“Liberal Morals and Liberal Minds” Presented by Adam Gopnik


– It is an extraordinary pleasure for me to introduce Adam Gopnik. We all know him from his
articles in the New Yorker, his political analysis, his reviews. We don’t know him as I do, as
a Montreal Canadiens fan, who left Montreal in the early 1980s, and made a decision that he
was going to be a writer. When his father dropped him off with his new wife, he gave him, his father gave him, a wonderful piece of advice. He said, “Never underestimate the
other person’s insecurities, “no matter who it is.” And I suspect his father
already knew this, but I am going to assert that that piece of advice and that sensibility of not underestimating
other people’s insecurities, is at least part of
the answer why this man is probably the most generous reviewer, the most generous analyst, and therefore, among
the most beloved writers we have in America. He’s written numerous essays and reviews, but it’s always the book
reviews I have to say, I feel particularly drawn to. Not just because of the close reading, but because of the obvious attention he knows the author has
paid to the subject. And the generosity of the
review is always a reflection of the hard work he knows the author has
done to produce a book. And so when you read Adam’s reviews, not only do you get an
analysis, and an essay, because every book he reads is an occasion for a wonderful essay, but you also get probably
the most interesting and full exposition of the book’s basic thesis. It’s just a privilege to read him, and you’ve saved me from
having to read a lot of books. (laughter) Adam has won three
national magazine awards, for criticism, and reviewing. He’s the author of a children’s novel, which I’ve read to my children, highly recommend it, through “The King in the Window”. He’s written a wonderful memoir of his young family’s life in Paris, “Paris to the Moon”. He’s written a book
about Darwin and Lincoln, whom you would not ordinarily
think of in the same breath, but after you get
finished with Adam’s book, you’d think that they were
brothers from another mother. He’s written about food,
“The Table Comes First”. He’s written about winter, which, coming from Montreal as I do, was a particular favorite of mine. And his last memoir, “At the Strangers’ Gate:
Arrivals in New York”, is a wonderful, evocative memoir of New York in the 1980s. His last book, “A
Thousand Small Sanities”, is an effort in the age of Trump to deal, not with Trump, but with the precious unlikely achievement called our liberal democracy, which is at risk. And with that, I’m going to leave Adam to fill you in on the rest, and we will talk after he’s done. – Thank you Bernie. (applause) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Bernie, a dear friend and a paesan, I think
even us Jews can say. Fellow Montrealer. I should explain it right away that my affection for Montreal Canadiens is not a transitory or a secondary one, but it’s the dominant passion of my life. And my son, who was brought up in Paris and then in New York with this monopoly on righteous thinking, that is the Montreal Canadiens, has now crossed over the iron curtain and is going to school, doing his graduate work
at Brandeis in Boston. And every day he calls me to tell me about how the orcs gather
at every street corner to root on the Bruins. It’s a sign of the kinds of
sacrifices we’re prepared to make in our family for
the sake of higher education that he has gone there. I should add, also, that
Bernie is absolutely right in saying that that was
what my father said to me as we boarded the bus to New York City, but I should add that that wisdom, never underestimate the
other person’s insecurity, had been hard-won by him from 15 years as the Dean of Arts at McGill. It spoke to his experience
of department chairman, in particular. It is a joy to be back
here at Dartmouth again. I come here under even
more false pretenses than in my previous visits. I have been here to speak on food and I have been here to
speak at various conferences on France and the future of France, two subjects about which I am amateur. But today I wanted to
talk to you a little bit about the themes and the
addendums I would offer to my most recent book, which is, indeed, a political book and a
credo for a particular kind of liberal thought and a
manifesto for what I imagine is the future of liberalism. All of these subjects,
the history of liberalism, the nature of political economy, are ones which make my expertise on food and France look
absolute by comparison. Nonetheless, I was compelled. I felt compelled to write this book because of the national and,
indeed, global emergency in which we all find ourselves right now. It was motivated particularly
by my daughter, Olivia, who was 17 on the night
of the 2016 election, and who I saw cruelly,
literally, as she was saying, literally having become a generational, someone recognizes this adverb for really, really, really a lot, she was literally trembling, freaked out by the result. I took her outside and we went on a long walk around our
New York neighborhood. I tried to reassure her by affirming the values of liberal humanism that
I had been brought up in, that I had hoped that
we had passed on to her, lifting her spirits with
historical examples, reminding her of how
much the abstract lessons of the history she was being taught in school would now apply immediately to her life, culcating in her the idea that all values rise from the ground up, not from the top down, reminding her that Barack Obama had not been making her
sandwiches every morning for eight years, I had,
and would continue to. All of these words had the same effect on my 17-year-old daughter as
all such paternal words have on all 17-year old daughters,
and that is none at all, of any kind. And, in fact, I soon saw that
she was consulting her phone as I spoke, for texts of reassurance from her friends, OMFG. OMFG Olivia. OMFG. Nonetheless, I made a mental
note that I would, someday, and someday soon, write
a letter to my daughter on liberalism and the book, “A Thousand Small Sanities”, is that. I was compelled to its tone
and its manner, I think, as much by my own sense of something approaching despair as by my own desire to
reassure my wonderful daughter. Someone once said that we
all have the philosophy of our insomnia. I am not sure who said it, and I am beginning to
suspect that it may be me, because it certainly sounds French, and for a while I thought Cioran, the great Romanian-French
aphorist might have said it, because he was certainly an insomniac and he was also a philosopher, but I cannot find it anywhere. It sounds like the sort of
thing Camus might have grumbled through a cigarette at
one time or another, but it doesn’t seem to belong to Camus. I will, hesitantly, and I’m sure someone in this room can properly place it, but I will hesitantly claim it with the gloss on it, on what it means, that what we really care about
are the things we think about at 3:00 a.m. At 3:00 p.m., we can talk about rising prices, admissions policies to Ivy League schools, the fate of the Montreal Canadiens and, indeed, of the Boston Bruins if we so choose, but those
are 3:00 p.m. subjects. What really matters for us is those things that haunt us at 3:00 a.m, those basic, existential,
distorical fears. The philosophy of my insomnia always turns around the survival of
liberal civilization, what I think of as liberal cities. I’ve written, as Bernie
says quite rightly, on a huge number of
subjects in my 30 plus years at the New Yorker, but when I review them, they’re all tied together
by that common thread. What is liberal civilization? What are the values of
liberal humanist civilization and how can they be sustained? That was the theme of my book about Paris, the great, modern city, and in crisis, in perpetual crisis now, as well. It was much the theme of my book on food, which was much more about the rituals of the table and how they had grown than it was a collection of
recipes that you could reproduce in your own kitchen. What fascinated me were the institutions, the semi-private and
yet public institutions of the cafe and the restaurant
and the dining table that had acted as such a powerful adhesive in modern liberal society. Call it bourgoise society
and I won’t argue with you, but I will bracket that
term for a later discussion. And yet, those values that we call and encapsulate, perhaps too neatly or
in too summary a way, as liberal democratic values, are clearly under assault now in a way that they have not been, I think, in even in the lifetime of the
oldest person in this room, in a way that they have not
been really since the 1930s. (laughing) I was looking at Bernie, actually. (laughing) I don’t need to enumerate
for this audience all of those attacks or
from whence they come or why they come. They come from both right and left, but above all, from this
sudden and unexpected and yet, seemingly fatal rise of classic right-wing
authoritarian nationalism, which has placed liberalism
under a kind of daily assault. In Britain, throughout
Eastern Europe and Hungary, and in Turkey and in, most alarmingly, because in some ways
most surprisingly, here in the United States and most perniciously because most violently in lots of ways, with the most violent rhetoric. And so I wrote this book. And, of course, one of
the possible responses to this book was to say that
it was celebrating something that had already passed,
