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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 1 November 1970,
of a book:
THE GREENING OF AMERICA: How the Youth Revolution Is Trying to Make America Livable,
by Charles A. Reich.
New York: Random House, 19xx

 

"On the Youth Stage of American Reality"

By CARROLL QUIGLEY

 

THE GREENING OF AMERICA: 
How the Youth Revolution Is Trying to Make America Livable. 
By Charles A. Reich. Random House. 399 pages. $7.95.

 

This book is on the same subject as John K. Galbraith's "The New Industrial State," published three years ago. It is a far better book, better organized, and more clearly written.

Reich, a 42-year-old professor of law at Yale, is concerned with the mutual interpenetration of public and private power which constitutes the American way of life today and determines, within constantly narrowing limits, how resources are used, how we live, and what we hear, eat, wear, believe, or do. This nexus of anonymous and irresponsible power, which Galbraith called "the New Industrial State" is called by Reich "the Corporate State," both unfortunate terms because the chief feature of this monstrous system, emphasized by both writers, is not public authority but a fusion of public and private power in which the private portion is by far the more significant part. The combination brainwashes all of us, influencing our outlook on the world by mobilizing social pressures and organizational structures to coerce our behavior and responses in directions which are increasingly destructive.

Although Reich gives a good deal of attention to the objective organizational aspects of the system and shows a profound grasp of its interrelationships and historical background, the core of his book is built around his idea that America's vision of reality and of what is desirable has passed through two principal stages and is now about to be confronted by a third stage embraced by the "Youth" of America. These stages he calls "consciousness" and numbers them I, II, and III. "Consciousness I," a century or more ago, viewed man and society as atomistic, but, by the end of the 19th century, the dominant point of view was beginning to change to one which sought to find its values and goals in bureaucratic structures and the supremacy of "the Organization Man." These two outlooks in sequence have given us "the Corporate State," which, because it is a nexus of private as well as public management, decision-making, and pressures, might better be called by some more inclusive term, as the French speaking of "the System."

According to Reich, the outlook of "Consciousness I," based on atomistic self-reliant individualism, was acceptable in the early days of our country, when we had a small population and almost limitless natural resources, but it is unrealistic today, in a system of interlocking bureaucratic structures dealing with an overcrowded society faced by dwindling and polluted resources. In fact, those who still have Consciousness I" today are so out of touch with reality that their only ready explanation of what is going on is that America is being victimized by a conspiracy of alien subversive ideas (often identified as the "Eastern" or "Liberal" Establishment.)

Reich, on the contrary, feels that it is "the System" which is subversive because its bureaucratic structures take on life and goals of their own and, in alliance with monopoly capitalism and mindless technology, are rushing forward, with accelerating speed, toward self-destruction, in a cancerous process of materialistic growth. This runaway cancer must culminate in "revolution," according to Reich, because it is alienating workers from their work, consumers from the desire to consume, and other persons from nature, life, and each other. Above all, it is forcing "Youth" to embrace "Consciousness III."

This new "consciousness" seeks life rather than death, love rather than hate, nature and other people rather than affluence or status, personal experience rather than symbols or slogans. It must inevitably collide with the "Corporate State" in the "Coming Revolution."

There is nothing very new in all this except for the growing dimensions of the problem and the skill and perception with which Reich presents it. His volume is filled with concise and sometimes brilliant passages on such matters as the real nature of the New Deal, or how our educational system dehumanizes and brainwashes the young, from the first day of schooling until graduation from law school, how artifacts, bureaucratic structures, status and symbols cut us off from the vivid immediacy of natural and interpersonal experience, or what contemporary music or nature means to "Consciousness III," or what "success" means to the young couple of "Consciousness II" belief when they begin "making it" on the ladder of bureaucratic achievement. Reich has both the knowledge and the empathy to understand all these things, to know them, as it were, from the inside and to express them to us in words which are precise or poetic as the need requires. A significant aspect of the book is his intimate knowledge of literature or the cinema from "Bleak House" or "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari," by way of Melville, Dostoevsky, Henry James, Raymond Chandler, or "M," to "Portnoy's Complaint" or "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Despite frequent references to Marx and Marcuse, Reich is profoundly un-Marxist, and most of his references to the former are apologies for deficiencies in Marxist theory. To Reich, unlike Marx, the independent variable in any social problem is not the organization of economic life but the subjective outlook and value system be calls "Consciousness." The "Coming Revolution" will not be a clash of classes and weapons but the spread of "Consciousness Ill" which will make the continuation of "The Corporative State" impossible. One of the minor deficiencies of this book is Reich's failure to make such a collapse of the system seem possible, partly because be gives no historical examples of such a collapse (as when the Christians opted out of the Roman Empire) and partly because he does not explain how everyone will continue to eat when the system collapse[s] from wholesale "opting out."

