The Radical Individualism of Paul Goodman

"I regard the President as my public servant whom I pay, and berate him as a lousy employee.. I come on as an old fashioned patriot, neither supine nor more revolutionary than is necessary for my modest goals."

~ Paul Goodman, The Society I Live In Is Mine, 1962

Part 1. Goodman's Life and Legacy

1.1 Growing up absurd

Paul Goodman, long-time New York resident, writer, poet, anarchist, theorist and co-developer of Gestalt therapy, American patriot in the true sense of the word (not the mindless flag-waving variety), abrasive personality and public speaker, husband, father, lover of young men and women, and sometime theorist of community and urban planning, described himself as "an old-fashioned man of letters" who was anti-war and anti-statist all his life. His work has something to say for the times we live in today.

Best-known for his book "Growing Up Absurd," published in 1960, and often described as "utopian" in his theoretical outlook and philosophy, he really does fit the clichéd saying that u2018he was a child of his times,' because he remained something of a life-long adolescent, one who would surely have refused to grow up either into the abhorrent morally neutral pragmatism of those running the establishment, which he characterized as the top-down, bureaucratized, hierarchical, centralized organization of the state and state-nourished institutions, or into the acquiescent acceptance of powerlessness of those who resign themselves to work within that establishment.

In this conventional sense, of throwing off childish wonder and adolescent fire and becoming "serious," he might well have said that if that is what growing up means, then he would actually prefer not to grow up.

He was born in 1911 (for believers in the significance of numbers, he was born on 9-9-11, to be precise). As an article written a few years ago describes it, Paul Goodman was "largely a product of his own experience and self-education. He was abandoned by his father as an infant, to be raised with minimum supervision by his bohemian mother in the intense Jewish intellectual atmosphere of early twentieth-century New York. As a child he roamed the streets, parks, museums and libraries of Manhattan, absorbing the atmosphere and noting its lessons" (Tom Patton, The Maine Progressive, July 1999).

Another writer has described the first few decades of Goodman's adult life as "something of an artistic tough-going. He was the prototypical starving artist, discouraged and marginalized, only just making ends meet with his poetry, his fiction and his essays. He was, and would always remain, in the position most comfortable for him: the outsider." (Mike James, Social Angst, Paul Goodman-style, 2002).

Midlife, in the 1950s, found him "drained and fearful in the face of his status as a marginal artist with children to raise. He wrote in a journal: u2018I am at a loss, in our great city, how to do anything at all that could make an immediate difference in our feeling and practice (and so in my own feeling and practice). Therefore I have ceased to want anything, I do not know what we want.' It was at this time that he met Fritz Perls, [… who] had studied with the founding generation of Freudians but soon developed a very unconventional therapeutic practice. Perls’ ideas blended well with Goodman’s and they were soon involved in a rich collaboration, founding the Gestalt Therapy Institute and writing Gestalt Therapy.

This exposure shifted Goodman's career from artist/writer to social critic. […] His breakthrough book, (full title Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society), was rejected by a dozen publishers before finally seeing print in 1960 and becoming a huge success. Soon the rest of society began to catch up to him, as young people began to rebel against the excessive conventionality of the fifties. He was well placed to address the anti-institutional critique which emerged at this time [..] By the mid-sixties he was adopted as sort of an uncle of the youth/student movement, wrote a book a year, and made almost constant campus appearances. His contribution was scholarly yet personal, classical yet revolutionary, and thoroughly natural and anti-institutional." (extracted from John Fitzgerald, Paul Goodman Biography, undated).

These developments – the birth of the so-called counter-culture and opposition to the Vietnam war – came together in the spirit of the times to provide a fertile ground for Goodman's personality and for his social criticism. And this period, which in hindsight appears as both a unique window of opportunity for him and the summit of his achievements as a writer and speaker on American society, also brought him some financial security as well as notoriety.

