed in the very air he breathed, betrayed him into thinking material goods were inconsequential and demeaning.
When Steffi and the children joined me in Eugene via Canadian railway and Amtrak in November, we had already drifted apart to some degree, as manifested in a number of ways, including some most disconcerting episodes of sexual dysfunction on my part. No doubt contributing to my marital tensions was the rather close relationship I had developed to my congenial and attractive new colleague, Mavis Mate—the medievalist in the history department, who generously showed me the sights of the beautiful Willamette Valley and surroundings.
Steffi was genuinely peeved at me for always being around in her dreams, thus preventing her from achieving fulfillment with the handsome young men who were also present in her dreams! Adding to these tensions was my very precarious employment status. At one point I drew hope when informed that the person I was replacing on the faculty, Roger Chickering, was considering extending his leave for another year. Chickering, who had trained under Gordon Craig (1913-2005) at Stanford, was known to be unhappy about being relegated to a university not reputed to be in the top ranks in terms of its national prestige. Although he did move to Georgetown University a few years later, Chickering turned down the opportunity to renew his Fulbright grant in 1977 and returned to Oregon for the 1977-1978 academic year, thus leaving me no option but to look for a position elsewhere. Other younger members of the Oregon faculty also went on to very distinguished careers at other universities. Foremost among these was Tom Brady, who went on to become one of the world’s leading authorities on the German Reformation at Berkeley. A refreshingly radical and student-oriented voice at the sometimes rancorous meetings of an otherwise rather stodgy department faculty, Tom was one of the leaders of the youthful, liberal faction in what was clearly a badly divided department. The corporate solidarity of the older members of the department was not only based on their shared political conservatism, but also on their openly expressed disdain for student autonomy and what they perceived as an alarming decline in academic standards. Tom Brady and his wife, however, went out of their way to make us feel welcome in Eugene. Another colleague whom I only got to know briefly after his return from leave in April 1977 was Robert Berdahl, a nineteenth-century scholar a couple of years younger than me. Berdahl went on to a stunningly successful career as president of the University of Texas at Austin, then chancellor of the University of California system, and president of the Association of American Universities in 2006.
Inevitably, my best friends were two other temporary appointees (in U.S. history) who shared my (un)employment predicament. I particularly admired Eckard Toy, who had given up a tenured position at one of the subsidiary University of Wisconsin campuses several years earlier in solidarity with students rallying for more open administrative policies and protesting against what they felt was the university administration’s complicity in the Vietnam War. Several years older than me, Eckard now found himself forced to seek temporary positions in an increasingly constricted job market. Although an Americanist, his research specialty—the Ku Klux Klan and the American radical right—was topically related to mine, and our left-liberal points of view were very compatible. Career setbacks seemed to bring out his humanity, leading me occasionally to wonder what kind of professorial type he might have become if he had abdicated his principles in order to climb the academic ladder, as he had every chance to do. Working in different fields of history, we were not competing directly for jobs, but there was an unavoidable element of competition nonetheless for the approval of our graduate students, who annually selected the “teacher of the year.” This is how I described the awards ceremony in early June 1977:
Eckard selected as “Teacher of the Year” by the graduate students. Indirectly, it seems, a slap at me, and deservedly so, for failing to take a more active interest in graduate students this year. Nonetheless I feel slightly aggrieved, because I cannot help suspecting my teaching assistants, notably Pete Wallace, of voting against me, or failing to back me, for the wrong reason, namely competitive envy [from students in my Western Civilization course I had heard that in the discussion section he led, Wallace, a specialist in early modern Europe, had frequently contradicted points I had made in my lectures, specifically on the nature of feudalism]. But Eckard was a marvelous choice, and he accepted the award with that dignity peculiar to him—or is it lassitude?—which is one of his most attractive traits. His joke, “I expected maybe an iron jock for last Saturday [a reference to the annual departmental faculty vs. graduate student softball game, unexpectedly won by the faculty with the significant assistance of its temporary members], but nothing like this,” close to the one I had prepared just in case (“I must have won this on the strength of my pitching”). I had suspected that one of the one-year appointees would get the award—if only to shake up the regular faculty—and I guess I then thought it would have to be me…
The other member of our trio of temporary faculty was Warren Blankenship, the oldest of the three of us and the one least disposed to sympathize with the student radicals who still formed a formidable contingent in the Oregon student body.
