Today’s Radical Chic

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In the June 8, 1970, issue of New York magazine, Tom Wolfe published an article that has been recognized ever since as having perfectly captured a critically important moment in the history of the American cultural elite.  “Radical Chic” was Wolfe’s devastating, unforgettable account of a party he had attended at the Park Avenue duplex penthouse apartment of Leonard Bernstein, then at the height of his fame.  The guest list broke down into two categories.  Category #1 was a who’s-who of world-class artists, celebrities, and New York high-society types: actor Jason Robards, comedian Mike Nichols, playwright Lillian Hellman, artist Larry Rivers, composer Aaron Copland, photographer Richard Avedon, choreographer Jerome Robbins, songwriter Stephen Sondheim, Hollywood director Otto Preminger, Today show host Barbara Walters, and many, many more.  Category #2 was a selection of Black Panther leaders from around the country, among them one Robert Bay, who just 41 hours earlier, as Wolfe noted, had been “arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called ‘criminal facilitation.’”

One of the Panthers addressed the gathering.  His theme: although, for example, “21 members of the Black Panther Party” had been indicted recently “on ridiculous charges of conspiring to blow up department stores and flower gardens,” the Panthers were a peaceable group whose real concerns were indicated by the clinics and children’s breakfast programs they were setting up around the country.   “We recognize,” he said, “that this country is the most oppressive country in the world, maybe in the history of the world. The pigs have the weapons and they are ready to use them on the people…ready to commit genocide against those who stand up against them…..All we want is the good life, the same as you. To live in peace and lead the good life, that’s all we want.”  The Panthers’ lawyer compared the prosecution of the Panthers to the Reichstag fire – both being efforts by tyrannical governments to eliminate the opposition.  And then the Panthers solicited contributions, in response to which the glitterati shouted out pledges – a few hundred dollars here, a few thousand there.

And then an art-gallery owner, depicted by Wolfe as a social climber who had recently arrived from Chicago, shouted out: “Who do you call to give a party?”  Because this wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last party for the Black Panthers to be held in a fancy Manhattan home.  Holding parties for Black Panthers, in the upper-class Manhattan of the very late Sixties and very early Seventies, was the height of chic.  While presented as an act of high morality, it was in fact, as Wolfe explained, an example of “nostalgie de la boue, or romanticizing of primitive souls.”  It was also a way for upper-crust folks to distinguish themselves from the earnest, middle-class types who supported earnest, middle-class civil-rights groups like the NAACP.  At the root of it all, the fact was that the category #1 people at Leonard Bernstein’s party had everything, except for one thing – namely, the freedom from guilt that goes with not having everything.  And so – as an act of atonement, of expiation – they held and attended these parties, thereby not only liberating themselves from limousine-liberal guilt but also lifting themselves up, in their own eyes, to a moral high ground from which they could look down upon the middle class with a pure, guiltless, delicious condescension that made their lives, and their privilege, complete.

As Wolfe’s article made clear, in order to have a successful Panthers party one had to steer delicately around certain awkward details, such as the reality of these people’s violent criminal activity, the reality of their revolutionary goals, and the reality of their profound racism and anti-Semitism (Wolfe quotes a virulently anti-Semitic poem from a Black Panther publication).  Instead, one had to keep the focus on the illusion that the Panthers were heroes of their people, innocent victims, believers in All Good Things who had been utterly misrepresented by a hostile media establishment.

Cut to March 14, 2012, and another address in Manhattan – namely, the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side.  The occasion: a panel discussion entitled “Combating Islamophobia.”  The panelists: a rabbi, Marc Schneier, and an imam, Shamsi Ali. The moderator: Chelsea Clinton.  Among the 225 people in attendance, fortunately for us, is the author Phyllis Chesler, who has now recorded this event for posterity.  Like Tom Wolfe in 1970, she has captured a twisted moment in the history of the New York cultural elite in all its moral vacuity, social irresponsibility, and unblushing self-congratulation.

