YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2010

Columbia U.’s double bind, October! 1917

James McKeen Cattell

[This is an excerpt from my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter 2 :] Young Raymond M. Weaver, founding father of the Melville Revival, thrashed about in two conflicted venues in the late nineteen-teens, first, the academic freedom controversy that excited Columbia University in 1917 after the summary dismissals of two antiwar professors; second, the Red Scare of 1919 as addressed by the Nation magazine. In the pages that follow, I will scrutinize nutty, yet in their view, logical institutional responses to anticipated mutiny, for similar tactics were followed in other conservative but “liberal” institutions and professions: universities, periodicals, the Dies Committee in the late 1930s (HUAC), the American Historical Association, a prewar organization of social psychologists, and postwar intelligence agencies. They could not describe their operations accurately without threatening institutional legitimacy, thus every human relation was deceptive; under such preposterous conditions the critical intellect would have to waste away, dissimulate or flee. The New Left opposition that entered university faculties after the 1960s has been forced to negotiate the same mixed-message as Weaver; if my analysis is accurate, then it would be difficult for younger scholars to describe their own predicaments without risking expulsion.

The incident at Columbia is infamous in the annals of academic un-freedom. Weaver’s student and friend Joseph Freeman recalled that it started the “reign of terror” that transformed the American Union Against Militarism of 1915 into the ACLU. Carol Gruber, a student of Richard Hofstadter, has, like other liberals, criticized the limp behavior of the Columbia faculty and all professors who fail to protect academic freedom from right-wing hysterics.[i] But the weakly challenged purges of 1917 revealed more than faculty cowardice. There were contradictions in liberal thought, in the rhetoric of the French Revolution, and in Melville’s family that Melville himself had identified as crazy-making in Pierre: how to reconcile manly independence and free thought with loyalty to conservative families? If we are liberals, how shall we simultaneously achieve liberty, equality, and fraternity? Why should socializing institutions in class societies subsidize processes that can get out of hand? Who decides that authority is legitimate anyway? Or, as conservatives from Robert Filmer, to David Hume, to Edmund Burke, to Thomas Carlyle, to the narrator of Pierre, to Henry A. Murray, to Orson Welles, to Hans Jurgen Syberberg would say, “Little man [Leveller, Jacobin, Pierre, Citizen Kane/Cain, Hitler], what now?”  

    During the mid-nineteenth century, Herman Melville failed to get the unambiguous patronage of another gentleman-sailor, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author, abolitionist, Free-Soiler and Boston Brahmin. Perhaps Dana’s distaste for Lemuel Shaw, his political enemy and Melville’s father-in-law, blighted a stimulating friendship for both men. Dana had written in his journal: “The truth is, Judge Shaw is a man of intense and doating biasses, in religious, political and social matters. Unitarianism, Harvard College, the social & political respectabilities of Boston are his idola specus & fori (1856, Log).” 

     Six decades later, Dana’s grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, a Harvard Ph.D. (1910), socialist and peace activist, was summarily dismissed from his position as instructor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University: the New England Red Prince had been blatantly insubordinate. Although America entered the Great War on April 2, 1917 “for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of the small nations…and to make the world itself at last free,” as Wilson told Congress, [ii] Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler announced to alumni on Commencement Day, June 6, that anti-war “wrongheadedness” and “folly” were now “sedition” and “treason”; academic freedom would be suspended in wartime.[iii] Butler referred to the conspicuous agitation of Dana, economics professor Henry R. Mussey, the distinguished experimental psychologist James McKeen Cattell, Cattell’s son Owen, and other friends or members of the Collegiate Anti-Militarism League. With motions magnified by the popular press, these were activators of primal passions, enemies to “balance.”[iv]

   Cattell, editor of School and Society, had been a loud and unrelenting advocate of faculty control and community-responsiveness in the universities; he was nearly “retired” in 1913, but, it was suspected, retained solely to cast an aura of liberal toleration.[v] In May 1917, the irrepressible Cattell read a paper “Academic Slavery,” before the Twentieth Century Club, adjuring professors to remove their snobbish and mobbish propensities to please the king:  “…in fact the professor has no right to hide in the crowd. It is not thieves alone who have a code of honor. Each group has its moral etiquette and its unpardonable sin. The soldier may get drunk and get syphilis, but he must not desert his post; the lawyer may try to deceive the jury and the court, but must not betray his client; the physician and the clergyman may flatter and conceal, but they must try to save lives and souls; the university professor may be “fonder of glory and vain,” a snob and a cad, but in his teaching and research, he must tell the truth as he sees it and seek the truth as it is (18 May 1917).”