celebrating a defunct tradition. I spoke about the
philosophy of ones insomnia, which is something that we all share. To the philosophy of insomnia, that all thinking people share, writers have the very special codicil on the philosophy of their insomnia, which is the letters they
write to their reviewers at 3:00 a.m. They worry about the future of the world and then they write
letters to the reviewer. The person who suffers most
in this particular exchange is the sleeping spouse, who is given a gentle nudge, perhaps by people in this room. It’s, “Darling, are you awake?” That moment you can offer this wonderful, uncelebrated literary genre. I will not recite for you my
3:00 a.m. insomniac letters, but I will say that one of the responses that those of us who
speak up for the values of liberal democracy and liberal humanism regularly receive, is that we are defending a defunct creed. A creed that, right or wrong, good or bad, has passed its historical moment, is in the process of being replaced, and no longer, for good or ill, has urgency or moment in public discourse. I was pleased, therefore,
to be reminded that, indeed it does, and of a very urgent kind by a man who those of us who
are scoring debating points will therefore look on as a hero, and that is Vladimir Putin. Because you will recall
that earlier this year, Putin, when pressed by
The Financial Times, about where he stood, singled
out the values of liberalism as exactly the thing that he thought were the
most pernicious in Europe. And by the values of liberalism,
he did not mean the values of the free market,
which he clearly esteems in their kleptocratic form, in Russian. Nor really did he mean the
values of social democracy which, in a debased form, he still takes part in. He meant specifically and emphatically, the values of compassion, which have underlied The Humanist Project, at least since the time of
Montaigne and the Renaissance. He singled out, as the
thing he most despised, Angela Merkel’s rescue and welcome of Syrian refuges into Germany. That was the liberalism
that Vladimir Putin hates. That Vladimir Putin
despises and believes has to be replaced by a hard-hearted ethnic nationalism of the kind he practices. And you will recall, that when Putin attacked
western liberalism, his acolyte, our own president, said, and I wish that that
I were making this up, said yes, he agreed with him, that western liberalism was defunct. You only had to look at Los
Angeles and San Francisco and how badly they were being governed to see how weak western liberalism was. He meant, by the west
the meant California, and he assumed that
Putin was also attacking the liberalism evident in California. Same values, not as bright. Clearly, those values are
still worth enumerating, and, indeed, defending
because they are exactly what the enemies of
liberalism still regard as potent, and pernicious
in their potency. And at the same time, we’ve seen, just in the last few months, the students in Hong Kong
protesting and rioting on behalf, not of increased enhanced
economic opportunity, which they could clearly
find in mainland China, in Communist China as well, but exactly on behalf of those, the rule of law, and on behalf of those
liberal institutions, which they inherited
from a colonial regime, as it happens, but which
nonetheless still seemed to them worth protesting for and, indeed, risking their lives for, the simple idea that the
government and the judiciary, the boss and the cops,
should be separate people, and the cops should not
always answer to the boss. It’s a simple idea, the rule of law, but a very powerful one. And one that clearly exists independent, in their minds, of the specific
economic opportunities, or the economic agendas
of Hong Kong or China. And as I say, significantly in one way, simply a colonial outcropping, a colonial legacy, nonetheless, clearly of enormous value to the people who see the
threat of it being eliminated or deprived. So in that way, it seems to me, clear that liberal institutions
remain at the center of everything that we’re arguing about. That, far from being peripheral or far from being neatly
dated or left behind, they are what the contemporary fight, what the contemporary world battle, and what what the world’s
insomnia turns around in the year 2019. The question, then, is can you enumerate those liberal institutions? And that’s one of the things I try and do in this book. And, of course, there are
the ones that were taught in every social studies class, in every fifth grade
social studies classes, and they are obviously important, parliamentary democracy,
legislative choice, free expression, free press,
a relatively free media. If we can have it, an
acceptance as a premise, perhaps as important as any other, that the oscillation of power
between political parties is not toxic but essential
and to be accepted. A whole bunch of, strictly
speaking, political institutions and beliefs. But at the same time,
let me get my water here, those strictly political institutions, which are the core of the idea of liberalism as it’s
taught at most universities and most colleges, like this one, there’s a whole secondary set of attitudes and non-political institutions
that are just as essential for liberal democracy and the values of liberal humanism to
propagate and survive. My book is devoted in part to celebrating and articulating what those other values and what those other intermediate
institutions might be. Some of the values are
easily dismissed as tonal or temperamental. And one of the things
that I feel strongly about is that the tonal and temperamental side of liberalism and liberal
democratic institutions is, in some ways, as important as their formal and procedural side. Liberalism has been, since
the time of Montaigne, very much a question of
temperament and tone, a willingness to accept all
of our shared failability, a readiness to entertain
opposing positions, and even more important, readiness to enter, as
empathetically as we can, into the minds and arguments
of those who oppose us. With the notion, certainly
of refuting them, but also of embracing the possibility of a broader view that might come to us from someone who begins with a very different
premise about the world. Those are all temperamental habits, temperamental tonal
tendencies that are, I think, very much part of liberal tradition. It’s why I begin this book, not with Locke or Montesquieu or any of the other places where a proper and appropriately credentialed academic political
scientist would begin it, but instead with the moment which I wanted to share with Olivia and show her, of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor outside the rhinoceros cage at
the London Zoo in the 1830s. You all know the story of
the Mills’ romance, I hope, gentleman does not. (laughing) Well, John Stuart Mill, the greatest of all liberal
philosophers, I think, without question, fell
in love in the 1830s at a memorable London dinner party with a wonderful and gifted
woman named Harriet Taylor, who was already married to a pharmacist and had three children already. They immediately had a kind of mind lock and, indeed, a heart lock and they began a clandestine romance which would stretch out
over a very long time. They used to meet, clandestinely, in front of the rhinoceros
cage at the London Zoo. The rhinoceros had entered the London Zoo only in 1826, it was the
first rhinoceros anywhere, I believe, in Europe. No, there was a French rhinoceros, of course there was a
French rhinoceros first. (laughing) But it was the first
British adopted rhinoceros. And they would send each other notes, “We could meet at 3:00 p.m. “in front of our old friend rhino.” And they would meet. And they had had the wonderful acuity that only great philosophers can have, which is that everyone would
be looking at the rhino and no one would be looking
at the courting couple on the bench outside it. They were tormented, in many ways, because she was married and
wanted to honor her marriage. She felt her husband was inadequate, but she loved her children. She eventually nursed him
through a horrible death by cancer before she was finally free to marry Mill. Whether or not they had an
actual romantic exchange before that, no one knows for certain. Scholars all insist that they didn’t, but they went to Paris for a week together and it is my theory that
no courting couple goes to Paris and shares a
hotel for a week together in what used to be called
a completely innocent way. Nonetheless, Mill always
said about Harriet Taylor, that she was the smartest
person he’d ever known, the greatest mind he’d ever lived with, and the greatest teacher that he ever had. And in the incurably sexist
way of most scholarship, most Mill scholars for 100 years said, what they did is they essentially Yoko’d
Harriet, to make up a verb. They said John was so
crazy in love with her that he imagined that
she was wildly gifted. Fortunately, it might be
true, by any other case. Fortunately, the last 30
years of feminist scholarship has revealed to us what John Stuart Mill had been telling us all along, that she was a woman of
extraordinary intellectual gifts and confidences. On that bench in front
of the rhino’s cage, they hatched together the ideas for those two foundational tones of the liberal temperament
and of liberal thought. Mill, having the impetus for “On Liberty”, the greatest single
statement of the necessity of personal autonomy,
of our right not only to personal expression,