Blankenship citing his daughter’s admiration for Dan Pope [a liberal faculty member in American history], because he so effectively silenced the radicals who thought they could use his class as a platform for radicalism. He deflated them by introducing historical information of which they were ignorant. Blankenship rubbed his hands at the thought: “You know, those guys who run at the mouth, who only know how things ought to be, but have no conception of where we’ve been or where we’re at right now.”
Eckard, Warren, and I got along very well indeed, despite the almost unavoidable rivalry imposed on us by our temporary status, leading Steffi to comment, “Ihr könnt gar nicht Freunde sein” (there’s no way you can be friends). The following entry in my journal on 16 March 1977 seemed to prove her right:
I must guard against bitterness and I must guard against paranoia. The latest instance of the latter: learning from Eckard that Warren Blankenship had applied to Reed College for the same position as I had and may have stayed over after a conference in Portland in order to try to get an interview. Feeling of being betrayed, not because he doesn’t have as much right to the position as I do, but because his failure to tell me seems to prove that he sets no store by our friendship. Also, anger at his initiative—he called them—and the feeling that it is unfair that he should get the job not on his merits alone, but because he went after it. And then the reflection—strangely something of a comfort—that the system bred competition and conflict among those at the bottom, and it did so in order to prevent solidarity. It did so to the benefit of those who hogged the lion’s share of benefits that the system can confer.
This led to a further reflection:
Conventional wisdom has it that communism flourishes in times of economic scarcity. Logically it should be so. One would expect the dispossessed to band together. But in actual fact it may be that fascism benefits most by conditions which create a proletariat [the unemployed] below the working class, thus making the latter anxious to maintain their status as job-holders against those below.
To be fair, however, most of the U. of O. history department, at least the younger ones we associated with, sympathized with our plight. Jack Maddex, a historian of the American South, called us exploited “migrant labor” and Joe Esherick, an Asia specialist, appreciatively referred to us as “itinerant preachers.”
Despite the hope engendered by Jimmy Carter’s victory in the presidential election in November 1976, it was becoming clear that the conservative tide that would overwhelm the country a few years later was growing, and the progressive changes in popular consciousness resulting from the 1960s movements were not only petering out, but going into reverse. The economy of the mid- to late 1970s bred a new word in the American vocabulary, “stagflation”—the unexpected combination of inflation and unemployment. The conservative, nationalistic, anti-liberal movement started by Goldwater in 1964 to dismantle the “welfare state” and devote more resources to fighting communism did its best to exploit the popular anger and disaffection generated by economic decline. Ronald Reagan, who had already unsuccessfully challenged the nominally more liberal Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, led the growing backlash against not only the 1960s, but against Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society as well. When he came to Eugene in June 1977, he also criticized the ongoing Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT II) talks with the Soviet Union, calling for the U.S. to play its trump card, “which is to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to turn our industrial machine into developing weapons’…and the Soviet Union knows there’s no way in the world they could keep up with us.”
Even I found myself somewhat ambivalent about affirmative action programs that were coming under increasing attack from the right, but were also a potential hindrance to me in applications to departments actively recruiting women candidates. The widely publicized Marco De Funis case, a suit won by a rejected applicant against the University of Washington Law School for reverse discrimination, because several Black applicants with inferior academic records and test scores had been admitted, drew the following comment from me in February 1977:
[Like De Funis] I would have been bitter, but I would not have fought it. That’s the difference. Fighting is necessary: to lose bitterness!
An even more contentious case was the suit of Alan Bakke for admission to the University of California, Davis, Medical School, decided in Bakke’s favor the following year. I commented as follows:
The Bakke Case therapeutic in a sense, even though it will be decided in his favor: at least it explodes the myth of a career in medicine as “service.” What counts in the American system of values is the success and financial reward that a medical career entails. Bakke is fighting for himself (and his supporters for themselves), not for better medical services. The right of the Black community to have doctors of their own kind is quite forgotten.
At the University of Oregon I was unexpectedly reunited with my old college friend Gordon Goles, by now a prominent scientist in the geology department, widely recognized for his pioneering work on the chemical composition of stones retrieved from the moon. He took the initiative to contact me, a gesture for which I was very grateful, as I’m not at all sure whether I would have had enough gumption to overcome my embarrassment about my lowly professional status to contact him. We met again for the first time since our college years at a Bach chamber music concert at which good old Gordon, very much in character, jumped to his feet to lead the enthusiastic applause. Unfortunately, our communications lapsed again after I left Oregon in July 1977. I had hoped to see him again at our fiftieth Harvard reunion in 2006, but he was not in attendance. Perhaps he is as averse to class reunions as were both of my roommates, Paul Russell (before his premature death in 1996) and Sy Goldstaub. However, I am hoping that Gordon and Sy will come to our fifty-fifth reunion, scheduled for May 2011.