    Cattell, a student of the British eugenicist Francis Galton, may have opposed the draft out of fear that the Conscription Act would provoke a revolution, for Woodrow Wilson had been elected on a peace platform.[vi] Along with anthropologist Franz Boas, English professor William Peterfield Trent, co-editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature, was one of the few faculty who supported the long beleaguered Cattell. Trent wrote to political scientist E. R. A. Seligman, June 20: “It ought not to be possible for a man of my training and temperament to feel that at bottom despite all his defects and missteps, my sympathies are steadfastly with Cattell rather with the ostensible attitude of a majority of my colleagues and with the officers of administration. I like peace and order and in many ways am conservative. I have filled, in a small way, administrative positions myself, I practically do not know what friction with my colleagues and the administration means, yet in my fifty-fifth year I find myself continually impressed by the subserviency and the sycophancy observable in academic life, by the parasitic nature of the typical professor, by the growth of the spirit of censoriousness and revolt in myself. This is not as it should be, but self-examination does not leave me convinced that the fault lies entirely with me.[vii]

    During the summer, Cattell had lobbied numerous congressmen, writing to them on Columbia University letterhead stationery; that seems to have been the last straw; on Oct.1, the trustees unanimously voted to “vacate” the positions of Dana and Cattell. Cattell alleged that the firing was a pretext to perpetuate the oligarchy of businessmen: the real targets were those professors who wanted administrative independence from the trustees; John Dewey agreed. As he told the press, “They smeared the whole case over with patriotism. If they had good cause to dismiss Cattell, they might have come out boldly with the reasons.”[viii]

   Raymond M. Weaver was hired on October 8 to take over the teaching of Dana’s classes, the very day that Charles Beard, hailed as the most popular professor at Columbia, resigned from the Department of Political Science to protest continued trustee interference with teaching. Oct. 9, The Columbia Spectator led with the story of Charles Beard’s emotional departure, noting approvingly that “sentiment is almost wholly in favor of Beard’s action”: “Charles Beard announced it in his class yesterday morning. His action was greeted with applause which lasted for five minutes, and many of the students crowded about his desk at the close of the class to express their regrets personally. He was in tears when he left the room…The resignation has created the greatest excitement among the faculties of the various schools and colleges of the university. Unofficially, several of the professors have signified their intention of resigning from the faculty in sympathy with the ideas of Beard…[It] may lead to a secession of the most prominent members of the university.”

    What were Beard’s ideas? According to the Spectator, his classes fostered a spirit of wide-open political debate. Beard’s position was not antiwar like Dana’s, or anti-forced conscription like Cattell’s; he felt that support for the war should be proffered by disinterested intellectuals. He wanted to be viewed as an objective voice for national interests, not as a mouthpiece for the special interests of the trustees.[ix] Whether Beard was a sane liberal or a moderate advocating repressive tolerance like Cattell, he had significant support among students and faculty; but the issues raised by the purge seemed to drag the rational intellect leftward onto the barricades. Worried liberal faculty and press predicted “incipient revolt,” “a riot” and “great upheavals.”[x] James Harvey Robinson said the Constitution had been violated; America’s credibility as a democracy was at risk. John Dewey and Charles Beard felt proletarianized: “To my mind, this college is nothing but a factory, and a badly run factory at that,” said Dewey.[xi] Beard’s Letter of Resignation was even more vehement: “[A] few trustees dominate the university and terrorize the young instructors…the status of the professor is lower than that of a manual laborer…Holding his position literally by the day, the professor is liable to dismissal without a hearing, without the judgment of his colleagues who are his real peers.[xii] 

