Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dog Days

The Essay
Dog Days
There's no place like ancient Rome—except for sweltering modern-day New York City
by Tony Perrottet
August 26th, 2005 1:16 PM,essay,67265,15.html

When I explain that I've written a book about ancient Rome, people always ask about the research. Did I scour the remotest ruins of Italy, like some bespectacled Harrison Ford? Or did I visit the Cinecitt film studios, where they've been shooting Rome, the raunchy new HBO series that promises to be Deadwood with togas? Well, yes. But to capture the fabric of ancient life, I didn't really have to leave home.
The ideal place to be writing about imperial Rome, from an imaginative point of view, is right here in New York.
In fact, every time I wake up in my cramped East Village apartment, all I have to do is squint and I might as well be back in the Subura, Rome's feistiest neighborhood in the days of the Caesars. The Subura (nobody knows where the name comes from) was the original gritty downtown: Located conveniently close to the Forum, it was jammed full of tenement houses, each six stories high, called insulae or "islands," and broken into rental apartments that were touchingly familiar梟otorious, one historian says, for "the fragility of their construction, the scantiness of their furniture, insufficient light and heat, and the absence of sanitation." In those days, harassed Roman tenants would climb 200 steps to their top-floor garrets, whose walls were so thin they could overhear the most intimate sounds of their neighbors (and this before stereos). They battled rapacious landlords, who ignored the most basic building repairs: "The agents propped up a tottering wall," notes one historian, "or painted a huge (ceiling) rift over, and assured the occupants that they could sleep at their ease, all the time that their home was crumbling over their heads." Adding insult to injury, they paid extortionate prices for the privilege:
"Ever-rising rent was a subject of eternal lamentation in Roman literature," notes the French historian J閞ome Carcopino of the brutal real estate market.
We know all this because back in the first and second centuries AD the Subura was full of impoverished Roman writers like Juvenal and Martial, bitching about their tiny apartments and the indignities of their impecunious lives梐nd surprise, surprise, it doesn't take a huge historical leap to get inside their heads.
Just listening to my beloved 10th Street cacophony every morning puts me at one with the ancients: "Insomnia is the main cause of death in Rome," ranted Juvenal. "Show me the apartment that lets you sleep!" Of course, instead of sirens and car alarms, the Romans were driven mad by the shrieks of street vendors and bells from pagan rituals. The night traffic was deafening: Axle grease was rarely used in ancient times, so the high-pitched squeal of wagon wheels grinding through the narrow streets was as piercing as the brakes on New York's garbage trucks.
Whenever I make my way downstairs to the rubbish-strewn sidewalk, I can gather more inspiration about ancient life: Strolling the Subura was once an assault on the senses, weaving through an obstacle course of filth and pushy crowds. ("One man digs an elbow into my side, another a hard pole," wrote Juvenal, "one bangs a beam, another a wine cask, against my skull.") There were serious dangers from above: Rome was a permanent construction site, and you had to look out for falling bricks as well as the fetid slops from chamber pots; whole buildings would regularly collapse, swallowing their unlucky tenants. Today, we New Yorkers still have to keep an eye out for falling scaffolding, pot plants, masonry, or air-conditioners梐lthough even the Romans would have been appalled at the scale of the Henry Hudson Parkway collapse last May.
Squalid as it could be, the Subura lured aristocrats slumming on bar crawls and even became home to some of the bohemian Roman rich, whose palatial villas the author Pliny the Elder once compared to "the mad schemes of kings." As for me, I walk every day past the glittering new Astor Place Tower, boasting a price tag of up to $12 million an apartment. "Where has the purse of greed yawned wider?" asked Juvenal, wondering why the Romans had set up no altars to Mammon, the pagan god of wealth.
It's comforting to know that I'm part of a great tradition.
The parallels make perfect sense: New York and imperial Rome are really alter egos, the twin icons of Western urban life, and the two places that have most defined our idea of what a city can be. The metaphors used for both are interchangeable梕specially those from the mythic Rome of the second century AD, and the heroic New York of the early 20th century. Like that of New York, the scale of the classical city once astonished the world: Over a million people were squeezed in there, a population density that would not be matched until industrial-age Manhattan. Ancient Rome was the world's first great immigrant metropolis. It enjoyed a casual street democracy, since rich and poor were thrown together cheek by jowl (and those tiny Roman apartments had no kitchens, so everyone ate at fast-food stalls). It had an enduring reputation for crime?Only a fool accepts a dinner invitation without first making out his will," Juvenal wrote, of walking Rome's streets after dark梐nd it was a notorious cauldron of vice, "a meeting place for all that is shameful and degraded," wrote Tacitus. (This may sound like Pat Buchanan denouncing Howard Stern, but in a nice historical twist, it was actually an attack on the new cult of Christianity, which was regarded as secretive and perverse).

