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I read my 1st history book at age 7, & since then I’ve only gotten worse. I never miss family reunions. Its a bum day if I don’t set foot in a museum. In Dallas for a lecture, I hopped to the Kennedy assassination museum. (I didn’t tell them that I did it, saving that for a CounterPunch scoop. I got away with it because I shot him with my little bow & arrow & everyone is looking for the smoking gun.) So spending a week in Berkeley during the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1964 University of California Free Speech Movement was natural for me.
In 1963, I was found guilty in Berkeley of possession of a ‘roach,’ a butt of a marijuana cigarette, maybe 1/2 inch in length. Possession then carried 1 to 10 in the penitentiary, but I was granted 3 years street probation.
On 10/16/64, UC sent 2 campus cops to testify against me at a probation revocation hearing. I was accused of interfering with officers doing their duty during a 9/30 sit-in at Sproul Hall, the administration building, & then during a demo outside, the next day.
In that era, probation revocation was at the discretion of the judge. Indeed a public defender came to me & said "Lenny, I’m going to do the best I can for you. But they have decided that you are going to prison." I wasn’t allowed to present any witnesses. So off I went, doing 39 months before I jail-house lawyered out.
I organized a 10/7 panel, "The FSM and the 60s: Lessons for today," 1 of many talks during the commemoration. I was the connecting link between the FSM & today’s red revolutionary issues. Michael Rossman of the FSM-Archive authenticated me. He had written "Afterward: The Betrayal of Lenny Glaser" (I then used my stepfather’s name) for The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, published in 2002 by UC Press. It inspired me to begin my new campaign, calling upon the new Chancellor to acknowledge his predecessor’s crime against me, for defending free speech. The punishment I propose meets the crime. UC should put me on faculty for 39 monthly history lectures.
Jack Heyman, business agent for SF Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, spoke about the then forthcoming 10/17 Million Worker March in Washington. The local is another 60s connection. It passionately supported the FSM & the civil rights movement underlying it.
Alex Cockburn, co-editor of CounterPunch, flew in for the panel. In 64, we had nothing in the way of access to public opinion even remotely resembling CP’s 16 million plus hits in May. Everyone in media reads it, as I know from reading about it in the right-wing press.
A young comrade forgot a bullhorn, cutting down the onsite crowd. But, having attended days of FSM Archives events & checking out Sproul Plaza’s dozens of political & religious tables, I doubt if amplification would have meant a much bigger crowd. Unpolitical students passing by saw our event, which looked like all other FSM panels. Why stop for more same ol’ same ol’?
Local media did show up. In today’s world that’s more important than physical attendance. The student run Daily Californian ran a pic of Rossman. Clark Kent’s Daily Planet – seriously! – an important part of the city’s political culture, showed me orating in fine form. The Berkeleyan posted a full report.
"Star power for the event – which carried the title "FSM and the Sixties: Lessons for Today" – was supplied by British-born Alexander Cockburn, a longtime columnist for The Nation and co-editor of the online magazine CounterPunch. Sounding a theme that would echo throughout the hour, Cockburn, who has lived in the U.S. since 1973, declared, "Free speech is worth nothing unless it’s militant free speech, unless it’s subversive free speech, unless it’s organized free speech." ….
Rossman recalled Brenner – known as Lenny Glaser in 1964 – as a non-student "Marxist agitator" who would stand near the Bancroft strip and rail about the Pope, the Bay of Pigs, and marijuana, indifferent to the fact that most pa ssersby thought he was "certifiably crazy."
Both he and Brenner, who spent 39 months in prison after being arrested at a civil-rights demonstration with a roach in his pocket, blamed interference from campus administrators for the severity of Brenner’s sentence. Brenner said he plans to petition the university to hire him as a history lecturer for 39 months as recompense.
"They will decide whether they want me inside the tent as a lecturer, pissing out," he said, "or outside the tent as an agitator, pissing in."
Given other FSM events that day for media to cover, the rally was a success. But there were more significant positives & negatives about the commemoration.