My job insecurity and marital tensions affected my health in Eugene. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, after a colonoscopy, which in those days was still done without any anaesthetic. Some years later, after a more thorough examination (with anaesthesia), my diagnosis was changed to the much milder though still chronic condition labeled “lymphocytic colitis.” At one point my weight dropped to 135 pounds. Steffi rather predictably blamed my malady on Mama, at least by implication. On 25 November 1976 she commented on my upset stomach after Thanksgiving dinner: “Du kannst nicht kotzen, weil du dich vor nichts ekelst. Das ist weil du im Schmutz aufgewachsen bist“ (You can’t vomit because nothing disgusts you. That’s because you grew up in dirt). But she sympathized with me: “Du hast es schwer gehabt. Mama hasst alles Schwache” (You had a hard time. Mama hates everything weak). And indeed, it was that summer that Mama explained her new-found admiration for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) (who had settled in Vermont) by asserting, “I like people who are absolutely sure of themselves.” What she disliked about people, she explained, was “the worm’s-eye view.” The conflict between mother and wife made me wonder whether the only way I could “cut the umbilical cord” was to cut my marriage ties as well.
Steffi also felt vindicated by the description of colitis in our Gesundheitsbuch (a health manual for the home): “Eine Krankheit, die sich mit Vorliebe verkrampfte Gemüter aussucht” (a disease that seeks out tense and rigid temperaments). I took some satisfaction from the fact that colitis was an auto-immune disease. I was allergic to myself, which rather accurately described how I often felt! I was also officially diagnosed with lactose intolerance, although it was clear to me that I had been suffering from this condition ever since the war.
Colitis forced me to adopt a healthier lifestyle. For a full year I entirely gave up alcohol, not only alleviating my symptoms but also occasionally making me feel quite smug about my newly-acquired self-discipline. Here is how I described my reaction to a faculty party on 14 May 1977:
Ten minutes into Karen [Achberger's] party for Mavis yesterday, the sobering question occurred to me: “What am I doing here? Whatever impelled me to come?” Normally I then would have proceeded to get drunk. Compelled by my colitis to remain sober, I came away from the party feeling extremely good about my disciplined conduct. But regretting my lack of courage in having risen only to the level of conventional party chatter.
In December 1976 we visited our Vermont “hippie” friends, Paul and Sandy Raynor, who had moved (only temporarily, as it turned out) to the Oregon coast—attracted by the state’s mild climate, scenic beauty, and ecological consciousness in their futile search for the ideal counter-cultural community. Paul, of mixed Korean-American parentage, was a painter, quite devoted to his art, but also determined to lead a self-sufficient rural life free of commercial constraints. His quest for authenticity had impressed me years before when he told me, “I don’t want to find myself at the age of forty stuck in a job I don’t like.” In Vermont he had built three log-houses in succession for his family, each one larger and sturdier than the one before, but was forced to abandon the last one, a building of truly palatial dimensions, when the bank financing he had uncharacteristically applied for ran out. We acquired quite a few of Paul’s provocatively gothic paintings, some of which we paid for in cash and others we traded for with Steffi’s jewelry. Sandy had grown up in the same northwest corner of Connecticut as we Stackelbergs, and though younger than us, she had heard all about us from our mutual friends, the Kügelgens. On the beach only a few hundred yards from the cottage Paul and Sandy had rented on the Oregon coast we dug up the huge clams peculiar to that area. Paul and Sandy tried to help us resolve the marital tensions that they had noticed and we did not try to conceal. They suggested that a temporary sexual partner swap might serve a therapeutic purpose, but neither Steffi nor I were interested. We reacted in different ways, however; Steffi cried at the prospect of the end of our marriage that Paul and Sandy’s proposition implied, while I went into an equally uncontrollable laughing jag at the preposterous nature of their proposed therapy! It was clear that Paul had hoped to sleep with Steffi. My revenge on him was to decline the opportunity to sleep with Sandy! Perhaps inevitably, Paul and Sandy’s open marriage dissolved even sooner than ours, leaving Sandy to raise three daughters on her own.