Columbus Day, 1917. The Spectator of Oct. 12 rocked with three incompatible pieces on the controversy. A front-page statement by Professor Robert Livingston Schuyler defended Charles Beard’s book of 1913, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution from the attack of a New York Times editorial of October 10. (Beard’s revisionist work characterized the framing and ratification of the Constitution as a virtual coup d’état by government bondholders and other representatives of the rising industrial bourgeoisie at the expense of the agrarian interest, including indebted small farmers and poor mechanics; the Constitution was a conservative class document, cunningly contrived to give the appearance of republican “balance” while actually stacking the deck against the popular legislative branch. Beard’s “scientific history” had attempted to delegitimate federal authority; he unapologetically aligned himself with the Marxists against Bancroft and other early nationalist historians or the unnamed advocates of Teutonic supremacy; however, he imprecisely labeled the Federalists as “aristocrats” and their more numerous anti-Federalist opponents “agrarians”; cf. T. S. Eliot below). The Spectator editorial called for rationality and unity, so the Dana-Cattell firing should be excluded from the agenda of the formal student-faculty meeting to come, while a less visible article headlined “Pacifism Was Not The Issue” quoted Cattell’s suggestion that “A private corporation which now taxes the people to maintain the privileged classes must ultimately be taken over by the people and conducted for their welfare.”[xiii]

    To his opponents, Cattell’s rationalism hitched to Beard’s iconoclasm must have resembled an eruption of the apocalyptic sublime. While Cattell, Dewey and Beard used economic categories to describe class domination and proletarianized professors, corporatist seekers of truth, taking the roles of doctors and clergymen, proposed medical remedies to save the souls of febrile organisms. Political disputes, resolvable only through rational deliberation, organization, and social action, were transmuted into diagnoses and prescriptions for decorous purges and healings. Disparate and irreconcilable interests had been welded by love’s delicately equilibrated machine. An emotionally and intellectually mature person would manipulate the “body” to his (and everyone’s) advantage; failure staggered forth from lapses of self-control and social sensitivity. The Committee of Nine was an early HUAC-type body formed at Columbia in March 1917 “to help the trustees inquire into the state and ultimate tendency of teaching in the university”; or, to be less polite, to sniff out pink and red disloyal professors. Columbia was conceived as a single body, but not One Big Union; the Committee had been denounced by some as an insulting and unnecessary inquisition.[xiv] Amid the furor of petitions, rallies, resolutions and rumors of strikes, uprisings, plots and walk-outs following Beard’s resignation, The Committee Of Nine pronounced “the University mind” quite mad and frantically cried for “corporate interest and corporate responsibility;” then, in a spectacular Freudian slip, begged for closure: [xv] 

    “…the University mind is left a prey to distraction and unrest, which in these critical times may lead to unrestrained outbursts by the impulsive and to severity in discipline by those entrusted with the exercise of power. It would seem wise, therefore, to consider our state of health dispassionately before either by neglect or by improper remedies, our disease becomes chronic…What then should be done?…This occasion ought not to be used to indulge in recrimination, censure, protest, or strife. We are in no fit state for dispassionate criticism and review…If we can not or do not recognize the state of mind we are in, it is folly to suppose that in that state of mind we shall do full justice in any case which stirs profoundly our primal passions when we look upon those who are about to die and the whole tragedy of this present world. Our only hope, our only reason, our only sanity is to try to protect us from ourselves for the future. That we can do if we but set about to do it. We can not do it, however, by devising some happy plan overnight. We can do it only by patient study, for it is the soul of the plan which must be made over. Our house can not be cleaned by the Trustees of the University…there can only be one leader and that is the President of the University. Efforts have been made to reform this place without his leadership and these efforts have failed. These efforts should stop. A new effort should be made under his leadership as chairman of a committee chosen from the University faculties to look into our condition. The findings of such a committee would be final and conclusive, or [sic] they would create issues which can freely and openly be discussed by men who love the University and bear the name of scholars.” (my emph.)