For those of us unfamiliar with Rabbi Schneier, Chesler provides a brief and helpful résumé: “He has landed in the media many times both for his marital woes (four divorces) and for his interfaith work. He runs a very popular synagogue in Westhampton Beach on Long Island, which offers non-stop entertainment, lectures, films, gatherings, communal hot lunches and dinners, as well as religious services. He is also the son of Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the long-time rabbi of Park East Synagogue who began the tradition of having politicians and celebrities address his congregants.”  One gets the idea.

Schneier is also “Principal Officer” of something called the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which “reported gross receipts of $825,638.00 for 2010” and “receipts totaling nearly 3.7 million dollars for the period between 2006 and 2010.”  Among the foundation’s directors is billionaire Alexander Machkevitch, so “one might conjecture that he has funded some of the work of this Foundation.”  In addition to his foundation income, Schneier earns “a handsome salary and a rabbinical allowance” from the Westhampton Synagogue.

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  • Alexander Gofen

    What a profound article… Thank you Mr. Bawer! Just adding my favorite quote of Keith Davies fitting to the point:

    Through our history many Jews have acted in betraying their God and their own people… If we think rationally why we have survived as a people based on our own collective behavior as a nation, we should not have survived at all. The only conclusion I can come to as a Jew is that we have survived because of God himself and his mercy and compassion. (See more).

    • Western Spirit

      Well said Mr Gofen. God has indeed preserved the Jewish people because He had a task for them to do and in spite of everything they have done it—spread the knowledge of their God to the rest of the world.

  • red wolf

    None of this is remotely surprising, one could have seen it coming (I remember that essay of Wolfe's). It is the persistent senescence of the self-appointed Jewish "intellectual" elite that boggles the mind. Yet this masochistic know-nothingness and willful blindness on their part is nothing new, it was there with pre-Holocaust Jewry in Europe (and America). The trauma of the Holocaust has it would appear only intensified the neurosis. This 'radical chic' of today though is far more depressing, scandalous and utterly insane than that of 1970, the latter coming across as naifs more than anything else. Nowadays the price to pay is far greater, and the bill is not yet added up, never mind yet to be paid..

    Strange, I used that exact term 'radical chic' in the exact same context (re the Jewish attachment to destructive modern-day Leftist cultural and moral relativist values, Islamophilia and blindness to anti-Semitism) at my blog not that long ago..

  • vlondo

    Theres no answer, these ethnic Jews are working toward the destruction of the West – and they are succeeding.

  • theleastthreat

    Ultimately, these people will fail. I hate to imagine how many lives will be lost in the meantime.

  • steven L

    This why Pr. Obama MUST be defeated.

  • maturin20

    I don't know what to laugh at more, Bawer in exile trying to pick apart the bones of a long deceased pianist, or his faux shock. He makes it sound like getting into a fight with the police might be something that only takes place on a remote moon somewhere. I just had a fight with the police a few months ago. With police getting up in peoples' business more and more, it is commonplace now to fight them. Look at how poorly they behave.

    • Ray Olson

      So just when did you stop reading the piece? After the first paragraph or after the first sentence . . . or the first word? Please don't contribute if you don't bother to find out what the subject of the initial posting is.

      • maturin20

        I read the whole piece. It was a lot of setup to construct the weak simile. One whole page of raging against Bernstein leading into a second page where an updated passion play of the same is recast with some imams and rabbis and Phyllis Chesler as the "life" of the party. A party in Sartrean hell. What is sad to me is Bawer is retelling that old racist Phyllis Chesler's unfun party anecdotes. That's a second hand hearsay recount of another woman's experiences of ennui at an event. I am familiar with and her freakouts about the alleged encroachment of sharia law in the United States and her self-touted copious expertise.

        • Ray Olson

          Thanks for explaining your reaction. I guess what constitutes a weak comparison is in the eyes of the beholder. I think the circumstances of the radical chic party and the incident Phyllis Chesler (whom I had never heard of) reported are broadly similar–both were meetings of people commonly supposed to be antagonistic, both were hosted by celebrities, both were exposed by a journalist. OK, one was a party and the other a panel discussion, but the party included at least one statement on issues that the attenders heard as soberly as I imagine the auditors to the panel received what they heard.

