My Experiences in the Sixties

The sixties were the most significant decade in my life. During this decade I married, had my obligatory two kids, and divorced, and in the sixties I launched my career. Born in 1937, I was 21 in 1958 when I graduated from Georgetown with a double major in philosophy and political science. I earned my MA from Claremont Grad School in 1960 and my Ph.D. from Berkeley five years later in 1965. Both my graduate degrees were in History. 

In the fall of 1960 at age 23 I began my Ph.D. studies at UC Berkeley, the matrix of my awakening, where I lost my intellectual and political virginity, and finally gave up praying to the Virgin Mary to help me stop masturbating, often visualizing the Queen of Heaven as my desired sexual conquest, simultaneously pleading with her to fulfil–or to quell–my unruly passions, feeling tons of Catholic guilt either way, of course. 

During the mid-sixties, as a UC Berkeley Ph.D. though extremely reluctant to leave Berkeley when the burgeoning nascent radical movement, symbolized by the Free Speech Movement was under way, I did the customary required tour of duty away from my Mecca, Berkeley, teaching in the provinces—at Duke in North Carolina and at the recently established experimental campus of the University of California in Riverside, California—(as my French intellectual heroes Sartre, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and de Beauvoir, had temporarily left Paris in their early postgraduate years), but by 1968 I gratefully finagled my way back to the mothership, my chosen Heimat, Berkeley.  

So I was fortune to be on hand when all hell broke loose in the fall of 1968 and was able to witness at first hand the simultaneous student political, sexual, cultural, and counter-cultural revolutions that went down there in 1968 and 1969.

My liberal Republican worldview was already formed within my unconscious by the time I finished prep school and was given a strong Roman Catholic flavor by my Jesuit and lay teachers in the Government Department at Georgetown in the late fifties at the height of the Cold War. As an aspiring Roman Catholic intellectual, I grew into manhood with a strong intellectual foundation in the Bible, scholastic philosophy and theology, classical Ancient Greek and Roman history, philosophy and literature, the history of Western philosophy, and political and economic thought, AND a strong sense of mission to “explore and elaborate the implications of Christianity for our times” [Georgetown’s mission statement] AND a commitment to confront the “false doctrines” of atheistic Marxism and Communism, which I took very seriously. 

Over the years my understanding of Marxist theory and practice have deepened, matured, and evolved, and I have gradually come to appreciate the analytical striking power of Marxian social theory and ideological analysis in a way that I could not have imagined earlier, any more than I could have foreseen the collapse of Soviet Russia and Soviet-dominated World Communism in 1989. I was in Germany when that iron curtain, that intractable wall  that I had leaned my shoulders against and confronted most of my life suddenly crumbled and collapsed across Eastern Central Europe. When it did, I fell down in confusion with it, and found that I had to work hard to construct a new political and personal life mission after “the enemy” had disappeared and with it my polar reckoning points.

In 1960, because we were in the midst of a Cold War anti-Communist Crusade, at UC Berkeley I specialized in German and Russian history and international relations, hoping to serve my country as my beloved president John Fitzgerald Kennedy urged us to do in his famous inaugural address. Remember: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”? I hoped to become a diplomat or a spy. Certainly not just another academic!

In order to pursue my post-MA studies in German History I took an intensive-German course at the Monterey Institute of Foreign Study during the summer of 1960. The Institute drew much of its faculty and audio-visual learning technology from the nearby US Amy Language School. Classes were held in the halls of the charming old Franciscan Monterey Mission buildings full of memories of old California history.

My girl friend, Laurie Smits, from Los Angeles, got a job teaching English at Monterey High and rented a little house in Carmel to be near me, as I had rented a room near the Institute. I enjoyed the German classes, spending time with Laurie, and living in Carmel. We had a lot in common then—she’d studied American history and literature at Smith–and we enjoyed arguing about history, literature, philosophy and religion.

Both being virgins and afraid of real intimacy or sexual intercourse, we found arguing to be the safest form of interaction. Laurie was very good at it, having been well trained in intellectual combat by her aggressive scientist father who had wanted a son to fight with intellectually and made do with her.

In the fall Laurie took up a teaching job in San Francisco and got an apartment in the Marina district, while I went to Berkeley to begin my doctoral studies at the university and shared an apartment with a Swiss graduate student, Franz Meier, a heavy beer drinker, who was  majoring in economics and business administration. 