"As a social critic, Goodman has had few peers in America. He stubbornly held forth a vision of individual self-realization through love and work against the dehumanizing pressures that bureaucracy and technology were producing. This was not a Darwinian vision of self-reliance or American rugged individualism, however, but of anarchist community. Goodman believed that groups of people, dealing directly with one another on a small scale, could begin to hand craft a new and humanly decent community out of the sprawling over-centralized mass of post-industrial society. He wrote about these matters – both the evils and the possibilities of correcting them – with an intelligence that in its precision, common sense, and passionate conviction often rises to lyrical heights."

~ Michael Vincent Miller, Introduction to the Gestalt Journal Press Edition of Nature Heals: The Psychological Essays of Paul Goodman (Natua sanat non medicus), Edited by Taylor Stoehr, 1994

By the time Paul Goodman died from a heart attack in August 1972, at age 60, which it is said was hastened by the death a few years before in a hiking accident, of his beloved 20-year old son, a certain collective disillusionment had set in: both within the student movement, and perhaps within the so-called counter-culture itself, which appeared to have drifted off into a haze of drugs and mysticism, while the war in Vietnam had been prolonged after the election victory of Richard Nixon in 1968, and was not yet over.

1.2 Integrity and Consistency of Principles

Before this, however, Goodman had already suffered the fate of all those who stay true to their principles and refuse to dilute them in favour of faddish trends. Having been claimed by the student movement as their guru, he came to deplore both the mob violence that took over parts of it and the inconstancy of its members as they "grew up." (A recent study amusingly describes these people today as "the bobos" – the bourgeois Bohemians).

u2018The student revolutionaries, Goodman eventually recognized, understood him no better than the mainstream publishers who had earlier rejected him, or than they understood their other ideological leaders, and in the end he disavowed the lot of them as a mob of witless narcissists. What especially offended him was the metastasizing "ahistoricity" of the young. "They no longer remember their own history," he said. "Each incoming class is more entangled in the specious present…I am often hectored to my face with formulations that I myself put in their mouths, which have become part of the oral tradition two years old, (the) author prehistoric."' (Quoted from New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative; March 1970, by Tom Patton in the July 1999 issue of The Maine Progressive.)

Those who claimed him did not actually hear him, but perhaps selected only what they wanted to hear. For Goodman, the struggle would not have been about rights, but about liberty, community and the human scale of things, and, as with Albert Jay Nock, about doing the right thing, about striving for excellence and perfection in life, against the overwhelming tide of mediocrity and passivity. As he wrote in 1963:

"In my opinion, the salient cause of ineptitude in promotion and in all hiring practices is that, under centralized conditions, fewer and fewer know what is a good job of work. The appearance of competence may count for more than the reality, and it is a lifework to manufacture appearance or, more usually, to adapt to the common expectation."

~ People or Personnel: Decentralising and the Mixed Systems, 1963

1.3 The fate of prophets

The value of Goodman's insights makes it sad that, as with Nock, nearly all his books are out of print (they are widely available second-hand, however). Meanwhile his legacy has been claimed by all and sundry as championing their rights or their attitudes, including latterly u2018gay rights,' environmentalists, u2018activists' and u2018progressives.' It seems to me however, that it is precisely because he was consistent throughout his life, because he was a man of principle and maintained his anarcho-communitarian, libertarian, anti-state and anti-war views, that those who were (and are) more fickle, and adapt themselves to the fashion of the times (or, some would say, compromise with the welfare-and-warfare establishment and with its culture of political correctness) turned away from him, and are all the poorer for having done so.

It was the same fate that, at different times, befell Nock and Rothbard, and perhaps afflicts all humanity's true prophets – often simultaneously acclaimed by the few and reviled by the many during their lifetimes, but shown in hindsight to have been right on the money.

Certainly in Goodman's case, by contrast with Nock who tended in later life to pessimism and resignation, the struggle was also a search for something better in the here and now, with a view to what was coming next.