          I also don't understand why you bring up racism. The radical chic party was very much concerned with racism, I grant you. But what Bawer relays of Chesler's report hasn't an ounce of racism in it. On the face of it, how could it, since the panel seems to have been concerned with issues of religious, not racial, confrontation. Moreover, there don't seem to have been any nonwhite participants or perhaps even auditors. OK, if one likes to speak of ethnic and national heritages as races, as in "the English race" or "the Arab race" or "the Persian race" or "the Irish race", etc., the panel event was concerned with race conflict. Is that what you mean when you condemn the event because the reporter is "racist". And do you believe that a reporter's status as a racist invalidates everything the reporter writes?

          • maturin20

            Yes, to almost everything you wrote. I agree. The only thing I answer in the negative is the last question. Regarding the yes part: I think this is some kind of chauvinistic Kulturkampf with a military component. I think Chesler and Bawer are on the Israeli/foreign nationalist side of the struggle and I am playing for The Americans, and more widely for universal brotherhood of man. I share your criticism, and in theory, the criticism usurped by Bawer of "radical chic parties." I am opposed to Kony 2012 for that reason. I am not opposed to all domestic and foreign expatriates as such, but Chesler and Bawer seem to me like ungrateful wretches, who really can't relinquish the country they seem to dislike so much, but in which I still reside.

            Regarding the no part: I don't think that being a racist invalidates EVERYTHING a reporter (or an opinion blogger) writes. Writers like Bawer, David Duke, Chesler, and Dershowitz frequently incorporate huge blocks of moderate sounding, reasonable and true statements in the backdrop of their chauvinist arguments to catch your ear and lower your guard, making you agreeable and then socratically trying to slip in one item that is absolutely out of the question: dispossessing others of their land, their freedom to worship, or their right to speak in public or assemble. I think that being a racist throws up a huge red flag that even the most sensible ideas are going to be shortly followed by an "ergo, hate these people and give me your rights." I think it is an example of Esau giving away his birthright for a bowl of soup.

          • Ray Olson

            Ah! Now I understand. I share your skepticism regarding what you call "the Israel/foreign nationalist side of the struggle." I think we (the U.S.) either support Israel too much and unwisely OR our leadership elite uses danger to Israel as a pretext for costly and deadly adventuring. I favor a single-state solution to the Palestinian troubles, one in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims are on equal footing as to civil rights. (I know that seems a pipedream nowadays.)

            I can't speak as to Chesler, except to say that I haven't yet found evidence that she is an expatriate, but the Bruce Bawer I knew didn't seem a chauvinist of any kind.

            Thanks, again, for the interesting exchange.

          • maturin20

            Thank you!

  • Ozdragon

    Broadly speaking, there two types of people who enter the clergy, 1) those who are spiritual and truely believe that that can do good for society and 2) those who treat religion as another form of business.
    I have met Rabbi Mark Schneier on several occassions and I believe he is one who treats religion as a business.
    He is much more attentive to his rich congregants tha to those who are not.
    He is also politally very far left.

  • Wayneplus

    Shame on the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Well, one thing they’ve done is to jointly protest Rep. Peter King’s extremely important hearings about radicalism among American Muslims. 

    The reality is there is no specific thing as Islamic radicalization. That notion is based off of the false PC multicultural myth that Islam is a so-called Religion of Peace™ and that the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world today are so-called moderate and peaceful Muslims. Hence, when Muslims obviously don't appear to be peaceful and moderate according to the prevalent false PC multicultural myth, another explanation is required to explain away the situation. Shazam, a new false PC multicultural myth is created: the myth of Islamic radicalization.

    Nevertheless, the truth is first of all, Islam is not a so-called Religion of Peace™. Instead, it is a supremacist theo-political totalitarian ideology that masquerades as being a religion to dupe the gullible societies it intends to subjugate into a very draconian form of Islamic totalitarianism.

