DISSENT, POWER AND CONFRONTATION by The Theatre for Ideas

DISSENT, POWER AND CONFRONTATION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Transcripts of seven sessions of the Theatre for Ideas, an open forum for intellectuals convened in New York City. In March 1970 The Theatre discusses the First Amendment and what Hannah Arendt calls ""the impotence of power,"" pressing Ramsey Clark to justify his Spock prosecution. ""Does Democracy Have a Future"" on May 3, 1968, fails to discuss the French situation, but Columbia comes up: Marcuse makes his famous self-avowal as ""a fink"" who sees the universities as ""enclaves of relatively free thought,"" and Schlesinger defends students' right to strike. Question: ""Were the police democratic?"" Schlesinger: ""I've been out of town. . . ."" The next four Theatres center around the ""tactics of dissent"" and the ""legitimacy of violence."" Throughout 1967-70, The Theatre exhibits a fascination with violence as a reified issue in itself, but also as a tug-of-war between frustrated reformism and various kinds of anarchism. Larner upholds ""pressure politics"" while Hayden proposes student guerrilla war. Arendt says, ""I'm not afraid of rebellion. . . . But this running amuck is another matter entirely."" In the last two Theatres, the liberal-social democratic versus anarchist controversies are broadened: Establishment types join in to argue that ""the impotence of power"" in Vietnam and elsewhere is actually reasoned restraint, and a provocative ""Debris of Marxism"" discussion pits young European Marxists against the vulgarizations of Joel Carmichael; Harold Rosenberg mutters about popular culture, Eric Bentley calls for an ecumenical left, Sidney Morgenbesser defends Marx as an economist, and a National Review fellow cites Marx's opinion of the Mexican-American War. One is tempted to invoke Robert Lowell's comment during a later forum: ""This subject is much too serious for a debate."" The Theatre has been meeting since 1961, but the earliest transcript here is from 1967 -- about the time the war became universally unpopular among intellectuals. Though it is accordingly a narrowed slice, the book represents a valuable and very readable documentary of opinion and preoccupation.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1971
Publisher: McGraw-Hill