   This is an astounding document to have emanated from a great university: men trained through life to control their emotions in favor of objective judgment, had utterly lost it. Farewell to the Rights of Man they say, while hovering over an Abyss: the whole World is awash in primal Passions–”we” are our own worst Enemies; “we” want a strong Leader to unite our flailing Family; and “we” want an unambiguous Diagnosis of our Insanity, ASAP. Where will the correct Answer come from? Why, from amongst our maddened, divided Selves in a Committee stamped by the Head, where else? Otherwise, we might succumb to the Ambiguity of ordinary Persons, becoming Scholars who love their Students and their Work.

Five weeks later, Butler received a letter from the faculties of Political Science, Philosophy and Pure Sciences upbraiding him, but urging rational reform all around:[xvi]

“[The university is under suspicion]; there is a conviction that the Trustees and Faculties…are becoming increasingly estranged and are approaching an open conflict. [We want to] free the University from the imputation that the Trustees and Faculties have something to conceal and do not trust one another. It is now a great and international institution–we must cooperate with Trustees in this critical time…[the last two years have been embarrassing]. We have been too tolerant of abuses we might have remedied. [But your behavior has been cause of our suffering reputation.] That such things as we have enumerated give occasion to the radical minded and the emotional to hold the university up to scorn is regrettable. [And more, we don’t approve of them] (22 Nov. 1917). “

    The faculties who signed this letter presumably had been trained to analyze institutions, social movements, and competing epistemologies; trained to teach their students how to separate facts from factoids by exploring the material world, clarifying controversies by consulting primary sources to compare competing truth-claims. They should have been relieved that the widening rift between professors and trustees had disclosed their true condition as unfree investigators, but no. They were aghast that their peers, radical critics all over the world, might be laughing as Columbia’s perfectly happy corporatist identity came unglued. In the interest of mental and physical health at Columbia University, an institution devoted to the training of rational gentlemen and rational scholars by rationally cooperating faculty and trustees, disruptive passions were out and factoids were in. The “irresponsible,” “poisonous” and “emotional” Dana and Cattell along with hot-heads like Will Durant and the expelled Jewish student protester Leon Samson (one of the “wild-eyed” ranters and “kickers” pushing “cheap pacifism”) could take their vagrant principles elsewhere, which of course made the leftovers look really liberal, at least to themselves.[xvii]

Two years later, Levering Tyson, Executive Secretary of the Alumni Federation and Managing Editor of the Columbia Alumni News, wrote to attorney John Saxe on the occasion of Cattell’s lawsuit brought against Columbia for denying him his pension. Tyson reviewed the possibly fatal blow inflicted by Dana and Cattell: “It will be years and I doubt if it ever happens [sic] that Columbia will recover from the reputation which activities of these two men gave her. The men were cancers. All [the radicals] needed was a few men like Cattell and Dana to give them standing and Columbia University was always conspicuous in the accounts of their activities. After getting rid of them the University was really able to make some headway in demonstrating to the public and to her alumni the war work which she was actually accomplishing, ready to perform and that she had already entered a regular program in assisting the Government in preparation for and in pursuit of war (29 Nov. 1919).”

    Such was the social environment in which the impressionable and sensitive Raymond Weaver found his thorny nest. Not surprisingly, the young Melville presented in his biography resembled the Columbia troublemakers of 1917; whereas the sadly wised-up older authors (both Weaver and his subject), reeling from the barbs of readers hostile to Moby-Dick and Pierre, became brothers to the sedate and resigned professors who (with a few exceptions) had made their peace with Butler and the trustees.

    Sanely moderate Columbians did not agonize over conflicts between Reason, Conscience and the State. George W. Dithredge of the International Steel Car Company frankly advocated the primacy of order and cost-effectiveness over truth in his letter urging President Butler to fire the seditious bad father Cattell.  Dithredge did not send mixed-messages. Due process, academic freedom–even competence–were expendable. Loyalty to the goals of big business, identified with the national interest, was not: “With the example of Scott Nearing and his progressive descent to the dogs, Columbia cannot afford to cast the mantle of protective charity over a man so clearly unfit to exercise any influence over our young men, who above learning and technique, must be saturated by precept and example with the principles and spirit of good citizenship (14 Sept. 1917).”