This book should be read with care and discussed with respect. Certain deficiencies are apparent at once. The emphasis on outlook and on the role of social pressures as major forces in our lives, rather than on economic structures and on force, has considerable merit, but the use of the word "Consciousness" to designate subjective outlook is misleading. It confuses what is generally known today as "cognitive structure" or "cognition" with ideology and almost invites us to enter the controversial cul-de-sac of disputes over ideologies. "Cognition" usually refers to the system of categories, assumptions, and values, largely unconscious, which determine individual and group decisions and actions. "Ideology," on the other hand, refers to our explicit, verbalized, conscious system of proclaimed values, which we use to justify or to rationalize decisions and actions based on other, cognitive, grounds. To use the term "Consciousness" when referring to cognition is potentially fatal to any fruitful discussion and to Reich's whole argument, since ideology is always different and sometimes antithetical to cognition.

Reich's sequence of three historical stages of "consciousness" is less convincing than it should be because there are at least four, associated, as he seems to recognize, with different social classes.

The first, associated with craftsmen (both artisans and farmers) believed in both the individual and the community; the second, associated with the entrepreneurial middle classes, is atomistic (ignoring the community in behalf of the individual, and thus neglecting both organizational structure and context); the third, associated with the interests and cognition of lower middle-class bureaucrats, is devoted to organizational structures but ignores their context; the fourth which he calls "Consciousness III," emphasizes individual context but is at war with all organized structural and formal arrangements, including categories, rules, and logic.

To condemn one of these in order to build up another is to reject, without adequate examination, elements (such as the personal skills of the craftsmen or the self-discipline and thought for the future of the middle classes) which may well be needed in any fully satisfying future community.

The greatest weakness of this book is Reich's belief that the whole system is monolithic. This is untrue, but from this error comes Reich's clear belief that reform is not possible within the system. That belief leads to revolution or to counter-revolution, both completely repugnant to any sensible person. Reich, of course, is not advocating violent revolution, only a revolution of consciousness, but once any considerable group in this country accepts his idea that the system is monolithic and beyond reform, that group is not going to wait for some remote date on which people will have reached intellectual agreement with the "hippies" - they will act and act violently, and we'll all be destroyed together.

The American system is increasingly destructive and horrible, but it is not monolithic, and it is not beyond reform. It is an increasingly ramshackle structure, operated by narrow and ignorant petty-bourgeois clerks, up to the highest levels, and so driven by atomized and conflicting interests that a fairly small number of knowledgeable and energetic persons can achieve very considerable results. The system's own rules, interstices, and "trigger points" can be used by those who have an overview of it from outside and are emotionally detached from it, either to disrupt it or to steer it in a new direction. And those within the system cannot prevent this because their outlook is too narrow, and they are emotionally too deeply involved in this narrowness.

The chief criticism I would make of this volume is that its author has ignored the evidence he knows best: his own life including this book. He describes the educational experience of American youth from first grade through law school as stultifying, narrowing, and life-destroying (very much as Edgar Z. Friedenberg does), but the fact is obvious that Reich is marvelously well educated, both broadly and deeply, is an excellent thinker and a skilled writer. Did he not get these things within the system? Moreover, using the system as it is, he at 42, is professor of law at Yale, has published widely in many important journals, and obtained for this book the most pervasive prepublication publicity I have seen in many months, including much space in the New Yorker for 26 September, two articles in The New York Times in the two days before publication date (which was Oct. 23), and many other notices. As a result, many large bookstores were sold out within two days of publication, and the author is well on the way to becoming a wealthy oracle within the system. All of this for someone who believes that it is impossible to work within the system and has almost nothing good to say about it. I hope that Reich's next book will be an autobiography to tell us bow it is possible to get a wonderful education and become a great success within the system. I want to read that autobiography and recommend it to my students whom I have been desperately trying to persuade that it is better to work to reform the system than to wreck it. It is amusing to think that the fanatical Right Wing of American politics, like the John Birch Society, will use the success of this book as conclusive proof that the American system is controlled by a crypto-communist conspiracy, what they call the "Eastern Liberal Establishment", while the real secret is that it is not controlled by anybody, which is why it can be used by anyone and for any purpose, including its own destruction.

 

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