And just like in New York, Rome's combination of infinite possibilities and potential for destruction were fascinating to behold. H.G. Wells, freshly arrived in Manhattan, marveled in 1906 at "the unprecedented multitudinousness, the inhuman force of the thing"; Juvenal, more pithily, saw Rome as "a monstrous city."
For a dose of ancient spectacle in all its overblown grandeur, we New Yorkers have midtown, where the surviving early-20th-century buildings mimic the classical style: Grand Central Terminal, crowned by the wing-footed god Mercury; the imposing Corinthian columns of th e New York Public Library and the General Post Office; the gilded statues of Civil War generals in poses that consciously echo those of Roman heroes. Alongside them are New York's ghosts: the original Penn Station, tragically erased from the earth in 1965, was designed on the model of the cavernous Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The West Side stadium, had it ever risen from the drawing board, could have been our very own Colosseum.
But it's the basic textures of everyday life that have the historical appeal for me.
Ancient writers wandered their city astonished at its opulence,consumed by moral outrage and deep envy. "In Rome, we are slaves to fashion, spending beyond our means, and often on credit," griped Juvenal. Romans were gleefully superficial, addicted to novelties and luxury, and would have been at home on West Broadway; the Markets of Trajan were the overpriced Whole Foods of its time, with seawater pumped in from the coast 10 miles away to keep oysters fresh. Other moralists like Lucian railed against ancient fashion victims who were more interested in their haircuts than in politics or philosophy, squandering fortunes on trifles, while the poor梩he average writer, for example梙ad to scrape and fawn to patrons for the next meal.
Why would anyone put up with it? "All low-income citizens should have marched out of Rome en masse years ago!" proclaimed Juvenal, sounding like a tenant's advocate today.
But of course, they didn't. The trouble was, ancient Rome was an addictive place to be梕specially if you'd been raised in the provinces, as many Roman writers were. Everything was bigger, brighter, brasher in the capital梚t was simply referred to as Urbs, "the city"梐nd besides, many of its best entertainments were free. The streets were pure theater: You could see the world's finest artworks in gilded temples or hang out at the Forum, packed with jugglers, fire-eaters, and storytellers. Then there was the intellectual hubbub. The most talented people in the world converged in Rome: the most brilliant dramatists, the greatest actors, the best-looking dancers, the wittiest public speakers. If you could make it in ancient Rome, you could make it anywhere.
And so it's back to my precious rat-hole apartment, hoping that the boiler will be fixed and fuses repaired. I'll clear the pile of unpaid bills from the desk and get back to scribbling on the glories of ancient Rome. Who would live anywhere else?
Tony Perrottet is the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists. He wrote this essay in New York, in the broiling summer, when rich Romans escaped to the beachside "Hamptons of Antiquity." Visit his website at

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Search and Rescue

When even authors cannot think clearly ....

The New York Times Op-Ed Contributor / September 28, 2005

Search and Rescue

Sebastopol, Calif.