Who didn’t live thru the 60s can’t fully appreciate the impact of the FSM in its time. As an imprisoned felon, I got what ordinary Americans only dreamed about — free medical treatment — in Vacaville, the intake facility for north state cons. When a dentist realized that I was in for FSM involvement, he gathered every doctor & dentist in the ‘joint.’ Trust me. No one forgets 10 men in white coats marching right to you. One of them announced, finger in my face, "we don’t want to hear any bullshit. What really happened in Berkeley?"
"Well, of course the administration didn’t call me up to explain why they did it. But we figured that someone got Governor Brown to close us down for organizing civil rights sit-ins in San Francisco & the East Bay."
The docs went off to the side & huddled. The demanding doc returned to shake my hand.
That intense interest replicated statewide. Most Americans had never heard of Berkeley. Suddenly Mario Savio, the FSM’s gifted orator, was listened to all over the world. Abroad, decades after, when I said I lived in Berkeley, educated people commonly said something about the FSM. The town became the holy land for freedom fans everywhere.
Rightly so. Biblical god was an idiot. His sacred real estate is in Palestine/Israel. A god who didn’t just create a world in a devil-may-care manner would set it in the counties around San Francisco Bay. Everything, from giant redwoods to the giant library at UC, drew intellectuals to the region. The 1957 arrest of the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" (which, as a result, became the world’s most famous contemporary poem), the trial of Ron Boise, for wonderful life-sized Kama Sutra sex sculptures, upstairs from 1 of my SF civil rights sit-in trials; such shameful legal persecution actually reveals the Bay Area as a pivotal location in the cultural/political revolution, begun nationally in the 50s, in the wake of Supreme Court’s 1954 decision outlawing segregation in public schools, but now mythologically proclaimed as "the 60s." The FSM victory was a central event in a string of battles that culminated in the complete defeat of legal racism, & Washington’s stunning Vietnam defeat.
But that was then. What no one in 64 expected to see was the 10/8 rally in Sproul Plaza. The central FSM drama had been the arrest of Jack Weinberg for soliciting money for the civil rights movement. He was put into a police car, but a spontaneous sit-down trapped it. Eventually the roof was used as a FSM platform. This year there was a mock police car & platform. Among the speakers was Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
He was at Harvard during the FSM & sympathized with it. Later, in the South on a do-good expedition, he ran into FSMers & admired them. So he was delighted to be there in such an unexpected relationship to its celebration.
I didn’t catch more of his talk. But he was sincere. Or else he’s better than Hollywood. I don’t know his policies re academic unions & working conditions, etc., but he isn’t a police state scholar like 64′s goons, who tried to suppress the rights of the smartest youths in their state.
This is important re formulating my forthcoming brief, calling on him to acknowledge his predecessors’ guilt in locking me up. He’s not automatically my adversary. To be sure, he is surrounded by 26 Regents. Chaim Saban bought his seat from the Democrats for $7 million, then the largest political contribution in US history. "I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel." The 9/5 NY Times reports that "he regularly spends hours at time on the phone with Ariel Sharon." I can’t imagine him being pleased to have the editor of "51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis" on his campus.
But there is something more important about today’s Berkeley than my tale of woe, or the new Chancellor. It tells much about the lasting impact of the FSM.
The Mayor is liberal Democrat Tom Bates. In January 03 he pled guilty to petty theft & was fined $100. What did the Mayor of the city made famous by the free speech movement steal? Nothing less than 2000 copies of the Daily Cal. It had endorsed an opponent in a 2002 election. Brazen to the end, he declared that he would sponsor legislation making it illegal to steal newspapers.
I lived in the Bay Area for 20 years between 1959 & 1988. I once ran for Mayor against his wife. It was obvious then that he was crazy with rage against anyone who opposed him or her. He’s not dangerous only because he lacks enuf intelligence to pull a trigger.
