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Monday, July 29, 2019

Eric Hoffer: On the Student Rebellion

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
By Caspar David Friedrich
Here’s Eric Hoffer’s reflections on the student rebellion of 1964 (from his journal entry on February 12, 1974):
"I was right in the midst of the mess when the Free Speech Movement exploded in 1964 [in the University of California]. The spark which set off the explosion was the discovery by the students that the power structure of the university was manned by toothless lions. President Clark Kerr, one of the finest products of our culture, knew how to build a great university but did not know how to defend it. He had not an inkling of the vulnerability of institutions—that they are more vulnerable than individuals—and did not know the first thing about the nature of authority. I cannot resist the feeling that things might have turned out differently had President Kerr had a taste for theorizing. He might have known that authority is an instrument for the repression of individual willfulness and that social authority had its origin in the need to tame juveniles as they came out from underneath parental authority. Instead, President Kerr dealt with the rampaging juveniles as if they were his equals, and a punk like Mario Savio, the leader of the Free Speech Movement, ran circles around the great Clark Kerr. Much of the teaching at the University was done by teaching assistants not much older than the students. Monkeys with academic degrees opened all the cages and let the tigers out into the streets."
Weakness, like familiarity, breeds contempt and encourages rebellion. By his weakness and inability to exercise his authority, Clark Kerr bred contempt for his institution in the mind of the young punks like Mario Savio who went on to rebel and destroy order in the university campus.

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