which is, of course, one of the famous
takeaways from Mill’s book, but even, more important, of our duty to personal fulfillment. The idea that we cannot
be entire as human beings unless we are free to express ourselves in every imaginable way. Unless we’re free to
make music, write poetry, become the largest self
we possibly can be. That’s the liberty that Mill had in mind as much as the liberty
essential for political dialogue and the advancement of human progress. At the same time as Mill was
crafting that great statement about the necessity of human liberty, Harriet Taylor was feeding
him, conversing in front of the rhinoceros cage, with
her ideas on the necessity of what we now rightly
call women’s liberation. Those ideas that would lead
to that great statement on the subjugation of women,
not merely for modified or muted equality of the sexes, not merely for women’s
ever-greater participation in the social sphere, but
for the absolute equality of men and women in
every imaginable sphere, economic, political, social, artistic, that one could find. I was just reading Mill’s letters by my bedside the other day. I grant you, it’s sad. (laughing) But I was, and I came across a letter which I had never seen
where Mill is writing to someone about the fight
for what’s being called at that period in
Britain, manhood suffrage, which means universal
suffrage, means the suffrage of the working classes as well. So it’s something that
Mill is in favor of, but he stops and lectures and says we cannot call
it manhood suffrage, because manhood suffrage is
inherently discriminatory. We have to call it universal suffrage or we leave out women, even if they can’t included at this point. It implies that our dream
of enfranchisement ends with men, something that Taylor and Mill felt passionately about in a way that we still have yet to fulfill. The reason I began with that
moment with Mill and Taylor and the rhino, is exactly
because those two enterprises, on the one hand the insistence
on the power and passion of autonomy, and on the other, the search for social equality were, in their minds, and to my mind this is
the central originality of the liberal tradition we inherit, were not in any way
contradictory, each was essential to the other. The dream of social equality through active political
reform and the assertion of individual autonomy through unhindered personal liberty, they imagined on that bench in front of the rhinoceros
cage as part of a single and essential human project. That for me is the
liberalism that we inherit. That’s the way we use
liberal when we’re using it in our everyday speech,
and that’s the values, the tone, the temperament, one
both of welcomed compromise. The Mills, John and
Harriet, lived their life in a state of painful
compromise between her demands as a mother and a wife, his love for her, their love for each other. They accepted the necessity of compromise as part of the living
fabric of human existence. A compromise, not as a lesser centrism, but as a knot tied tight
between competing decencies. That was the temperamental
essence of their vision and one applied to their
political projects. That’s one way in which the
temperament of liberalism is essential to my sense
of it, but there’s another, and I think perhaps even richer sense, in which the non-political institutions of liberal democracies are essential for supporting, enabling, ennobling, and carrying their mission forward. What do I mean by that? I mean simply that one of
the remarkable discoveries, both by historians and
sociologists in the past 60 years, has been the central role that
non-political institutions, what we now call generically,
social capital plays, in creating the possibility
of liberal democracy. It was the great insight of
Adam Smith and David Hume, that if there is not a spark
of social sympathy passing between peoples, if we
don’t have the capacity to work in conditions of
trust with people who are not of our blood or clan or kind, then the institutions of liberal democracy will be null. They will be ineffective. That sounds terribly
abstract when you say it, but it’s something that’s
been demonstrated empirically and historically again and again. The crucial role of the coffeehouse in making the French
Enlightenment, of course, was one of the great burdens
of Jurgen Habermas’ sociology and of his vision. That was that the idea that
the enlightenment was made not in courts, but in coffeehouses. Not simply because subversive
ideas were being passed from one person to another,
but because the habit of conversation was
constantly being enhanced. The idea that you could sit down and speak on term of relative
equality with a stranger was the essential social
practice that had to underlie and illuminate the political practice. One of my heroes in the
story of the discovery of social capital as foundational to liberal democratic practice, is a somewhat surprising figure, but he plays a large role in my book, as he has in a lot of my writing, and that is Frederick Law Olmsted, the great designer of Central Park, probably the greatest Sylvan landscapist in American history, but
what not enough people know about him, is that he was a journalist and a philosopher before he
designed a single square inch of green land. He was a writer for the then
newly formed New York Times and for the then newly
formed Nation magazine, and he was sent south to do
a report before the Civil War on the nature of the South. He wrote a book and he had the insight that, though people talked
about the life of the South as though it were culturally superior, “Oh yes, they do keep slaves “but they have such a rich
culture,” people would say. And he’d say, “No, they
have a totally paralyzed, “concentration camp culture, “exactly because the existence
of slavery prevents anyone “from living in intermediate institutions “in conditions of trust and commonality “with their fellow citizens.” He wrote a beautiful
thing, which I had hoped to memorize, but I have not memorized it. I will read it, merely. He said, “In a Northern community, “a man who is not greatly occupied “with private business is
certain to become interested “in social enterprises,
school, road, cemetery, asylum “and church, bridge, ferry “and water companies,
literary, scientific, “art, mechanical, agricultural
and benevolent societies. “All these things are managed chiefly “by the unpaid services
of citizens during hours “which they can spare from
their private interests. “Our citizens are members and
managers of reading rooms, “public libraries, gymnasiums,
game clubs, boat clubs, “ball clubs and all sorts of clubs, “Bible classes, debating
societies, military companies. “They are planting roadside
trees or damming streams “for skating ponds or
rigging diving boards “or getting up fireworks displays “or private theatricals. “They are always doing something.” Olmsted, before this was
even remotely a commonplace of sociology, spotted that
that was the great reservoir of liberalism of Northern abolitionism. It was the habit not simply of meeting in political clubs, but
the practice of meeting to produce whatever, fireworks,
with like-minded people who were not of your
clan or race or class. Now, we can criticize
Olmsted’s Reformist Generation for all of the things
they failed to reform, and we should. But let’s not forget that Central Park, that greatest of American
architectural creations, is a testament, a living, daily testament to Olmsted’s vision. It is a place left open to
citizens to make community for themselves. That’s what Central Park exists to do and it’s what Central
Park has done successfully for almost 200 years now. Social capital, community. The great American
sociologist, Robert Putnam, reiterated and restated
exactly Olmsted’s premises when he went to Italy and studied how well or ill local government
took throughout Italy when Italy decentralized its government. If there were opera clubs in existence, local amateur opera societies,
democracy had a chance of taking. If the central institutions of the village or of the commune were clan based, a democracy had little chance of taking. This is a truth that we
find again and again, where we have powerful
shared social values, literacy and education first among them, even if not directed at
any obvious political end, liberal and democratic politics flourish. I had the great, good fortune of going a couple of years ago,
in that dread year of 2016, to the remarkable little
country of Iceland, from whence my wife’s family descends, to observe the presidential
election there. Now, there are only 300,000
people in all of Iceland. So you can imagine how in one way how intimate an election it is. A remarkable guy, a
professor at a university, Guoni Johannesson, was
running for president, from the University of Iceland. What was wonderful about it
was he had a little entourage of advisors who were every
bit as insanely devoted to meta-analysis of the data as anyone here could be. So on election night, we sat together, and they worried about
how the artisanal ale vote in Reykjavik was going to come out, because they knew that the
artisanal vote might be divided between two candidates,
Guoni and one other. But the reason Iceland has
such a thriving democracy and has survived all
kinds of economic shocks in the last 15 years is because the level of social capital and
social trust in Iceland is enormously high, based on the literacy of its inhabitants and