That the citizens didn’t march in a body to city hall & stay there until he resigned, is the punch line without a punch. The FSM had an enormous impact on the campus. Freedom of speech was chiseled into stone, for keeps. But most FSMers who stayed in Berkeley were content to work within the Democratic Party with other liberals. Indeed self proclaimed Democratic liberalism, identified with Black civil rights or later progressive causes, still dominates the town. But when a proposal to twin Berkeley with a Palestinian refugee camp came up, Bates literally went ballistic, glowering at me. No. I wasn’t surprised when he later dishonored Berkeley.
In 1964, Democratic Governor Pat Brown brought in state troopers to jail hundreds of students. The school administrators & the pols were trying to crush the Communist Party, Maoists, Trotskyists & ‘new lefts,’ using the campus to organized gigantic off-campus sit-ins. But a ban on everyone’s free speech brought everyone into the movement, especially liberal Democrats, & even youth for Barry Goldwater, 64′s Bush.
Reunion brought several leftist FSMers back to the town. No one identified as rightist at events I attended. But liberals abounded. And Howard Dean was a guest speaker. He will be recalled as the certain Democratic nominee, the antiwar candidate endorsed by Gore & other hacks. Except that he blew it when he tried to hustle the religious. A scribe asked which New Testament book was his favorite: "Job."
No one in media has mercy for simpleton demagogues. New Testament Job means that, young as it is, the dumbest-politician-of-the-century title was already decided. Dean was dead. But, like an Old Testament Jesus, he rose from the grave, at the invite to the town that unofficially but proudly calls itself the most Democratic city in the land of the freak, home of the knave.
Panels all over the place, I caught several. And I chatted with FSMers who introduced themselves as being in crowds that used to listen to me orate. Of course I always hang in with Brad Cleveland & other resident FSM buddies. This visit I also had serious conversations with Trotskyist comrades I hadn’t seen in years.
This is just a planet. People try to do something about noble ideas. Come back 40 years later to the congregation after any major event. Only mere mortals are present. Some learned from their common experience & beyond, some haven’t, some deteriorated.
Democratic liberals, then, seemed the least sharp now. One such, at a panel, said he was going to write Kerry after he won, asking for repeal of the entire Patriot Act. I advised him:
"Don’t say you are a liberal. Kerry will fling your letter into the round file. Intelligent politicians ask themselves 1 question when they encounter all requests: If I don’t give the beggar what he wants, what will he do to hurt me? If you say you just voted for him, he knows that the chances are overwhelming that you will vote Democrat again in 2006, for fear of the Republicans, whether he repeals some, all or none of the act."
Eyes popped open. Liberals accept Kerry as a fraud. They tell me that it was understandable that he moved toward "the center" to say foolish things to win foolish votes. What they can’t grasp is that Kerry sees them like a wool seller see wool buyers, more fools to be hustled. He knows his rabble. He knows that nine out of 10 middle aged & elderly liberals never do anything between elections to build an antiwar movement. Unless exposed from the left, they will vote Democrat, out of fear of the GOP, until after Intercosmic War lll. If he wins, big if, Patriot will be amended. But a police-spy state America is & will be, regardless of who wins.
The key question is whether these libs can be brought back from the dead? Can we awaken enuf of them to build an antiwar movement that stays in the streets & only supports antiwar candidates until the war it opposes is over? There are hopeful signs. In one panel question period, I rose in defense of Kerry. "Many liberals are upset because he’s against same-sex marriage. In fact he is married to Ariel Sharon. In a Catholic ceremony: No Divorce!!"
Everyone laughed. Significantly, Tikkun editor Michael Lerner, who I have critiqued before, with good reason, rose to say that "this is the 1st time that I ever agreed with LENNI BRENNER." We met again, later in the week, & continued our chat about doing something to Sharon.
FSMers, including most Jews, never thought once In 1964 about Israel. Today Israel’s Prime Minister is a bogeyman who scares liberals as badly as Bush. They know he is a war criminal, many times over.