I enjoyed my classes at UC, particularly the lectures in History 144, Modern European Intellectual and Cultural History, given by my favorite professor, Carl Schorske. Luckily, I was chosen to be his teaching assistant, which made me recognizable wherever I went on campus since he attracted a large multidisciplinary audience. Besides conducting discussion groups with his students, through this position I was able to have lunch with Carl regularly after his lectures. At Robbie’s Grill, our regular luncheon Stammtisch on Telegraph Ave  Carl gave me the fatherly nurturing attention, intellectual guidance, and emotional support from a male authority figure that I had craved all my life never having received it from either of my fathers. 

It was at those informal luncheons with my mentor off campus as much or more than in the impersonal university lecture halls and in the small discussion classrooms at Berkeley that I took on the mind, methods and manners of a modern European intellectual and cultural historian and the broad multidisciplinary approach that has characterized my work ever since.

In my doctoral studies I specialized in German and Russian intellectual history and in Historiography, the history and methodology of historical writing, which I still find fascinating. I also enjoyed my classes in medieval, Renaissance,  and seventeenth century intellectual and cultural history, which provided me with material to explore for the rest of my life, and which I am still teaching today at UCSD. 

Taking a big gamble, and filled with anxiety, I took my comprehensive written and oral examinations after only one year and a half of coursework, and to my surprise and relief, passed with flying colors. I then took off for Germany to write my thesis and soak up the suds, history, art, music, women, and culture. 

Summing up my lifelong study of German history, what I have learned about Germany and the Germans is that the German concept of KULTUR has remained to this day a term that seems distant from–if not actually contrary to– politics. For Germans, the notion of “culture” is as redolent with warm feelings and associations as that of “politics” is ambivalent, cold, foreign, alien, and suspicious. In recent historical memory for Germans today the history of the Weimarer Republik suffers endless criticism and it is despised as weak and a failure, but on the other hand “Weimarer Kultur” [of the same time] is remembered nostalgically in memoirs and in literature and film as a “creative age of great unfulfilled promise” that still contains potentials for further creative development.

This delusional overrating of “culture” has played a very significant–mostly destructive–role in German history, politics and society, which were not as well developed in Germany as in other western societies. When culture was accepted as a valid substitute for politics, the absence of morality in the public sphere was easily accepted as well, and this gradually led to the fascist dream of creating a “theatrical state.”

The brilliant cultural sociologist Walter Benjamin, who died by his own hand in the Pyrenees while trying to escape from the Gestapo in 1940, was the first to make the distinction between  ‘the politicization of culture” which was characteristic of Communist regimes, and the “aestheticization of politics” which was part of fascist ideology and inspired fantasies of the creation of a “theatrical state,” as in the ancient Roman Empire with its spectacular public rituals and activities like the Olympic games and publicly-viewed bloody gladiatorial contests

This aesthetic appeal of public political and religious demonstrations led many intelligent potentially critical bystanders to regard German politics and propaganda demonstrations as a form of ritualized theatre, without thinking about the consequences in the very real social and political world. For them form was of more significance than content and awareness of the Nazi crimes left them not so much morally appalled as aesthetically disappointed. 

In the spring of 1962, with the blessings of my thesis director, Carl Schorske, I flew directly to Germany to begin work on my dissertation, which was to be an intellectual biography of a famous German philosopher-sociologist, Max Scheler (1875-1928) who had died prematurely in his 50s relatively unknown in the United States, as very few of his most important works had been translated. When the Nazis came to power they forbade reading or publishing his works; so it was really only in the 1950s that studies of Scheler’s thought began to come out and there was no biography of Scheler available anywhere, not even in German. It was a wide open opportunity for me.

I had actually wanted to write my thesis on the great nineteenth century German philosopher and cultural historian Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), who during his lifetime and long after, even today has had a continuing influence in a broad range of scholarly disciplines and made important contributions to such diverse subjects as  hermeneutics and phenomenology, aesthetics, psychology, and the history and methodology of the social sciences (die Geisteswisensschaften) whose works on German pietism and romanticism had fascinated me, but as my professor thought that Dilthey might prove too difficult a subject for a novice like me, I accepted as my second choice, Max Scheler, one of Dilthey’s students, who I had never heard of, but soon discovered was equally difficult to encompass and fully understand as Dilthey would have been.