their habits of inclusion. One of the great musical
cultures in the world, far above its number. It was something that one saw when Iceland almost won the European Cup
in football a few years ago, when it was plain that Iceland, a country of 300,000 people, was capable of beating Britain, England, a country of 40 million people, which poured enormous
resources into soccer, into football, exactly because this team of amateurs had habits of adhesion, habits of social
museolage, common beliefs, sense of shared faith that enabled and empowered their amazing
drive to near victory. That seems to me something in which we’re not
talking about metaphysics, we’re not talking about
undue managerial optimism, we’re talking about hard fact when we talk about the crucial role of
building social capital in creating liberal
democratic institutions. Olmsted had a beautiful name for that. Social capital is kind of a horrible name. He called it commonplace civilization, said the commonplace civilization of a community tells you
more about their capacity to embrace democracy than
the high civilization of the place ever can. That’s an insight that I think only continues to grow and become more
important as we think about the future and the
past of liberal democracy. And one of the great questions, of course, that it opens to us is how universal, how planetary, how global can not only the numerable institutions of liberal democracy, but those underlying
intermediate institutions of commonplace civilization be. Of course, many of you I’m
sure have read Amartya Sen’s remarkable studies of the
way that social capital, what he calls competence capability, worked in one society after another. And Sen makes the profound
point that you can find that kind of commonplace civilization, the potential for that
practice of coexistence, in almost every society around the planet. And he enumerates at length
the ways that Chinese and antique Indian and
many other societies, far removed from our own
Anglo-American inheritance, have exactly those same
kinds of social practices, which he sees as essential
for their own project of self-liberation. And he says categorically
that what we call development is not the consequence of social capital, but that it’s a precondition
of social capital, of development is to have such social capital. But that, for me, calls up
a strange kind of paradox in the whole subject, which
I have been brooding on and try and think about in the book, but in particular in the months
since I published the book. And that is that there
is a kind of paradox in the interchange of that sort of social capital, those practices of
coexistence, the existence of that commonplace civilization and our actual ability to realize those things in
liberal democratic institutions. The roots of liberal democratic
institutions, it seems, as Sen argues, are extremely
deep, global, and planetary. But the fruits of those
liberal democratic institutions are very fragile, and highly specific. They only blossom,
historically, very rarely, indeed, very recently. And as the history of the
past two years has displayed to us, they can be
eradicated with astonishing and terrifying speed. The roots are deep and yet,
the fruits are fragile. Well, I suppose that describes pretty much
every fruit-bearing tree in existence, does it
not, that doubleness? As a consequence, it seems
to me that we are caught within that paradox,
within that doubleness, every day. We recognize the richness
of those possibilities. We simultaneously recognize
how precarious they are. Perhaps we don’t recognize sufficiently just how precarious they are. One of the great
disabilities, it seems to me, in the upbringing of my daughter, of this generation of college students, of all of us, indeed, is exactly that we’ve become so accustomed to those extraordinarily fragile and historically specific
liberal institutions that we simply believe that
they will go on and persist, even in the face of their violation and without our necessarily
having to reinvigorate them with every passing season and, indeed, with every passing day. We take them entirely for granted. So the notion that the very
practice of free speech, which I am enjoying today,
the ability to talk to you and tell you without
hindrance what I think, that’s a very, very, special possibility, is one that we don’t sufficiently value. Canadian journalists crossing the border into the United States
now are increasingly and routinely being asked
about their political views by immigration inspectors. “What do you write?”, “What kind of thing do you write?”, “Do you write fake news?”, and so on. One of the horrifying
things about the rise of an illiberal order,
is that it gives license, with extraordinary
rapidity, to functionaries of all kinds to unleash
those kinds of views. It is happening here and it is happening now. That paradox also leads me to a broader historical speculation. About five years ago, I’m of the age now where everything happened five years ago. (laughing) It could have happened 10 years ago and it happened five years ago, it could have happened two years ago and it happened five years ago. But about five years ago,
The Metropolitan Museum in New York put on a great show called “Jerusalem 1000”. Jerusalem is a city
which I have no knowledge except literary knowledge, but my literary knowledge
of it is relatively real. And in that show, “Jerusalem 1000”, the point that the curators made, somewhat to the spectators’ surprise and certainly to my instruction, was that in the year 1000, the three groups in Jerusalem, Muslims,
Christians, and Jews and countless sectarian
variations thereof, managed to coexist fairly well, with reasonable solidity, with reasonable adhesion. So that there are works, there are beakers that one finds in European
collections, glass beakers, where no one really knows if they were made by Muslim glassblowers for a Christian European market or if they were made by
Christian glassblowers for a Muslim market. The interchange, the
interpenetration, the complexity of those daily exchanges,
what went on every day in the spice market are
such that there was a real, and in its way, inspiriting practice of coexistence on view on
the walls of that exhibition. Of course we all know
that 100 years later, at the time of the Crusades, that practice of social coexistence was destroyed in massacre and counter-massacre
and counter-massacre, in blood. That’s a frightening picture of the risks of relying too narrowly on
the picture of social capital as an antidote to the depredation of ethnic and religious nationalism. But it does point the
final feature that I wanted to raise today. And that is that the
practice of coexistence, of pluralism in that base, root kind that Sen and others, Olmsted and Habermas have all analyzed and illuminated for us, that practice of coexistence is available to human beings all the time. We don’t have a hard
time finding instances of it throughout history,
throughout the world. We find lots and lots of examples. Human beings, of necessity and
also because they do possess that spark of sympathy that Hume and Smith desired. Human beings generally are
able to live in relative peace with other groups of human beings for long periods of times. The practice of social
coexistence isn’t alien to people. But all that liberal democratic
institutions try and do is turn that practice of coexistence into a permanent principle of pluralism. And that turns out to be
extraordinarily difficult and amazingly fragile. How can we protect it going forward? One way is to recognize that for all of its seeming solidity, the institutions of liberal democracy are, in fact, extraordinarily fragile and we have to defend them
every day, unstintingly, not on Twitter, but in the streets. And the second thing
that we have to remember is exactly the lesson that
I was struggling to give to Olivia on that memorable, and I hope not entirely tragic night. And that is that we build the values that underlie liberal
democracy from the ground up. We build them in our parks. We build them in our debating societies. We build them exactly in
our everyday interchanges in education, in society,
on buses and in subways with other citizens. That is the beating
heart of liberal order. I’ve been accused of
taking all of my ideas from The Beatles. (laughing) And some of you may say
that that last discant was very Beatle-esque, in its way. I don’t think I’ve taken all
of my ideas from The Beatles, but I certainly would be unashamed to say that I’ve taken all my
ideals from The Beatles, because they seem to
me fundamentally sound. And none more sound than
the simple summary idea that, in the end, the
love you take is equal to the love you make. With that simple summation, and sentimental one, unapologetically so, I’d love to take your questions. Thank you. (applause) – I see a hand rising immediately, but I have to ask the first question. – Please. (laughing) – (mumbles) – Please. Very Jewish, Bernie. Names first, too. (laughing) – You can’t answer it
with another question. – Alright. – It’s actually a reflection of what we were discussing this morning, because I would like you just to clarify and deepen for people
what I know you believe, which is that this sentiment
that you call compassion, which you see as foundational to liberal ideas, to liberal civilization, is also rooted in a very profound sense
of our fallibility. Mill, when he begins “On Liberty”, I mean I haven’t read it in a long time, but I do remember that when