   In contrast, some “Members of the Committee on Instruction of the Schools of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry” (perhaps with a more obvious professional interest in the protection of innovation than Dithredge) writing to Butler on September 19, urged him to have it both ways. He should safeguard Columbia’s good name by removing Cattell and Dana, avoiding future Ahabs, but without chilling the critical spirit: “We are also anxious that our students shall be surrounded by those influences which while encouraging vigorous independent thought, at the same time develop unquestioned loyalty to our country.” Similarly, Professor Giddings declared on October 29, “Every loyal alumnus of the university and every loyal student, whatever position he may take upon the question of academic freedom, should make perfectly clear to the public that he does not stand by men who disobey law and obstruct government.”[xviii] These practical men were saying that students could think vigorously about science that stabilized the status quo.[xix] Here is the double bind specific to incompletely realized, subverted modernity, the contradiction that cannot be identified by “moderately conservative” psychiatry: academic slavery was masked by academic freedom. It was an intolerably blinkered situation for sensitive intellectuals, enough to call forth “radical” and “unbalanced” sympathies with an ever more numerous working class. By 1919, the proles were dangerously possessed of (or by) printing presses and movie cameras, some asking trained scientists and engineers to join them. A Wobbly intellectual wrote an open letter to professors, proposing a different image of coalescence than the one offered by Columbia faculty and alumni. One Big Union was designed to protect all humanity, a sublime project in social engineering:

“We are intensely desirous of spreading our ideas of Industrial Democracy before the engineers, chemists, and technical men of the country, for we feel that their interests are identical with the interests of the artisans and laborers and they should recognize the splendid part they can play in the construction of a new society–a society which the workers regard as, in all essentials, a great engineering enterprise.[xx]

   Advocating a different form of uplift, and perhaps justifying his own controversial actions two years earlier, Nicholas Murray Butler testified to the New York State Overman Committee in its hunt for revolutionary radicals, October 9, 1919. The Columbia University President suggested that the teaching profession be upgraded and co-opted: [xxi]  “What the loyal and patriotic citizens really have to confront is a widespread state of mind that is both disloyal and patriotic, and which glories in the fact because it regards patriotism and loyalty as outworn and ‘capitalist’ virtues. This state of mind is especially frequent among those who often read but who rarely think. It has infected many school teachers, editors, clergymen and these have, consciously or unconsciously, become aids in a movement to break down the American civilization and the American government.

To combat a state of mind like this the only effective weapon is a better and more reasonable state of mind. Force does little more than create martyrs, except, of course, in months of acute national danger, when force must be resorted to by the nation for its self-protection. In ordinary times, however, the effective weapon to use with unwisdom and folly is reasonableness. This habit of reasonableness coupled with adequate understanding of social, economic, and political facts, should be constantly urged upon teachers, editors and clergymen, as well as upon any others who undertake to influence and guide public opinion. Columbia University, in its various parts is doing what it can do to instill the habit of reasonableness in those who go out from its doors.

It is a fact that the material compensations for the teaching profession are not sufficient to attract permanently to it men and women of the highest competence. On the other hand, competence alone will not change a state of mind, although it may have some effect upon the conditions which, in any case, have given rise to such a state of mind.”

    For Butler, as for other Progressive mind-managers advocating the vigorous and systematic investigation of the social, economic, and political environment, the co-existence of “disloyalty” (to upper-class interests, narrowly understood) and patriotism was intolerable. Definitions of “reasonableness” and “folly” would be adjusted accordingly.


                [i]     34. Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of Higher Learning in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1975), 187-206.  See also David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), and Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986).

                [ii]      35. Wilson quoted in Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston: Little Brown, 1980), 112. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated March 15. The overthrow of his reactionary regime removed one important obstacle to the entrance of America on the side of the Triple Entente. Germany had further antagonized American opinion by sinking three U.S. unarmed merchantment late in March. The interception of “the Zimmerman telegram” followed. Germany promised Mexico much of the Southwestern U.S. if it would join them. A selective service bill cleared Congress in May, drafting men from 18 to 45 (116).

                [iii]      36. Walter Metzger, Academic Freedom in the Age of the University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 255.

