A Belated Memoir from the Berkeley of the 1960s and 70s and a Homage to Berkeley and its People
My Berkeley experience was most formative and most gratefully acknowledged. I feel loyal to the institution and most grateful to the then faculty and to fellow students. I experienced great days on the editorial board of Berkeley Journal of Sociology and learned so much as a teaching assistant. Berkeley is my second home, and I am most attached to the memory of the town but now avoid visiting as I feel aliens have taken over my habitus. Berkeley changed hence the world has changed. I have published very little yet am still full of "almost finished" writing projects on theory and history. Approaching sixty but still feeling very youthful thanks to the "non-conservative mindset" acquired at Berkeley. We are the Dorian Gray’s and the aging population only succeeded us!
Below is the story of a very lucky man (referencing Lindsay Anderson’s film, A Lucky Man). That luck was mostly possible because it reflected its age, the modern at its height and, unbeknownst to itself, in its dying decades. At the time my story begins, there was a unified intellectual language and an abundance of student grants, and no visa was required to cross borders other than for the U.S. and the Communists. A phone call was a dime. There was no Internet and no ban on smoking. The written word was carried from place to place by humble postmen and women. People around me spent all their time either discussing with each other in bars, restaurants and coffee shops in clouds of heavy cigarette smoke, or in the library reading their nights out. I was twice locked up on the ninth floor of the UC Berkeley Library, where the bound volumes of Past&Present were housed, only to be saved by the night watchman. Most of my contemporaries at Berkeley worked part-time in the library for their subsistence. It was a wonderful time to be a foreign student in America.
All acknowledgments are written retrospectively. My ideas did not come from Heaven. I was a late bloomer. My ideas come from having been whirled in the blender of a very lucky life; my ideas come from the brilliant people I have met, from students, friends and teachers, and from all the wonderful places I have lived. Among those places, one stands out as the most crucial for my story. For places, I owe the most to Berkeley, where I came of age intellectually. Before that I was at best an infant.
My acknowledgments can thus only begin with my contemporaries, the wonderful people, the last of the moderns, the Berkeleyites of the sixties, and the place where I met them. I suppose the story of that Mohican-land must be written from afar and through the gaze of a young foreigner. The other wonderful people I have met since have had an impact on me expressly because I had my autobiography set in Berkeley in 1964 For all my encounters to be lucky breaks, my life had to have begun in Berkeley in the sixties and seventies, and I had to have had Berkeley to shape my mind and spirit to hear them. To Berkeley I owe myself and whatever I have had of curiosity, passion, a little disorganization, and a great love not for, but of, learning.
In acknowledging the people and the places, the events and the particular times I have lived through but of which I was no author, this autobiographical sketch might, indirectly, also serve an unintended end. It might, in very different categories, in very different language, convey a representation, a reflection, an incoherent summary, of the abstract and “grand narrative” of the modern. My personal experiences took place in the last decades of the Paradigm of the Modern, with which I have fully self-identified. In their final decades, paradigms often come to their full realizationin Hegel’s sense, as well as experiencing the beginnings of their inner fracturing.
The Place and the People
I transferred to Berkeley in December 1963 as a junior from Amherst College after half a year of wandering in Europe, as was then the custom. My going to Berkeley was out of no foreknowledge but due entirely to chance.My luck was due to two disconnected events. First, my deep discontent with New England “churchiness”, which made me drop out of Amherst at the end of my freshman year; and second, when, by pure chance, I came across a Berkeley Course Catalogue among the new arrivals in the tiny library in the basement of Cambridge (UK) City’s town hall. The catalogue impressed me. It had all the things I wanted to read, from existentialism to Dostoevsky, from Jung to Nietzsche, nineteenth century intellectual history and Sociological Theory. I sent my transcript by Western Union to beat the deadline.
In those days you could get an air ticket from London to Berkeley that included a helicopter ride from San Francisco Airport to Berkeley Marina. The flight at night over the Bay was like flying over a jewel garden. In retrospect I think my adult life started that evening when I flew to Berkeley. Me as I know it began then, in December 1963.
Berkeley in the 1960s stood on the western precipice of the modern. The hills behind set Berkeley apart, as if it were an island. The Pacific in front looked endless, as if Berkeley would melt away into the ocean were it not for the Golden Gate Bridge forming a barrier. In that little patch of land between San Francisco Bay and the hills that separate Berkeley from Nevada and Arizona, a culture had been developing for some time that encapsulated all that the Modern meant, with its promises and its agonies, the certitudes and the void, the individualism and the collectivist politics, with its analytical rigor and poetry, Nagel and Rilke all in one, just as Paris had been in its fin de siècle, in 1900.
For all that, Berkeley was a pressure cooker. If Parisians had escaped to fin de siècle Normandy or Biarritz, where did Berkeley people go in the sixties? One way was to go south as far as the Big Sur. At the time, Highway One was a one-lane country road, Monterey had not yet been hit by tourism and Clint Eastwood, and the canneries were still in operation. In Cannery Row one could smell the ocean in the sardines being canned. One could sleep on the beach if one did not mind the cold, the seaweed and the back pain. On the way, one could stop over in Santa Cruz. Where the University campus is today there was the woods. It must have been a state park. There one could spend the night under the pine trees if one did not mind the curious raccoons chewing on one’s sleeping bag. This was the long haul. One did not always have the time between course work and a charter flight to Europe to venture south often. For a short trip, Palo Alto was near, but it was a different continent. Stanford had a wonderful faculty but sat at the end of a very long, interminable bridge. From Berkeley we thought the Hoover Institution ruled the place. Its politics offended us as much as its coincidental name at the time. Just on the other side of the Berkeley hills, almost as if in Arizona, stood the sleepy towns of Walnut Creek and the like. Yet they were to us as far away as the moon with their landscape and the way their people talked. Whenever I had to go there, a song from the fifties would ring in my ears, “purple people eater, take us to your pre-si-dent.”