he begins “On Liberty”, he actually focuses on the limitations of our perception. – And of our judgment. – And of our judgment. None of us can have more than just a piece of the truth, the way he puts
it, a piece of the truth. I kind of love that formulation, even though, I think, it’s kind of epistemologically suspect. – Weird, yes. Right. – But we have a piece of the truth. Somehow, that should engender compassion. And I’d like you to riff
on that a little bit because, I guess what I’m
trying to help us avoid is the idea that liberalism begins in some kind of sentimental, some kind of sentimental idea that, “Well, if you don’t have
it, then you don’t have “to be liberal.” – So I, in this book, as you now, begin, and it’s my credo, so I get, you know the old Leslie Gore song, it’s my party so I’ll cry if I want to? It’s my credo, so I’ll
cry where I want to, with Montaigne, rather than Montesquieu, as the central figure. And I do that exactly because
Montaigne’s humanism seems to me the necessary precondition
for the most positive sides of liberalism. Montaigne begins with the understanding of the absolute limits of
all human understanding and with the even deeper realization, which empowers Shakespeare shortly after, that we are all contradictory beasts. Everything we think, we
also think the opposite and every desire we
have, we also entertain the opposite of that. And from that, you begin to get a picture of the necessity of avoiding dogmatic certainty on any subject. And from that, we can talk
about how that evolves in philosophical terms over time. But that’s the core idea. I certainly am unashamed
in calling it a sentiment, or even calling it sentimental, in the sense that it,
in Persis’ great sense, that it simply corresponds to the feelings of an unimpeded heart. What I would strongly not want to suggest, or not want to seem to be imparting, is the idea that it is purely, it is an emotional rather than a rational thought. We turn to our own fallibility. Mill does this, Montaigne does it, all of the great liberal minds do it, exactly not because we think that everything depends on our sensibility, but because we know everyone
has a different sensibility. It’s exactly because we
recognize the variation in sensibility that we turn
to neutral institutions to try and regulate them. That’s very much Locke’s argument
for religious toleration. It’s not that we, every idea is as good as the next idea, but that we can’t possibly
know what God wants us to do, and therefore, when we
act as though we do, we kill each other. And that the killing each
other can’t be God’s desire. We can argue that too. I think in that sense, yes, absolutely. I root my own vision of liberalism in Montaigne’s fallabism, Montaigne’s extreme fallabism, but I don’t see that as a merely emotive or a merely romantic idea. It seems to me a productive idea, and a rational idea that underlies all of the activities I’ve
been enumerating elsewhere. – Right. So let me just make one parallel question around those activities, and then I’ll leave it to you to take over. This class, which is so familiar to me with students in the rows over the years, is one such activity. – Absolutely. – You talk about commonplace civilization, the way we address each other in class is, it seems to me, a kind of DNA for the kind of norms we assume in a democratic culture. If our president, if any student behaved like
our president in class, we would throw him out. Not because we don’t
like what he’s saying, although we may not, but because the way he’s behaving, the braggadocio– – The bullying.
– The braggadocio, the lies, the calling of names. The ways in which he conducts himself, if you had such a person
like that in class, you couldn’t conduct the class. So could you speak a little more about the role of the university in creating a commonplace civilization and what are our dangers of being illiberal, sometimes without realizing what we’re doing. – I come, as I was
saying to Bernie earlier, I come from an entirely academic family. I have five brothers and sisters, all of them have PhDs. I’m the only one in the
family without a PhD. This is what we call a Jewish dropout. (laughing) – You’ve got some honorary (mumbles) – Beg your pardon? – Some honorary. – Honoraries don’t count. Honoraries they pass out for
free if you show up and talk. It’s probably a telling omission, the most telling omissions in life are the omissions of overfamiliarity, that I don’t instantly go to the idea of an open university as the model of what we mean by the
commonplace civilization that underlies. – You don’t have to address me you can– – So, I think that’s profoundly true. The notion that we could be studying, not anything specifically political, but Old English, that we
could be studying that but studying it in a an
appropriately academic way, that is with a give or take about ideas, practices, and so on,
that that’s fundamental, foundational to the broader practice of liberal democracy. We can’t imagine liberal
democratic institutions without institutions of learning and of higher learning underlying. I couldn’t agree more. I guess the question about
Trump is not so much, what would we do if Trump were a student, but what would we do if
Trump were a professor? Or even more, what would we do if Trump was the president of the university? That’s not an impossible thing to imagine. Universities have had presidents, perhaps not as extreme, but not entirely unlike Donald Trump. And it’s required a
certain amount of courage on the part of faculties and students to eject them. I think that that’s true. The illiberalism, the
threatened illiberalism of the universities,
of university practice, is one that I recognize. Many people have asked me, in the course of this very long book tour, where Olivia is politically now. Did I persuade her? And the truth is that
she’s gone significantly to my right, and she’s gone,
when I say to my right, I don’t mean the right
right, but I mean my right, a little bit to the right of a
fount of progressive pieties. And that’s simply because
she’s been exposed to undue numbers of progressive pieties in her liberal education,
which make her suspicious of the fabric of the whole. Not reject, but suspicious. She had to do her, not an honors paper, yeah it was honors paper at the end of last year on Mill and Marx. And I said, “I’m not even
going to look at it, baby, “until you finish it.” Fortunately, she came
down on the side of Mill, so I felt better. I will say, one of the things, and I promised you I
would not write a letter to my reviewers in the course
of making these remarks, one of the things that
many have said to me is that I am temperamentally too easy on the left and to rigorous on the right. But there’s a simple reason for that. One is that liberals and leftists, thought they represent very
different trends and strands in political practice, deriving from the 1860s and the Mills on the one
side and Marx on the other, nonetheless have common
values, common ambitions, common dreams, which they don’t share, or share very little with
ethnic authoritarians, with nationalists. But also because, and this
seems to me essential, the values of liberal humanism, the values of liberal democracy, the institutions of liberal democracy are under daily assault from right. And are under, at best, rhetorical assault from the academic left. And that seems to me is a
very important distinction to make and we should not be tempted by false equivalents in failing
to make that distinction, it seems to me. Nonetheless, it’s interesting. Bernie and I, as you probably
have gathered by now, we’re passing off back and forth like Abbot and Costello here, or maybe like Bellavo and
Cornway, I’d sooner say. But we were both raised in Canada, a country which has a
much stronger tradition of suppressing and eliminating hate speech than the United States does. And I have a long discussion in this book. One of my heroines is a
remarkable Canadian Justice in the Supreme Court of Canada. She’s sort of the Canadian Ginsberg. Her name is Rosie Abela. Rosie Abela, great woman. She was a displaced person,
her parents Holocaust survivors in Germany, got to Canada
when she was seven or eight, then went on and became probably
the most admired jurist, certainly the most
admired jurist in Canada. She’s sympathetic to the idea of suppressing speech in the interest of the common
good and the common cause. She wrote a very strong, disturbing in some degrees, opinion on this case. So I am a little bit more temperamentally, or perhaps I should say
nationally, sympathetic to the idea that there are kinds of speech that should be suppressed and advanced or not be considered parts
of the acceptable fabric of discourse. I certainly think that the
idea of the open university is inseparable from the
idea of liberal democracy. – [Bernie] Yes. – The lady here, the
lady here and then you. – [Woman] How can we do family
(mumbles) fragile (mumbles)? – In a practical manner? – Yes. – I’m not really good
at the practical stuff. (laughing) I think, if I have one thing I’d say, and you know I wrote this book with an eye to affirming values that I hope will last beyond this political season. Out on the road, and I have spoken on probably every NPR show across America, except for Car Talk, which
I gather they’ve canceled, and I would have spoken
on that had they asked me. And, invariably, after they
give me seven minutes, tops, to talk about the Mills