AUTHORS struggle, mostly in vain, against their fated obscurity. According to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks sales from major booksellers, only 2 percent of the 1.2 million unique titles sold in 2004 had sales of more than 5,000 copies. Against this backdrop, the recent Authors Guild suit against the Google Library Project is poignantly wrongheaded.
The Authors Guild claims that Google's plan to make the collections of five major libraries searchable online violates copyright law and thus harms authors' interests. As both an author and publisher, I find the Guild's position to be exactly backward. Google Library promises to be a boon to authors, publishers and readers if Google sticks to its stated goal of creating a tool that helps people discover (and potentially pay for) copyrighted works. (Disclosure: I am a member of the publisher advisory board for Google Print. As the name implies, it is simply an advisory group, and Google can take or leave its suggestions.)
What's causing all the fuss? Google has partnered with the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, the New York Public Library and Oxford University. Google will scan and index their library collections, so that when a reader searches Google Print for, say, "author's rights," the results point to books that contain that term. In a format that resembles its current Web search results, Google will show snippets (typically, fewer than three sentences of text from each page of each book) that include the search term, plus information about the book and where to find it. Google asserts that displaying this limited amount of content is protected by the "fair use" doctrine under United States copyright law; the Authors Guild claims that it is infringement, because the underlying search technology requires a digitized copy of the entire work.
I'm with Google on this one. It would certainly be considered fair use, if, for example, I circulated a catalog of my favorite books, including a handful of quotations from each book that helps people to decide whether to buy a copy. In my mind, providing such snippets algorithmically on demand, as Google does, doesn't change that dynamic. Google allows click-through to the entire book only if the book is in the public domain or if publishers have opted in to the program. If it's unclear who owns the rights to a book, only the snippets are displayed.
A search engine for books will be revolutionary in its benefits. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors than copyright infringement, or even outright piracy. While publishers invest in each of their books, they depend on bestsellers to keep afloat. They typically throw their products into the market to see what sticks and cease supporting what doesn't, so an author has had just one chance to reach readers. Until now.
Google promises an alternative to the obscurity imposed on most books. It makes that great corpus of less-than-bestsellers accessible to all. By pointing to a huge body of print works online, Google will offer a way to promote books that publishers have thrown away, creating an opportunity for readers to track them down and buy them. Even online sellers like Amazon offer only a small fraction of the university libraries' titles. While there are many unanswered questions about how businesses will help consumers buy the books they've found through a search engine for printed materials that is as powerful as Google's current Web search, there's great likelihood that Google Print's Library Project will create new markets for forgotten content. In one bold stroke, Google will give new value to millions of orphaned works.
I'm sorry to see authors buy into the old-school protectionism of the Authors Guild, not realizing they're acting against their own self-interest. Their resistance can come only from a failure to understand the nature of the program. Google Library is intended to help readers discover copyrighted works, not to give copies away. It's a tremendous service to authors that will help them beat the dismal odds of publishing as usual.
Tim O'Reilly, a publisher of computer books, is the co-producer of theWeb 2.0 conference.