A much more customary route was to Marin County, Sausalito and Mill Valley. The part-wooden bridge to Tiburon was beautiful on the drive. As one crossed one was met with a huge, deserted wooden building on the left that might have been a silo of sorts. It had a four-digit San Francisco telephone number from the Twenties inscribed on its side in big letters. Each time I went by the building a Bacall-Bogarde dialogue in black-and-white would play in my head. In Sausalito they made wonderful avocado-and-shrimp salads at the Trident, owned by the Kingston Trio of “Tom Dooley” fame. However posh and endowed with a marvelous terrace on the water it was, there, in those days, even a student could afford a light lunch of an avocado sandwich. A dime was dime and a dollar was a dollar.
In 1964 the department of sociology was still at South Hall. Barrows was under construction. Blauner and Matza were the younger of the professors, Blauner brilliant and radical, perhaps a little more junior, Matza forever youthful and endlessly inspiring. They were kind enough to let me take their graduate seminars in my senior year, and I wrote a paper for each that I still find extremely insightful in my less modest moments! Smelser was ageless in his forever-mature way: always the mainstay of the department, helpful, attentive, diligent, superb. I owe Neil Smelser the rest of my career, but more on that later.
Returning to the department, Kenneth Bock gave extremely lucid lectures. I learned a good deal of my Marx from him. His favorites were Toynbee and Sorokin and Margaret Hodgson, who has a wonderfully lucid book, unfortunately forgotten now, on the historical geographical sociology of England before the Industrial Revolution, in which she argues that all innovation occurred where there had been immigration that broke the back of conventionalism. Bock looked the Berkeley grandee even in his Marx lectures. He looked as if he had been at Berkeley since before the university had even come to the hills. He was there already when the department was called the Department of Social Institutions. Bock was always very courteous if a bit distant.
We all read Marx very carefully. Our favorite contemporary radical sociology writing then was that of Ralf Dahrendorf! We took him as one of our heroes. We considered so-called conflict sociology a true alternative! A bit of a mistake in retrospect. Randall Collins fell for it. That was before we discovered the Frankfurt School.
In the mid-sixties Berkeley had an excellent undergraduate program before it got axed after the Free Speech Movement. We felt in no way inferior to the graduate students. Sproul Plaza was the core of the campus. It was largely dominated by the sociology, philosophy, political science and English majors. The engineers would not come down too much, but would hang out north, where the fraternities were. The law students stayed in the north in isolation. The psychologists had already run to the other side of the campus to become professional. Next to them were the department of social welfare and one or two state institutions of social service. The agricultural experimental farm with its open space provided the light for that corner of the campus, forever saving Oxford Street with its airiness. The historians were not yet in the picture; in those days in America the history departments were where the football players were parked for their semi-academic sojourn.
We all gathered on Sproul Plaza, by the fountain or in the adjoining cafeteria, for heated post-lecture discussions. Zellerbach Hall had not been built. From Sproul you could, on a clear day, have a magical view of the Bay, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, sitting like a crown in their midst.
Berkeley was an open university. Evening seminars never ended in the classroom as scheduled. They would continue many hours into the evening in one of the beer joints on Telegraph. One favorite was Robbie’s, a Chinese-run hofbrau! It had the cheapest pitcher if not the best beer.
During the day in the lecture halls around Sproul on the other side of Sather Gate, we would go to any lecture of our choosing. Everyone had his favorites. Mine were Carl Schorske’s history lectures in Dwinelle. I never took his course but hardly ever missed his lecture around noon three days a week. He remains the best lecturer I have ever heard. Listening to him with his free associations, recounting the ironies in western history, was pure joy, a delight unmatched by anything else. I am sorry that his written work has been no match for this volcanoof a lecturer. People cannot get to appreciate him as much as he certainly deserves!If it was not a Schorske day, my early afternoon excursion could be either to Dreyfus’s lectures on Existential Philosophy, a subject we thought broke through conventional thinking, or Frankenstein’s lectures up the hill on renaissance art, where he made the symbols come to life.
One day, opposite Dwinelle, in Wheeler Auditorium, John and I went to listen to Koestler. We both admired him very much. His Darkness at Noon is, I believe, still a classic. He was then preoccupied with “the thirteenth tribe”. We were a bit disappointed with the lecture, but it felt great to shake the hand of a great man—on that we didn’t change our minds. Berkeley education was not only in the classroom; it was everywhere!
Years later, in the late sixties, it was at Sproul that I would meet Marcuse, who would bring that holy place to its pinnacle. But let me continue with the Sproul days before Marcuse and return to the years 1964-65. These were still the years of the beginning, before Marcuse, before Vietnam, before Kent State, and the dream of the general strike and the sit-ins.
On Sproul Plaza, on a beautiful sunny day in late 1964—it must have been around noon—we surrounded a police car that had come to disperse us. A very fine man, Mario Savio, whom I, as a habitué of Sproul, had seen and exchanged many greetings with, climbed onto the, by then immobilized, police car carrying the bullhorn he had for the occasion. Mario in his light brown leather jacket climbed onto the police car in his white socks but only after he had instinctively removed his shoes! This is the image I have of the day after more than forty years. Not the details of what he said, but that innate elegance, that civility, is to me the unforgettable thing about that moment that has remained with me forever. It remains as one of the softest spots in my heart. That was the beginning of the student movement. It was Berkeley, 1964. His elegance in no way detracted from his passionate and radical speech, punctuated with a wonderfully witty and acerbic portrayal of the university administration. He expressed for all of us the fears of what might become of the university in the future.Clark Kerr’s idea of the multiversity was already in the air. Kerr wanted to integrate the university with the giant corporations on the outside; we believed in the ivory tower. This was the start of the Free Speech Movement. Nineteen sixty-eight had started in Berkeley, four years ahead of the world.
That evening the students held a sit-in in Sproul Hall, which was the University’s administration building. I wanted very much to go but couldn’t. Something very personal which I could not refuse came up... I went to Ernie’s that evening, which was then perhaps one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. I had my first Duck à l’Orange. I still think it was the best I’ve ever had.
