Some Other Memories of Madison and The New Left

Reading Kevin MacDonald`s Memories of Madison—My Life in the New Left  brought back memories on my own days in Madison, Wisconsin, probably during the identical period—1965 to 1969 when I earned my Ph.D. in Political Science.

And, being of the Jewish faith, I immediately felt an almost biological, nearly irresistible urge to put matters into Old Testament language. Despite being a bit rusty after a few millennia without practice, let me try.

“So it came to pass, in the sixth decade of the Age of Aquarius that the Hebrew youth from the Land of New York, set forth to the Kingdom of Wisconsin Village of Madison, ruled by those called by the name Dumb Goyim, to inflict upon them the plagues of Alienation and Discontent. And Behold, though welcomed into the Kingdom as bearers of Tuition, they soon set upon their Hosts with Demonstrations and Mayhem, cursing their Fathers and Mothers, and their Fathers and Mothers before them, and quickly laid waste to the land about them. And they said, Hear Ye Goyim, for the Mighty Goldberg, Holy of Holies, has spoken, and his Word must be obeyed. Abandon Ye Culture, worship not the false gods of your Forefathers, renounce the temptations of Beer and Brats, and see the True Light, for as the Righteous Goldberg has spaketh, every knee must bend, and there can be none higher, no one more sublime or exulted, than He Whose Very Name, Blessed of the Blessed, He Who Knoweth all there is to Know, the Savior of Saviors, M””X (Karl, not Groucho).”     

I will not dispute Professor MacDonald`s gut reactions but, as one who witnessed the same events, even re-visiting the Madison campus periodically post-1960s, let me offer a bit of revisionist/revisionist history.

In a nutshell, while Madison`s radical political environment undoubtedly had, as MacDonald correctly notes, a “Jewish” flavor, to suggest that Jews had a major impact on campus life beyond some predictable attention-getting publicity is an exaggeration. The physical and intellectual damage was minimal. Most disruptive radicals may have been Jews (“New Yorkers”, to use the correct code word), but most Jews were not the trouble-makers MacDonald depicts. Not even close.

In fact, I suspect that just being a loud-mouth scruffy over-opinionated cliché-brained radical caused one to be classified as “Jewish” regardless of religion.

Let`s start simply with Professor Harvey Goldberg. Like hundreds of others, I occasionally attended his overflowing lectures and he was, as advertised, the hyper-agitated curly-head, bottle-glass-eyed, Jewish Marxist sent over from Central Casting. What is omitted, however, was that for those actually enrolled for credit (versus those who arrived for the revival-like show, including sundry dogs), it was academically a killer course.

Goldberg assigned about a dozen very serious books and (at least according to my wife who did enroll for credit) he was a stern task-master. Goldberg was light years from today`s Cornel West types who awards As by the carload while giving ideologically-driven wrong-headed vacuity a bad name. According to my wife, Goldberg once even implored students to study for his exam rather than be distracted by immanent political turmoil. This was serious intellectual history, albeit with an explicit Marxist slant—not empty calorie agitprop.        

And while the Sociology and History departments may have been hotbeds of Jewish radical angst, this was not true in Political Science, which likewise had its share of the Hebrew Horde among the two or three hundred graduate students of my acquaintance. This apolitical inclination was undoubtedly even more prominent outside the social sciences, where obtaining a first-rate education left little time for self-indulgent recreational Marxism.

Moreover, many Jewish graduate student wannabe Proletarians were probably academic hangers on—All-But-Dissertation (ABD) types plus others nursing their university eligibility to avoid the draft. The “best and the brightest”—probably not.

Keep in mind that Wisconsin, at both the under-graduate and graduate levels attracted huge numbers of Jewish students since it was cheap compared to eastern private universities (“such a deal”, in technical economic parlance). The period`s standard joke was that the University should be called “The University of New Jersey at Madison”.     

Outside of the anti-War ruckus, I cannot recall a single institutional impact that resulted from this “Jewish” radicalism. Activism was largely theatre, and especially in the case of one “avant-garde” performance of Peter Pan featuring the then outrageous partial female nudity, it was widely appreciated even by the horny goyim before it was closed down.

Beyond the draft and a more general anti-War fervor, style outshined substance. I saw the “riots” MacDonald depicts. They were hardly the storming of the Winter Palace, and a zillion miles away from Newark or Detroit measured by damage and deadly violence. The future Stalinist agenda of imposing diversity, ethnic and racial studies, and all the rest of Political Correctness was two decades away.

Crises of the old order were in such short supply that Robert Cohen, another disheveled radical Jew from Central Casting (complete with his “Issro”, i.e., a Jewish Afro), became famous for leading demonstrations against a bus lane on University Avenue. Radicals may have sympathized with the civil rights movement, but, without large numbers of blacks on campus, this cause was largely invisible.

With tiny exceptions, then, all the talk about alienation, name-dropping Marcuse etc. etc. radical politics at Madison was pretty much a slow motion, relatively calm traditional anti-draft movement. When coercive political correctness did arrive many years later, it is my impression that it was led by U of W`s president, Donna Shalala, a Lebanese Christian.  

