ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512 453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip Bob and Sara Roebuck Anchor National THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19 ,16 ntrtaplif misery, degradation, and exploitation of America’s poor. In the present one, he has described many of the more shocking details of upper-class life, which he had set out to study in order to understand the condition of the poor and the minorities. It is now time for a summing up that will do justice to the laboriously collected facts. Incredibly, Coles does not deliver. After much temporizing, he cops out. How could this happen? How could someone who, according to a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, has become a cult figure among liberals, fail at such a critical moment? My suspicion is that after having been granted access to the private lives of upper-class families and been taken into their confidence as a friend, Coles could not bring himself to cricitize what C. Wright Mills called “the higher immorality” of the rich and powerful. If this explanation is correct, I can sympathize with Coles. For how sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a social researcher who betrays the trust of his subjects, even when he disagrees with their values! But if this was Coles’s problem, then he could have honored that trust simply by stopping his book when the case studies had been presented, and letting the facts speak for themselves. But Coles decided otherwise. He serves up several dubious arguments against condemning, as individuals, rich people such as those whose children he studiedpeople, by his own account, who forced their workers to live in misery and fear, demonstrated a callous disregard for the lives of miners in mines they owned \(if not complicity in their ing and mistreating union organizers on trumped-up grounds, fired “uppity” servants or saw to the firing of teachers whose opinions differed from their own, openly admitted to their children that “you don’t make a lot of money by being honest all day and all night,” and, finally, took infinite pains to instill in their offspring their own credo of snobbery. I shall mention only one of the arguments Coles makes for abstaining from criticism of the upper class. \(His argument is intended not only to get him off the hook, but to forestall criticism of inIn anticipation of such criticism from radicals, Coles invokes the good name of Karl Marx. He comments sympathetically on the dismay of a teacher who had been called a servant of the rich by one of her upper-class students \(radicalized knew better than to make that leap, to jump from philosophical and social and economic analysis to ad hominem psychological judgment or sociological condemnation.” Elsewhere Coles says, “Not that Marx would deny social critics or moralists the right or obligation to criticize what they see before them. His own social criticism and moral judgment were at once devastating, utterly farsighted, and unnervingly impersonal. He elaborates on this point. While the system may be unjust, we must not criticize its individual members, even members of the upper class, for they, no less than the poor and the exploited, are victims. Coles states with approval, “In [Marx’s] scheme of things the manipulated bourgeois entrepreneur keeps company with the hurt and suffering workingmanthe blind leading the blind, as it were.” Is this really the gospel according to Marx? And whether it is or not, is Coles correct in believing it? The answer to both questions is no. It is true that Marx on many occasions wrote about the impersonal forces and unintended consequences of human action that shaped people’s lives. But at least as often he was insistent that men and women must take “history” into their own hands and bear responsibility for the outcome. The skullduggery of his contemporaries provoked Marx into paroxysms of moral criticism, and only someone who has not read very much Marx could be ignorant of his persistently voiced condemnations of individual 19th century capitalists and politicians. Marx, contrary to what Coles would have us believe, was very much at home, in his “voluntaristic” moods, with the view of Lord Acton, expressed in his famous letter to Mandell Creighton. “I cannot accept your canon,” wrote Acton, “that we are to judge Pope and King, unlike other men, with a favored presumption that they did no wrong. “If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against, holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.” Acton, of course, was right. Coles’s failure to come to grips with the issue of irresponsibility and corruption among his upper-class subjects severely impairs both the analytic and moral force of his book. It raises the question whether the full and awful implications of his five-volume series have yet dawned on the good doctor. Chandler Davidson, a former associate editor of the Observer, is a member of the sociology department at Rice University. Financial Services 1524 E. Anderson Lane, Austin bonds stocks insurance mutual funds optional retirement program _ Ok t1 SS 0-4 S411,1WS’9 9 a # ..,,,04i o-e `7 …, -.\(618. 4O re.1.. . 4.2Na, 0.,..t ivc ‘ kte e c.3. A. cot Ot te a IF YOU ARE an occasional reader and would like to receive The Texas Observer regularlyor if you are a subscriber and would like to have a free sample copy or one-year gift subscription sent to a friend here’s the order form: SEND THE OBSERVER TO name street city state zip this subscription is for myself. gift subscription; send card in my name. sample copy only; you may use my name. $12 enclosed for a one-year sub. bill me for $12. MY NAME & ADDRESS THE TEXAS OBSERVER 600 W. 7th, Austin, Texas 78701
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