                [iv]      37. A letter from Alumni Secretary Levering Tyson to John Saxe, 29 Nov. 1929, states that the warning was directed against Dana. My description of Butler’s targets is a synthesis of my research and Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 1975. Gruber is hostile to Cattell. Unpublished materials cited here are from “Miscellaneous correspondence relating to the dismissal of Cattell and Dana” in the Cattell Papers, Manuscripts Division, Butler Library, Columbia University. As the preliminary report from the Committee of Nine reminded E.R.A. Seligman, Dana and Cattell had argued against the Conscription Act before it was passed into law; however Dana and Cattell were highly visible. Harry Dana paid the bond to release Owen Cattell and two other Columbia students from jail after their arrest June 1, 1917. The New York newspapers featured the controversy on their front pages.

                [v] 38. A clipping from the Evening Telegram, 19 May 1913, in the Cattell file reported that Cattell could be in trouble because he had attacked the Century Association for its refusal to admit the Jewish Jacques Loeb, biologist at the Rockefeller Institute. Cattell, leading a movement for faculty control, may have been saved from dismissal at that time (1913) because his “early retirement” would have given credibility to his claim that professors were muzzled. See letter from the zoologist Edmund B. Wilson to Butler, 20 May 1913. Cattell was a consistent radical throughout the interwar period, but no American Rosa Luxemburg or Wobbly; still he did not view “socialism” as a “nightmare.” See his “Academic Slavery,” School and Society, 13 Oct. 1917, 421-426: “I myself accept the social ideal: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs; and I think that, thanks to the applications of science, the resources of society are sufficient to provide adequately for all.” His animus against college administrators was connected to a rejection of the “autocratic and bureaucratic” rationalizing businessmen who ran American universities (unlike Oxford and Cambridge where dons are administrators). See Cattell, University Control (New York: Science Press, 1913), 9, 13-15, 44, 49. As a young man writing to his parents in 1888, he declared his intellectual preferences and affinities for many of the English romantic anticapitalists (Tory-Radicals): “I can suggest no other wedding-present than books and pictures. We should like to have editions of Carlyle, Ruskin, Scott, Rossetti, Morris, and Darwin.” In An Education in Psychology: James McKeen Cattell’s Journals and Letters From Germany and England, 1880-1888), ed. Michael M. Sokal (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), 303.  

                [vi]  39. See Columbia Spectator, 4 Oct. 1917, 2. Amazingly, Cattell was serving on a committee of the American Psychological Association organized to assist the U.S. military in the current conflict; see R.M. Yerkes,”Psychology and National Service,” Science, 3 Aug. 1917, 101-103.

                [vii] 40. Quoted Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 195.

                [viii] 41. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917. Dewey’s protests had been quoted also Oct. 4 and in the New York Tribune, Oct.4 and Oct. 9, New York Times, Oct. 9.

                [ix] 42.  World, 9 Oct. 1917. The newspaper clippings quoted here were mostly found in the Cattell file.

                [x] 43. Herald, 10 Oct.; American, 10 Oct. quoted Robinson.

                [xi]  44. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xii]  45. New York Times, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xiii]  46. Spectator, 12 Oct. 1917, 4. Also see letter Cattell to John Coulter of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom in Wartime, 30 Mar. 1918, still insisting that the underlying motive for his dismissal was his cause of “university reform.”

                [xiv]  47. See Metzger, Academic Freedom, 224-225.

                [xv]  48. Unsigned 12 page ms. in file, probably the report of the Committee of Nine, summarized in Spectator, 13 Oct. 1917. Even if the last sentence contained a typo, it must have been proofread.

                [xvi]  49. One of the signers was John Erskine, Butler’s friend and with Carl Van Doren, W.P. Trent and Stuart Pratt Sherman, an editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature (1917).