In 1964 a conflict had been brewing for some time between the students and the administration with regard to whether leafleting tables might be put at the entrance of the University for the upcoming California elections, which Ronald Reagan would eventually win. I remember how dark we felt when several months later we listened to his inaugural speech as the new governor one late California afternoon on the lawn where the University’s undergraduate library now stands. The university had put up loudspeakers, as if to forewarn us of the coming events. In the FSM struggle the students wanted no restrictions on political speech. The university claimed they wanted politics not to be allowed on campus. I could see the university’s point. I knew if we wanted an ivory tower it had to cut itself off from society. On the other hand, the university had a bad record of denying tenure to Marxist faculty. It had a history of demanding the oath of allegiance from its faculty members. Only a few years earlier the same issue had led to a violent skirmish when the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a legacy of the McCarthy days, had met in San Francisco, and Berkeley students had a big role to play on that occasion only to be hosed down the stairs of City Hall by city firemen. Perhaps those were the first seeds of the coming student movement!
Berkeley had become the vanguard of the student movement. Already by the early sixties many bright students from the best colleges in New York and other parts of the East who had seen the rough side of the Civil Rights movement in the South had transferred to Berkeley. Berkeley had become the place where the bright and committed children of middle and upper middle class professional parents chose to complete their university education. They had no patience with aloof, academic savoir-faire.
The police car and the Mario Savio episode say so much in retrospect. Not only did Mario take his shoes off to climb onto the car, in the later hours we would bring coffee and sandwiches to the two cops who had been trapped so long inside it. What strikes me is the innocence, the purity—the naiveté in the positive sense of the word—that characterized the early days of the student movement. I find that completely commensurate with the assumptions in which the whole paradigm of the Modern was anchored—alas, at times at its fragile expense! I find that civility, innocence and optimism about human nature much more germane to the Modern as an Enlightenment project than the atrocities, the violence, the Holocaust (Bauman) perpetrated in its name.
The Free Speech Movement wreaked havoc among the faculty. Some saw in it the Hitler Youth; some saw it as another version of the juvenile “rebel without a cause”. They were wrong. The students were also wrong to imagine they could get involved in the world but only on their own terms. The administration handled the situation very badly. They had no experience with any of this. Every movement at some point has aneed for dialogue and recognition. The administration instead totally shunned the students. They could have built a bridge between the students and the faculty. By the time they tried to do that, it was already too late.
Four years later, in late 1969, I returned to Berkeley as a graduate student after Cambridge (UK), Paris and the New School, and a little working time in East Africa. The department had moved to the fourth floor of Barrows Hall, where all the social sciences departments had also moved. Herbert Blumer had built the best department in the country—at least that is what we thought, and what the country thought, as the top students from the top colleges congregated there. These were the years of sociology. Herbert Blumer represented George Herbert Mead in the department. He had been Mead’s student. Blumer was a wonderfully warm person. Huge as he was, he would put his arms around your shoulder with the greatest friendliness. Rumor had it that he had been a professional football player in Chicago to put himself through college and was once married to a beautiful fashion model. Blumer filled the corridors of Barrows fourth floor with the magnanimity of a department chair who had created the best department in the country by recruiting sociologists whose methodologies were most unlike his—an exceptional quality indeed in academia! When he and Smelser gave the graduate theory course it was a feast. It was said that to make his methodological point he once asked Smelser, “Neil, have you ever seen a norm walking down the corridor?” Leo Lowenthal was the highbrow German intellectual, very sophisticated and acerbic, quite in the center even before we had all discovered the Frankfurt School. Marcuse’s fame had not yet fully moved north from San Diego—or was he still at Brandeis then, I cannot remember. At the time, Habermas was only a mimeo we circulated among ourselves as the bright young new German sociologist. The text was his “Science and Technology as Ideology”, translated by a fellow graduate student, Hans Muller. It very much enchanted us. Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, his best work, might have just been just translated! David Matza was to review it for ASR. Bendix was remarkably erudite. Lipset I never met; he was always on leave. Kingsley Davis had already established his turfat Demography. Goffman had gone to the East Coast the year before I came to Berkeley, but his fame still lingered vividly in the corridors of the department. Kornhauser, still young, was resting on the laurels of his Politics of Mass Society—I think he took an early intellectual retirement after the book. It was de Tocqueville made contemporary. I realize now, when I reflect retrospectively, that this Tocqueville “secondary organizations and democracy” advanced a formula that messed us all up.France had almost no secondary organizations until the 1890s, but Germany had a lot of them. They both went Fascist in the mid-Thirties, yet France resisted better with its deeply entrenched state, whereas Germany could not! Hannah Arendt certainly has been much more perceptive on this issue and the rise of Fascism.
Berkeley had become much more of a graduate institution, perhaps a little in response to the Free Speech Movement. Sproul had lost its earlier focus as the principal forum. Intellectual activity had shifted more to the departments. For us, the social scientists, it was Barrows Hall. Sproul had become more the promenade with lots of Hare Krishna song and dance. The cafeteria had become more amorphous, and the new Zellerbach Hall now obstructed the magical vision of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. One good thing was that the student movement had totally turned the law students around; they had now become mature, political and active. With the more graduate character of the university, the research institutes had come to play a more dominant role, often at the expense of the departments. One institute that had become a highbrow intellectual center was the Center for the Study of Law and Society. There, Selznick was the duke, subtle in mind, elegant in manners. From him I learned so much. He was magnanimous and most generous with his time and his ideas. I spent many seminar hours at the Center. The following year I had the great fortune of being asked by the department to give Selznick’s theory course while he was on sabbatical leave. A great experience! It was my first true teaching job. I believe I was very successful. I gave a tough course and a tough final exam and was rated very highly by the students. Habermas was then on my reading list and his ''science and technology as ideology'' was the dominant theme of my essay final! It was the beginning of my academic career. I had already been a Teaching Assistant for several years. I had enjoyed that very much. It was a great learning experience. As a Teaching Assistant I might have been a bit too serious for the job and a bit too pompous. On reflection I sometimes feel embarrassed. Teaching my own course might have taken those silly edges off my demeanor. No better cure for pomposity than a little self-confidence!
The other most gratifying and educational experience was being on the editorial board of eight of the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, a graduate students’ journal whose board was selected by fellow students. We spent hours arguing over manuscripts. It was a wonderful way of getting an education. Manuscripts were reasons to argue over methodologies, politics and theory. It was a great education and tremendous fun. I will return to it below.
The Journal gave me one of my most memorable experiences, which I still recall with great pride. For the Journal, Karl Kreplin and I taped Herbert Marcuse in a fully packed ASUC auditorium. He was brilliant, beautiful and moving. Marcuse had become my hero and he still remains so.