To be frank, as far as I could tell, very few students or faculty, including all the Jewish ones whom I personally knew, cared about these would-be Revolutionaries from the East. In context, they might be viewed as a Kosher Animal House just doing “their thing”.

Undergraduate campus life was largely taken up by guzzling beer at the many State Street bars (the drinking age for beer was only 18), fraternity life, sympathizing with the pitiful Badger football team and other sybaritic pursuits. Madison was always a Progressive town with an educated, professional police force, and their tolerance for eccentricity encouraged outrageous behavior. (And for the record, Madison was also occasionally disrupted by drunk motorcycle-driving Shriners attired is faux “Middle-Eastern” costumes who flocked to the local dirty book store to partake of what was unavailable in their more “cultured” white-bread ethnic homeland.)

Jewish radicals were also a remarkably self-contained group who showed little interest in proselytizing to the suit-clad, clean-shaven socially conservative goyim. Perhaps these Self-Chosen People should have emulated the far cleverer Mormons or Presbyterians. (But, as Oscar Wilde said about why socialism will fail, this haranguing would have taken too many evenings and detracted from the joys of idle pseudo-intellectual chatter).

And a little thought will explain it all: Judaism totally lacks an evangelical outreach tradition. When Isaac and Sarah sent little Hershel off to Madison, it was for a first-rate, cheap education, not to convert the heathens. Actually, the opposite was true: they worried, oy vey, that Hershel himself would be seduced by what every Jewish mother dreads, the evil of all evils that strikes at the very heart of Our Tribe: The Shiksa (female gentile).

And speaking of the devil herself, I was quickly ensnarled by such a vixen, a charming woman of Irish/German Catholic background with an impeccable small town Wisconsin pedigree (Chilton, pop. 3000, in rural Calumet County, roughly divided between Irish Catholic, German Catholic and Protestants, three cows for every human, plus, by all appearances, about one gin mill per 100 residents).

This fateful choice of spouse then brought me for some 28 years into contact with echt middle-America non-Jewish culture. (Chilton`s only Jewish family had run a Main St. store but had previously departed, so I assume that He, in his infinite Wisdom, had sent me as the Designated Replacement).

No need to worry, however. During my frequent visits over nearly three decades I socialized with these good folk, including the town doctor, the town`s eminent lawyer, and multiple in-laws while attending countless Christmas parties, weddings and school reunions. I never experienced any anti-Semitism or resentment, nor was I ever quizzed why Cohen-the-Barbarian and his Hebrew followers were ruining Madison, subverting Western Civilization, embarrassing the state of Wisconsin or anything else that might, conceivably, inspire their alarm. At least superficially, I was fully accepted, perhaps deemed “an honorary goy” and if anything separated me from the Good Folk of Chilton, it was my status as a college professor, not my “odd” religion, politics (nobody cared, actually), addiction to Pastrami or any other “cultural” inclination.

A local or two might harbor secret doubts, but in all likelihood, these reflected my lackluster support of the revered Green Bay Packers, less my sly references to objective conditions, false consciousness, or the Permanent Revolution, let alone my frequent offers of cash loans at a mere 150% monthly interest.

Madison was only 100 miles away but the “Jewish-inspired” revolution never existed.  This was a small-town world where Leon Trotsky would be welcomed if he were a star quarterback capable of bringing the Packers another Super Bowl victory (though he might play as “Bronstein” and his accent explained away by telling the fans that he was of German extraction). 

Back to reality. What MacDonald is attempting, at least in my opinion, is to promote an alarmist picture in which “outsider” Jews bring a plague (the Hebonic Plague? The Swarthy Death? ) to a once culturally healthy, all-American town.

That America in the 1960s made a horrific turn into moral nihilism, brainless big government, racial/ethnic grievance politics, urban violence, welfare dependency and numerous other pathologies is undeniable. It is equally incontestable that some Jews participated in this catastrophe.

Still, I also suspect that if a careful accounting were performed, the proportion of implicated Jews would be tiny. After all, somebody besides their co-believers had to listen to this toxic spiel.

Nor do I do accept the “A Jew made me do it” defense. And, besides, millions of others were also busy poisoning wells and kidnapping children for secret religious rituals.

And while I am perfectly willing to argue, preferably over beer and a couple of brats, about why Jews are disproportionately attracted to such dangerous nonsense, my willingness to discuss such matters stops well short of accepting an overblown historical indictment.

Truth be told, cheap beer sold in copious quantities to innocent gentile youngsters probably did more to undermine Western Civilization in Madison than the Hebrew Hoard.     

Robert Weissberg [email him] is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, University of Illinois, Urbana and currently Adjunct Professor of Politics (Graduate), New York University.

Kevin MacDonald responds:

Robert Weissberg provides an entertaining perspective on his experiences at UW–Madison. We were there at pretty much the same time—in my case from 1964–1970.

I certainly do not claim that most Jewish students were radicals, although I suppose they were at least liberal given the general political orientation of the Jewish community at the time.

But there is very good evidence, even apart from my personal recollections, of the special role of Jews in the student radicalism of the 1960s, and in particular at Wisconsin. As I mentioned in my article, the phenomenon has been noted in academic works, such as Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the Left, by Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter.

