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
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
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
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.