The Lazy Gardener

The New York Sun September 28, 2005 Edition

The Lazy Gardener

BY ADAM KIRSCH - Staff Reporter of the SunSeptember 28, 2005URL:
It has been a long time since Harold Bloom produced a book with the density, crazed though it was, of "The Anxiety of Influence," his reputation-making 1973 study. Ever since his polemical best seller "The Western Canon" (1994), he has devoted himself instead to book-of-the-month-club subjects like "Genius" and "How To Read and Why."
In spite of his popularity and productivity, however, Mr. Bloom remains an odd candidate for the mantle of Mortimer Adler, Daniel Boorstin, and Jacques Barzun. He completely lacks the good teacher's humility before his subject and the good popularizer's ability to make a complex subject clear. Mr. Bloom is an impatient and mannered writer, unwilling or unable to take trouble over his prose or to follow an argument from premise to conclusion. Like a lazy gardener, he lets the seeds of his insights fall where they may, never lingering to make sure they have sprouted into an actual thought.
I am willing to believe that the jacket of Mr. Bloom's latest book was not designed by a sly satirist, but whoever arranged for the cover to read "Jesus and Yahweh, Harold Bloom, The Names Divine," could not have found a better image of the eminent critic's self-esteem. Surely a writer so lordly and unaccountable does not mind seeing his own name coupled with that of God: Mr. Bloom, too, writes in the spirit of "I am that I am," take it or leave it.
"Jesus and Yahweh" (Putnam, 256 pages, $24.95) is Mr. Bloom's latest brief swipe at a subject that most scholars spend lifetimes trying to understand. Many such scholars are, indeed, quoted at length by Mr. Bloom, especially if their books were written in English in the last 15 years or so, and even more especially if they are his personal friends. (Often Mr. Bloom writes as though he were engaged in a private dialogue with writers like Jack Miles, Robin Lane Fox, and Donald Harmon Akenson, of whose work he makes copious use.) Mr. Bloom has long interested himself in Jewish and Christian religious texts - many of the ideas in "Jesus and Yahweh" were first aired in earlier books like "The American Religion" and "The Book of J" - but not with the scholar's distinterested rigor. Rather, he writes as a literary critic and approaches Yahweh and Jesus not as deities, or even cultural myths, but as fictional characters. "I am inclined," he says, "to believe that the best poetry, whatever its intentions, is a kind of theology, while theology generally is bad poetry."
This equation of religion and literature gives Mr. Bloom's writings on both subjects a kind of baffled intensity. In "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human" (1998), he wrote about the playwright in terms befitting a god, considering him the creator of the modern human mind, as God was the creator of the original human species. This is a metaphor, of course, and a Wildean paradox, reminiscent of the aesthete's observation that the fogs in London were beginning to imitate Impressionist paintings. But Mr. Bloom did not treat it as a metaphor; he wrote as though, through some means he did not even attempt to explain, our consciousness was actually created by Shakespeare's representations of consciousness.
For Mr. Bloom to treat biblical characters as equivalent to Shakespearean ones, then, is not as much of a demotion as it might seem. Shakespeare, to Mr. Bloom, is a kind of demiurge, and his characters are more than just words on a page. In "Jesus and Yahweh," when Mr. Bloom writes that "Yahweh fuses aspects of Lear, Falstaff, and Hamlet," he does not mean to diminish Yahweh, but to suggest the real ontological status of Lear, Falstaff, and Hamlet. We don't read Shakespeare, Mr. Bloom has insisted, Shakespeare reads us; so, too, he writes in the new book, "Yahweh, though evident only as a literary character, reduces us to the status of minor literary characters, supporting casts for the protagonist-of-protagonists."
If "Jesus and Yahweh" offers Mr. Bloom an opportunity to expand on his quasi-mystical notion of literary character, so too it is a perfect proving ground for his trademark theory of the anxiety of influence. All the techniques with which modern critics approach works of literature, after all, were originally used by theologians to understand the Bible: allusion is a secular version of typology, interpretation a descendant of hermeneutics. And Mr. Bloom's theory of influence, which posits that every strong writer is motivated by Oedipal rivalry with a chosen predecessor, finds its great original in the way the Christian scriptures rewrote the Hebrew Bible, subduing it into the Old Testament. "As a literary critic whose quest, these last forty years, has been for some secrets of the dynamics of the influence process," Mr. Bloom writes, "I find myself prepared to examine the most important instance of it, the Greek New Testament's anxiety of influence in regard to the Hebrew Bible."
The substance of the book, then, is Mr. Bloom's examination of the Bible's two divine characters, and the ways they reveal that anxiety in action. The Hebrew Bible, especially the narrative strand from Genesis to Kings called the "J" text, is dominated by Yahweh, a God whose true strangeness may come as a surprise to readers who haven't opened a Bible recently. Yahweh, as Mr. Bloom points out, is not a distant sky-God, as he is sometimes called by detractors; rather, he is "human, all-too-human," fond of outdoor picnics and liable to fly into sudden rages. His closest literary relation is the Shakespearean king who "ever but slenderly [knew] himself": "Yahweh, like King Lear, demands a bewildering excess of love, the frequent stigma of bad fathers."
Mr. Bloom's second "name divine," Yeshua of Nazareth, is a historical individual, now barely discernible through the Gospels and two millennia of commentary. His unknowability - "quests for 'the historical Jesus' inevitably fail," Mr. Bloom insists - leaves him a perfect prey to the critic's interpretive whimsy. Thus, just as he spun a yarn, in "The Book of J," about the Bible being written by a woman at the court of Solomon - possibly Queen Bathsheba - so now Mr. Bloom makes hay with the ancient legend that Jesus was never crucified, but ended his days peacefully in India. The slippery way in which Mr. Bloom endorses this Gnostic myth - "I suspect that, as lore has it, he had the wisdom to escape execution" - is typical of his refusal to distinguish clearly between fact and parable, historical judgment and poetic metaphor.
Whether he really believes it or not is less important than the way this telling of Jesus's story detaches the man Jesus from the crucified Christ. This is what makes it appealing to Mr. Bloom, who argues that the New Testament character of Jesus bears little relation to the abstract second person of the Trinity elaborated in later, Hellenized theology. "It is likely," he writes, "that Yeshua of Nazareth, had he somehow survived the crucifixion and lived on into old age, would have regarded Christianity with amazement."
In its attempt to replace the manlike God Yahweh with the God-like man Jesus, Mr. Bloom argues, the New Testament is a supreme example of anxiety of influence - so much so that, he suggests, it would be better to call it the Belated Testament. This literary-critical argument is the core of "Jesus and Yahweh," and it is genuinely stimulating, if not exactly novel. It is a shame that, to get to it, the reader must wade through so much of the usual Bloomian detritus - irrelevancies, digressions, careless repetitions, grand pronouncements. Is it vain to hope that, in his next book, Mr. Bloom will stop hiding his intellectual light under a bushel of mannerisms?