It might be argued that this made him vulnerable to the improvement scheme mentality, and that everything he suggested was impractical. I believe he was acutely conscious of this, and did everything he modestly could to justify and buttress his "practical proposals" (these words figure in the title of his 1962 collection "Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals"). You have to judge for yourself. Personally, I find his advocacy of decentralised systems, a human scale, and participatory observation of the world around us to be admirable still, in an age when we are all submerged in the mass, and in even greater thoughtlessness and anomie than existed in his day.

Goodman has probably also been cast aside because he had absolutely no interest in feminism. In this too he was a man of his time, because the emasculatory type of feminism which prevails today was virtually non-existent in the period in which he grew up. The following remarks would surely not have endeared him to the new Amazons:

"The conditions of American society do not encourage manly responsibility and moral courage in men, and we simply do not know how to use the tenderness and motherliness of women. The present disposition of the radical young is to treat males and females alike: in my observation, this means that the women become mere camp-followers, the opposite of the suburban situation in which they are tyrannical dolls. I do not know the answer."

~ Like a Conquered Province, 1965, chapter 2: "Counter-Forces for a Decent Society"

My guess is that he would, in any event, have objected strongly to emasculatory feminism, because the value of manly, meaningful work and education were recurrent themes in his writing. What gives strength to his book "Growing Up Absurd," writes Professor Edgar Friedenberg, in a long and valuable (though at times condescending) article written in 1994, is "its unabashed conviction and assertion that boys are to be treasured and nurtured rather than, as so often happens, crippled and distorted to make them useful to others in the social roles for which they are to be prepared." In other words, trained into becoming politically conformist specialists for compartmentalized work in the centralized system.

Long before the term "human resources" had entered the jargon, Paul Goodman was thus already objecting to the fact that people were treated as "personnel" and not as human beings (People or Personnel), and that the whole educational system was being designed to create slavish conformity:

"The idea of Jeffersonian democracy is to educate its people to govern by giving them initiative to run things, by multiplying sources of responsibility, by encouraging dissent. This has the beautiful moral advantage that a man can be excellent in his own way without feeling special, can rule without ambition and follow without inferiority. Through the decades, it should have been the effort of our institutions to adapt this idea to ever-changing technical and social conditions. Instead, as if by dark design, our present institutions conspire to make people inexpert, mystified, and slavish.

"One is astounded at the general slavishness. The journalists at the President's press conference never ask a probing question: they have agreed, it seems, not to ‘rock the boat.’ Correspondingly, the New York Times does not print the news, because it is a ‘responsible newspaper.’ Recently, the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York spoke of the need for young people to learn to ‘handle constructively their problems of adjustment to authority’ – a remarkable expression for doing what you're told."

~ Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, 1962, Preface

One is astounded at the general slavishness, indeed. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose – the more things change, the more things stay the same. In the subsequent parts of this essay I shall look more closely at Goodman's views on war and free markets, and explain how they are relevant for today.

Part 2. War and Free Markets

2.1 Goodman on War and the Lust for Explosion

Paul Goodman was, by all accounts, obsessed with sexuality, and preferentially male sexuality, although he was in fact bi-sexual, fathered several children, and lived as a family man for most of his adult life.

Nevertheless, in these politically and personally correct times, a further potential u2018grown-up' argument against Goodman's world view might be found in his attachment to the idea that the desire for release from tension is the primary explanation, not only for the bulk of the people's sheepish acquiescence with the status quo, but for their active psychological identification, as powerless people, with the power of their leaders, as demonstrated in the perpetual low-grade emergency of war preparations, and the waging of war itself, or in abstractions such as "national security." These submissive postures prevail even when the people can see in their heart of hearts that their attitude is illogical, or that those same u2018great leaders' are in fact criminals, merciless tyrants, or on occasion no better than village idiots.

This argument is well developed in an interesting piece which he published in 1962 called "Some remarks on war spirit," (in Drawing the Line:  A Pamphlet), which is now available on the Internet, and in relation to which the editor of the Gestalt Journal has written "it is striking how relevant Goodman’s thinking is to world events almost forty years later."