Berkeley’s mindset in those days was shaped by Marcuse, Kuhn and the Beatles —the first of whom I still adhere to academically, and the second of whom I now abhor for his lowbrow academism. Since then, Marcuse for me has remained a perennial talisman. Listening to the Beatles now is an even more moving experience. Today they bring tears to my eyes, tears of nostalgia for the Modern. Yet Pink Floyd has become the most potent in my consciousness since they sound the death-knell of the Modern from its own involution: “teacher, teacher you’re just a brick in the wall...”
I had returned to Berkeley in 1969 on the heels of the flare-up over the “people’s park”, a strip of land used by political groups that the university wanted to take to build new dorms. I was told about the great episodes of that conflict when I arrived. A year later was the time of the greatest eruption: the Kent State killings, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the invasion of Cambodia. It was a total event. A good many of us in Sociology got involved with writing leaflets to mobilize workers in the flatlands for a general strike. What phenomenal excitement, what fabulous education, what fantastic solidarity.
The anti-war movement was in full swing. As teaching assistants, we were holding teach-ins on capitalism, imperialism and the war. Baran-Sweezy was our handbook. Retrospectively now I feel a little ashamed of how we put the engineering students through such an ordeal when they lacked all interest. They were intelligent enough to bite the bullet, go through the episode most obligingly and not jeopardize their grades in their social science electives. I think the university handled that occasion better. Yet I do not know how much they were in on the helicopters that sprayed our Sproul Plaza meetings with orange gas. That was brutal and silly. The helicopters only agitated us and made our will all the stronger. It was Paris all over again as I knew from the year before, but now on the Berkeley campus. We thought Berkeley was Paris! The issue was one of war and killing, of empire and the draft!
But it was not all politics and campaigning: Berkeley was a city of cinemas, from the most regular kind to the walk-ins, like the two at Northside. The crown however belonged to the Pacific Film Archives. Tom Luddy had made it one of the richest sources of “oldies”, from Nosferatu to Pandora’s Box, two rare films to be viewed every night. I would run into Luddy in Paris, Boulevard St. Germain, and we would nod and pass by as if we were on Telegraph Avenue. I must have been at the PFA almost every other evening of the week. It was a tremendous source of education in black-and-white. If that was not enough, one went to the Surf Theater in “Frisco” by the ocean at the other end of the city. I believe the Surf no longer exists today. People there wore black turtlenecks and smoked like Juliette Greco. Walking the paved streets—as they were then—around the Surf Theater on a sunny day and then topping it off with a brief visit to the Musée Mécanique at Pigeon Point remains for me something to yearn for forever.
The Marcuse of those days on has remained my beacon. He has always been there somewhere, hidden or apparent, in every course I’ve taught for the last thirty plus years. Some people are both place and persona in one. It was also at that time in Berkeley that I met three friends from whom I still keep learning, Ilkay Sunar, Claus Offe and Steve Cohen. To them my gratitude remains immeasurable.
How could I not consider myself a very, very lucky man! Berkeley was a fantastic place. No place has yet come even a distant second for my learning experience and for the depth of its lived days.
My social geographical account ends here. Let me turn now to the people I met in a chronology of personal acknowledgments, to thank them for enabling me to write this book.
For the people who shaped my lucky life, let me once more go back to my undergraduate years at Berkeley for a moment. At Berkeley, still before 1965 and before the Student Movement, every day I would read T.S. Eliot in the mornings and afternoons, and every day I would gravitate to Berkeley’s Morrison Library—a beautiful wood-paneled reading room—to read whatever appeared that day on the “new arrivals” table. Next to it stood the table with current journals. There, I started reading one of the first issues of The New York Review of Books, to which I have since subscribed for so many million years. Next to it was The New York Times, for which you had to sit close to the table to catch one of the few copies before somebody else got it; there was no California edition back then. From the same table I avidly read the journals, Encounter and Commentary, which the CIA had been supporting, unbeknownst, of course, to us. We did not know much about the CIA then. One day on the new arrivals table I discovered the first English translation of Apollinaire’s Alcools. It has since radically configured my understanding of the Modern, as I write below in a way quite different from all the ways the Modern has been understood and rendered by many others. It was thanks to what I learned from John Steele that I would so much enjoy the Morrison Library and Apollinaire. Without him I might have become just a bookworm sociologist in the Reserve Book Room next door!
But my Berkeley early education (1964-65) was not only the theatre of the absurd and German expressionist drama. In fact, Esslin’s introduction to The Theatre of the Absurd only reinforced my choice of sociology as a major. It was not the contextualization of those theatrical texts, which he intelligently does none of, but his discussion of their—to use another neologism—subtext that struck me as so Durkheimian. I had read Marx and Durkheim on many occasions. My search in sociology was not for public conscience or a Fabianist type of “do-goodery” [sic]. However much I commend them both when done privately, I abhor them when done academically. My search was for a conceptual understanding of how societies exhibit particular cultural forms in particular times in their history. There, I wanted geometry and rational discourse. I never had patience with description that pretends to be theory the way Giddens would practice it later. In my first term in Berkeley sociology, Neil Smelser’s course on theory was required. I found in its systematic rigor, analytical depth and comparative skill what I had been dreaming of at Amherst. That is when I decided to study sociology as the real thing. It is the best course I ever had in the many thousand years of my education; it set me the model of teaching for which I have received so much praise, adulation and reward, and I have traveled with it on demand to many different parts of the world. Smelser made me into a medieval craftsman who carries his means of production with him, never to depend on anyone else. He gave me my métier, an incomparable gift! I took Smelser’s word to many places around the globe, and it has given me a purpose and prestige. I consider I had three principal teachers, in the Yaqui sense (Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge):my friends, Scott at Amherst and John Steele, and Neil Smelser. He is my third teacher, yet so different from the other two—of them I will say more later. Thanks to Smelser’s geometry, their contributions complete the circle and become meaningful. It was so essential for me to see where geometry ends and where poetry begins, where reason must prevail and where unreason is to be admitted. That was also Durkheim’s problem; in a deep reading of Durkheim it becomes obvious that unreason is ubiquitous, always there, robust and hard to keep at bay. Courage, as Esslin mentions in his introduction to his book on the Theatre of the Absurd, was to survive rationally in the face of its fragility, by facing the deep truth of unreason that lurks behind reason. Nietzsche in his struggle is as modern as Kant. Weber never was.