Bush & Kerry compete for Zionist votes & campaign contributions. Kerry has zero criticisms of Sharon. But once the election is over, its put up or shut up time for everyone. You are for Palestinian/Israeli equality, everywhere in the country, or you are against it. You won’t be able to kid yourself. Many liberals can be moved against Sharon & whichever ally of Israel is inaugurated in January. Some will move an inch. More, particularly youth, will eventually go the whole route.
Bipartisan Washington is in a pit of its own digging. No ally of a Jewish state denying equality to Palestinians – Arabs – will create a government that grants social equality to Arabs & Kurds in Iraq. Similarly, forget about democracy in Saudi Arabia coming from US pressure. Without equality for all religions & none, for women, for Kurds, for Sudanese Blacks, etc., the Middle East will be at war, which means that Washington will be in it, at war. The key task before leftists is getting our own act together, & building a principled movement in the streets & electorally that can prod liberals, young & old, into action against our bipartisan criminals, Sharon, Saudia, et al.
ALAS!! THE COUNTRY HAS GONE TO POT
Afghanistan & Iraq naturally preoccupy Americans. Thousands died on 9/11. The WTC site is a major tourist shrine. US troops are dying. But there is another war, the drug war, that rarely gets the attention of US lefts, even as Washington now controls Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer & source of Europe’s heroin.
In 1964, I was a pariah on the Berkeley left because I spoke out for legalization of pot & peyote, prescriptions for heroin junkies under strict medical supervision, etc., as well as for Black civil rights, But by the time I got out of prison in 1968, every left in Berkeley under 40 had tried pot.
I remember a 1969 party at the 4 Hallinan brothers, 1 later San Francisco’s District Attorney. It was the nite before an antiwar demo that we knew was going to be enormous. I was in the kitchen with the honchos of the left groups organizing it. I looked across the serving bar into the living room. Someone lit a ‘bomber,’ a giant pot cigar, & sent it towards the kitchen.
Pained looks covered the kitchen’s faces until the airplane arrived. ‘Should I violate party discipline & smoke it?’ Then the joint arrived. One of the Hallinans puffed on it & everyone burst into laughter & smoked it.
In 1964 the FSM abandoned me when UC revoked my probation. Now here were leading FSM vets smoking with me. I felt vindicated, even triumphant. The issue was settled. But I was wrong. None of the ‘revolutionaries’ went back to their outfit & insisted that it make drug law reform a priority. To this minute I can’t name a socialist group focusing on building the drug law reform movement. But the FSM-Archive is playing a progressive role today, because it deals with 1964′s issues. Rossman spoke at my rally & organized a drug law reform panel.
The presentations were interesting. Drug law reformers fall into 2 broad camps. There are those who see the weed or peyote, LSD, ibogane, etc., as "Doors of Perception" into a mystical world. And there are us who scorn such notions. I’ve smoked pot with folks pushing ideologies running from Anarchist to Zionist. Some were smart. But not because of drug use.
Let’s go further & be brutally honest. Pot is dangerous. I now live in NYC. Mayor Mike Bloomberg says he smoked pot. So did Governor George Pataki. Bill Clinton came here. Newt Gingrich smoked it, as did Clarence Thomas & Al Gore. Now High Times reports that Kerry "says he tried toking a few times after returning from Vietnam, but the smoke bothered him." Running mate John Edwards likewise has violated the law.
Beware, youth!! Pot destroyed all their brain cells. None grew back.
Be certain that no one in 64 ever thought that American pot heads would ever be arrested by admitted ex-pot heads. We know they smoked weed because journalists almost all puffed or still do, & automatically ask candidates if they did, as youths. They answered yes because, by now, if you say no, everyone dismisses you as a teacher’s pet.
However, in a 11/03 Rolling Stone interview, Kerry was asked if he was for decriminalization:
"No, not quite. What we did in the prosecutor’s office was have a sort of unspoken approach to marijuana that was almost effectively decriminalization. We just didn’t bother with small-time use. It doesn’t rise to the level of nuisance, even. And what we were after was people dealing with heroin and destroying lives, and people who were killing people. That’s where you need to focus."
