Does It Hurt When You Laugh?

Does It Hurt When You Laugh?

The confusion of modern politics runs so deep, the breakdown of those traditional responses which held together a more or less “enlightened” public is so complete, that one no longer knows what feeling an event is likely to evoke among people of some political sophistication, particularly among people of political sophistication. For example. The American Committee for Cultural Freedom recently held a conference in New York on European-American relations, at which a large number of distinguished intellectuals tried to find out why Europe doesn’t love us. A few days earlier there had appeared in the New York Times a chapter of Winston Churchill’s memoirs which bluntly described how he and Stalin had carved up Eastern Europe. Did any of the intellectuals in New York think to make a connection between their “problem” and Churchill’s revelation? Did any of them suggest that one reason for the deep-seated “neutralist” feeling on the continent may be a resentment against precisely the kind of fact that Churchill revealed?

Or take the problem of civil liberties. Last summer the New School for Social Research decided to hang a yellow curtain over an Orozco mural in its cafeteria, because the mural included portraits of Lenin and Stalin. The mural, explained Dr. Hans Simons, president of the school, “does not express the philosophy of the faculty.” (Did it “express” that philosophy when it was first unveiled?) In reply to protests, Dr. Simons said that the mural was “a problem of the school” and did not concern “the outside.” One is not shocked at this, the language is familiar enough, go a step further and you have the American Legion or the DAR telling one to go back where you came from. But wait: the philistine reference to “the outside” comes not from the American Legion but from the New School, the New School which began as a refuge for liberalism and freedom. Well, Dr. Simons, one is sorry to say this, but the mural is not merely “a problem of the school”; and one would be delighted to go back where one came from: New York.

Or consider the clash between the state of Indiana and Robin Hood. A member of the State Textbook Commission had demanded an investigation to see whether the Robin Hood story spreads Communistic propaganda, since, as everyone knows, Robin robbed the rich to help the poor. Ordinarily this would be great fun, a prime example of nativist ignorance; but can one, should one laugh today? Is it really funny? Doesn’t it take place in an atmosphere where little idiocies quickly lead to big disasters? (To be sure, there are some quarters that don’t feel worried at all, that seem to imply, in fact, that there is no need for concern until Sidney Hook is accused of robbing the rich to help the poor.)

The liberals are bewildered. The group around The Nation cries wolf day and...