I have since taught a theory course on Smelser’s heels with a different emphasis. Marx and Durkheim got more comprehensive and longer. For Durkheim I included his Kantian essays and for Marx Hegel, and I dropped Smelser’s Michels and Parsons to include a little Weber as a conclusion. I have never failed to mention Smelser as the originator of the course each time I taught it for over thirty years in many places, and, to Neil Smelser’s credit, I was often elected best teacher by the students. Neil Smelser has had more impact on my life than anyone else; he made me into an academic. My loyalty to him wouldnever waver.
When I went from Berkeley to Cambridge to read Economics in 1965, Frank Hahn and Nicholas Kaldor taught theory in the same elegant, rigorous manner. There is no better training in logical analysis than good economic theory. Again it was my luck that I ended up as an economist at Cambridge. I had wanted to read European history. But Cambridge would not let me do European history without Latin—very sensible indeed. Reading my second choice, Economics, at Cambridge proved most valuable in the long run, much more than history, which I read the most now. Frank Hahn must have been the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. I had never seen wit and logic combine so well. His article, co-authored with Matthews, on economic theory is, to my mind, still the best model for any analytical theory thinking and still my guide to the way I organize my theory lectures.
After Cambridge I found myself in Paris in 1968. I do not have to recount the story of Paris in 1968. Obviously the French students might have been politically much more mature than the American students, but they were naive about university education when compared to my Berkeley cohort.The crisis was as much of the state and the universities, as it was of the unions, which had been mothballed politically in part because of their relationship with the atrophying Communist Party. The youth rebellion was against both. In the grand auditorium of the Sorbonne I was tired of warning them over and over again of the pitfalls of the “relevant education” they were clamoring for. The French university had been moribund for a long time, but I thought the answer was not more relevance, as I knew from my Berkeley days, but more university. I had Clark Kerr in mind!I could never convince them of the errors of their vision. Eventually Edgar Faure would give them a model of relevant higher education andprove me right. French students must be far unhappier now than before. Only many years later did I meet Daniel Cohn-Bendit in person. Then and now a wonderfully intelligent and admirable fellow who heroically never tires of politically defending the tenets of the political modern, he gets lonely now in the maze of the European Union’s Leviathan.
After a year in the turbulent Paris of 1968 and a brief stint in East Africa, I went to the New School in New York. I wanted to go to the New School because it still had remnants of the “university in exile”. I had a tremendous admiration for German Jewish scholars and felt a particular affinity with them, especially after my year at Amherst, which was, of course, in my mind the opposite.The urban context of New York suited me well. My fin de siècle and the Modern were still lurking in the East Village, where most resident shopkeepers spoke Polish almost exclusively. I lived on a shoestring on St. Mark’s Place near Tompkins Park. I loved the intellectual atmosphere at the New School and that part of New York. I had no money to go beyond 14th Street except on foot. In the tiny, cozy library in the 12th Street basement of the New School I discovered L’Homme et la Société, which had articles by Lévi-Strauss, Georges Gurvitch and Lucien Goldmann, who, I believe, were also the editors of the journal. Its content and orientation—what they called Philosophical Anthropology—I still consider the most sophisticated intellectual example of the human sciences, a model that has unfortunately become archaic.
The next year I came to Berkeley as a graduate student. I was TA-ing and I loved it. It was most educational. One learns best by teaching, I’ve always found. The Berkeley department had become a haven for the best students in America. Barrows Hall graduate lounge was the meeting place where I learned an infinite amount from my fellow students. We organized to meet one evening a week at Karl Kreplin’s house on College Avenue. Art Stinchcombe would come to these meetings. That was where some of the best theory discussions took place. Outstanding times! This was education at its very best. Sometimes we also met at Art’s house on Henry Street. Stinchcombe was one of the best minds one could meet, clear and rigorous, challenging and superb. He was always most cordial to me. I learned so much from him on those occasions. Berkeley was a total learning experience.
Yes, Berkeley was a total learning experience. From sociology people would also go to other departments for seminars, lectures, discussions. One of my favorites was Steve Cohen’s at Urban Planning. I have not seen anyone who could elucidate the instrumental grammar of the modern with total cynicism the way Steve did. Kolakowski, very famous then, came once to teach for a term in Political Science. It was very exciting at the beginning, yet the lectures turned banal after a while. Visitors often did not have a knack for lectures the way Berkeley faculty did. One exception was Amartya Sen. I learned my Harrod-Domar from him—a tough job to teach—in my junior year when he was visiting faculty: a very bright, conscientious and fine man. Lectures were central to Berkeley teaching, and that suited me far better than the tutorials of Cambridge.
Two other people at Berkeley whose work would also contribute significantly to my thinking with their systemic approach. One was West Churchman, whose Design of Inquiring Systems I read like a medieval monk with his holy book every day for several months at the Graduate Social Science Library, where the only copy of the book could be found. The other person who influenced me in that regard was Benjamin Ward. By then I had had a relatively good training in Economic Theory at Cambridge. Ward gave informal seminars at his home with great generosity and cordiality. Along with West Churchman’s book, I also read Ward’s What’s wrong with Economics? more than a few times when it was still in manuscript format. I do not know whether it ever got published in that original, thoughtful, rigorous, radical language. It was an almost Kantian critique of the science of economics. Nothing beats the rigorous reading of economic theory for developing an analytical logic, checking one’s assumptions, delineating one’s lines of causality, and recognizing the logical boundaries of one’s theory. For my thinking, for an analytical perusal of mental paradigms Edmund Wilson set the model, then the works of Halévy and Ronald Meek. Parsons showed me the practice of talking in terms of cultural paradigms as bundles of Will, and Churchman how to look at their underside. But nothing is as indelible an experience of a live lecture as Schorske, always a giant in that regard. How sad that his written works, though so germane to the concerns of this study, remain in my eye somehow not on a par with his giant intellect - yet certainly better than Peter Gay’ssuperficial dabbling in the same subject. Again in the vicinity of the issues into which this study wants to delve, it was Gay’s failure that prompted me to first unearth the mood to capture the sensibilities of a period, and to do that best tongue-in-cheek and with humor, which Gay, so lowbrow, darkly lacks.