Although I had never formally studied the Hegelian dialectic, it seemed to me as if life was almost daily teaching me how it operated in practice. The ever-present threat of unemployment also cleared my mind for egalitarian ideas that questioned the inequitable status quo. It was part of a continuing radicalization process that ultimately made me ready to openly acknowledge my preference for a socialist transformation of society and to do what I could to realize this goal—from within the social institutions in which I was compelled to work if I wished to support my family and exercise any influence at all. I have subsequently been accused of hypocrisy for advocating socialist change while living a bourgeois lifestyle. Even my son Nick once asked me why I didn’t move to Russia if I liked communism so much. I retorted that I wouldn’t want to give the nationalist Right the satisfaction; right-wingers would like nothing so much as for leftists to give away all their property including the shirts off their backs! How better to disable any opposition to corporate domination and control? In my journal I left an admittedly superficial, simplistic, unsystematic, and incomplete record of some of the examples of the dialectical nature of life and thought that I began to see everywhere, especially in the politics of the continuing Cold War:
12 Apr 1976 The dialectic: one can care very greatly about radical social reform, but dislike equally greatly the individual exponent of such reform.
5 Jul The greatest defense for the study of history: all misunderstandings occur because statements (or events) are apprehended in isolation rather than in their social context. That is also the weakness of non-dialectical, linear thinking.
21 Jul Nietzsche and Marx: saint and sinner? The trouble with Marx is that he slept with his housekeeper, the trouble with Nietzsche is that he didn’t (not that we know of, anyway)! Nietzsche’s thought too much a product of his life; Marx’s life not enough a product of his thought.
The true Golden Mean will even balance moderation—with occasional excess! Moderation must be tempered by excess.
19 Sep Equality leads to progress because it evens out competition: it puts people on the same level, in the same arena. It equalizes the conditions of competition. It levels the playing field. It eliminates the artificial barriers to true competition: the barriers created by wealth, position, hierarchical structures, habits of deference. In education this is clearly visible. Professors are challenged today as never before. They can no longer pontificate ex cathedra.
16 Nov How to explain the dialectic? Where are the best examples? Perhaps in the changing meaning of words? “Appeasement” used as a positive term (“reconciliation”) at Locarno. “Pacification” and its changed meaning in Vietnam.
The dialectic of Marx, who set out to help mankind with a doctrine that in practice inflicted suffering and woe, and Nietzsche, who had no similar humanitarian impulse, yet whose philosophy has a therapeutic effect on individuals.
12 Dec Was this Barry Marks’s [one of my students at SDSU] point on the thinking process falling into dialectical patterns without fail? You cannot think out a pure truth outside the realm of vulgar positivist fact (the barn is red). You always run into contradictions. Two perfectly valid truths may be diametrically opposed to each other (e.g., the desirability of both liberty and equality). The dialectical nature of life (truth in totality) is what makes debate so difficult. It is what makes it possible to accuse egalitarians of elitism—because they actively advocate egalitarianism, i.e., they want to get people to accept it, hence they proceed from an elitist assumption: I know best what is good for you (or us).
Further example: liberalism is emancipatory—but precisely because it frees individuals from restraint, it gives rise to resentments and competitive rivalries, which in turn lead to a longing for the re-imposition of restraint upon one’s rivals. Liberalism gives rise to its own antithesis. The contradictions are even more intrinsic than the foregoing would suggest: liberalism itself makes it possible—by granting the requisite freedom—for some to restrain (or exploit) others. The contradiction is built in. By the same token you cannot achieve total equality because of the absence of total uniformity. Every breath upsets the balance. The horror in the present confrontation between socialism and liberalism is not that they are at odds, but that both—unwittingly in league in this respect—are giving birth to what will destroy them both: militarism, global war. The dialectic is insidious, not obvious; complex, not simple. A variety of contradictions are constantly intersecting. And often contradictions do not emerge as such until the war between them is already on (or over!) We do not recognize that our defenders of liberalism are undermining it.
The dialectic of psychology and sociology, of psychological motivation and sociological causation. (It takes a certain kind of person to be a Marxist.) This is what makes psycho-history so difficult, so problematical.
The dialectic in day-to-day situations: [Gustav] Alef [an older conservative faculty member] wants to convince me of the low standards in the department. “Is this a distinguished department?” he asks. I answer “yes” in order not to second his argument, but in secret I agree with him: what makes the department undistinguished is that people like Alef are in it, riding their sinecures!
16 Jan 1977 One implication of the dialectic is that you cannot think out solutions to problems. By trying to do so you get hopelessly lost down one-way alleys. What you come up with will even make some sense. But other one-way alleys pointing in other directions will make equal sense. Truth (always provisional, never absolute) only emerges in practice. Thought must be brought to bear to recognize it. But thought alone is useless, even pernicious, because misleading.