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Cost of Free Speech

From the October 3, 2005 issue:
In the universities it's almost as high as the tuition.
by Harvey Mansfield 10/03/2005, Volume 011, Issue 03

Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus by Donald Alexander Downs Independent Institute/Cambridge, 295 pp., $28.99

SENSITIVITY HAS TAKEN OVER OUR society, and nowhere more securely than in our universities.
To see what has happened, consider this small fact. Half a century ago, a liberal Harvard psychologist, Gordon W. Allport, published a book, The Nature of Prejudice, that began the social science study of stereotypes. Though of course hostile to stereotypes, he allowed they might have a kernel of truth. For example, he said, fewer Jews are drunks than Irish.
A remark like that could not be made at a university today except in private to trusted friends. And if you made it, you would be testing your trust. Jews and Irish, to be sure, are not protected groups, but to speak so frankly even about them would betray a very troubling levity in your attitude toward groups that are protected.
Sensitivity is today's version of the soft despotism that Alexis de Tocqueville worried about in democracies, and it would not have surprised him that the worst of it would be found in the halls of the intellect. Only in American universities, some 300 of them, from 1987 to 1992, did the movement for sensitivity go so far as to enact semi-legal speech codes proscribing offensive speech. These codes provoked the ire of a few free speech heroes on the campuses and, more important, prompted them to mobilize opposition to the codes and to attempts by university administrators to enforce them.
One of these heroes, Donald Downs, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has written an account of his own successful coup there, together with accounts of a comparable victory at Pennsylvania and failures at Berkeley and Columbia. He accompanies his narratives with reflections, which are those of an old-fashioned free speech liberal. At first a supporter of speech codes, Downs changed his mind when he saw them in operation. Readers get a chance to judge the virtues and defects of the free speech position in trying circumstances when many liberals abandoned it for sensitivity.
During most of the 20th century, Downs says, threats to free speech came from the right and from outside the universities. But in the late 1960s they began to come from the left, and from within. At that time, Herbert Marcuse set forth his notion of "repressive tolerance," an attack on the liberal free speech doctrine which claimed that, while pretending to tolerate free speech, liberals actually repressed it. This was because liberals frowned on radicals like Marcuse. Real dissent would have to challenge the whole of liberalism; in fact, the only true dissent is challenging liberalism. Conformist speech defending liberalism is worthless; in fact, so worthless that it can safely be repressed. No, safety demands that it be repressed, and in making a demand, safety is transformed into morality. Morality requires repressing liberalism. Downs calls this "progressive censorship," and says it is just as detrimental to free universities as traditional censorship from the right.
Thus, "repressive tolerance" has quite a punch in two words. By the late 1980s Marcuse's thinking had infused liberals and deflected many of them from liberalism into postmodernism, one feature of which is a soft therapeutic notion of sensitivity. Instead of repressing liberalism, let's make it sensitive. Between the late '60s and the late '80s feminism came on the scene and embraced sensitivity as the peaceable, womanly way to victory over liberalism.
Downs's first case is Columbia, which enacted a "sexual misconduct policy" in 2000 to assuage feminist protest there. Many more rape victims were being treated at Columbia's hospital than rapists convicted in the university judicial system. Columbia's solution was to make things easier for the accuser and harder for the accused. This policy related to conduct, and was not professedly a speech code.
At Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement of the late '60s, "progressive social censorship" was applied against opponents of affirmative action (outlawed in California in 1996 by Proposition 209). A series of incidents arising over cartoons in the student newspaper, law school admissions, and protests against visiting speakers created an atmosphere of intimidation, even though it was not formalized in a speech code.
At both universities, intimidation was directed at conservatives. As one Columbia student said, "You can't be conservative. If you are, you automatically get notoriety and infamy." Conservatives were not altogether silenced, but they were made to suffer when they spoke up.
At Penn, a harassment code initiated by President Sheldon Hackney was passed in 1987, allegedly covering conduct, not speech. But harassment included stigmatizing speech, as Eden Jacobowitz, a Penn student, found out. In a famous incident in 1993, he shouted "water buffalo" at a group of black sorority women who were disturbing his study, and was then called to account and punished by the university. The conservative Penn historian Alan Kors took up Jacobowitz's cause and succeeded, after much travail, in exonerating him and getting the code abolished.