To begin with, from Berkeley, in retrospect, two people stand out in my memory of the Berkeley faculty: David Matza, totally enchanting, outstanding, brilliant, a loner, most lovable for his exceptional mind; and, above everyone else, Neil Smelser, our Buddha figure forever. Finally, for my academic superiors, two others after Berkeley have to be mentioned once more: Donald Black at Yale, political and logical positivist, most invaluable for his double challenge, without which this work of mine could have degenerated into metaphysics or astrology; and Offe, who, with his passion for abstraction and critique, with his search for rigor and geometry, I still feel sits on my shoulder the minute I turn to my text.
As far as friendships beyond intellectual camaraderie are concerned, Jeff Prager and Karl Kreplin were the two people from the department that I saw most often: brilliant people, brilliant minds with kind, generous, warm hearts. Knowing them was pure pleasure. Jeff later went to UCLA to teach. Jeff’s father had been with the Lincoln Brigade, which for us was the truly highest accolade for a person, even more than the Nobel Prize. We were most proud of it. I got to see Karl for a longer period. Karl stayed in Berkeley to eventually teach millions of hours a week at the local community colleges. A very, very sharp mind that connected the micro with the macro so well but that hit the political glass ceiling when it came to employment. I learned so much from Karl—a brilliant sociologist in the best muckraking tradition.
It was also then that I had many wonderful evening discussions on the theory of the state with Ilkay Sunar. I would venture to say we were the first to deal with the question when the state was still only “an agency of resource mobilization”, to use Parsons’ words, in American social science. My dissertation came out of those discussions, as did my later connection with Pierre Birnbaum. After I returned to Europe, Pierre and I developed a wonderful friendship that was not only fun but also of great learning. To me Pierre stands as the true edifice of the Republic and the French Modern, which this book is about; hence, my gratitude to him is most immediate and real. With great amazement I note the later rise from that wilderness of the industry of the “sociology of the state”! After Sunar’s in political science, my dissertation was the first in sociology to put the state at the center of a comparative historical discussion, in my case with the extensive benefit of Schumpeter and Selznick’s sociology of organizations. Theda Skocpol, whose work I much admire, and others writing on the state came only after a decade. With Sunar then, a mind sharper than mine, and since then each time we converse—now for almost half a century—I have to rethink what I thought I knew, and each time a new understanding emerges. What great joy and elation.
Claus Offe, the master of systematic abstraction and of state theory, was Berkeley’s other gift to me at the same time. That concern—rare for the day—with the theory of the state was again the basis of our almost immediate intellectual solidarity in Berkeley in the early years of our camaraderie. There is no single person I owe as much as I owe Claus Offe for his stoic patience and generosity with me; and for making academic opportunities available to me that I otherwise could not have obtained on my own. Thanks to him, I discovered Budapest, which would later play such a central role in my life. Thanks to him I spent so much intellectual time in Germany, which in itself is a full education when in the company of Claus. He is one person whose goodness I can never fully reciprocate. Intellectually, our discussions went on until dawn over Hennessey or Armagnac, and often with the contribution of Sabine, his then wife. Time with Claus is still a tremendous intellectual joy. Based on our Berkeley friendship, founded in 1969, we have been getting together in different parts of the world for an evening or two of intense discussion every year for the last forty years. I also benefited from being witness to the subtle disagreements between Claus and Pierre on the state and modernity. On that my position was closer to Pierre’s.
I first met Steve Cohen at the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg in a seminar Claus organized in the early 1970s. Since then Steve has become one of my best friends. He was my savior when I got writer’s block with my endless dissertation. Yet he is much more than that to me. Steve is the most cynical radical brilliant insightful person, and great fun. Great to see him run circles around anything and still maintain a great sense of humor, and to hear him, with his tremendous intuition and theoretical insight, debunk all existing conventions tongue-in-cheek and with the subtlest humor. One of the most intelligent persons I have met in my life.
So much fun! So much to admire! So much to learn from! Yet, before I conclude recounting my days in my Berkeley intellectual rose garden, I must relate one experience that I have never stopped retelling for its irony. It was at Berkeley, on one of those days Marcuse had come to town and was staying at Leo Lowenthal’s house in San Francisco. As a favor to me, Leo asked me if I would take Marcuse on his afternoon stroll in the city. It was the best gift anyone had ever given me. I duly went, of course, and we set out on the walk. I discovered I had nothing to tell him! I was totally dumbstruck. I never felt so stupid. In total awe, whatever I mumbled was rubbish. The old man, very generous in his way, very handsome and very elegant, bent over backwards to engage me. It was to no avail. It must have been the lowest point in my life of over six decades. Today, I tell the story every year to my students as a warning to curb one’s hubris. Life is full of irony and contradictions! My angel of luck must have been busy somewhere else that day!
One microcosmos where I grew intellectually might also interest sociologists of later generations: Berkeley Graduate Student Lounge.
The rectangular room on the fourth floor of the east side of Barrows Hall was the sociology graduate students’ lounge, a room lively as no other department’s in Barrows. It was at the east end of Barrows on the fourth floor and had a huge window, a beautiful view of the hills, the playing fields, Kroeber, Environmental Design, and the architecturally beautiful women’s gym. It had such wondrous light and was so bright and appealing that we started to gather from the morning, to debate, to dispute, to discuss, to disagree. For grad students, Berkeley campus was a total institution, and in particular the sociology department was alive all the time, percolating forever, a teapot (Sunar's words) that made it different from Columbia, Harvard and Yale.
