The Rift Between the Finest Minds & The Limp Academics Now in Power

September 1998By Robert Greer Cohn

Robert Greer Cohn is Professor Emeritus of French at Stanford University. He is Jewish by birth, and considers himself a Judeo-Christian.

Sidney Hook, the dead white male philosopher, once told me over dinner how during his impoverished boyhood in Brooklyn he threw himself in the path of a streetcar to shake down the company for damage money.

Grim necessity defined that epoch: Our immigrant ancestors were driven by potato famines and pogroms to come to America and struggle, as Sidney did, for dignity, along with a certain "competency." Grim necessity followed them not only onto farms and into factories, but into the teaching profession, where still in my early days, around World War II, I taught huge loads for miserable pay.

Almost all institutions reflected this austerity: Home discipline and the schools were far stricter and more demanding than they are today. But there was more joy, too, as old-timers vividly recall.

It was such necessity that helped keep most families together over lifetimes, along with affection, and made communities warmly close. Those communities maintained sustaining customs -- the corner drugstore for decorous juvenile meeting between the sexes and village-square boxing matches for healthy male bonding. Normal folks -- I mean those outside the academy -- often wax nostalgic about all that, and I only rehearse these familiar facts to point up the dramatic contrast to post-Second World War America. No people in history have been so spoiled as Americans since the mid-1940s.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to September 1998 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Even though this was written 14 years ago, it is almost a synopsis of this age we are living in. He nailed it then, and we are in a worsening intellectual decline now. Posted by: John
December 05, 2012 03:54 AM EST
Our very American triumphs led to our undoing, .... The older people lost their nerve, and barbaric, ignorant youths .... Still ringing true at 18 years. Posted by: wpjmd
August 10, 2016 11:18 AM EDT
Add a comment