This question of the war spirit is one of two reasons why I believe Goodman has something relevant to say to us today. In a piece he wrote called "Designing Pacifist Films" (reprinted in Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals), he wrote:

"Probably the chief factor of war spirit that must be analysed is not the military character nor the projection of the Enemy, but the paralysis with which the vast majority of people of all countries accept the war that they oppose both by conviction and feeling. This must betoken an inner, fatalistic attachment to the feared disaster, and it is best explained as ‘primary masochism’ (Reich): the hypothesis that, because of their rigid characters, people are unable to feel their pent-up needs, especially of sexuality and creative growth, and therefore they dream up, seek out, and conspire in an external catastrophe to pierce their numbness and set them free. The prevalent conditions of civilian peace and meaningless jobs tend to heighten this lust for explosion."

~ Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, 1962, p. 76–77

2.2 Libertarians and War

Before you react and say that this is not quite serious, or is old-fashioned, or that "we should have all got over that sort of thing by now," let me recall that the same charge of being not quite serious, or of being impractical, is often levelled at libertarians, in two contexts. The first of these is war, and the second is the economy.

In the current context of opposing, or not opposing, the invasion of Iraq, there is an intimidatory official and media consensus that anyone who u2018wants to be taken seriously' by the establishment, sometimes even by friends and social acquaintances (or, when it really comes down to it, by anyone at all), necessarily (if perhaps regrettably) has to u2018rally round' and be in support of the war. In this mythology, only assorted mavericks, greens, reds, communists, socialists, pony-tailed latter-day beatniks and their fellow America-haters – people who by definition have not u2018grown up' – can possibly be anti-war (or else they have been sadly duped by Saddam's propaganda machine, which must have paid for the world-wide millions to go on the march for peace on February 15th, and which no doubt has also paid for the planting of all the anti-war articles on the Internet).

Not so. There are indeed some people who call themselves libertarians and are in favour of this war, but this gives those who do not really know what libertarianism is a totally wrong idea, because it is no part of the philosophy of true libertarians.

True libertarians, in the radical individualist tradition of Nock and Rothbard, and indeed Goodman, are against this war, and against war generally, primarily because it represents the reckless aggrandizement of the state apparatus. As James Ostrowski has written, "War is the greatest threat to human life, human liberty, human prosperity, and human civilization.  Modern war, as developed by Lincoln and perfected in the 20th century, is solely the product of the modern taxing, conscripting, confiscating, and inflating State.  No States, no catastrophic wars."

When that state apparatus, as in the present case, has been usurped by a militaristic cabal, and amplified through executive order and fast-track legislation (passed without scrutiny by the browbeaten assembly of the people's representatives) into an instrument of oppression and duping of the people, as it has been countless times and in countless nations throughout history, then the state is the major oppressor and the major terrorist. Therefore, it must be opposed by all true lovers of liberty. "Anti-war libertarian" does indeed become a tautology.

2.3 Goodman and Libertarians on Free Markets

The second reason for Goodman's relevance today, which is also an aspect of the public misunderstanding of libertarianism, lies in the realm of political economy. The same Tom Patton, whom I have quoted earlier in describing parts of Paul Goodman's life, had the following to say about libertarianism:

"The term u2018libertarian' in recent times has come to signify a kind of u2018damn the torpedoes, full speed astern' form of laissez-faireism that abjures some of the more malign mini-dogmas of the Republican Right while celebrating its abiding premise. The premise, of course, is that all good men and true are at liberty to stuff whatever swag they can into their seabags without concern or responsibility for their mates and fellow passengers. As pre-eminent individualists in an era when most people with good sense realize that chesty individualism – vestigial or incipient – is our nation's worst affliction, libertarians hoist the ensign of piratical, free market capitalism to swashbuckling heights heretofore unimagined by both corporate and populist conservatives."

