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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

1969 and 2024--more thoughts

 More parallels are emerging between the campus protests of 1964-70 and today's.  (The great Berkeley protest began in the fall of 1964; not until 1968 was there a second comparable one, at Columbia; Harvard followed in 1969, and all hell broke loose in the spring of 1970.)    Rather than edit the weekend post I decided to put them into this new, short one.

To begin with, these protests, like those, are increasingly focusing on a specific demand.  In 1968-70 those demands included the elimination of ROTC from campus, the creation of black studies departments, and an end to university expansion at the expense of surrounding communities.  The Harvard protesters secured the end of ROTC, tragically, and the creation of black studies in some form in 1969.  Today the popular specific demand is divestment from any Israeli enterprises.  I will be very surprised if any university gives into it.

Meanwhile, a second familiar demand is coming into play: that students receive no punishment for demonstrations and encampments.  That was called "amnesty" back in the 1960s, and the demand marked a significant break with the idea of civil disobedience as articulated by Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Civil disobedience recognized that civilization depended on laws and punishments, and its practitioners willingly accepted punishment for breaking laws that they thought were unjust.  The student radicals on the other hand demanded that they go free because their causes were just.  That demand has resurfaced on campuses today, and Columbia's administration is now offering to meet it, provided that protesters pledge not to violate university rules for another year.  I suspect that the protesters will refuse.  

And last but not least, administrations that call in law enforcement to break up demonstrations or encampments, now as then, risk alienating much larger numbers of students and faculty.  A Harvard Crimson editorial has already demanded that punishments play no role in the settlement of current disputes, but college presidents are bowing to pressure from the House committee, in particular, and suspending students for defying them.  And having put up this post, I have just learned that Columbia protesters in Palestinian garb have occupied Hamilton Hall, the administration building their elders occupied back in 1968--and thereby forcing the administration to escalate again.

All this reflects two of the enduring achievements of the radicals of the late 1960s.  The first was the idea of the moral superiority of the young, the idea of the nation's youth as the sole repository of goodness in a corrupt society.  Their second closely related idea was a complete disregard for established procedures, or indeed for the need of any regular procedures, to make decisions and settle disputes.  Colleges are now very unlikely to try to undo these ideas because they need their own students so desperately, and have given up the idea that they are offering a vitally important product--education--which students may accept or decline as they wish.  I could easily be wrong, but I am not aware that there has ever been a serious protest at one of the St. John's colleges--perhaps because students know they are there to learn.


Energyflow said...

Vietnam and Gaza seem to both have hit a similar nerve or is it just the right time, generation? Killing gooks, lt.Caffey, Israeli racism with mass civilian casualties, boomer,Xer cooruption in general and GI systemic corruption then. It all seems to have great parallels. We have come full circle essentially. The protest and peace movement then plus the war held us back for a generation and made us moral. Starting with the fall of the wall we took tentative steps towards neo-imperialism, offshoring, destroying unions. A college degree is worthless but expensive. Justice is only for those with the right connections. Many sense the protests are really paid for by Marxists like BLM in 2020 but I think the general social atmosphere is incendiary. Open borders, lawfare against political opponents, invented pandemics for profit. If society's leadership is considered by the vast majority as corrupt, evil then why not? Like in ex DDR they allowed nudism as a release valve. Now we have porn, marijuana legalization. Legalize brain deadening things and steer education towards base propaganda. I suspect that progress in the main will not be seen as leftward movement, more freedoms, but rather to the right, more discipline, morality, religiosity. The basis of religion is family politics, being the structural basis if society. Take away religious belief and then the ten commandments are moot, much less " love thy neighbour". Then corruption, theft, murder are alll just means to an end, usually power, money, pleasure. The backlash from this is as in Rome, religious or political resistance. Drop outs from society or bombs. Jesus or Barabbas. Both got crucified but Rome did die in the end.

Unknown said...

You are certainly the "establishment", the Yin to the demonstrating students Yang. A person, especially a young one without experience or much knowledge could look at the Hamas attack on Israel with a bit of naiveté where a few over 1,000 Jews were killed, comparing that with the 35,000 Palestines who have been killed, their civilization and homes destroyed and say to themselves "where is the concept of war concerning proportionality in this?" Furthermore, these students could see the illegal Jewish settlers taking by force the lands of the Palestinians, killing them when there is resistance, supported by the Israeli government and think, "How is this any more just than Russia occupying portions of Ukraine by force?" Of course, there is history and that is the history of the pogroms and the Holocaust. This innate fear that drives the Israelis and their government to speak the words, "Never again" Hence, the most advanced military in the Middle East obliterates one of the least advanced and wars on the citizens of Gaza who purportedly supported Hamas, but didn't really. I ask. Is this what serves for enlightenment? Or are the university students the enlightened ones?

David Kaiser said...

No, Unknown, I most certainly am not the establishment. I don't think you could have read my earlier posts on the current war in Gaza--they do not support what Israel is doing. I am such a contrarian, in fact, that I can be critical of everyone involved at the same time. I suggest you check out those other posts.

Peter VE said...

The protests in '68 led to the US leaving Vietnam in '73, dropping funding of the client state in '74, and final collapse of the client state in '75. Will the same timeline hold for our client state in the Mideast?