Isaiah Berlin, Lionel Trilling, and Saul Bellow on the Unrest of the Late 1960s

The present combination of sometimes-violent protests, riots, racial tensions, collapsing cities, and a young left seized with revolutionary fervor has put some in mind of the “long, hot summers” of the late 1960s. While many of the leading figures behind that New Left fervor were Jewish—whether intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Norman Mailer, and Herbert Marcuse or activists like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin—so too were many of its liberal critics. It is to the latter group that David Herman turns, looking to the writings of the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, the critic Lionel Trilling, and the novelist Saul Bellow:

[T]he British media continue to see the 60s through the eyes of the New Left. . . . But there were others who saw the 60s very differently, older writers and intellectuals like Isaiah Berlin, Lionel Trilling, and Saul Bellow.

Isaiah Berlin, an almost exact contemporary of Trilling’s, . . . was almost sixty when the Columbia students started rioting. . . . He wrote to [the former national security adviser] McGeorge Bundy on May 31, [1968] about his impending visit to New York, “I propose to come armed with a water pistol, and if any militant student approaches me I shall rise up against him and say that the dons have turned, the worms fight back, and douse him. . . . Why cannot the professors build barricades of their own?”

Saul Bellow, like Trilling and Berlin, was appalled by the riots in the 60s, but took a tougher line than either. . . . He had been a supporter of the Congress of Racial Equality and wrote to the papers attacking the Vietnam War. Then came the riots in his beloved Chicago in 1968. He watched the chaos on TV, appalled by the anarchy on the streets of his hometown. . . . There’s a new tone to Bellow’s fiction during the late 60s. His sympathies moved from young men like Augie March and Tommy Wilhelm (Seize the Day) to older authority figures like Mr. Sammler, Mosby in Mosby’s Memoirs, and Braun in The Old System.

What’s interesting about the reactions of Trilling, Berlin, and Bellow, is that they all saw the 60s as a terrible moment. The language is revealing. “The crazy sixties (Bellow), “The rapid growth of barbarism” (Berlin). “Abominable,” “a total rejection of a way of life” (Trilling).

Read more at The Critic

More about: Isaiah Berlin, Lionel Trilling, New Left, Saul Bellow

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship