LETTER TO THE EDITOR, University of Chicago Magazine, Nov/Dec ‘ 71:
To The Editor: Has the rebellion of youth really been revolutionary in nature? My question is not meant to discredit Ralph W. Conant, whose article [“The Prospects for Revolution,” May/June ‘71] appears to be a competent and rational summary of events from the prevailing academic viewpoint. I aim to challenge the rationale which my colleagues have made conventional. Their interpretation of youth’s rebellion is, I contend, narrow, self-serving, and inadequate. Among other things, calling the rebellion revolutionary suggests that it moves with the current of history. Does it? May it not be counterrevolutionary?
The counterposing of youthful protesters and the greater part of America’s institutional leadership need not imply that youth is free of parochial attitudes. When Conant refers to what “youth saw” he seems to imply that the vision of youth was especially clear, but the youths in question were much too old to be untouched by social affectations. Thus it may have been the specific nature of their biases which distinguished them. Since rebellion has been centered in our most prestigious institutions and departments of higher learning, it is convenient for academics to believe that the rebels have been especially perceptive. A contrary view would almost certainly raise questions about the quality of higher education.
Are protesting students speaking with incisive candor, or do they mouth the cant of a divergent subculture? Do they speak primarily for a movement of their own, or as “nouveaux savants” anxious to proclaim their membership in a privileged class whose mature members are more discrete? Are they actually opposing conspicuous consumption, or is their education itself a socially accepted waste? Is the depth of their concern for the rights of disadvantaged minorities to be measured by their own testimony, or by their inclination to mix defense of those rights with such trivia as long hair and pot? Does the appeal of the McCarthy and Lindsay type of leader rest upon records of service, or upon reasonable anticipation of performance, or is it chiefly a matter of style?
Questions about student life styles and curriculum requirements, as well as those about Communists on campus, strike me as being peripheral in significance. The key questions have to do with the nature and role of liberal education in a society where leisure and information are abundant. Should we anticipate that thinking of the most creative and humane sort will “trickle down” only from a few cultivated minds, or have the numerous and varied people who occupy the remainder of society major contributions to make?
Generation gaps and alienation are commonly used to describe the division between youths, especially those educated in the liberal arts departments of our leading colleges and universities, and the political leaders and private citizens who are sometimes identified as the silent majority. It is a crucial part of my case that, while the latter group have made numerous concessions to reconcile protesting youth, the protesters have utilized everything from outlandish dress and obnoxious language to planned insults and acts of destruction to assure that the gap remained, a gap they view as the result of an intellectual and moral lag in the rest of society. To compromise would therefore be degrading.
In March of 1968, Senator Fulbright interrupted Secretary of State Rusk with the admonition that the senators needed no lectures on patriotism but that they were concerned about the “pigheadedness” which seemed to guide American policy. Usually, men of Fulbright’s standing manage, as befits their advanced achievements in intellectual style, to be more circumspect. The Senator’s outburst was significant. From the protest viewpoint, the division in America has been between the pigheads who react to conventional symbols of patriotism and piety and those discerning individuals who perceive and pursue humane values. That estimate of America’s social division is now dramatized in the CBS program “All in the Family.”
Television deserves far more attention in explanations of the youth rebellion than Conant gave to it in his article. How else could a burgeoning youth movement have learned so quickly to identify its leaders, its issues, and its most effective tactics? Where else have persons of liberal learning expressed themselves so freely to such wide audiences as they have in the news and public affairs programs of television?
Freedom, especially freedom of verbal expression, has been a major issue of the rebellion. Is a lassez faire approach to verbal expression inherently more valid than a similar approach to business enterprise? May not both have acquired their aura of sanctity as political objectives of privileged groups? Does unlimited freedom for intellectuals to attack the symbols by means of which less articulate people communicate contribute to knowledge and communication, or does it amount to a unilateral privilege of aggression? I suggest that the readiness with which the more articulate professions deny that social harm and personal injuries result from unbridled use of language is as crass a bit of hypocrisy as any elite has ever advanced in rationalizing its own privileges….
CONTEMPORARY CRIME ROOTED IN YOUTH CULTURE?, column, The Buyer’s Guide, 01/12/81:
Crime has multiple causes and appears in numerous forms. It is, therefore, impossible to discover the cause of the crime problem. It is quite possible, however, to distinguish between those factors which do and those factors which do not parallel our crime rate.
