“I am still embarrassed to admit,” writes the author, “that I learned true liberal intellectual exchange from a declared Marxist-Leninist.” The Herbert Marcuse with whom Gottfried crossed paths at Yale in 1964 was a “dazzling lecturer” who got his young graduate student reading the reactionary Joseph de Maistre as well as Hegel.
Marcuse was in some ways a bourgeois anachronism. This was evident from the way he dressed to the gallant (but never lecherous) manner in which he spoke to female students. With his extensive humanistic and linguistic erudition, he oozed traditional German Bildung, a quality that contrasted sharply with the careerism and narrow specialization that I encountered among most of my American professors.
A few years later, this “charming Old World academic with a touch of dottiness” was openly advocating violence and identifying himself with the cause of black Communist Party activist Angela Davis. Many find it hard to believe that authentic erudition and personal graciousness could be found in one so completely lacking a moral center. This was perhaps a symptom of an inevitable generational lag in the process of cultural disintegration: those (such as Marcuse) who first betray the scholar’s calling have most often enjoyed the privilege of learning from men who had not. The students they instruct (such as many of today’s humanities professors) typically inherit all of their defects with none of their saving graces.
(The Occidental Quarterly, July 12, 2009).