    Second, the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world aren't peaceful and moderate at all. Instead, the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world are covert and deceptive non-violent jihadists, while a tiny minority of Muslims are violent jihadists, and the few of them that are not jihadists are not Muslims at all, but instead blasphemous apostates that per the dictates of mainstream orthodox Islam must be executed.

    In fact, covert and deceptive non-violent jihad is employed by the Islamic world astronomically far more prevalently and represents an exponentially far greater threat to the peace and security of the West relative to violent jihad. Yet, our government today is literally going broke trying to protect the homeland from the threat of nearly non-existent violent jihad attacks, while at the same time opening up the floodgates for mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage, which is really covert and deceptive non-violent jihad for the purpose of mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest. Indeed, covert and deceptive Muslim jihadists can easily do far more harm by duping gullible useful idiots than by blowing them up.

    Hence, Islam must be outlawed on the grounds that it really isn't a religion and mass Muslim immigration, which is really covert and deceptive non-violent jihad for the purpose of mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest, must be banned and reversed ASAP.

    As a matter of fact, with zero Muslim covert jihadists living in America as a fifth column, violent jihad attacks on the homeland will be virtually impossible, the much greater threat stemming from mass infiltration and stealth demographic conquest will be completely eliminated, and the best part of all is the hundreds of billions of dollars we currently spend annually to protect the homeland from the threat of violent jihad attacks and to continue accommodating mass Muslim immigration with all of its excess baggage can be used instead for something else like getting our financial house back in order.

  • Dean Speir

    The author notes that "'Radical Chic' appeared in New York magazine, which was then the Sunday supplement of the Herald-Tribune, New York’s 'other' serious newspaper."

    At the time "Radical Chic" was published (June 8, 1970) New York Magazine, launched by Clay Felker and Milton Glaser in 1968, was a publication entirely separate from the Herald-Tribune which had ceased publishing in 1966.

  • joy52

    What is different now from the70's is that the population in general is more aware to the threat from islam, because we have the benefit of hindsight. We really did not know in the 1970's what was coming. While there will always be a radical Left, we are keenly aware of their danger. Hustlers like Schneier, profiting from betrayal, and useful idiots like Clinton, seeking to trade on conferred status, will always be around. The collossal failure of the Obama scam is a taint on the Left's wider influence.

  • Linda Rivera


    I was out of NYC and very disappointed to be unable to attend the protest. I am so proud of my patriotic, freedom-loving New Yorkers with their wonderful banners that proclaimed TRUTH. Thank you so much for standing up for New Yorkers in particular, and indeed, all Americans! Global jihad targets every non-Muslim!

    Apologist for the totalitarian, political, religious system of Islam, Rabbi Schneier defined "Islamophobia" as "anti-Muslim discrimination." What a LIE! An Islamophobe is a someone who believes that:

    ALL people must have human rights, and

    ALL people must be equal under the law.

    Islamic sharia law is radically opposed to this.

    Ms. Clinton: "We are being protested against". Patriotic, freedom loving New Yorkers were protesting against Muslim/Leftist DECEPTION and for the right for our wonderful, NYPD to continue to protect New York from murderous Muslim terrorism. We don't want any more 9/11s.

    Clearly, protecting New Yorkers, is unacceptable to Leftist, Ms. Clinton, the Rabbi and Muslim Brotherhood groups.

  • tagalog

    One common thread that seems to weave itself through these upper-crust shindigs celebrating the thugs of the world is the self-imposed delusion that somehow these centerpieces of the parties, who make no bones about their willingness to shed blood to accomplish their goals, are non-violent.

    I wonder where that comes from? Apparently, from its regular manifestations, from some deep-seated need.

  • babyanng

    Age ain't nothing but a number for these loved-up A-Listers. My BF and I both think so! He is almost 10 years older than I. We met via ~~Agelessmeet . COM~~ a nice place for younger women and older men, or older women and younger men, to interact with each other! Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends: )