Dramatic increases have been reported in American crime rates since about 1960. Prior to that—from 1930, through the Great Depression, through World War II, and during the 1950’s—our crime rate had declined. The rates referred to here are those for homicides, rapes, robberies, etc. as summarized in the F.B.I.’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Why was there a major change in the direction of American crime statistics about 1960? Sharp changes which do not alter the general direction might indicate revisions in the method of classifying or reporting crimes. Factors such as inflation can alter the number of larcenies of over $25. The relatively steady and parallel increases in a variety of crimes which we have experienced for two decades does not appear to be a mere statistical anomaly.
One significant factor in the increasing crime rate has been the increasing portion of youths in our population. The statistics suggest that most, if not all, of the increase in crime since 1960 has occurred among youthful offenders. Youths have long been more crime prone than adults, and many individuals outgrow their criminal behavior. Now that the more youthful portion of our population has ceased increasing, the crime rate may reflect the change.
Unfortunately, the post-1960 increase in our crime rate exceeded the increase in youth. Hence, while a declining portion of youth in the population may slow the rising crime rate, there is not sufficient reason to expect a turn-around.
Since our most severe unemployment and wartime experiences of this century were accompanied by a falling crime rate (1930-1960), linking the more recent increases in crime to unemployment or war is difficult. However, the fact that the same ages and ethnic groups which contribute most heavily to the increase in crime also suffer most heavily from unemployment bears closer examination.
Are the very high unemployment and crime among ghetto youths related? If so, are they cause and effect, or are both to be regarded as effects of broader, cultural causes?
Ethnic discrimination and a culture of violence (especially access to handguns) are often cited as causes of America’s crime rate. By way of comparison, the Japanese have a violent history, violent movies, almost no private handguns, and a low crime rate.
Before you make too much of that, however, consider: Americans of Japanese ancestry have suffered severe and recent discrimination, have easy access to handguns, and have a crime rate lower than that found in Tokyo.
Most of the more common and simple answers to our increasing crime rate do not stand up well under critical examination. In spite of greater public expenditures for its control, our crime rate continues to increase. Are we overlooking something which might help us to understand why crime is increasing in America?
The serious crimes which we have been considering were only part of the anti-social behavior manifested in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The increasing crime rate was paralleled by teenaged suicides, pregnancies, drug abuse, etc.
Looking to the larger American society from 1960 to 1980, suicides declined among mature adults of the predominant (white) racial group. Especially for ethnic minorities, it was a period which saw what was probably the greatest extension of liberty by law in the history of mankind. The portion of the American population which was gainfully employed increased significantly, and so did the portion of the nation’s total income paid out to employees. By most of the broadest measures of societal vigor and progress, the period should have generated pride and optimism regarding American society.
It did not.
We got to this evaluation of recent American culture by way of looking for causes of an increasing crime rate. Perhaps we should go back to the crime rate. If its causes are rooted in the culture, would not the separation of a youthful sub-culture from the larger pattern provide an explanation of why the increase has been confined, mainly, to youth?
The youth-culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s made a point of belittling the considerable evidence of progress in those decades, and it exaggerated the imperfection of “the establishment.” It preached that most social controls were mere products of ignorance and selfishness.
It encouraged varied kinds of rebellion for rebellion’s sake. And, not least of all, it gathered youths together in larger and larger aggregations for education, recreation, and protest—enabling young people to reinforce one another’s attitudes and enthusiasms without adult restraints. The increase in crime can be better understood as one manifestation of a broader youthful rebellion.
The relationship between the youth-culture and increasing crime has had little attention. Perhaps that is because so many of those who have become leaders in the study of our culture and in our mass communication had significant parts in inciting the rebellion. They would like to claim that their contributions to the youth-culture and protests were constructive.
They do charge that, in so far as culture is relevant, youth was merely reacting, sensitively, to the injustices of the broader American culture.
In fact, the rate of crime in modern America has displayed some rather close parallels to development of the youth-culture; it has not paralleled the major trends of the larger American culture.
