June 23, 2019

ROGER KIMBALL: Charles Reich, R.I.P.

Finally, speaking of the “ultimate sign of reverence, vulnerability, and innocence” of the liberated youth consciousness that he celebrates, Reich says: “Oh wow!”

“Oh wow!” Do not think that Reich sounds silly because he is quoted “out of context.” As Thomas Mallon observed in a look back at The Greening of America in The American Spectator, Charles Reich is one author who actually benefits by being quoted out of context. The more context you give him, the more preposterous he sounds.

And yet the late William Shawn, then the editor of The New Yorker, thought the book important enough to excerpt in his magazine, thus reminding us that his publication of Jonathan Schell’s hysterically alarmist book The Fate of the Earth in The New Yorker some years later was not simply a loopy aberration. Whatever his virtues as an editor, William Shawn had a large soft spot for unhinged left-wing drivel.

Does that sound too severe, too judgmental, too hard? Read on.

Do indeed. Roger’s obit is a look back at one of the seminal figures who helped birth the strange socialist eco-panic of the early 1970s, largely in response to Richard Nixon being in the White House, much as this week’s “Green New Deal” is a reaction to Trump. A few other early ‘70s panics are featured here:

UPDATE (FROM GLENN): You can learn a lot from Charles Reich, though. The Greening of America would have been seen as obvious nonsense a few years earlier, and dated nonsense a few years later. It appeared, however, at the perfect time to be a national bestseller. This has led to scholars describing the concept of “Reich Optimality” — “the point at which an idea ceases to be ridiculous but has not yet become either banal or ridiculous (again)-the fleeting moment during which it is a creative insight” — in terms of the timing of scholarship.

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