and sparks of sympathy, commonplace civilization, social capital, all of those things, they say, “Who do you support in 2020?”, right? “Are you really a Warrenite
or are you a Bidenite?” Those are important
questions and I don’t mean to scant them at all,
but the end of this book and of this particular avenue of inquiries to try and affirm values
that may survive 2020. If you read my political
writing in the New Yorker, you will know that I have two themes. One is get rid of guns. And then get rid of Trump. I write get rid of guns and
I write get rid of Trump and then next week I write get rid of guns and oh, if you can’t get rid
of guns, get rid of Trump and so on. I think that the next months of our existence will be, and I say this conscious
of the potential melodrama in saying this, will be
vital to the survival of this republic as a republic. Because it seems to me
plain that you have someone who is not merely unfit but criminal in his enterprises. And I deeply believe, and this is a place where I suspect I am more Buttigiegite than
I am, perhaps, Sandersesque, that it’s foundational to our beliefs that we can have a liberal president or a conservative president, we can have a right-wing leader or a left-wing leader. I feel passionately
about which kind I want, but I accept that that
oscillation is necessary. We can have a free-market and Randite, and we have had. And I would hope that we will
have a socialist president someday and perhaps even someday soon. What we can’t have is a gangster. That’s the one thing we can all agree on. We cannot have a gangster president, and that’s the circumstance
that we’re in right now. That’s my strong political belief. How we bring that political
belief to fruition, is another question. One of the rich veins, I think, of thinking about the
history of liberalism as a living practice, not just as a set of abstract ideas, is to
think about the relationship between social activism, public activism, taking to the streets, and liberal democratic institutions, and they have a very
complicated interchange. One of the heroes of this book is a, now unduly forgotten figure
and that’s Bayard Rustin, who was the great organizer of the March on Washington, the man who organized March on Washington. He was black and he was gay. Oh you were there. And he used to joke, he
said, “I’ve been arrested, imprisoned 25 times in my life, 24 times for being African-American,
once for being homosexual.” (laughing) Rustin, and people say to me occasionally in a meeting like this, “Well, Rustin wasn’t really a liberal. “He was a socialist.” He was off and on. But he deeply believed in
the constant interaction of public demonstrations,
and the most literal kind, marching on Washington, and then seeing that the
social capital accumulated by those public demonstrations
expended in legislation, in those liberal democratic institutions. And he understood that even
at their most resistant, and we underestimate just how resistant those democratic institutions were in the 1950s and early 1960s to the cause of civil rights, that those
are the necessary steps. And I hope we all have the
courage and the persistence to continue to pursue both. What I would add, and this
is what makes me a liberal, I think, rather than a
leftist, and where I learned from Rustin, is that without
those liberal institutions, without the possibility
of parliamentary reform, in all of its squalor
and compromised ugliness, those changes will not take place. We only have to look
at Iran, for instance, in recent years, to see the
power of social activism and its absolute impotence in the absence of real democratic institutions. Iran is a fascinating place in terms, you know I was talking
about coffee houses? A moment ago I forgot to add this. This is what happens when
you speak extemporaneously, you drop a couple of beats. It sounds sort of slightly absurd when Jurgen Habermas or someone like me says coffeehouses are
essential to the practice of liberal democracy. It sounds like a sentimental platitude. In fact, if you just
look at what’s happened in Tehran over the past year, the religious beliefs have closed, I think it’s 524,
coffeehouses exactly because those are places where women
can go and not feel compelled to wear Islamic dress, where women can go and claim their own identity. They don’t talk politics, they say, “We don’t do anything except drink coffee “and act among ourselves.”, and the religious police recognize what a profound threat that is to the continuation of theocratic rule. That those women in a
coffeehouse are dynamite to continuation of theocratic rule and they’re closing
them down day after day. So it’s not a sentimental conception. It’s a profound one. And in the absence, today, of those liberal democratic institutions, it’s not easily possible
to go from social action to real social change. Oh, gentleman here, yes. – [Man] In your talk you
spoke about Holmsted’s categorization of commonplace culture and about the importance of the– – Commonplace civilization, yes. – Commonplace civilization, my bad, and the importance of the university and how recent a role in
liberal democratic (mumbles). Before asking my question, I will say while waiting for you, I was listening to some Queen. (laughing) This will make a lot more
sense in the next five seconds. In “The Closing of the
American Mind”, Allan Blume, talks, he points out the continuation of our commonplace civilization, especially at the university level, where we’ve replaced, and we are slowly replacing what is fine, what is beautiful. Let’s say, for example, to
pick the analogy he does, we replace Brahms with,
I don’t know, Eminem? – Well, The Beatles
are the ones I sighted, so we can call them. Ah, yes. – That’s what I’m saying. No one’s ever made (mumbles), but we’re really going
down a slippery slope in terms of replacing in our own commonplace civilization at the university, that which is beautiful for that which is purely easily accessible and easily and mutually understandable. How do you think that this can affect the propagation of the
liberal democratic values that you so proudly hold
and how does this effect the foundations of our culture as a whole? – Sure. This is a terrific question. I will add, you were speaking of, Allan Blume was not a high prestige name when I was growing up in my family, but my son has gone on in philosophy and he’s become a Straussian. Indeed, he’s a Heideggerian. (laughing) So it just goes to show
that even within one family, a broad range of opinion is possible. Where I would disagree with Blume is in, I did my graduate work
abortively, in art history. (audience member speaks faintly) Oh really? Good for you. But one of the things we learned is that ideas of the beautiful
are endlessly mutable. What counts as beautiful in any one time or in any one culture
changes all the time. It’s always particularly touching for me when people on the, what I think of as the theocratic right, argue for the existence of
God through the persistence of beauty. Nothing is as historically conditioned as the rediscovery of gothic
art in the 19th century by the West. You can go point by point about how a set of arguments reignited the possibility of looking at gothic
cathedrals as superior to, not just predecessors to, antecedents to, Renaissance architecture and so on. It seems to me that there’s
no question that there’s, that what will count as
beautiful at any one time, and Blume is an authoritarian, he doesn’t want to concede this, will necessarily change
from period to period. What I say, and I say this
at some point in the book, is that we’re always being
given the false choice between authority and anarchy. If we don’t accept the
authority of a particular canon of beauty or if we don’t
accept the authority of a particular standard of taste, then we have nothing but anarchy, right? Then we have anarchy and what conservatives
like to call relativism, one of the worst things liberals are, they’re relativists. They’re secularists, as well. They’re also permissive. It seems to me that between
anarchy and authority lies argument. And that’s, the liberal
position is that all of those things, the relative superiority
of Brahms over The Beatles, much less over Eminem, are not black boxes that we have no views
on, they’re all things not only that we can argue about, but we can’t help but argue about. Of all the things I’ve always thought was the single-most fatuous platitude in the realm of fatuous platitudes is that there’s no arguing about taste. That’s all people argue about. (laughing) That’s all people argue about when they’re actually arguing. When they’re actually arguing from the depths of their being, not arguing rhetorically for the sake, all we argue about is taste. Who do you like more, The
Beatles or The Stones? That was the great argument of our youth. Who do you like more, the
Canadiens or the Bruins is beyond argument, I would say. But between, the liberal answer is between authority, as Blume demands it, and anarchy, as we’re
told his enemies demanded, lies the practice of argument, which is, in its nature, this is Mill’s point over and over, is inconclusive. Argument is inconclusive. But that doesn’t mean
argument is not productive. And that would be my
response to that, too. The gentleman here, up here. – [Man] I was going to say
as a lifelong supporter of the Toronto Maple Leafs from
(laughing covers speaking), I nonetheless thank you very much. One question, do you