~ Tom Patton, The Maine Progressive, July 1999

Well, what do you know. I bet Paul Goodman, supreme believer in personal realization and individualism that he was, would have been more than a little angry at this debunking of the individual. But he would not have been too surprised. For what is happening here is that Goodman is being claimed for a political agenda: parts of his world view, in this case those which are perceived (wrongly in my view) to be convenient for the u2018progressive' agenda, are selected and made to fit. The Maine Progressive, incidentally, has since ceased publication.

The fact is that Patton makes a specific accusation about libertarian philosophy here which is quite commonly found, namely that libertarians "have no concern or responsibility for their mates and fellow passengers." This is an old complaint, similar to the bleating about the alleged u2018selfishness' of those who are successful in what they do (or even mildly self-confident), having either taken the care and the time to work out what they want for themselves in life, and set out to go and get it, or just simply being prepared to take individual moral responsibility for their lives and beliefs. It should go without saying that this presupposes a co-operative endeavour, based on the fundamental libertarian principle that rights to property and life are inviolable, provided that exercising those rights does not infringe on the lives and property rights of others.

2.4 Piracy in our time

Of course, there is also the other canard raised by Patton, of "libertarians hoisting the ensign of piratical, free market capitalism to swashbuckling heights." Once again, this familiar objection to libertarianism, that anyone who believes in free markets must have selfish and piratical motives, is misplaced, and is based on a misunderstanding both of the moral content of true libertarianism and the abuse of the term u2018free market' by the corporatists.

The corporatists are those who are in cahoots with the gang in government to extract privileges, licenses and favours for their corporations and themselves, and to monopolize markets. These days that probably means monopolizing or cartelising world markets (also known as u2018globalization'). In this process they will always apparently argue for things like u2018deregulation,' u2018privatisation' and u2018free markets.' What they mean, however, is not true free markets, in which the little man would not be driven out of business by the big chains, but freedom to rig the markets for themselves. Those who then say these people are libertarians have simply got the wrong end of the stick about libertarianism.

Certainly the corporatists believe in a kind of freedom, but it is not liberty: it is license. License to do broadly as they please while catering to shibboleths like diversity, sensitivity and affirmative action. Such policies in themselves further distort the market: for while there is a time-honoured place for the proper and effective management of cultural and other differences, the pursuit of these things for their own sake, or for the sake of presenting a politically correct attitude, only succeeds in wasting human potential, and often in excluding deserving human beings from jobs for precisely the reasons they are trying to avoid.

Goodman himself went even further than this, in his book "People or Personnel," pointing out that the accepted canons of the political establishment can be used (and indeed are used) to shut out certain thinkers and dissident intellectuals from the labour market:

"One of the most dangerous and distressing aspects of contemporary America is the emergence of an immense academic, professional and intellectual class that is entirely organized into the dominant system; and, conversely, the rapid disappearance of the independent, often dissenting but respectable academics, professionals and intellectuals who are the guardians of civilization."

~ People or Personnel, 1963

Goodman linked such manipulations of the pure concept of the free market to the general feeling of anomie or lack of meaning among the people, which is the result of not having a satisfying life and not being engaged in a satisfying activity:

"Lack of meaning begins to occur when the immensely productive economy overmatures and lives by creating demand instead of meeting it: when the check of the free market gives way to monopolies, subsidies, and captive consumers; when the sense of community vanishes and public goods are neglected and resources despoiled; when there is made-work (or war) to reduce unemployment; and when the measure of economic health is not increasing well-being but abstractions like Gross National Product and the rate of growth."

"Human beings tend to be excluded when a logistic style becomes universally pervasive, so that values and data that cannot be standardized and programmed are disregarded; when function is adjusted to the technology rather than technology to function; when technology is confused with autonomous science, which is a good in itself, rather than being limited by political and moral prudence; when there develops an establishment of managers and experts who license and allot resources, and which deludes itself that it alone knows the right method and is omnicompetent. Then common folk become docile clients, maintained by sufferance, or they are treated as deviant."