21 Jan One can favor both liberty and equality, as liberals do, but one must realize that without equality there can only be liberty for some, not all.
31 Jan A world of general equality provides better hope for personal liberty than a world of liberty does for equality. A world divided provides neither.
11 Feb Liberals learn to live with “pluralism,” but they don’t learn to live with the “dialectic.”
20 Feb Situation today not unlike the Ancien Regime of the late eighteenth century: PhD’s (like titles of nobility) easy to acquire (for sale!), but ladders of hierarchy harder to climb.
24 Feb Why it is important to keep alive the consciousness of the anti-Marxist, anti-humanitarian, anti-egalitarian thrust of fascism: fighting it is what makes us realize our collective responsibility, our responsibility for our fellow humans.
12 Mar Perhaps the fatal divergence in western civilization did come with the rise of modern science—not because it has turned us to materialism and exhausted our resources, and upset our ecology, but because it made us ask “how” of things rather than “why.” Not because it introduced skepticism and criticism, but because it eliminated a truly critical attitude. Proposal: call the humanities and social sciences the “critical sciences.”
14 Mar American society institutionalizes competition; Soviet society institutionalizes cooperation. The former produces hardship, the latter strait-jacketing.
18 Mar The principle of compensatory nature (Emerson) and the principle of the dialectic are of course one and the same. But the former is an expression of Nietzschean amor fati, the latter of Marxian revolutionary activism, the will to change the world.
26 Mar The liberal fallacy: to worry only about the loss of freedom (imprisonment of dissidents in the USSR) rather than the loss of livelihood or prosperity. Callousness about unemployment. Insensitivity to the hardships—psychological and physical—of unemployment and underemployment. A “prosperity” based only on GNP and not on the general welfare is fraudulent. Liberals worry about being thrown into prison (or mental hospitals) because of their ideas—usually ideas that are useful in maintaining the prerogatives of those who benefit from a liberal system. But they care much less about people who are thrown into hospitals (or prisons) for lack of money. Beware the hypocrisy! It is as dangerous as an H-bomb! They talk about freedom of ideas, but not about the middle-class comforts which economic freedom protects at the expense of the less fortunate. The excluded in a socialist state (liberal dissidents) are a far smaller minority than the excluded in a liberal state (the impoverished). The victims of socialism—those who refuse to go along with the communitarian ethos—must be put in jail for the system to function effectively. The victims of economic liberalism—the impoverished—can be safely left to fend for themselves as long as they remain deferential and at least tacitly accept the individualist ethos. Socialism creates more opportunities for (or categories of) crime because more forms of exploitation or anti-social behavior are stigmatized than under liberalism (capitalism).
30 May Mama’s “You can’t fool those below”: Those above are easily blinded by their vested interest in the status quo. How can they be expected to perceive the dialectical nature of historical change—except as a terrible threat? Above all the legitimacy of dialectical change must be questioned. Nothing could be more threatening than to regard such change as inevitable.
12 Jun The disgust engendered by Eldridge Cleaver, the reborn Christian. A turncoat, a betrayer of revolution. But maybe not. Maybe his career is just another example of the cunning of reason: no longer analyzing Babylon’s decadence, he contributes to it—unwittingly. Perhaps he digs its grave more effectively than he could have as a revolutionary …Or is this only wishful thinking?
24 Jun The fascist dynamism of war: the will to war–self-sacrifice for the nation–is the ethos that best serves the interests of the powerful and propertied at home. To maintain this will, this ethos, you
need a mission, a crusade, external enemies, the goal of conquest. Which comes first, imperial ambitions or the zeal for war?? Perhaps we take too much for granted that it always is the former.
It was not until May, after Steffi and the children had already returned to Vermont (and I had stayed on to teach summer school), that my employment dilemma was resolved, at least for the following academic year. I received an invitation for a campus interview at the University of South Dakota for a one-year appointment to replace their German history specialist, Donald Pryce, who had received a research fellowship at one of the California universities. My visit went surprisingly well, despite a bout of the colitis that had plagued me all year. But in another example of the law of compensation in nature, my illness had a relaxing effect, putting all my other troubles into soothing perspective. I gave a strong and confident presentation and unexpectedly got the job. What clinched it for me was the fact that the only other candidate invited for a campus interview had trouble with his German. The USD Germanist Werner Kitzler was asked to test my language skills and pronounced them more than satisfactory. So in that way, too, I profited from my years as a “drop-out” in Berlin.