Sidney Hook

Sidney Hook (20 December 190212 July 1989) was a prominent New York intellectual and philosopher who championed pragmatism.

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Out of Step (1985)Edit

  • Although there was much to criticize in American domestic and foreign policy, what struck me was the one-sidedness, unfairness, and systematic use of the double standard in the attacks against the United States and South Vietnam. ... He called upon the United States "to denazify itself," but not North Vietnam or China. What practices in the United States, compared to the barbarous practices of Cuba or of China or of North Vietnam, warrant such a characterization? In those countries how long would one survive who whispered the kind of criticisms Chomsky was perfectly free to broadcast in the United States and be rewarded for it?
  • The United States was taxed with following a policy whose logic was "genocide" for helping South Vietnam deal with "a peasant-based insurrection led by Communists" while the genuinely genocidal practices of North Vietnam in liquidating whole categories of the population were not mentioned. On his visit to Hanoi, Chomsky publicly held North Vietnam up to the world as a model of social justice and freedom. Whenever Chomsky and those who repeated some of his absurd views were challenged, they often cited as their authority someone else who had uttered similar absurdities, as if this vindicated the point they were making.
  • The grim consequences of ... Hanoi's victory are now incontestable. The record of the last decade has brought a realization to some, who had been of the same view as Chomsky, of what they helped to bring into being in Vietnam. Protests have been organized against the continued existence of concentration and re-education camps, and the systematic barbarities practiced against dissenters. But Chomsky is still unrepentant. He has refused to join any protest, on the ground that it would serve the interests of the United States. In short, he has followed the double standard to the last, for he never hesitated to utter the most extravagant criticism of the United States on the ground that it would serve the interests of the Soviet Union.
  • I turned to Brecht and asked him why, if he felt the way he did about Jerome and the other American Communists, he kept on collaborating with them, particularly in view of their apparent approval or indifference to what was happening in the Soviet Union.[...] Brecht shrugged his shoulders and kept on making invidious remarks about the American Communist Party and asserted that only the Soviet Union and its Communist Party mattered. [...] But I argued...it was the Kremlin and above all Stalin himself who were responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of the opposition and their dependents. It was at this point that he said in words I have never forgotten, 'As for them, the more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.' I was so taken aback that I thought I had misheard him. 'What are you saying?' I asked. He calmly repeated himself, 'The more innocent they are, the more they deserve to be shot.' [...] I was stunned by his words. 'Why? Why?' I exclaimed. All he did was smile at me in a nervous sort of way. I waited, but he said nothing after I repeated my question. I got up, went into the next room, and fetched his hat and coat. When I returned, he was still sitting in his chair, holding a drink in his hand. When he saw me with his hat and coat, he looked surprised. He put his glass down, rose, and with a sickly smile took his hat and coat and left. Neither of us said a word. I never saw him again.
  • It is better to be a live jackal than a dead lion--for jackals, not men. Men who have the moral courage to fight intelligently for freedom have the best prospects of avoiding the fate of both live jackals and dead lions. Survival is not the be-all and end-all of a life worthy of man. Sometimes the worst we can know about a man is that he has survived. Those who say life is worth living at any price have already written for themselves an epitaph of infamy, for there is no cause and no person they will not betray to stay alive. Man's vocation should be the use of the arts of intelligence in behalf of human freedom.
  • Herbert Marcuse made a lengthy, impassioned response. What good was the Voting Rights Act accomplishing, he said, since the blacks were pursuing the tawdry values as their white fellow citizens? They were accepting the same capitalist values and aping the life-restricting respectability of the middle class. At a prolonged pause in his reply, just as he was getting his second wind, I rose and asked him a simple question: 'Which do you prefer, a situation in which the blacks had no freedom to vote or one in which they had the freedom to vote but chose wrongly?' Marcuse's response surprised the audience--and subsequently perhaps Marcuse himself: 'Since I have gone so far out on a limb, I may as well go all the way. I would prefer that they did not have the freedom to vote if they are going to make the wrong use of their freedom.' For this and other reasons, I suspect, Marcuse never became the darling of the black American students.
  • Although Bertrand Russell suffered unpopularity in some quarters for his role as a political dissenter, he enjoyed that role immensely. There was more than a touch of exhibitionism in the riskless sit-downs of his last years when he made well-publicized gestures to 'Ban the Bomb' that were as futile as they were ill-advised. I once wondered aloud to him whether his temperamental bias toward nonconformity and dissent was an expression not so much of intellectual courage as of the aristocrat's disdain of the commoner and his desire to épater le bourgeois. He replied with disarming frankness: 'Hook, I think you have something there...'
  • As Adolf Berle, a fellow cold warrior, once remarked, 'Being vindicated by history is cold comfort.' For one thing, the political scars of those with whom one has polemicized seem more long-lasting and painful than their memories of the political issues that gave rise to them. And yet indifference to the political life of one's times I deem a flagrant expression of moral irresponsibility. Those who profess such indifference owe the intellectual and cultural freedoms in which they luxuriate to the commitment and sacrifices of others.
  • I was guilty of judging capitalism by its operations and socialism by its hopes and aspirations; capitalism by its works and socialism by its literature.

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Last modified on 14 April 2014, at 21:45