In January, he opposed federal prosecution of patients in states legalizing medical marijuana use. Hardly daring. He isn’t endorsing marijuana as therapy. According to the Associated Press, "he wanted to wait for the completion of a study to see what other alternatives might be available … before deciding whether to legalize it in all states."
He supports partial repeal of a 1998 provision to the federal Higher Education Act, barring convicted marijuana & other drug offenders from receiving student financial aid. Kerry’s position is repeal "if the offense is use, yes." But "if the offense is selling, no."
Sounds good. But it sounds just as good coming from Bush. Proverbially, even fools are wise after the event. Both now realize that the public is in favor of educating everybody, even criminals in prison. Why then make it harder for a kid on probation to go to college by taking away financial aid? So Bush also favors repeal of denying aid to users.
Denying financial school aid to convicted dealers on the streets was ass-backwards. It punished them for doing the right thing.
Kerry is, at best, marginally better than Bush re medical pot, & almost as bad as Bush re legalized recreational use, which also means legally growing it. Even if Kerry made pot possession arrests a low priority, it means users still won’t be able to carry their private stash with them on interstate buses or flights for fear of discovery by pot sniffing dogs.
Illegal drug dealing economics is well understood. Arresting pot dealers means the status quo re fantastic prices users pay to surviving dealers for their innocent pleasure. Banning a drug adds to the problems associated with intoxicants.
No doubt many readers were unaware of Kerry’s positions re marijuana. Its not a bit of a priority for him, but he can’t get away from it on campuses. He says just enuf to look open to reform. The question is why don’t the bipartisan pols, or at least a significant number of them, call for outright legalization of pot, when use is so widespread that no sane person thinks usage can be significantly reduced. I’ve heard cops making arrests at civil disobedience pot legalization demos apologize to the people they arrest.
Yet again, educated liberals can’t see that Kerry & Co. know that they are fools & play with them accordingly. George Soros is a major drug law reform funder. He is also for a secular society, & against Sharon. But he spends millions against Bush, i.e., helping Kerry, an opponent of legal recreational use, who denounced a federal court for evicting God from the Pledge of Allegiance, who hangs in with Sharon.
"In this world, the follies of the rich pass for wise sayings." Sancho Panza’s proverb perfectly fits Soros. Kerry knows he’s a mouse. He is that rare billionaire content with little, which is all he will get from Kerry re reforms he wishes. Substitute educated liberals for the rich in the saying & you have the liberals at the FSM commemoration, and in America at large.
As pot usage is so widespread & cuts across all political & sociological lines, the next question is who are the tens of millions who never smoked it? For the most part, they are deeply religious, of all races & ethnicity’s. Some are rich, but most are typical working people.
As nonusers, they equate pot with other intoxicants & the dreadful statistics associated with them, from alcohol on. My father was killed in a head on collision with a drunk driver. That’s common in the US of Automobile. "Crystal" — methamphetamine — freakouts are common in "dairyland," rural America. Gay weeklies are full of articles about kids getting wacked out on meth & ignoring everything about safe sex.
The puritans aren’t folks who read London Economist statistics reporting that, potheads are typically the best drivers on the road. Guess why? They are cautious because they don’t want to be stopped by a cop. (On the other hand, kids who mix drinking & weed rank among the worst. We all know them. Party kids. But what should we tell them? Give up pot or give up drinking?)
Everywhere, political parties of the rich need a base among their common people. They can’t rule without passive or active support of significant popular stratums. They seek ideological connections to the most backward masses, who pose no threat to them. Racism is a no-no in today’s US. Neither plutocratic party openly courts white racism. But both lust after Southern Baptist Convention voters, with full knowledge that it was a mainstay of the Confederacy & the KKK. Add on right wing Catholics, most Orthodox Jews, Mormons, etc., & you got their mass base, particularly among the elderly, & a whole lot of voters who don’t want legalized marijuana, even tho they know ‘it goes on,’ just as they are against same-sex marriage, while knowing that no amount of amendments is ever going to stop homosexuality.