As I began reading Scheler’s works I was immediately struck by his observation that “today, perhaps for the first time in history, mankind is totally LOST, beyond all former traditional intellectual anchors and reference points. He feels completely alone in the universe, and no longer even knows what it means to be a human being as such or among other sorts of beings. Man is more of a problem to himself at the present time than ever before in all recorded history. [Today] there seems to have arisen a new courage of truthfulness—a courage  to raise the essential question [what is man?] without any commitments to any  intellectual or spiritual or scientific  traditions that have prevailed up to now. Whereas in former times there always remained a generally accepted and taken for granted frame of reference to which all individual differences could be referred,  the task facing us today, he said, was nothing less than to create from scratch a new philosophy of man (philosophische Anthropologie) for our time.” 

Deep in my guts I felt the applicability of his words to my own confusing–no longer stable–existence and crumbling traditional Catholic world view. As a Catholic at a large secular public university, I had been struggling from the day I commenced my post-graduate studies  to protect my fragile faith against the onslaught of the terrible dreaded enemy—the atheist-relativists like Marx, Weber, Nietzsche  and Freud—who I also admired and who I had to discuss sympathetically in my seminars with my students almost every day. As a man of God, what was I to make of Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead!”? And of Marx’s claim that religion was nothing but a lie, an ideology, perpetrated by the rich and powerful to dupe the ignorant masses? And of Freud’s telling analysis of how we use God images to fill our longing for lost primary love objects and to fight off our fears of death and oblivion? Worst of all, the growing iconoclast in me loved these provocative ideas, while the child of God shrunk back into the shadows in fear and trembling, ashamed of his seemingly uncontrollable terrible other side that he couldn’t silence or shut down. So I found with Peanuts that when I faced my worst enemy, it was me, or to speak more accurately an unwelcome unacknowledged uncontrollable unpredictable part of me of which I was both ashamed and afraid.

Since Scheler, a Jewish convert, known as “the Catholic Nietzsche” was–at least for a good part of his life– a highly respected professional Roman Catholic philosopher, ethicist, cultural critic, and sociologist,  I hoped that in studying his life and works, I might be able to work through and resolve my own personal intellectual dilemmas and moral  difficulties. 

I should have been forewarned that Scheler might be a dangerous model to follow when I came across this recollection of him by his friend Ludwig Curtius, the classicist:

“Scheler was the one German philosopher in whom personality and theory were deeply intertwined. His infinitely sensitive depth of feeling and his rich and painfully vulnerable nature registered all the various currents of our time like a tuning fork, and he responded to them out of the confusion of his own personality, and his synthesizing expansive mind. He took part in all the impurities of our time as well, and his need for salvation and his endless search for God along ever new paths sprang from the guilty entanglements of his erotic life.”

When the archbishop demanded an explanation from Scheler upon learning that he was having sex with both his male and female university students as well as living in a virtual ménage a trios with Maerit, his wife, and Maria Scheu [shy], his graduate assistant  [who it was well-known  was not really Scheu at all!]  while lecturing on ethics to Catholic clergy and young seminary students at the University,  Scheler’s too-clever-by-half-answer was to liken himself to a street sign. “I point the way, but I don’t go there myself.” The archbishop was not amused. 

After spending a decade reading and translating Max’s writings, I found myself sometimes unconsciously imitating some of Scheler’s ways of thinking and behaving.   Like Max Scheler in the early 20th century, and Bill Clinton later, I found it impossible for me to resist acting out my seemingly uncontrollable sexual impulses with my students, which almost cost me a job at one point, as it had nearly cost Scheler his professorship in Cologne. As my life unfolded in midlife, like Scheler I found that I could not continue to accept the sexual restrictions the Church imposes on the life of a divorced Catholic, and I withdrew from my original infatuation with– and obedience to–the Roman Catholic Church, moving to the more open and less restrictive Episcopalian fold. 

          When I arrived in Cologne on the train from the airport in the summer of 1962, I met with some professors from the Philosophy Department at Cologne University, where Scheler had taught. They were very kind to me and provided me with access to the university and departmental archives, and even gave a small reception for me in which the golden Rhine wine was served in gleaming glasses tied with festive red ribbon bows.

         I then wandered along the Rhine after the reception ended, and with no plans in mind walked right into the gorgeous new opera house. I was lucky to get in without a ticket, because the performance had already begun and no usher was anywhere in sight to take tickets. What I saw was Richard Wagner’s Das Rhingold in a fantastic modern production designed by Wieland Wagner, the master’s grandson.