In the chapter on Wisconsin, Downs tells the story of his own exploits. In 1989, President Donna Shalala (like Hackney, later a figure in the Clinton administration) established codes for students and faculty that explicitly punished demeaning speech, later called "hate speech." The student code was abandoned two years later, but the faculty code remained until Downs, a First Amendment liberal, organized its abolition in the faculty senate in 2001. His book tells a harrowing tale featuring a few heroes like himself and Kors (plus William Van Alstyne of Duke, Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal, and civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate), a few villains such as Hackney and Shalala, their politically correct administrators, and many easily confused or intimidated faculty liberals.
Downs ends on a note of optimism, urging others to learn from what he and his friends accomplished. One can imagine his dismay at the recent spectacle at Harvard this spring, when progressive social censorship was enforced on President Lawrence Summers by the Harvard faculty. Not only was Summers's speech on why more women do not enter science rejected in substance, but his mere choice of topic and call for inquiry into the matter were declared insensitive. In a secret ballot, he was branded as lacking the confidence of Harvard's bold faculty. Summers, with his apologies for raising the issue, did not, to say the least, react as did Donald Downs. Summers is no Hackney and no Shalala; but still, he was overcome by the forces of sensitivity. Perhaps Downs would not be so hopeful if he were writing with this incident in view.
Let us honor the conscience of free speech liberalism and the passion to defend free speech that it inspires. But let's also take a look at two problems--balance and truth--arising as liberalism faces the demand for sensitivity.
Downs ends his book remarking that maintaining free speech in universities is a "delicate balancing act," but he also says that its defenders need to have the "requisite passion." The trouble is that passion for free speech cools off in the act of balancing. Passionate defense of free speech is attracted to extremes that test the bounds of the First Amendment and require a valiant effort by the defender to tolerate speech he loathes, as in the promise never quite kept by Voltaire to defend to the death the right of a speaker he disapproves of. This is drama rather than balance. Downs himself had written a book in 1985 on the Nazis in Skokie, concluding that, on balance, racial vilification does not deserve First Amendment protection. He changed his mind, he says, because he came to doubt the ability of university administrators to strike a fair balance.
This was a reasonable doubt of administrators infused with the idea of enforcing sensitivity. But the speech codes that gave the alarm to Downs were not the worst danger to free speech in the universities, nor are they today. Those codes prohibited racial slurs and unwelcome lewd overtures--unpleasant, to be sure, to blacks and women, but hardly posing grave risks. They were interpreted, however, in a spirit of political correctness so as to produce a numbing homogeneity of opinion at our universities, and that spirit has proved very harmful. The idea of sensitivity behind the speech codes also led to political correctness, because it was necessary to decide to whom to be sensitive. Being sensitive to blacks and women gave them the right to be offended when they pleased and to talk back offensively to their tormentors. They did not have to be sensitive except to the insensitivity they were subject to, and they were encouraged to react with indignation whenever they felt they were put upon.
Thus, the notion of sensitivity led to less toleration rather than more. Those not tolerated were, of course, conservatives. The victims Downs tells of were not conservatives (they were mostly naive and nonpolitical) and some of his faculty and student heroes were conservatives. Conservatives were silenced not so much by speech codes as by not being hired for the faculty and not being invited to give talks or lectures on campus. Some conservative speakers were intimidated by protests; but for the most part, conservatives were simply not there and not invited. First Amendment liberals prefer the cause of the embattled and give little thought to the need for a balance of reasonable or respectable opinion in universities. To exaggerate: They will defend you only if they hate you, or if you are being persecuted. The near-total exclusion of conservatives from the faculties of America's elite universities does not alarm them. The fact that partisan debate outside the universities is freer and livelier than within may be deplorable, but it does not strike them as a free speech issue. They take for granted the willingness of citizens to speak up. They become indignant at the suppression of speech, but worry much less about speech that it never occurs to anyone to express.
