January 20, 2019


Nathan Glazer, Urban Sociologist and Outspoken Intellectual, Dies at 95 (Barry Gewen, Jan. 19, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Glazer's turn to neoconservatism followed an almost paradigmatic path. Throughout the 1950s, and even after he went to work for the Kennedy administration's Housing and Home Finance Agency in 1962-63, he continued to consider himself a radical. But if, as his longtime friend Irving Kristol put it, a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality, then Mr. Glazer got hit over the head.

He had taken a teaching post at Berkeley in 1963, just as the student rebellions of the 1960s were erupting. Opposed to the growing American military involvement in Vietnam and supportive of social policies designed to help the poor, he initially sympathized with the student protesters. But as they grew more extreme -- "nihilistic" was Mr. Glazer's word -- he turned away from them and his own leftist past as well. He moved toward what he saw as a hard-won pragmatism but what others saw as a reactive conservatism. [...]

During the battles of the 1970s over busing and affirmative action, Mr. Glazer published "Affirmative Discrimination" (1975), a landmark statement for neoconservatives and others opposed to government-enforced racial balancing. Mr. Glazer was prominently featured in one of the earliest studies of the group, Peter Steinfels's "The Neoconservatives: The Men Who Are Changing America's Politics" in 1979.

Mr. Glazer was never an entirely reliable neoconservative. He wasn't comfortable with the label, and on foreign policy he continued to describe himself as "somewhat left." If he opposed policies like affirmative action, it was not, as with more traditional conservatives, out of antipathy to government itself, but out of a skepticism about what public programs could accomplish.

One of his books was entitled "The Limits of Social Policy," published in 1988.

"On most areas of public policy," he said, "I consider myself pragmatic, rather than a man of the left or a man of the right."

As a social scientist, Mr. Glazer valued hard facts over good intentions. At the same time, he was modest about what the facts could show. A reader of his work was always coming upon phrases like "I am not sure" and "We do not have the knowledge" and "I do not know."

This meant that the nonideological Mr. Glazer could change his mind. In his writings on architecture and city planning, for example, he went from early enthusiasm for modernism to a "growing disenchantment."

"In the end," he said, "the defense of a radical modernism became the work of an elite that the ordinary person could not understand."

During the 1990s Mr. Glazer decided that he had been wrong about the course of integration as set out in "Affirmative Discrimination" -- that he had been complacent about racial progress in America.

And once he had concluded that some kind of multiculturalism was necessary for public education, he bowed to what he saw as the inevitable: "Even the most balanced and professional effort to define a curriculum for students in American schools today will place a heavy emphasis on multiplicity and diversity, race and ethnicity."

In Mr. Glazer's case, it seemed, a multiculturalist was a neoconservative who had been mugged by reality.

Posted by at January 20, 2019 5:55 AM