Admirers of the American youth movement 1960-1980 described it as everything from a healthy change to a revolutionary transformation of American society. Among the more sanguine was Charles Reich, a professor of law at Yale University. Mr. Reich’s popular “Greening of America” was, as some viewers noted, naïve. It might not be deserving of our attention except for the facts that the book was a best-seller and Reich’s influence extended far beyond the book.
It is now clear that American youth paid a high price for its rebellion. A recent federal study disclosed that in the 1960’s and ‘70’s American death rates generally declined by 20 percent, but those for persons 15 to 24 years old increased by 11 percent. Since the young age group included many millions of persons, the 11 percent death rate increase represents at least 100,000 lives (after deducting Vietnam War casualties). If we assume that the death rate for youths should have accompanied the national average downward, its failure to do so cost about 500,000 young lives.
Major causes of the increased death rate among youths were illnesses and accidents related to drug and alcohol abuse, plus homicides and suicides. Many promoters and admirers of the youth rebellion, including Charles Reich, said that drug use was a constructive element in the rebellion. Others merely argued that an adult establishment which consumed too much alcohol had no right to limit the choice of drugs among youths.
Returning to Reich’s works, in the middle 1960’s he wrote, in The Yale Law Journal, that such statutory entitlements as unemployment and welfare benefits should be regarded as property rights of the recipients and protected by the full weight of the Constitution. In GOLDBERG V. KELLY, 1970, Justice Brennan, writing the opinion of the Supreme Court, adopted that view, with a footnote of acknowledgement to Reich. Reich’s own acknowledgements of intellectual debt in “Greening of America” included especially Professor Thomas I. Emerson, of Yale, a leading authority on the First Amendment, and Justices Black and Douglas of the Supreme Court.
Needless to say, “the new property” was one feature of the new America which Reich thought that the youth rebellion would do so much to build. It was one of the more positive features. Consciousness III, as Reich called his projected new value system, was mainly a rejection of nearly every traditional aspect of discipline and order. He would have converted doing one’s own thing from a popular aberration into the social norm of behavior.
One who undertakes to read “Greening Of America,” especially if he is aware of the author’s legal background, can scarcely help being struck by Reich’s use of literary sources. It is not that he supplements law with literature. He makes very little use of legal or empirical material. Again and again, he rests his evaluations of American life and society upon descriptions by writers of fiction, including movies. Among writers of non-fiction Reich’s preferences seem to run to Marx and Marcuse.
At Yale Law School, a generation before the youth rebellion, Dean Robert M. Hutchins won academic fame by introducing literature and other humane and social studies into the curriculum. Other elite law schools have since been influenced by Hutchins’ innovations. Furthermore, legal education has a pyramided social structure. Harvard Law, alone, supplies about 14 percent of all law professors in the United States; Yale supplies another 7 percent, and a comparative few schools supply a majority of the remainder.
Today, our Supreme Court Justices have four law clerks each, selected from recent honor graduates of the justices’ law schools. In spite of its journalistic short comings, “The Brethren” by Woodward and Armstrong, may have done a public service by disclosing how active such clerks have been in the Court’s decision making processes.
What I am suggesting, specifically in the example of Reich but also more generally, is that links between the literary community, the legal profession, and the youth rebellion were concrete and substantial. Most of the leadership and ideology of the youth rebellion came from departments of humanities, social sciences, and law in our institutions of higher learning. The whole movement was facilitated by taxpayer generosity which permitted current expenditures for public higher education to increase more than ten-fold between 1940 and 1960, and more than ten-fold again by 1980, a total increase of over 10,000 percent.
Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s the prevailing themes of rebellious youth were that the progress being achieved by America was either slow or entirely illusory, and that traditional values and social order should be overturned. The rising literature of entertainment and our journalistic media, rather than serious history, provided them with most of their evidence of “trends.” Perhaps the Youth Rebellion should not even be called that; the hundreds of thousands of nouveaux savants, intellectually vain and immature, served as shock troops for more sophisticated and cautious advocates of social revolution.
Statistics regarding the differential changes in death rates by age now provide one measure of what the rebellion has cost America. Unpleasant as those statistics are, the lives lost may be less significant than the moral confusion, intellectual fear, and spiritual depression inflicted upon so many of the Americans who have survived.
At least one question remains to be answered. Has the rebellion run its course, or are we now experiencing a lull before renewed conflict?