But the toughest question is why liberal drug law reformers rush to tell the public to vote for a pot prohibitionist when, by the polls & our eyes, we know that there are more than enuf potheads & other anti-prohibitionists to build a mass movement that could shake the society re the entire drug crisis? When there is more than one answer to a question, historians say it is over-determined. But certainly prime among explanations is the truth that they aren’t challenged by the ‘left,’ those organizing antiwar demos.
In New York, Dana Beal, like me, imprisoned in the 60s for pot, organizes annual legalize pot marches. I counted over 1200 people, mostly youths, at the 2001 rally. Half were Black, which is more than can be said of most left events in NY. Yet, beyond me, a speaker, there was no left presence. None.
Demographers see millions of working class youths outside the serious intellectual world. For them, a party means the opposite sex, pot & music, not lectures on ‘How to build a Leninist Party.’ If you want to reach them with your great issues, you have to deal with their issue, & as 1 black youth put it, being fucked-over by cops for "doing something that can’t hurt anyone but me," is it.
I told them that they all remember that Moses came down from the mountain, got pissed at the Hebrews, broke his tablet, went back & carved another. Alas, in his rush, he forgot the original 1st commandment: Thou shalt never vote for thy jailers.
They liked that. One cried out, "OK, who do we vote for? The Greens?" I answered that who you can’t vote for only opens the road to who you can.
Let me be clear. The radical left’s shift from recruiting in factories, to looking for support for civil rights & antiwar agitation on campuses in the 50s & 60s, was the matrix for the FSM. Campuses will continue as the left’s stronghold. But the uneducated go their own way. So we must go after them. "We are all things to all men that we may save some of them." So said Paul of Tarsus, who converted to Christianity, a hole in the wall Jewish sect, & in turn converted it into a cosmopolitan movement. We need only change "men" to people & his message remains the best strategy for getting out beyond the campus.
Agitate in unions? Of course!! But most young workers aren’t in unions. We need to set up literature tables in places where they congregate. And what shall we say that will interest them? A little birdie tells me that they are more likely to listen to the left if it talks to them about legal pot & the Iraq war, than if we talk to them about Iraq alone. Does anyone think otherwise?
So that is what we must do, & not just for young workers & not just re pot.
Who wins the election means much & nothing. But 1 thing is certain. It will be soon seen as the end of the road for liberalism. If Bush wins, then all their huffing & puffing for Kerry came to nothing, & they will be rightly condemned for being unprincipled, wasting money & effort on a losing demagogue & imperialist. If Kerry wins, the liberals will just as rightly be condemned for being unprincipled, wasting money & effort on a winning demagogue & imperialist.
Liberalism will lose, but radicalism can only win, in the long run, if we clean up our act in the short run & provide leadership to the youth & others who will learn from their wasted efforts for a rogue, & want to move on to principled politics, with a strategy to defeat & replace the bipartisan capitalist hustle.
I can fight & win my campaign for UC Berkeley to put me on as a history lecturer, pretty much on my own, tho of course I’ll keep CounterPunch’s readers posted on events. But on 2 issues, expect to be bombarded by articles from me. The 1st is left regroupment. Everyone to the left of the Democrats should at least establish a wide discussion of the programmatic basis of unity. That should also be in CounterPunch.
The 2nd agenda point is developing a full drug law reform strategy. Look at it this way: Can anyone imagine a left party ever becoming a contender for power, much less winning it in the US, that doesn’t call for legal pot? Colombia is only occasionally mentioned in left organs. But it is hardly to be expected that an American left that rarely talks about drug law reform in the US is going to devote much of its limited energy to bringing Colombia to public attention.