Throughout Germany I visited many people who had known Max Scheler.  Wherever I went, I was greeted with welcoming open hearts. His former students and listeners remembered him fondly and were delighted to tell me charming stories about him. From them I discovered that to really appreciate the phenomenon that was Max Scheler one had to experience his extraordinary personal presence. Whereas Socrates had spoken of himself as a gadfly and a midwife, Scheler seems to have fancied himself a puppeteer. Ernst Kammnitzer, one of his former students explained the metaphor:

His philosophical equipment—the world and his head—he had always with him, as a strolling player has his little theatre… [Like] a vagrant mummer who needs no preparation, nor any of the appurtenances of a big theatre, Scheler didn’t require any special sets or settings.  Given an audience, whether in a café or a lecture hall, he became creative and set his ideas dancing. He might be sitting with a companion, his head impishly cocked to one side,  watching on the inner stage of his mind  the drama of the world. He often squinted at his puppet’s play, which was really his own, of course, always with half an eye locked on his listener, or better, spectator.  Like a stand-up comedian, again and again, by an interjected question—wie? or nicht wahr?—Scheler assured himself of holding  his companion’s attention and of the effects of his clever intellectual moves. He had the gift of making present what is often called ‘abstract’.It was simply magic! He was truly a magician of the mind/spirit (Geist ). Like Mephisto, what he called forth from the spirit realm came, and now and then one could see a glint in his eyes, indicating a triumphant feeling of joy that he was being obeyed. In an instant, like a skilled hypnotist, he could transform the environment, fill it with his ideas, and make them dance to his tune. He called these public performances “Doing Phenomenology.”

The half an eye for the spectator was Scheler’s good eye. A stigmatic defect of his right eye gave  the impression that it was focused on the world of ideas or on the Infinite.

As there was no published biography of Scheler available anywhere when I researched, wrote and published mine. So I had the good fortune to become the “go to” Scheler man for over a dozen years until several other English language Scheler books appeared. 

After interviewing some of Scheler’s former students,I met and interviewed  Maerit Fürtwaengler, Max Scheler’s second wife, in Heidelberg. I later met and interviewed Maria Scheler (née Scheu) in Munich. She had been one of his students in Cologne and became his assistant and his lover. After several years of this ménage a trios, Maerit divorced Max and he moved in with Maria. When he died, the two women fought bitterly over who should have his wedding band. Maria tore it off the corpse and kept it. According to legend, they also fought over possession of his brain which had been extracted from the corpse and analyzed by scientists. I believe that Maria got this trophy as well.

Particularly helpful to me among Scheler’s former students were the philosopher  Helmuth Plessner, in Bonn, the political scientist, Arnold Bergstrasser in Freiburg, and the philosopher/sociologists Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in Frankfurt. 

That was the beginning of my lifelong interest in the work of the famous neo-Marxist social scientists of the Frankfurt School. After meeting Adorno and Horkheimer, I later became acquainted with other Frankfurters who had a strong influence on my evolving world view, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, who I used to visit at the height of his glory in La Jolla, while I was teaching in Riverside in 1966-1967, and Leo Loewenthal, the sociologist of literature and culture who later settled in Berkeley where he became Chairman of the Sociology Department and who I worked with when I did my post-doc in sociology there in 1968.

After my initial interviews with Maerit I realized that I needed to improve my German, so I went to Munich, where I enrolled at the Goethe Institute. The secretary placed me in the school in Achenmühle, a tiny village near Rosenheim, about 30 miles east of Munich. Meanwhile, Laurie followed me to Munich uninvited—determined to “get her man,” and got herself placed by the Goethe Institute in a lovely little spa town, Bad Aibling, not far from my boring hellhole. 

Boy was I surprised the day I received a sweet card from Laurie from Bad Aibling inviting me to come visit on the weekend if I had nothing better to do, and quoting some lines from Saint Exupery’s “le Petit Prince” which touched my heart, but which I don’t remember now. Of course I went. I was a sitting duck. We had some nice times together, and curious to find out what sex with her might be like, I finally broke down and asked her to marry me.

