Bard Professor favors Good rather than Evil
Last Wednesday I got a Bard College alumni email newsletter, something I have mixed feelings about—not unlike the reaction I have to Goldman-Sachs alumni emails. Both institutions epitomize the mixture of smug self-satisfaction and hypocrisy that drives an unrepentant Marxist like me up a wall.
The Bard newsletter had the usual tidbits about what alumni and professors were up to but a link to an article by a Human Rights professor named Roger Berkowitz caught my eye. For the past 15 years at least, Bard has operated as a wing of the George Soros Open Society/New York Review of Books/Human Rights Watch establishment. In practice, this axis has been all about unleashing oceans of ink on the world about Evil Slobodan Milosevic but nary a word about Nato’s uranium-tipped armaments in the Balkans wars.
Berkowitz, who runs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, has built up an impressive CV lecturing and writing about evil dictators and such. His article “Approaching Infinity: Dignity in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon” is a fairly typical contribution from this Camus and Koestler-adoring crowd that makes the patently obvious claim that “Politics can follow no law but the law that the ends justify the means.” This is something that Koestler and Hannah Arendt fought against apparently.
Of course one might wonder why Bard ever considered extending an invitation to have President Obama speak at the 2010 Commencement (he had to cancel) in light of these considerations. Just yesterday the NY Times reported: “A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.” So how did Obama, a politician who promised to clean up the Augean stable of human rights abuses under his predecessor, react to this news?
The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.
I guess the idea is that the ends do justify the means, as long as it they are being pursued by the “good guys” invited to speak at a college that enjoys bragging about its human rights credentials.
Berkowitz’s article, titled Why we must Judge, appears in Democracy: a Journal of Ideas that is edited by Michael Tomasky, a tiresome hardcore supporter of President Obama. As the title of the article implies, it is a reminder to its readers that it is necessary to make judgments about evil dictators:
To judge the Iraq War morally wrong, and to judge the harassment of suspected illegal immigrants unconstitutional, reflects a sound mind. However, to condemn the characterization of an autocratic and cynical despot who gasses his own citizens as evil, and to refuse to see that those who enter this country illegally undermine our system of taxation, reduce the wages for working Americans, and contribute to a culture of corruption and lawlessness, is something else.
Of course, it is one thing to make such a point and another to tug at Leon Botstein’s sleeve and urge him to reconsider an invite to President Obama in light of what Koestler wrote about Stalinist illegality and repression. After all, those in the know understand that Leon is a bit of a bully and does not appreciate professors on his payroll judging him rather than those figures deserving of Orwellian hate minutes. That is left to impudent alumni like me who act on ethical imperatives rather than writing self-important articles about them.
Berkowitz’s article called attention to the kinds of “business leaders” (a euphemism for scumbag capitalists) that have been ravaging American society:
Are business leaders right to hire those who have earned hundreds of millions while destroying their companies?
This sentence prompted me to ask him in an email: “Oh, I don’t know. Where would the Bard College Board of Trustees be without such people?” To which he replied: “Who do you have in mind?” I responded thusly:
Asher Edelman and Charles Stephenson: corporate raiders
Leon Levy (deceased): his Odyssey Fund was brutal toward workers (http://www.marxmail.org/bitterman.htm)
Bruce Ratner: using insider political connections, ran roughshod over Brooklyn residents to create a dubious Sun Belt type development.
George Soros (an uber-board member): repeatedly broke laws to make profits, the latest instance being fined millions of dollars for illegal speculation against Hungary’s largest bank.
Stewart Resnick: in bed with the Fiji dictatorship to extract mineral water to sell to the prosperous.
As expected, he did not appreciate the men who provide the funding that allows him to teach in a pleasant environment along the Hudson River being “judged” in this fashion. He wrote me back:
Do we know each other?
these are damning characterizations. I don’t know all these folks. But those whom I know I have a much more positive impression of than you do. Certainly, they are not people who ran companies into the ground by acting irresponsibly, which is what the quote you referred to below from my article was about. On the contrary, many of them saw the insanity of the last decade and then profited from the crash.
I must say I find your characterizations simplistic. Are you suggesting that these businessmen are so evil that Bard shouldn’t associate with them? I find that a hard argument to share. Your one-sided characterizations to the side, these are quite respected people you are talking about.
I will conclude with my response, although something tells me that the correspondence will continue. I have a way of getting under the skin of people like Roger Berkowitz and Leon Botstein:
> Hi Louis
> Do we know each other?
Not really. I graduated Bard College in 1965 and have been in a running battle with Leon since the late 80s after Martin Peretz was added to the board. When I saw a link to your article in the latest alumni newsletter email, I decided to have a look. I am quite interested in questions of ethics, the super-rich and academia.
I was president of a nonprofit whose volunteers were working in Nicaragua with an engineer named Ben Linder who was murdered by the contras. At the time Peretz’s New Republic was a major voice for contra funding. I wrote Botstein a letter *judging* Peretz that he took strong exception to, based on “free speech” considerations. Politics was not a litmus test for board selection, he told me. Well, that’s obviously a truism when it comes to the connections between the malevolent rich and academia going back to the days of Andrew Carnegie.
> these are damning characterizations. I don’t know all these folks. But
> those whom I know I have a much more positive impression of than you
Obviously. This is called rallying around the flag. All politics, including academic politics, is imbued with this.
> Certainly, they are not people who ran companies into the ground by
> acting irresponsibly, which is what the quote you referred to below
> from my article was about. On the contrary, many of them saw the
> insanity of the last decade and then profited from the crash.
Well, look, the financialization and hyper-speculation of the American economy has resulted in mass misery. I am 65 years old and have seen the consequence of job loss, foreclosure, etc. on people I know. Hedge fund managers and owners of private capital firms are to blame for this. That is something that is *on record*. That sector of the American economy is well represented on the Bard board. Of course, Leon was simply doing what college presidents have been doing since the early 1900s when he lined up a crook like George Soros (through his wife Susan). This is the way the system works. Read Upton Sinclair’s book on academia for more information.
> I must say I find your characterizations simplistic. Are you
> suggesting that these businessmen are so evil that Bard shouldn’t
> associate with them? I find that a hard argument to share. Your one-
> sided characterizations to the side, these are quite respected people
> you are talking about.
Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about who Leon puts on the board. My only interest is in calling attention to it through postings on my blog (that Leon’s son reads to his great chagrin) and in my prize-winning video “Leon and Me” (my wife gave the prize, a kiss on the cheek.)