~ Like a Conquered Province, 1965, chapter 1, "The Empty Society"

2.5 It's a free country – for some

I also believe that Goodman has something important to hand down to us regarding the issues of democracy, dissent and free discussion, on which he was second to none. Here he describes the Vietnam hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"Senator Dodd of Connecticut was asked what he thought of the sharp criticism of the government. u2018It is the price that we pay,' he said u2018for living in a free country'" [..] What an astonishing evaluation of the democratic process it is, that free discussion is a weakness we must put up with in order to avoid the evils of another system! To Milton, Spinoza or Jefferson, free discussion was the strength of a society. Their theory was that truth had power, often weak at first but steady and cumulative, and in free debate the right course would emerge and prevail. […] The more disparate the views and searching the criticism, the better.

"Instead, Senator Dodd seems to have the following epistemology of democracy. We elect an administration and it, through the Intelligence service, secret diplomacy, briefings by the Department of Defense and other agencies, comes into inside information that enables it alone to understand the situation. In principle we can repudiate its decisions at the next election, but usually they have led to commitments and actions that are hard to repudiate. Implicit is that there is a permanent group of selfless and wise public servants, experts, and impartial reporters who understand the technology, strategy and diplomacy that we cannot understand; therefore we must perforce do what they advise. To be sure, they continually make bad predictions and, on the evidence, they are not selfless, but partial or at least narrow in their commercial interests and political outlook. Yet this does not alter the picture, for if the President goes along with them, outside criticism is irrelevant anyway and no doubt misses the point which, it happens, cannot be disclosed for reasons of national security. And surely irrelevant discussion is harmful because it is divisive. But it is the price we pay for living in a free country."

~ Like a Conquered Province, 1965, chapter 5: "The Psychology of Being Powerless"

Goodman advocated decentralized systems and small communities as a solution to the problem of the debasement of free market principles, and wrote extensively on urban and community planning. In this he followed anarchist precepts – not in the sense that there should be no order at all, but that there should not be coercion and imposed uniformity of life and thought:

"In American rhetoric American freedom – in an anarchic sense – has been held to be the Philosopher's Stone of our famous energy and enterprise. Moss-back conservatives have always spoken for laissez-faire as the right climate for economic progress (though, to be sure, they then connive for tariffs and subsidies, hire strike-breakers, and form monopolies in restraint of trade). Radical liberals have cleaved to the Bill of Rights, for to be cowed by authority makes it impossible to think and experiment. Immigrants used to flock to the United States to avoid conscription… They came because there were no class barriers, and because there was open opportunity to make good in one's own way. And every American kid soon learns to say, u2018It's a free country – you can't make me!'

"By and large, let me say, this rhetoric has been true. Anarchism is grounded in a rather definite social-psychological hypothesis: that forceful, graceful and intelligent behaviour occurs only when there is an uncoerced and direct response to the physical and social environment; that in most human affairs, more harm than good results from compulsion, top-down direction, bureaucratic planning, pre-ordained curricula, jails, conscription, states. (my emphasis) Sometimes it is necessary to limit freedom, as we keep a child from running across the highway, but this is usually at the expense of force, grace, and learning; and in the long run it is usually wiser to remove the danger and simplify the rules than to hamper the activity.

"Everybody knows that America is great because it is free; and by freedom is not finally meant freedom under law, having the legal rights and duties of citizens; what is meant is the spontaneous freedom of anarchy, opportunity to do what you can, although hampered by necessary conventions, as few as possible."

~ Like A Conquered Province, 1965, chapter 6: "Is American democracy viable?"

True libertarians also subscribe to these principles, that free and uncoerced exchange produces the best u2018goods' (meaning positive value) for human well-being, and such exchanges usually involve dealings between private persons or groups. They mistrust the intervention of the state into this process, and do not believe that the state is capable of producing or delivering those goods. In fact the normal operation of states – all states, whether totalitarian, rogue, or democratic – is positively harmful to that well-being, even though there may be differences in degree from time to time in how harmful they are and how much they intrude into our lives.