A society of free speech needs lively exchange between the parties and not just loud voices from its eccentric fringe--and this is true, too, for universities. For lively exchange you need balance, as it is easy for a dominant majority to be unruffled by dissent when it is only from a token few. One could seek balance by declaring partisan opinion to be academically irrelevant, as when President Robert Sproul at Berkeley in the 1930s (Downs notes) banned the use of university buildings for partisan purposes. Many social scientists in universities follow a similar logic when they adopt the fact/value distinction: "My science is over here and my values are over there; there's no connection!" The fact that most all of us are liberals, and hardly any conservative, is therefore irrelevant. Science is what matters, and that is impartial.
This attitude coexists at universities today with the opposite, postmodern view that science is only a mask of impartiality to conceal the partisan exercise of power. True impartiality being impossible, in this view, we should embrace partiality and politicize the university. Either way, whether from positivism or postmodernism, conservatives lose out. They are not necessary to be heard, and if they are heard, they do harm to progressive causes.
Mention of progress brings up the second problem for free speech liberals, the problem of truth. Liberals stand for progress and, for self-protection, sometimes call themselves progressives. They also stand for diversity and speak of it constantly. Yet progress is hostile to diversity, especially to the diversity that conservatives represent. Progress is progress in truth, in the overcoming of prejudice such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. By identifying and refuting prejudice, progress establishes the reign of truth and narrows the range of acceptable opinions. What, then, is to be done about conservatives who hold these prejudices? Today, conservatives do not, or no longer, hold to racial prejudice, and anyone who does has been banished from responsible discussion. But is it the same for sexism and homophobia? Has debate on these matters been foreclosed, and does it deserve to be?
If liberals agree that one can still believe in sex differences and in the superiority of heterosexual life, they then consent to diversity and admit that conservatism in these respects is respectable. If they do, however, they set limits to progress in truth, or in the spread of truth. They justify a society balanced between liberals and conservatives, the party of progress and the party of order, as John Stuart Mill called them. But this seems to be a society of truth and untruth, permanently divided, which prevents the triumph of truth, of liberalism.
How can liberals accept that? Or respect it? Mill says that truth will become dead dogma if it is not challenged by opposing views, which is his reason for tolerating conservatives. But the problem is that if truth is systematically challenged, it will not be paramount. Diversity will replace truth.
This problem is more acute in universities as opposed to society in general, because universities are dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Downs notes that the difference between free speech and academic freedom is that the latter, unlike the former, relates to truth. A society can have free speech, pace the ACLU, if it does not challenge its own basic presuppositions, like those in the Declaration of Independence. But a university must, in pursuit of truth, hold those presuppositions open to inquiry. To carry out such inquiry, a university would seem to have greater need of diversity than a society. A university would not want to foreclose questions that a society might consider settled.
Conservatism is therefore closer to the mission of the university than liberalism is. Liberals, insofar as they are progressives, believe that it is possible to eliminate prejudice from society. When prejudice is gone, truth prevails, and there is no need to reconsider the errors of the past. Progress is irrevocable, and inquiry shrinks to whatever questions remain unsettled. Conservatives, believing that it is not possible to eliminate prejudice, are more tolerant than liberals; they expect society to be, and remain, a mixture of truth and untruth. Conservatives may be prejudiced themselves, or they may be just tolerant of prejudice in others. If society will always be a mixture of truth and untruth, it may be necessary to see what sort of untruth is politically compatible with truth, and what sort is not.
This is the problem we face in judging the civil rights of terrorists, a problem Downs alludes to but does not discuss. We surely do not need speech codes to hobble conservatives--they should be listened to!--but we may well need measures to suppress the preaching of Islamic terrorists. There we have true hate speech composed of hateful ideas, and as a conservative once said, ideas have consequences.
But Downs points out that the idea of sensitivity erodes the difference between speaking and doing. The function of speech comes to be preserving the self-esteem of those spoken to, rather than addressing them; and sexual harassment, a certain behavior, comes to include words found offensive.
Harvey Mansfield is professor of government at Harvard.
© Copyright 2005, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