I was there in Achenmühle for two months and then returned to Munich where I lived at a Pension on the Biedermayerstrasse. In Munich, besides seeing Laurie regularly, I often visited my friend Pierre Mendell (who was like a brother to me) at his graphics design studio. My parents came to visit us for Christmas and we all went to midnight mass at the neighborhod church near the pension amidst dozens of Christmas trees illuminated by lighted candles. Nobody does Christmas like the Germans do!

After my parents returned to the states I was feeling lonely in Munich and  asked Laurie to agree to sleep with me since we were officially engaged. She said “No. You gotta marry me first.” I loved it in Germany but she insisted on getting married back in California. I agreed–with much reluctance. In fact the wedding was almost cancelled several times, and the item that determined our fate was believe it or not—the printed wedding invitations. Since they had been printed, I was told by my mother-in-law-to-be that there was no going back on my decision now. Like it or not, I must go through with it!

Throughout our married life–which lasted only five years–I found myself unable to stand up to Laurie. Eventually I left her.

We were married in San Marino, in Southern California on Feb. 23rd, 1963, and we  honeymooned in Big Sur, which is a wild coast south of Monterey, about  midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

We lived in Berkeley for a few months in the spring before we  returned to Europe in June. Back in Germany, we lived in Ziegelhausen  in a romantic little cottage near the banks of the river Neckar to be near Heidelberg and Maerit Fürtwaengler, without whose help I never could have written the book I did

           I tried to mix with the history graduate students in Professor Conze’s historisches Seminar seminar at Heidelberg University, but I felt that I was an outsider, as always. This has been the basic pattern of my life. Even today I feel I am an outsider.

In September, somewhat reluctantly, we returned to California, where I had lined up a job to teach Western Civilization at a small Catholic girl’s school, the College of Notre Dame located in a beautiful old mansion in Belmont near Stanford. The students were not too swift, but that was okay, because I didn’t have enough time to adequately prepare my classes since my priority was to complete my dissertation by the end of the academic year if possible.

Laurie taught high school in the city, and we lived in a small apartment on Greenwich Street in San Francisco and spent a lot of time hanging out at the famed City Lights Bookstore and in Italian restaurants and cafes in North Beach. Sex with frigid Laurie never amounted to much, but she did manage to get pregnant by June somehow, after many manipulative strategizing moves, and much patience and tolerance of her resistance to sexual intercourse on my part.  

“Just relax lay back, take a deep breath, hold your nose, close your eyes, count down slowly from 100 and think of the future of our family, dear. It’ll all be over in a jiffy. I promise.”

The following fall (1964), I took up my first full-time teaching position–at Duke University where I had once been an undergraduate student. I taught four sections of the introductory modern history course which began with the Renaissance and went up to World War Two and beyond.

Our first son, John-Mark, was born on Oct. 6th, soon after we got settled in Durham, called for no reason I can imagine “the city of exciting stores.” He was a healthy child with very strong lungs to let everyone know of his needs. When we had married, in the Roman Church, Laurie, an Episcopalian, reluctantly had signed a document agreeing that our children would be baptized and raised Catholics, so the baby was soon baptized and accompanied me to mass, which I still attended dutifully in those days.

In the summer of 1965 I got a grant to return to Europe. I went to Munich to study Russian images of Weimar Germany. I worked at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. We lived in Bogenhausen in an apartment that belonged to the German film star Sabina Sesselman. I had a very fruitful summer doing research in Munich and then returned to Duke for my second year there in the fall.

While teaching at Duke I made friends with a great Catholic intellectual layman, Wallace Fowlie from the Department of Romance Languages. It was his Guide to Contemporary French Literature that had inspired me to go study in Paris when I finished my undergraduate studies at Georgetown in 1958. He was a wise and inspiring Catholic layman, and discussions with him helped me strengthen my faith as a Catholic intellectual. 

One time he gave a talk on the philosophy of Jacques Maritain who he knew personally, which impressed me immensely  because Maritain was a Catholic writer that  I admired. I had recently read his autobiography, The Peasant of the Garonne and read his wife’s delightful memoir, We Were Friends Together as well.

Wallace became a very good friend and mentor to me. I stayed in touch with him for several years after I moved on from Duke and still treasure the signed copies of the wonderful books he gave me and later sent to me as they came out, especially his delightful perceptive study of the childlike imagination of the adolescent poet Arthur Rimbaud, and his life of Mallarmé, for whom the goal of life was to transform his every experience into poetry. Wallace planted seeds in my soul that are only now taking root and sprouting.


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