Part 3. The Society I Live In Is Mine

3.1 The military-industrial complex.

In October 1967, Paul Goodman was famously invited to address a gathering of military and industrial figures at the biennial symposium of the National Security Industrial Association (NSIA). The general topic of the symposium was u2018Research and Development in the 1970s' and Goodman was assigned the sub-topic of u2018Planning for the Socio-Economic Environment.'

Goodman wrote about this event:

"Fortunately it was the week of the demonstrations at the Pentagon, when there would be thousands of my friends in Washington. So I tipped them off and thirty students from Cornell and Harpur drove down early to picket the auditorium, with a good leaflet about the evil environment for youth produced by the military corporations. When they came, the white helmets sprang up, plus the cameras and reporters. In the face of this dangerous invasion, the State Department of the United States was put under security, the doors were bolted, and the industrialists and I were not allowed to exit."

His speech, which was brazen, is well worth reading in its entirety (it is available on the web to subscribers to the New York Review of Books electronic edition at this link), and I seriously doubt whether he would even be invited to deliver it in the corporatist United States of today, in which the words u2018put under security' have taken on a whole new and ominous meaning. For that very reason, I have chosen to reproduce a considerable part here. You will see why in the following excerpts:

"I am astonished that at a conference on planning for the future, you have not invited a single speaker under the age of thirty, the group that is going to live in that future. I am pleased that some of the young people have come to pound on the door anyway, but it is too bad that they aren't allowed to come in.

"This is a bad forum for this topic. Your program mentions the u2018emerging national goals' of urban development, continuing education, and improving the quality of man's environment. I would add another essential goal, reviving American democracy; and at least two indispensable international goals, to rescue the majority of mankind from deepening poverty, and to ensure the survival of mankind as a species. These goals indeed require research and experimentation of the highest sophistication, but not by you. You people are unfitted by your commitments, your experience, your customary methods, your recruitment, and your moral disposition. You are the military-industrial of the United Sates, the most dangerous body of men at present in the world, for you not only implement our disastrous policies but are an overwhelming lobby for them, and you expand and rigidify the wrong use of brains, resources, and labor, so that change becomes difficult. Most likely the trends you represent will be interrupted by a shambles of riots, alienation, ecological catastrophes, wars, and revolutions, so that current long-range planning, including this conference, is irrelevant. But if we ask what are the technological needs and what ought to be researched in this coming period, in the six areas I have mentioned, the best service that you people could perform is rather rapidly to phase yourselves out, passing on your relevant knowledge to people better qualified, or reorganizing yourselves with entirely different sponsors and commitments, so that you learn to think and feel in a different way. Since you are most of the R&D that there is, we cannot do without you as people, but we cannot do with you as you are. […]

He goes on to discuss the effects of deterrence:

"..past a certain point your operations have increased insecurity rather than diminished it. But this has been to your interest. It is estimated that the real needs of our defense should cost less than a fourth of the budget you have pork-barrelled. You tried, unsuccessfully, to saddle us with the scientifically ludicrous Civil Defense program. You have sabotaged the technology of inspection for disarmament. Now you are saddling us with the anti-missile missiles and the multi-warhead missiles. You have corrupted the human adventure of space with programs for armed platforms in orbit. Although we are the most heavily armed and the most naturally protected of the great Powers, you have seen to it that we spend a vastly greater amount and perhaps a higher proportion of our wealth on armaments than any other nation."


"[My] remarks have certainly been harsh and moralistic. We are none of us saints, and ordinarily I would be ashamed to use such a tone. But you are the manufacturers of napalm, fragmentation bombs, the planes that destroy rice. Your weapons have killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam and you will kill hundreds of thousands in other Vietnams. I am sure that most of you would concede that much of what you do is ugly and harmful, at home and abroad. But you would say that it is necessary for the American way of life, at home and abroad, and therefore you cannot do otherwise. Since we [– I and those people outside – ] believe that that way of life is unnecessary, ugly and un-American – we cannot condone your present operations; they should be wiped off the slate."