ambushed by the unexpected - again

The arts column: ambushed by the unexpected - again
(Filed: 07/09/2005)

Does anyone else remember a silly-season story some time ago about a little old lady who had seen the film of The Sound of Music a record-breaking 643 times? She lived in Southampton, I recall, and went to the cinema every afternoon after a light lunch at the Kardomah café.

I've probably got the details wrong, but she's a figure who haunts me, for two reasons. One is that by accident rather than design I am probably the only person in the world who has never seen The Sound of Music. The other is that, to a lesser degree, I suffer from her affliction - if I like what I see, hear or read, I want to experience it over again, the sooner the better. In fact, I'd far rather go back than risk something new.

As a professional critic, I'm fortunate in being able to indulge myself in this foible - not just because I have the money to do so, but because I can tell myself it's part of my job. Once is never enough; once can never do justice. Virginia Woolf used to read every book she reviewed twice: the first time surrendering to the author, the second questioning every point and not letting him or her get away with anything. It's a practice that every critic should follow.

The point about the return visit is not the infantile pleasure of repetition, but the possibility of surprise. A good work of art never stays quite the same: it ambushes you, outwits you. A first exposure can provide the primitive excitement of wanting to know what happens next, a second provides the opportunity to register details, a third brings a sense of the underpinning joints and girders that make up the structure. And so it goes on.

Live performance has a particular protean power. I've read Mansfield Park five times, and must have watched Sunset Boulevard at least twice that; I've been nipping into the National Gallery to look at Goya's haunting portrait of Wellington since I was a teenager. But in certain respects they remain what they are, essentially static: I may change, but they don't. In the theatre or concert hall, however, art is brought to life by an unpredictable element of human fallibility and circumstantial chance that can make each encounter substantially different.

Recently, for example, I've seen Phyllida Lloyd's superb production of Schiller's Mary Stuart three times. Because of nuances in the way that Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer play their roles, the first time I was totally carried away by Mary's plight, while at the second I sympathised with Elizabeth's realpolitik. The third time proved even more interesting, because a cynical student audience laughed uproariously and turned tragedy into black comedy.

Actors, incidentally, are very interesting on the subject of repetition. Contrary to popular belief, there's no such thing as autopilot on stage, simply a matter of good performances and bad, with the latter dominating the longer the run, and lightning often striking the evening after the dry run of a matinée.

A production remains a sensitive organism right to the end, which is why I much admire the director Deborah Warner for sitting through almost every performance of her shows, always ready to fine-tune.

Repetition can pall, of course. The process isn't infinite. I sometimes have the feeling that I've scraped the bottom of the barrel, even if it contains a masterpiece. It's as though a conversation stops. I'm afraid I currently have nothing further to ask of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

It's told me all its jokes and played all its tricks, I've examined its nooks and crannies. No more surprises, so farewell. I wonder if that little old lady in Southampton ever got fed up with Julie Andrews and moved on to The Godfather.

Occasionally, too, one witnesses something realised at such a degree of perfection that nothing else can measure up. Twelfth Night has been complete for me ever since I saw Judi Dench and Donald Sinden in John Barton's production about 35 years ago, and after Die Walküre this summer at Covent Garden, I don't think I can ever hear another Sieglinde without the ghost of Waltraud Meier interposing itself.

But there's so much with which I still have unfinished business - works of art which, as one feeds one's own developing experience into them, elude one's grasp as they alter their shape and meaning, as well as those whose perfection one continually contemplates.

I shall never fathom the mystery of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, I shall never tire of the Kingdom of the Shades scene in Petipa's La Bayadère. Age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety: they are my life's benchmarks, and among my dearest friends.