“Interview” in Liberation Times

Liberation Times: Professor Kirstein, welcome to this interview. We hope to explore your current feelings about David Horowitz's, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America and at least some reflection on your highly controversial case a few years ago.

PK: Well let's begin then.

Liberation Times: You were labeled as "dangerous" in David Horowitz's book, The Professors.  How did you feel about such a book and your place within it?

PK: I had mixed feelings. I felt a book that focused on progressive faculty was not helpful in advancing public dialogue or the need to maintain an independent higher-education system. On the other hand I felt it legitimised much of my work and gave me an opportunity to continue to articulate views to a wider audience than I would normally have.

Liberation Times: You mean it gave you publicity?

PK: Well yes but I have had quite a bit of that since my academic-freedom case in which I was placed on suspension for an antiwar e-mail in 2002. I guess Mr Horowitz's book enabled me to continue what had already been a dramatic shift from obscurity to a more visible platform.

Liberation Times: Do you think the book has had adverse consequences for any of its subjects and specifically does being called "dangerous" by a major national figure pose a problem for you?

PK: I would not know how others have been affected to the extent that you are asking. Several told me they liked it; some said it was of little consequence; some were dismayed by it, but I don't know any details beyond that. I believe its intention was to marginalise and vilify professors who are construed by the author to vary excessively from his radical-conservative vision. I think during McCarthyism in the 1950s similar efforts were launched by the right to impune the patriotism and integrity of a wide variety of people who strayed from the rigorous, Puritanical politics, if you will, of the Cold War. One had to embrace the Manichaean struggle between communism and "free world democracy" or suffer the consequences. While The Professors was written by a non-governmental official, it is chilling that such an effort would continue a half-century later. But no it did not hurt me; I indicated it enabled me to continue advancing positions with a greater voice than I was accustomed to before October 31, 2002–the day I sent a world-wide circulated e-mail to Cadet Robert Kurpiel.

Liberation Times: But what do you think Professor Kirstein, Horowitz meant by "dangerous"? What was that about?

PK: Well you would have to ask him but he said during my debate with him on March 29 in Chicago and elsewhere it was just a subtitle, but nevertheless it strongly suggests that 101 academicians are a fifth column, are disloyal, are attempting to undermine the national security of the U.S. and are irresponsible educators. Impliciit is that we should be fired–although that was not explicitly advocated–, watched, examined and considered a highly negative and destructive influence on our students and the society at large. I am used to these kind of attacks and they don't bother me but I wish they would not take place in the absence of any prima facie evidence of specific misconduct or actions that could be construed as inimical to the public interest. I mean "dangerous" is a provocative word and it should be used with caution.

Liberation Times: But is the label "dangerous" entirely without foundation?

PK: What do you mean?

Liberation Times: Well aren't you and others "dangerous" from the vantage point of those who wish to perpetuate the current order?

PK: Well sure. I admit to being "dangerous" I suppose in wanting greater democracy, greater accountability for the national leadership that commits grave breaches of the peace and war crimes, regime change that would replace the stultifying Democratic-Republican Party with a multiparty system. That may seem dangerous to the right but it is not their country but ours too and I believe my politics is not "dangerous" in an absolute sense but advances principles and policies that would improve America.

Liberation Times: You see yourself as a reformer?

PK: Not really because that resonates with liberalism, Progressivism, Great Society stuff–which certainly had its moments–but I am beyond liberalism and the adoration of the center which perpetuates wars, perpetuates racism against immigrants, perpetuates a health care system that excludes 40 million Americans, that wastes our finite resources on an imperial military that is literally destroying this country. No the center is holding; I hope it dissipates and democracy will come to America on the wave of non-traditional politics and a new social order based upon social consciousness, communal orientation and a politics of development and social responsibility.

Liberation Times: Who in your life was primarily responsible for your political outlook? I mean were you born with such "dangerous" or non-traditional politics?

PK: I doubt I was born this way–a Lockean tabula rasa I think is a little far-fetched. I prefer the latter term I think. I think my father clearly drummed into my head his liberal politics when I was growing up. He was considered an ultraliberal by his colleagues and friends and I suppose I assumed that mantel. Certainly Patrick Dougherty in graduate school was a most significant figure in shaping my politics. Howard Zinn was in college of course but Professor Dougherty involved me in many activities and had a more immediate and personal impact than any other professor. Professor Zinn though did establish a certain worldview for me and was hugely influential but I became an activist due to Professor Dougherty.

Liberation Times: I can't help but noting that you are so open about your suspension and reprimand three years ago. It is all over the Internet still; you speak about it on campuses; you have written about it; it is covered on your blog and website. Aren't you ashamed of that period in your life? Would you not want people to forget about it? Why do you keep it in the public eye?

PK: I believe in free speech and in academic freedom. AAUP is explicit that suspensions are only permissible when an immediate harm or injury is likely to occur. I was suspended due to an administration that pandered to the right wing to show that my university was "patriotic." I am lucky that I am able and I feel fully committed to use my case as an example of arbitrary punishment that should not occur in this country. Controversial speech is protected speech. Also there were several national organizations and individuals who stood up for me, protected me and helped me. I owe it to them to assist them in the struggle for academic freedom and to demonstrate that university professors in this country have rights and that there must be limits to the use of power to silence and intimidate professors. I know what I did in the e-mail became a political event in the culture wars and I am in that battle for the duration.

Liberation Times: Do you love the United States of America?

PK: I love what it could be, not what it is.

Liberation Times: Let's be honest professor. Don't you really hate America; I mean loathe it; hate the flag; hate the presidency; hate the constitution. No diverging from the question. Do you hate the United States?

PK: And your journal is Liberation Times? During times of war, it is difficult for me to honour those items that you mentioned. Nations can be judged by their state actions to a significant extent. War is horrendous and so devastating to global progress and the progressivity of civilisation. Yet countries are more than governments: they are landscape, people; folkways; religion; food; music. I think when we equate love or hate of country with government, we concede the fascist notion of the state as the embodiment of culture and volk. I do not owe allegiance to the government. It must earn it from me and not anticipate it is there for the asking. That's what democracy is about: Citizens controlling their government and the latter not expecting or demanding obedience or obeisance to policy but consulting and attempting to earn the legitimacy through actions that are responsible and decent.

 Liberation Times: What do you do when you attend an event that includes the National Anthem? Are you respectful and patriotic? 

PK: What does that mean?

Liberation Times: Do you sing it?

PK: No.

Liberation Times: Well do you put your hand on your heart or take off a hat?

PK: No.

Liberation Times: Do you stand professor?

PK: There have been times when I have not but I have recently.

Liberation Times: Do you look at the flag assuming there is one?

PK: No, I look away or down as a form of protest, legitimate, and in this case non-disruptive, protest. These questions assume a certain obligation on the part of the citizen. The obligation is on the part of a government that is supposed to govern by consent. Also the song, in my estimation, is not helpful. It is a glorification of war and violence, "bombs bursting in air," and we really need to rethink the basic iconic aspects of our culture that validate militarism. No I don't feel during war a need to sing and pledge allegiance either literally or singing the anthem. I am a citizen and not a subject and will continue to exercise, as a veteran of the U.S. military and a very productive citizen, my rights under the constitution. That is really all I have to say right now.

Liberation Times: Thank you professor for your time.

This "interview" was invented as a mode of self-expression. Occasionally I do these "interviews" besides the real ones that I have reproduced.

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