The University of California at Berkeley, which has been ranked as one of the foremost educational establishments in the world has recently been the scene of a prolonged and massive confrontation between the students and administration with a great majority of the faculty siding with the students. Many of the problems which were dormant in contemporary American society have been raised by the powerful student movement into major issues. These problems are in important ways similar to those which have traditionally presented themselves to a polity—the rôle of the citizen in political life, popular control over decision making, civil liberties, the rights of free association, the rôle of political elites, and the relationship of ‘legal’ means to civil disobedience. But the context in which these questions are posed is radically different: a highly bureaucratic society composed of large scale organizations where power and decision making are concentrated at the top; a highly integrated society where education—industry—military—government frequently exchange services and personnel; a political society where large scale popular political participation is looked down upon precisely by the political men who, possessed by the administrative vision, define situations either in professional or technical terms. The end product of all this raises a decisive question: can politics as it has been understood (as conflict and popular participation) by many democratic political theorists, survive the onslaught of the newly emerging society and its spokesmen? The Free Speech Movement (fsm), the student defenders of civil liberties at the University, answer in the affirmative and to a large degree have succeeded in establishing some semblance of those rights at the University of California at Berkeley. The University bureaucracy and some highly respectable scholars have answered in the negative either to demands of the students or to their organized efforts to achieve these rights.
For too many years the University of California was the typical United States university in the way of restriction of political activity: all political groups (conservative, liberal, and radical) were prohibited from meeting to carry on routine business, raising funds, asking for new
Paradoxically and much to the surprise of many liberals and democrats a recent series of articles has appeared written by eminent Berkeley academicians highly respected for their professional success which call into question the student movement’s seeking to institute democratic reform. These ‘New Conservatives’ view with Burke-like horror the large number of students active in politics in a way not conducive to the bureaucratic management of the University. Large scale political participation by citizens concerned with building a political platform is considered by political sociologist, Lipset as a threat to the proper functioning of a university. Speaking like a nostalgic monarchist exile after a democratic revolution, Lipset writes in the Reporter magazine: ‘To restore the Berkeley Campus to anything resembling a normal first-rate American university will be immensely difficult.’ The imposition of the bureaucratic, anti-political and super-professional ethos which permeates most ‘normal first-rate American universities’ might well be impossible. And the students and society will be much the better for it. The ‘New Conservatives’ ideology is a curious blend of pseudo-liberal rhetoric with Burkean overtones. Lipset writes about the student attempt to establish constitutional legal rights on the
Professor Feuer goes to considerable effort to represent the students as the users of ‘force’, i.e. civil disobedience. The Chancellor of the University who was involved in the arresting of over 800 students, who were brutally dragged down flights of stairs resulting in scores of head and bodily injuries, was represented by Feuer as ‘a man of saintly character and an eminent scholar’. The projecting of violence on the victims and the admiration of power and authority in the Establishment are in fact the hallmarks of authoritarian politics. Lipset lamenting the popularity of the student activity for civil liberties notes that ‘the authority (i.e. control over student political activities) both of the administration and faculty (sic. a hard core of 10 per cent of the faculty like Lipset, Feuer, et al.) had become virtually non-existent at Berkeley by December’. Later on in the article Lipset pinning his hopes for the restoration of the bureaucratic authority on a new acting chancellor, writes in the language of modern authoritarianism: ‘Myerson already has shown strength and sophistication in dealing with the crisis and he commands wide support . . .’ In a more explicit vein Lipset reiterates that normality will require ‘administrative leadership and intelligence’.
While widespread student political participation appears as abnormal, while the use of civil disobedience to obtain basic rights is condemned for violating bureaucratic regulation, while the brutality of the police and the expulsion of students are glossed over or appended as ‘mistakes’ the ‘New Conservatives’ find ‘democracy’ in the light of saintly but worldly powerful bureaucrats. This is their view from our right.