think that those roots of civilization that are
so deep can be sustained in the current digital
multimedia environment in which we live in? – [Adam] Terrific question. In fact, of all the questions
that keep circulating around, that’s probably the single
one I hear most often and don’t deal with,
to be perfectly frank, at any real length in the book. And it’s true that it’s a central paradox of our time, isn’t it? When the internet first rose, it seemed self-evident
that it would be a means, it would be a form of planetary adhesive. How could it not be? That it would build social capital rather than destroy it. How could it fail to do it
since social capital depends on, essentially, on
strangers sitting down, that’s what we mean by social capital, strangers sitting down together. When have we ever had so many strangers, so far removed, sitting
down at such length? And yet, just the opposite
seems to have happened, right? That instead of building social capital, it turns out to be toxic,
it turns out to be acidic, corrosive of social capital. That’s a truth about our time that is, that takes a lot of thinking, and I don’t pretend to
have a good answer to it. I wrote a piece, about five years ago, called “The Information”, where I tried to take on this question. It’s my codicil or my
preliminary to this book. And one of the things that struck me in doing the reading, in
reading the literature on it, is, and I hesitate to say this because it can sound unduly complacent, but I think it’s an important
light to throw on it, at any moment in the history of modernity, whatever the most visible
currently technology, whatever the most visible current communications technology was, has gotten all the blame for
everything that is going on. And I am old enough to remember the height of the empire of television. Which, in retrospect now, is clearly it was a tiny wrinkle in time that really extended
from 1954 to 1994, really. It was 40 years when
television had that kind, broadcast television,
even cable television, had that kind of dominance. But at the height of its power, all of the things we ascribe
to the digital technology now, were ascribed to television. It breaks our attention span. It serves as a drug rather
than a means of education. It makes it impossible to
have extended argument, because it breaks argument down into tiny visual and rhetorical fragments. Every single argument that you hear now about digital technology,
was said about television. There are books now for
the, philosophical books, arguments for the
deconstruction of the internet. And there were books,
arguments for the abolition of television in the same way. Now, and I’m sure I’m not
the only one in this thing, only parent who has gone into
a teenager’s room and said, “Would you please get
off your damn computer “and come watch television
with the rest of the family?” (laughing) Because the computer seems
to us an atomizing thing. I don’t know the answer to that, and it’ll be one of the
most interesting things that we will watch in the next 50 years. – [Man] Thank you. – But I think that the
historical lesson generally tends to be that we overrate the power of whatever the technology
is that’s threatening us. This gentleman here and then here. – [Man] If you have the
opportunity next week to speak at Ole Miss or the
University of South Carolina or Arkansas, how would you
alter what your (mumbles) and discuss with them versus what you’ve done with us up
here in northern New Hampshire? – [Adam] Great question
and I have, actually, I’ve not been to Arkansas but I’ve been in Oklahoma and I’ve been in Nebraska. And, basically, what I try and say is the same things I’m saying
in northern New Hampshire, in an Ivy League school, only nicer. (laughing) I think the idea that there are liberal
democratic institutions worth preserving, that those liberal democratic institutions are largely responsible,
responsible for our living in societies that, with all of their terrible inequities, and all of their terrible injustices, and those are not trivial and are not to be passed over in a phrase, but nonetheless, are the most prosperous and pluralistic societies
that humankind has ever seen, that that depends on the
persistence of those institutions. And I say, when I am
before a hostile audience, or in Naples, Florida where
Malcolm Gladwell and I were nearly lynched not that long ago, I make the point that I made a moment ago, that from the depth of
our being we believe that a plurality of opinions
is a very good thing. And it’s an essential thing. And even when we desperately disagree with a specific opinion, the one, of course, that always comes up in those colloquies is gun control. I’m a passionate advocate for
Canadian-style gun control and that receives a hostile reception at most of those places. But even if we have those
profound differences, we can say we can accept
the idea of liberal leaders, conservative leaders, right-wing opinions and left-opinions. What we can’t accept
is the idea of tyranny. What we can’t accept is the
idea of a gangster government. And that we can distinguish
a gangster government from a government by
people we disagree with. But that’s a fundamental distinction. And I rarely have a hard
time selling that idea to any rational audience. They think I’m a New York
liberal elitist Jew nonetheless, but that distinction they generally buy. Yes. – [Man] I want to say
something about media first, and then get to my question. I believe that the
internet, as an educator and as someone who does online edition of John Milton and so forth, has realized a good deal of the promise that we were talking
about in 1996 and 1997. Remember the people
launched the same accusation against newspapers because newspapers, when they started out, were entirely party-driven. – Just to add, as a brief add in, one of my favorite instances of this, the predecessors to the
evil of the internet, Ann Blair, the historian, makes the point that the index was seen as the internet of 1550,
or whatever it was, 1600, because people said,
“Look, this awful index. “It breaks everything down
into these little bits. “No one’s going to read the
whole book through anymore. “They’ll just turn to the index “and look for their own names.” Which is true. (laughing) But yes, so we can always find those. – The original vanity Google. I think it’s incumbent upon us, particularly in education, to continue to realize the promise of the internet and its access
to knowledge and so forth. Back to commonplace civilization, thank you for bringing
up Fredrick Law Olmsted, with whom I share a birthday. – I got a whole book out of Lincoln and Darwin
sharing a birthday, so you can get a memoir out of yours. – It seems to me, and
I’m sure I’m not going to say anything you
haven’t already thought of, but I haven’t heard it today. There are serious prerequisites to commonplace civilization
and social capital. Not being hungry, not being persistently and
traumatically threatened, physically and emotionally,
day in and day out. And what I’m most concerned
with is not being uneducated. In this fragile commonplace civilization, the fragility of liberal
democracy and liberal values, we have been incredibly careless when it comes to education, even at institutions like this very place. We have perpetuated a class of elite educated people. I belong to it. We all do. And we have not done, and people who are hungry and who are traumatically threatened and who are ill-educated,
including our president, by the way, how that
happened is another issue. – He went to Penn. (laughing) – People in those situations
listen to what you’re saying, if they ever get a chance
to hear it or read it or find a New Yorker
lying around somewhere, they say, “What utter bull.” – Let me answer you in a
couple of different ways. One, let me give, the
reason I gave the example of Iceland, which perhaps I
didn’t explain well enough, is that Iceland is a
good example of a country with no natural resources to speak of. In fact, there was almost, at one point, a complete exodus of the population of Iceland not that long ago. That’s why they all came to Canada, for that very reason, because there was widespread
famine, the ports got iced in, and so on. Why does Iceland thrive now as a tiny but very powerful model of
liberal democratic values? Because they got educated. Because they began to invest in education. And Sen’s point, throughout all of, the economist Sen’s point
throughout everything is that those things are
not the ornamentation, the fortunate encrustation
that we get as the result of development, they are the precondition, the prerequisite for development. And Iceland is a beautiful
illustration of that. If you ever go to Iceland and you go on a tour of the island, they’ll take you around,
“Oh this is the place “where we used to drown all the heretics.” “And this is the place where we used “to execute the losing
family in a civil war. “We got rid of all of them.” The most brutal, imaginable practices and the most unimaginable
famines and assaults were part of the fabric of Icelandic life. And then, beginning with
the liberal revolutions of the late 19th century in Iceland, they got their independence
from the Danes, and education became the central right of an Icelandic existence. Highest literacy rate in the world, as my wife will tell you
over and over and over again. I couldn’t agree more. And I was persuaded by my daughter to put in practical recommendations