                [xvii]   50. Spectator, quoted 12 Oct. 1917, 1. “Sane, dignified and gentlemanly” views versus “cheap pacifism” was the contrast offered by C.P. Ivins, Vice President of the Senior Class, Columbia, ‘17. It was reported on 10/11 that Matthew Josephson, Kenneth Burke and Percival Winner were supporting academic freedom as long as it was exercised in a legal manner. A statement in support of Cattell and Dana was circulated denouncing the public meeting, signed by L.M. Hacker and Josephson (10/16).  On Oct. 16, 17, and 18, the Spectator ran anti-Semitic stories on Leon Samson’s activities: he was linked to outside agitators Henry Factor (NYU), Isidore Schneider (CCNY), and Israel Common (Columbia ‘17), and mocked by “The Delilah Club.” Meanwhile, also according to the Spectator, Samson had been expelled, and could not get into another university nor obtain a certificate to study law. On 10/25, the Alumni Association was quoted: they supported the action of the Trustees; “unbridled license” was not part of free speech; the university was neither forum nor market place but a site for the training of scholars, not soap-box orators. Spectator coverage ended Oct. 27, with a mention that Morris Hillquit denounced Dana’s firing. Letters in the Cattell papers from Henry Mussey (who resigned and later became editor of The Nation) and Thomas Reed Powell are moving examples of the moral conflicts generated by the dispute.

                [xviii] 51. Quoted in Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 206. Cf. David Hume, sardonically commenting on the transparent ruse of the house of peers and Charles I in amending the petition of right sent up by the house of commons, 1628. The peers had proposed this clause: “We humbly present this petition to your majesty, not only with a care of preserving our own liberties, but with due regard to leave entire that sovereign power, with which your majesty is intrusted for the protection, safety, and happiness of your people.” Hume sneered, “Less penetration than was possessed by the leaders of the house of commons, could easily discover how captious this clause was, and how much it was calculated to elude the whole force of the petition.” See History of England, Vol.6, 188-189. 

[xix] 52. This point has been missing from published  commentaries on the Columbia incident of 1917. See for instance Russell J. Reising, The Unusable Past: Theory and the Study of American Literature (London: Methuen, 1986), 43. Commenting on Gruber’s standard account, Reising states “Gruber is careful to avoid crude assertions of conscious complicity or hypocrisy, and one of the major strengths of her book is its cautious, though bold, delineation of an academy won to interests antithetical to its declared and sincerely held values.” Throughout, Reising sees American Studies as a propagandistic discipline devoted to American exceptionalism and imperialism (39-40), a view with which I sharply disagree; I am arguing that the field is an outpost of humanism, tory and antibourgeois to the core.

                [xx] 53. Abner Woodruff, “A Letter to the Professor,”One Big Union Monthly, 19 Aug. 1919. Also, Steven J. Ross, “Struggles For the Screen: Workers, Radicals, and the Political Uses of Silent Film,” American History Review 96 (Apr. 1991): 333-367, also Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Ross argues that early working-class film challenged the dominant images of the labor movement that had characterized the rank and file as mobbish, its leaders demagogic, and its efforts doomed to failure.

Cf. Senate Document No. 217, 74th Congress, p.33, citing the 1933 Baccalaureate speech of Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, in its investigation of “Alleged Communistic Activities at Howard University, May 12, 1936.” Johnson (a Baptist) wrote: “…We must not allow the words “communism” and “socialism” to blind our eyes to the realization that on Russian soil today–it makes no difference what mistakes are being made or crimes are being committed–there is a movement for the first time in the history of the world to make available the natural resources for the life of the common man. I am in hearty sympathy with those want to preserve our American system, but the preservation of our system is not the primary urgency. The primary urgency of life is to work out some way to use the scientific and technical resources of life for the emancipation of the people (33).” Johnson did not separate the Head and Heart; see “Communism A New Religion Says H.U. Prexy,” The Afro-American, June 10, 1933. It was reported that intellectuals should use their powers of observation and ability to think systematically, spotting blind alleys and enthusiasms that mislead the people; their plans and visions sprang from the pure, inspired, knowledgeable Christian heart.

[xxi] 54. N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 3306-3307.

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  1. […] have not mentioned mixed messages and double binds that liberal parents often inflict (See http://clarespark.com/2010/04/10/columbia-u-s-double-bind-october-1917/). Roth mentions that his family was generally “left-of center,” implying that some were […]

    Pingback by Philip Roth, The Following, and Identification with the Aggressor | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 30, 2013 @ 9:11 pm | Reply


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The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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