~ Excerpted from "A Causerie at the military-industrial," October 1967

3.2 The Individual and Society

Paul Goodman was able to have what even in 1967 looked like the sheer gall to say what he said because he differed significantly from the mainstream of thinkers and theorists who held – and doubtless still hold – that individuals should accommodate themselves to their society if they are to avoid permanent neurosis. For him, it was the other way round: the society around him was to be moulded so as to allow the best of individuality to flourish. This principle extended all the way to the top. In 1962 he had written:

"I regard the President as my public servant whom I pay, and berate him as a lousy employee. I come on as an old fashioned patriot, neither supine nor more revolutionary than is necessary for my modest goals."

~ The Society I Live In Is Mine, 1962

The same principle, of legitimacy being granted from the individual citizen to the collective, and not the other way round, informed his conclusion to "Like A Conquered Province:"

"How profoundly alien our present establishment is…[…] The term "establishment" itself is borrowed from the British – for snobbish and literary reasons, and usually with an edge of satire. But we have had no sovereign to establish such a thing, and there is no public psychology to accept it as legitimate. It operates like an establishment: it is the consensus of politics, the universities and science, big business, organized labor, public schooling, the media of communications, the official language; it determines the right style and accredits its own members; it hires and excludes, subsidizes and neglects. But it has no warrant of legitimacy, it has no tradition, it cannot talk straight English, it neither has produced nor could produce any art, it does not lead by moral means but by a kind of social engineering, and it is held in contempt and detestation by the young.

"The American tradition- I think the abiding American tradition – is pluralist, populist and libertarian, while the Establishment is interlocked, mandarin, and managed. And the evidence is that its own claim, that it is efficient, is false. It is fantastically wasteful of brains, money, the environment, and people. It is channelling our energy and enterprise to its own aggrandizement and power, and it will exhaust us.

"I would almost say that our country is like a conquered province with foreign rulers, except that they are not foreigners and we are responsible for what they do."

~ Like a Conquered Province, chapter 6: "Is American Democracy Viable?"

3.3 Conclusion

Goodman castigated the public educational system for its dulling of children's creative instincts and wrote: "we really do not know how to educate for creative genius." And yet, in the final analysis, I believe he was humble, underlyingly positive, and optimistic about the future. In analysing the counter-forces to the centralized state and its apologists, he felt that:

"The traditional American sentiment is that a decent society cannot be built by dominant official policy, [..] but only by grass-roots resistance, community co-operation, individual enterprise, and citizenly vigilance to protect liberty."

~ Like a Conquered Province, 1965, chapter 2: "Counter-Forces for a Decent Society"

He also had an unfailing belief in the power of creativity:

“It is by losing ourselves in inquiry, creation and craft that we become something. Civilization is a continual gift of spirit: inventions, discoveries, insight, art. We are citizens, as Socrates would have said, and we have it available as our own. ”

Marty Jezer wrote in a 1995 Zmag review of the posthumous collection Crazy Hope and Finite Experience: Final Essays of Paul Goodman, edited by his executor, Taylor Stoehr, in 1994:

"Goodman’s goals were forthright rather than modest. He wanted a society in which children have bright eyes, nobody is pushed around, rivers are clean, and in which there is useful work, tasty food, and "occasionally satisfying nookie."

These words echo those Goodman himself had written, in New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, the last book published in his lifetime, in March 1970:

“For green grass and clean rivers, children with bright eyes and good color, and people safe from being pushed around – for a few things like these, I find I am pretty ready to think away most other political, economic, and technological advantages.”

Amen to that.

February 28, 2003

Richard Wall (send him mail) is a freelance translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril, Portugal.