at the end of the book. Because she felt that the book, when she read the
manuscript and added to was, wonderfully high-minded
but too high-minded, she wanted it to have practical
stuff at the end as well. For her, you’ll see if you read the book, you’ll see that at one point
we were hiking together in a beach town and she
saw a sign that said, “In this house, all
humans are created equal, “no immigrant is an alien,
kindness is everything, “and love conquers all.” And she said to me, “Dad,
there’s your whole book “as you’ve done it.” So I did try to put in some propositions, and the primary one is the
necessity of public education. I was joking about my father at the beginning having learned about people’s insecurities
from having worked in a university for 40 years, it’s where you get primary instruction on the power of human insecurity. My father was the son of, genuinely, they could read a little Yiddish, but basically illiterate immigrants. They couldn’t read English. Couldn’t read English. And he went to a public
high school in Philadelphia, and then he worked his
way, when you still could, worked his was through
Penn, as it happens, and spent his life as a professor of 18th century English literature. That’s an exceptional,
by no means unique, tale of people of that generation. It depended on there being
a superb public high school in Philadelphia that he could go to. The corruption, the corrosion of our public educational institutions is, of any one thing, the most important. If there’s one correlation,
apart from the correlation of social capital with
democratic strength, one correlation as I
read, as reported this, that’s most powerful is the relationship between Pre-K education
and social inequality. If you get kids into school, not in kindergarten but
before kindergarten, you have universal Pre-K,
social inequality reduces, economic inequality
reduces almost magically. That’s the kind of work
that we have to be doing. So, coming back to your question, that long range work we
certainly have to be doing. I’ve often said, heretically,
but I believe it to be true, that if I were mayor, if
they appointed me dictator of New York, mayor of New
York is not very powerful, but if they appointed me
dictator of New York tomorrow, the first thing I would do
is abolish private schools in New York so that all of us elitists, both intellectual and economic, would have to send their
kids to public schools. And you would see the public schools in New York City improve
with such rapidity that it would astonish you, if everybody had to do that. That, I think is foundational to it. One thing, and again, I can’t say this passionately enough, because it’s true, those
things are not the consequences of abundance, they are the
preconditions of abundance. And just one last point on famine, one of the other interesting things that, I think it’s Sen, maybe it’s someone else, points out is that democracies, with all of their flaws and faults,
don’t have famines. They don’t have famines. Autocracies have famines. China has had catastrophic famines. India, with all of its difficulties, has not had famine since independence, over the last 60 years. And it’s in part because you have the feedback
mechanisms that are essential to prevent that from happening. Can I take one more? – We can go until 6:00, but you’re going to take one more from me. – So let me take one more from the crowd, and then I’ll go back to Bernieland. Yes. Yes, please. – [Woman] A moment ago, you mentioned that we could have a socialist president in the future, and I just wanted to ask, which political system could best support the commonplace civilization
that you talked about, isn’t a closed question, but is it really possible for socialism to work with bottom updated and commonplace civilization values as you mentioned in your talk? – [Adam] Sure. Again, if you have the peculiarity of having grown up in Canada where social
democratic governments are commonplace, you recognize
that they are not a threat to civilization. One of the things that I think, and one of the
idiosyncrasies, eccentricities of this book is, it seems to me, the great social democratic tradition is much better seen as part of the legacy of the Mills’ more even
than the legacy of Marx. Mill sat in Parliament as a socialist, John Stuart Mill did, for
exactly those reasons. It seems to me, one of
my favorite instances, I think I pointed out in the book, is that before the Labor
Party came to power in Britain in 1945, Hayek, the great economist,
thought about this, wrote to serfdom, saying you can’t have both social equality, socialist government without serfdom, without the enslavement of the individual imagination, individual liberty to the state. And that turned out to
be completely untrue. You could nationalize the railroads and still publish your own newspaper. That just isn’t the way that, there is no connection
between those two things. I think that’s been true. So I think that it’s perfectly possible to have social democratic government and have even richer kinds of commonplace civilization, because you can clinch any
point with The Beatles, I’ll say that one of the things that’s worth remembering
is The Beatles all grew up in social housing, in public projects. That’s where they grew up. That’s where they played
their instruments. That’s where they met. Because the Attlee government, the socialist government
of Labor government, had seen that as a necessity,
building public housing. That was the cockpit where that kind of enterprise could take place. I’m sweetening the pot a little bit here. It’s a little bit more
complicated than that, but essentially that’s true. – [Bernie] I just wanted to
leave us with a slight tinge of optimism. Trump resigned while we were in here. (laughing) Since you invoked Jerusalem, where Sidra and I spend
six months of a year, when I finished reading your book and you were talking about
commonplace civilization, I immediately wanted to call you, and did, and said, “Tel Aviv.” Civilization actually, of course, has its roots in the word city, and there is an obvious connection between urbanization and the evolution of the kinds of social frictions that lead to the kinds of insights that you’re valorizing. – Absolutely. It’s a city thing, there’s no question. – It’s a city thing. Can we not take a certain amount of hope, as I take as I watch Tel Aviv grow and Jerusalem, which has become
a little Orthodox schteple, grow smaller by comparison. Can we not take a certain
amount of hope from the idea that the inevitable trends
towards urbanization, with all of the exurban results of the technology and
social media and so on, that as the cities grow, we will inevitably be creating institutional seedbeds for what you’re talking about and understand that this difference between the coasts and Oklahoma, I’m sure the part in Oklahoma that invited you was a city. (laughing) – The city. – Yes, the city. – The city, right. – That somehow we are
moving, trending toward that kind of thing almost irrespective of what we do. Not that we shouldn’t write articles and argue for it and so on. Do you want to say something about that? – I think that that’s, first
on the urban-rural divide, there was a very good
study just published, I think in Foreign Affairs,
something like that, that making the point
that the great divide, Brexit, Trump, the Gilet Jaune in France, right across the great
divide is not ethnic, not even generational so
much as it is rural-urban. That we’re living through
the last rural revolt in modern history right now, and that’s really the nature
of what we’re living through. The last pitchfork rebellion
is what we’re experiencing. It was very persuasive and well
argued and well documented. Not only is it historically true, I think it’s specifically
true of this time. Just to return to the theme, I think there’s a constant race between those two sets of things. I remember in your book,
Bernie, “The Hebrew Republic”, you make this case very passionately, that within Israel itself, with all of the hideously
negative things that you decry, the practices of
coexistence and of pluralism were growing up sort of willy-nilly, whether outside of anybody’s desire, because that’s the nature of the world, the nature of a human
appetite for coexistence. I was, in returning to my
previous avatar as a writer on food, I was hugely
encouraged, probably falsely, by the Ottolenghi recipe book “Jerusalem”, which presents, exactly, a
kind of little mini paradise of coexistence of cuisines as a model for the coexistences of peoples. I chose to believe that that was true, but you’ve told me it’s a little bit of a fantasy. Nonetheless, it’s true. When we go to eat shakshuka, to whom does it belong? Those are reasonable questions. I’d return to my earlier point, and I can’t imagine that there’s any place in which one would feel this more vividly than in Israel. The human appetite for the
practice of coexistence is clearly very powerful
and, indeed, planetary. One might almost say permanent. Our ability to turn
that into a working set of principles of pluralism is extraordinarily fragile historically. In Israel, in America, around the world and throughout history. It is a challenge that will never go away. It is a fight that we
will never stop having. The plague will always return, inevitably, as Camus said. And all we can do is
doctor each generation. Stop there, maybe. – [Bernie] Thank you (applause)

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