The intellectual center of the room was the seating arrangement: a lounge and two armchairs at the left side of the room by the left wall. It was the center of gravity. Ann Leffler, always a little quiet; Margaret Polatnick, jovial yet extremely reserved; Carole Joffe, whom I always found the most brilliant of our cohort; Sydney Halpern, always most elegant, always distant, always Proustian in motion, most insightful but always quiet; and the very sedate and serene Ann Swidler, almost the queen, sat on the edge of the couch and carried on intense conversation. The late Carol Hatch, when she could escape from department work, would join them, and also Fred Block when he came to the lounge. At the table by the window in the northeast corner—usually the boys’ corner—Harry Levine would sit, he a brilliant conversationalist with a great voice, a charismatic and brilliant guy who had been a part-time cab driver in Manhattan and told lots of wonderful stories with the greatest sense of humor; I talked to him a lot. Again, on the east side, one table south, again by the window Sue Greenwald, most bright and congenial, would sit and at times carry on a distant conversation with the women’s side of the seating arrangement. I liked Sue a lot. A woman, like so many of the women in the department, whose parents were from the D.C. area, Sue was, I believe, from Alexandria, Virginia, and her father was in the foreign service. At the time it was very prestigious to have parents in public service, as it is today to have a “business background”; these were still the Kennedy years. Richard Apostle would quietly drift in and out of the lounge as if watching it all but saying not a word; David Hummon would come in, always with a friendly smile on his face, a good voice, and a lovely personality; Jeff Alexander would burst in like “the force” with an overwhelming presence and a booming, deep baritonevoice; Jeff Johnson and wife were slightly standoffish and looked a little conceited. I thought he would have been much happier at the Law School. Karl Kreplin, my mentor, from whom I learned so much in conversation, would come in the afternoons in his preferred colors, beige and brown. Jeff Prager, whom I liked very much and spent good times with, was always most amiable and intelligent and personable; I was awed by his father’s having been in the Lincoln Brigade, which to me was the highest accolade one could get—I would always ask him about his father and his stories. David Minkus was intelligent and always a shock value in terms of what he had up his sleeve. On some days Jeff Weintraub would come in with his slick blue Italian bicycle—which he would take along even when he went to the men’s room—but chose to remain a little aloof to the lounge’s intense sociability. JerryHimmelstein was a very nice fellow, earnest in his theory interests and intelligent, a person with whom I had long discussions on Marx and theory; I enjoyed him a lot. He was one of the mainstays of the lounge.
Another foreigner with whom I spent a lot of good time together during and after Berkeley was Federico D'Agostino, a priest at heart, most gentle and sensitive but never perturbed.
Around the coffee machine on the right Tom Taylor, whose father had been the architect of the U.S. policy in Vietnam,and another friend, whose name now escapes me, who had already as a graduate student published in the ASR, remained on the high right-wing of the department at a distance, holding the south end of the room against the prevalent left. I always admired Taylor for his reticence and his courage to come and go with noloss of poise in such an anti-war atmosphere. To be at Berkeley at the height of the Vietnam conflict must have required a lot of courage. I admired him for not losing his composure, keeping his chin up, and courteously going about his own business, never engaging in any political discussion—very hard in that common room—but never apologetic either.There were also two people who would occasionally hold court in the lounge. They were from an earlier cohort, senior to us,but with a little too much sound and fury. They were Irwin Sperber and Hal Jacobs. I never found them as intellectually powerful as the members of my cohort.
At Berkeley, lectures ruled. That was where the education most entertainingly occurred. They were great. Berkeley as a whole exuded education, from the Film Archives to the Museums. The Graduate Lounge was yet another site where our education in sociology took place. There, getting annoyed with Erik Olin Wright—Erik, a year or two my junior, was the “sociological engineer” who alienated everybody with his opinionated aloofness and highhanded manner—and, on the positive side, adoring Ann Swidler, being envious of Jeff Alexander—Jeff was an exceptional figure, Foreman’s Mozart: radical, rascal, rebellious, very sharp; trying to figure out Fred Block and enjoying Carole Joffe’s conversation were all part of my education. Stuart Buckley, an Englishman, I found even more difficult than Fred Block to decipher, my English sympathies notwithstanding. Another Brit, Rosemary Taylor was the model personality, solid, helpful, polite, gracious and intelligent; David Hummon, a good fellow, intelligent and always helpful; Margaret Polatnick had the most disarming smile, but I rarely managed to talk to her. In the meantime, in one of the offices next door, Jeff Paige, with whom I later developed a strong camaraderie, was trying to do something very unique, putting Marxian theory to a Durkheimian statistical test. His book, Coffee and Power, would one day crown this very special intellectual endeavor.
Once in a while some faculty also drifted in; among them, Troy Duster was the most amiable and well liked. He had the great talent of holding the department together—a great feat for all that tension and radicalism. What I would give today to be back in that lounge for just half an hour to be with all those intelligent, earnest, gregarious and brilliant young people, especially the brilliant young women, like a scene out of a Tom Stoppard play.
But in my mind nobody compares with Carole Joffe.Carole, who was without a doubt by far the sharpest mind among us all was at her best in one David Matza evening seminar—the most brilliant seminar I ever had. Carole Joffe’s intellect was exceptional. The best course, undergraduate or graduate, I had was no doubt Neil Smelser’s theory course. Neil Smelser was the theory’s master. Nobody could do it like him. There was also Art Stinchcombe, from whom you learned the heavens by talking to him, but never in his lectures. Selznick was the intellectual aristocrat who best practiced the sociological dialectic: the negative surprise of good projects, the irony of good intentions. Leo Lowenthal, the Frankfurt School itinerant, brilliant and intolerant, was Marxist and elitist, radical but archconservative, very sociable but hating people at the same time. Leo, a bon vivant with refined taste, was the prototype of the German bourgeoisie before all was destroyed by the Holocaust. Robert Bellah was different. Whenever I saw him I could not but visualize him as a lanky old man with a staff in his hand, wearing sandals, a wooden cross slung over his neck, sweet-talking infidels into Christianity. In retrospect, it might be too harsh to see him as the first post-modern in the department, the beginning of the end. This was in radical contrast to his brilliant earlier book on the Japanese samurai—a book that, unbeknownst to him, was, I think, in the best Schumpeterian tradition, which later much formed my historical sociology. Schumpeter, once the president of the American Economic Association, had then been all but forgotten. When I borrowed his books from the library, they had not been checked out for twenty years. My dissertation was much lodged in Schumpeterian institutional economics, which was then practiced only in one or two places south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Around the campus, lively conversations educated me in the coffee shops and backyards, and for that I am most grateful in particular to Bob Dunn and Elliot Currie for the brilliant discussions in their backyards. There must be a hundred other fellow students whose names I do not recall now. I am grateful to them. They make up the Berkeley that I feel so loyal to.