In fact, this is a good general rule: When talking about Jewish intellectual and political movements, never claim that all Jews were involved. This is true of all the Jewish intellectual and political movements I discuss in The Culture of Critique. It is certainly true of neoconservatism and even Zionism at least until the establishment of Israel.

For example, even though most Jews may not have been Zionists before that time, Zionism was a Jewish movement: It was spearheaded and dominated by Jews with specifically Jewish interests. And it continues to be influential in America.

And certainly non-Jews may be involved in Jewish movements. Indeed, there are many non-Jews associated with both neoconservatism (e.g., Fred Barnes, Frank Gaffney) and Zionism (e.g., Christian Zionists). As I noted in my article, most of the faces in the documentary film The War at Home were not Jewish: The movement had become mainstream.

I also agree that Harvey Goldberg ran a demanding course. I remember seeing students furiously taking notes on his lectures as I sat back and enjoyed the spectacle.

How influential was he? As is always the case for any teacher, it`s hard to say. My article referenced a newspaper summary that mentioned that his lectures were “a transforming experience for generations of students, stirring their minds and consciences”.  And, as I noted, the History Departments of both Wisconsin and Ohio State, as well as the Brecht Forum, seem to think that his career merits lasting commemoration.

What I am sure about is that he was a god to the people I knew. That doesn`t mean that he dictated strategy and tactics in the antiwar effort. I very much doubt that he did this. To my knowledge, he never spoke at rallies or protests; nor did he discuss them in class; he seemed above the fray.

I would even go so far as to say that the antiwar movement would have happened without him. That`s because many of the Jewish radicals were “red diaper babies” who would have gotten involved in the nationwide student protest movement in any case.

As Joseph Stromberg noted in his review of Ronald Radosh`s 2001 Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left the red diaper babies, who derived from Eastern European Jewish backgrounds, “were a pivotal factor in the now-receding Sixties”.

I do suggest that some of the particular intensity of the Wisconsin antiwar movement derived from the radical academic climate at the university. And Goldberg was certainly the most important academic Marxist at the university at that time.

Weissberg claims that the Wisconsin antiwar movement was really quite small and not very many people cared about it. I suggest viewing the film The War at Home (funded by the Wisconsin Historical Society) that shows the crowds at the protests and rallies. Or read the synopsis written by UW`s University Communications which speaks of “tumultuous riots” and mentions “anti-war demonstrations [that] mobilized thousands of students and drew national attention to Madison.”

It was a very big deal, and lots of people, including a great many non-Jews, were involved in it. The governor doesn`t summon the National Guard on at least two occasions to quell disorder if it`s just a few Jews from the East Coast. I remember riding my bicycle past some very grim National Guardsmen lining both sides of State St. with remnants of tear gas in the air. Here`s a short You Tube video of three non-participants who remember quite well the demonstrations and especially the tear gas attacks on protestors that were the defining moments of the period.

Weissberg must have lived way off campus. Sorry he missed it!

Finally, Weissberg writes:

“That America in the 1960s made a horrific turn into moral nihilism, brainless big government, racial/ethnic grievance politics, urban violence, welfare dependency and numerous other pathologies is undeniable. It is equally incontestable that some Jews participated in this catastrophe. Still, I also suspect that if a careful accounting were performed, the proportion of implicated Jews would be tiny.”

I think this is wrong, for all the reasons spelled out in The Culture of Critique—and not only Chapter 3 which deals with the massive evidence that Jews were in fact the driving force of the political left throughout the 20th century.

Jewish intellectuals were the backbone of all the other intellectual and political movements described there—Boasian anthropology, psychoanalysis, the poisonous Frankfurt School, and, most importantly, the movement for open borders immigration.

As always, this does not imply that most Jews were involved in these movements. But the success of these movements does imply a very large Jewish influence on American culture and the culture of the West, spreading left wing ideas and transforming Western societies in the direction of multiculturalism and the displacement of whites.

But remember also that mainstream Jewish organizations—especially the American Jewish Congress which was by far the largest Jewish organization in terms of membership—were strongly associated with the far left, at least well into the 1950s when they came under severe McCarthy-era pressure to dissociate themselves from communists.

For example, the 50,000-member Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order was an affiliate of the American Jewish Congress and was listed as a subversive organization by the U. S. Attorney General. The JPFO was the financial and organizational “bulwark” of the Communist Party USA after World War II and also funded the Daily Worker and the Morning Freiheit. Although the AJC severed its ties with the JPFO and stated that communism was a threat, it was, as Stuart Svonkin notes, in Jews Against Prejudice, “at best a reluctant and unenthusiastic participant” in the Jewish effort to develop a public image of anti-communism—a position reflecting the sympathies of many among its predominantly second- and third-generation Eastern European immigrant membership.

In other words, in mid-20th-century America, far left political sympathies characterized quite a substantial percentage of the Jewish community and were definitely a common Jewish view. It is not too surprising to find that their children were the main driving force behind the 1960s New Left

PS: I`m glad Bob found a nice Wisconsin girl!