American hard left blindness to narcotic concerns carries over to the Afghanistan issue. It now produces most of the opium for Europe’s heroin. Leftists talk about imperialism, oil pipelines, etc., but there is little discussion about opium crops, & none about heroin addiction. I read the gay press to follow the fundamentalist holy war against Sodom & Gomorrah. Meth is a big worry for them. But I haven’t read a word about it in the left press.
The entire spectrum of American politics, right to left, is in profound crisis. Bush is in over his head in Iraq. Kerry wants to stay in up to his head. UC Berkeley & most major colleges are in full ferment over the war. Professors voting for Kerry is a certain symptom of their utter lack of idealism, realism & energy. But students campaigning for him is just a natural sign of their inexperience & frustrated idealism. The only cure for inexperience is experience, or so I’m told. Therefore, it is our job to get unity among our herd of turtles — all those to the left of the Democrats — to take advantage of Kerry’s victory or defeat, to show them what the implications of either are to the building of a movement against the Iraq war, the drug war, etc. &, ultimately, to defeat the capitalist parties that share criminal blame for them. They can’t run with the fox & hunt with the hounds & get anywhere. Denouncing imperialists and the Washington drug warriors, until election time, then voting for any of them, is counter productive, as everyone with eyes to see will plainly see, after this election.
The FSM-Archive can make a major contribution to the education of its vets, UC’s contemporary students & profs if, instead of having helium-heads like Dean as unopposed invited guests, it organized debates between campus Democrats & leftists on where do we go from here & how do we get there. And, at the very least, a panel must, repeat, must be organized on how to throw Bates out of office.
It is customary in these matters to say that the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat. But there isn’t the slightest proof that dead Democrats are the slightest bit better than live Democrats. Generating a movement with a serious program will have to sub for beating Bates to death, after torture. Some will naturally resent giving up the time-honored way of dealing out justice to an out-of-control Mayor. But that is the high price we sometimes must pay for progress, even as we wonder if it is worth giving up such patriotic traditions.
LENNI BRENNER is the editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He is presently editing Jefferson & Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism. It will be published by Barricade Books in late October. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.
James Madison to Thomas Hertell, December 20, 1819
I have been sometime a debtor for your favor of Novr 11th accompanied by a copy of your expose. It reached me at a time when my attention had some particular calls on it; & I was so unlucky as to lose by accident, the answer which I had prepared for a late mail.
I now repeat the thanks it contained for your communication. I have read with pleasure the interesting lights in which you have placed a subject, which had passed thro’ so many able hands. The task of abolishing altogether the use of intoxicating, & even exhilarating drinks, is an arduous one. If it should not succeed in the extent at which you aim, your mode of presenting the causes & effects of the prevailing intemperance, with the obligation and operation of an improved police & of corrective examples, cannot fail to recompense your efforts tho’ it should not satisfy your philanthropy & patriotism.
A compleat suppression of every species of stimulating indulgence, if attainable at all, must be a work of peculiar difficulty, since it has to encounter not only the force of habit, but propensities in human nature. In every age and nation, some exhilarating or exciting substance seems to have been sought for, as a relief from the languor of idleness, or the fatigues of labor. In the rudest state of Society, whether in hot or cold climates, a passion for ardent spirits is in a manner universal. In the progress of refinement, beverages less intoxicating, but still of an exhilarating quality, have been more or less common. And where all these sources of excitement have been unknown, or been totally prohibited by a religious faith, substitutes have been found in opium, in the nut of the betel, the root of the Ginseng or the leaf of the Tobacco plant.
It would doubtless be a great point gained for our Country, and a great advantage towards the object of your publication, if ardent spirits could be made only to give way to malt liquors, to those afforded by the apple and the pear, and to the lighter and cheaper varieties of wine. It is remarkable that in the Countries where the grape supplies the common beverage, habits of intoxication are rare; and in some places almost without example.
These observations, as you may well suppose are not made for notice in a new edition of your work, of which they are certainly not worthy, even if they should not vary from your own view of the subject. They are meant merely as an expression to yourself of that respect for the laudable object of the expose, & for its author, of which sincere assurances are tendered.