Here my text runs ahead of its grammar: The Lucky Circle
Looking back, let me run a cycle, return, go back to the beginning, and recount, to punctuate my luck for the places, friends and teachers, to connect that personal narrative more directly, and have my Berkeley cohort pitch in briefly to set the stage in the many ways I cannot figure out.
For my pursuit of the fin de siècle, I am most grateful to icicle-like, self-righteous, alien and alienating New England’s stiff upper lip that made the search for the fin de siècle the means of my survival, its sensibility the most radical antidote to New England self-righteousness. That context helped me to see the fin de siècle as Will and un-Will, its vide as a perennial fixture at its core, and the Beckettian absurd as the principal aspect of the fin de siècle’s coherence, which became so intelligible to me in the midst of New England certainty, self-assuredness and hubristic arrogance. This, and my neighbor Scott at Stearns Hall reading “The Ancient Mariner” aloud every other night, broke my rationalist mindset cast in Turkish Republicanism and the positivism so handy for a young man so insecure.
Reading Stuart Hughes’ Consciousness and Society at Amherst shaped my initial mind as it did the minds of many of my generation. Swaying me so directly into the fin de siècle that much impatiently I dropped out of Amherst to search for it in Europe at the end of my first year. Luck that I dropped out ! I found my fin de siecle at Berkeley a year later.
Thanks at a more personal level are due to John Steele, as I met him in my very first semester at Berkeley during an irrelevant public lecture at Dwinelle. He became my perennial source, though always from his abyss—a duality between the sharpest mind and the most elusive metaphysics—to make Berkeley the fount of my youth and the cradle of all of my later intellectual impatience and aspirations, and for jointly reading Jung and T. S. Eliot's Wasteland. In short,
I am grateful to Steele for helping me to discover Dada in a very special way, so I could read Dada and Modernity as inseparable, the Ying and Yang of reason and unreason. I am thus grateful to him for seeing sociology in its fear of the Surrealists, of German Expressionism, and Durkheim's Pascalian fears.
Finally, all my generation owe everything to the Beatles’ music and to Marcuse’s intellectual passion. I am so fortunate for having been a “lucky man”, to have traversed the sixties so well situated and so naively; to have seen The King’s Road and Mary Quant, to have been at the Sorbonne in 1968, to have been on Sproul Plaza with Mario Savio in 1965, to have been in love when the world turned upside down, to have walked Telegraph Avenue when helicopters were spraying Berkeley with tear gas, to have had the teach-ins for the law school and the engineering kids, reading them Paul Sweezy during the Cambodia crisis, and to have spent endless nights composing leaflets for the working class below San Pablo, debating Stalinism against Régis Debray in the editorial meetings of the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, disagreeing with Jane Tatum and admiring Karl Kreplin.
At Berkeley at the time—I don’t know how it is now—each department had a different doctoral qualifying procedure. In sociology it was the oral exam. It was pivotal. That, I think, was one reason why the sociology degree at Berkeley was so strong. We took it very seriously. I did, too—read almost everything under the sun for my areas and beyond. That preparation was the bedrock of my sociology for many years to come. I loved that period of most serious, extensive reading and discussion. I did very well in my exam. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was fun and serious at the same time. It was thorough and exhausting. I am most grateful to my committee. I wanted to pass with distinction. I did not. That year Hardy Frye did. He must have been very, very good. I knew him well. He was a very bright fellow. Oh, what a wonderful department! Oh, what wonderful times!
Finally Most Personal:
But all was not of course all pink and rosy, as it was not for Lindsay Anderson’s Mr. Travis either. There were many dark moments of brown and melancholy. They connected me to Apollinaire’s “Pont Mirabeau”.
Thanks to my soul brother Osama Doumani, I survived, literally, the “butt ends” of those moments, and thanks to him I am still here writing. He saved me from a stretcher lying in the corridor of the El Cerrito Community Hospital! Without his intercession, I would certainly have died. For those most formative days exceptional thanks goes to Brenda Cummings. Her personal brilliance, her stamina and above all her British sense of humor at its best, which made me see the orange and the sunshine even in the days of the “darkest side of the moon”. She will forever remain my soul sister.
As this is about the rosy and the pink and my exceptional luck, I do not have to further acknowledge here the dark days of my past. Apollinaire, from the first day I read him at Morrison Library, bridged for me the brown and the pink, the melancholy and the joy. Let that remain as my acknowledgment of those brown days.
In retrospect one more reminder is also in order! The downside of all that luck, of all those lucky trips and encounters, those coffee shops, cinemas and lecture halls was that “a rolling stone gathers no moss”. One day soon people will say “oh, how his hair has grown thin, how he wears his trousers rolled”, on Amazon he has nothing to his name.
The end of one diaspora and the start of another!
My first teaching job was at Yale. A day came at Yale when, despite myself, I could no longer be the foreigner and a local at the same time. It was not fair to my departmental colleagues, who had embraced me as a fellow faculty member. My commitment to the department, which ran deep, would contradict my wayward conscience. Would I be a passerby pretending to be permanent? I had to either mentally naturalize—an awful expression—or go back home. I chose the latter.
It was a Weberian dilemma. I wanted to be more publicly involved than I could have possibly hoped to be as an academic in America at the time. I packed and went home, or actually went back to what I imagined to be home. I could not have known what I was getting into. Only with time did I discover that everything looked the same but had changed drastically in the almost two decades I had been away. Someone must have wished on me the Toyota ad, “You asked for it. You got it”! Since that return, my engagement in public service has never ceased to be intense!
Thus I ended one diaspora for another. It was the beginning of my diaspora from the Berkeley of the 1960s. But then again, wasn’t that only an Atlantis? John Steele is in LA now doing his aromatherapy, and sociology has now been toppled from its pedestal, where the best and the brightest once sought self-expression.
But what of the other choice? Public activism in my land, as I discovered in the end, was no different from being on a treadmill, where one tries hard, runs and sweats buckets with the illusion one is moving forward while in fact one remains in the same spot; the good days and the bad days differ only in how steep the treadmill is set for that moment. The agency the modern paradigm presumes for its actors might be no more than an extension of their hubris, as Kierkegaard so painfully realized!