TO APPEASE OR NOT
IN MEMORY OF RICHARD HENSHEL (1938-1997)
University of Waterloo
Presentation at the international conference, "Academic Freedom and Intellectual Pluralism: U. S. and Canadian Perspectives," Medaille College, Buffalo, New York, 20-21 September 2002, jointly sponsored by the college and the National Association of Scholars. For comments on an earlier draft, grateful acknowledgement is made to J. R. Kelly, Fordham University. Published on the web, December 2002. This paper is included in the Tributes section of the K. Westhues Homepage.
For R. L. Henshel's main publications, see Appendix Two.
The crimes of the vanquished find their background and
their explanation, though not, of course, their pardon, in the follies of the
Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 1948, p. 16
Richard Henshel, Professor of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario, died on February 21, 1997, at the age of 58, having entrusted his affairs to Ben Singer, Heinz Klatt, and me, and having bequeathed most of his estate to the National Association of Scholars. NAS has shown good manners in organizing this conference in Henshel’s honor. Dick would be pleased with the topic, the dual national frame of reference, the assemblage of intellects, and the venue at a college where tensions over academic freedom have lately run high (Kellogg 2002).
After working with Henshel in Sociology at Western from 1972 to 1975, I moved to Waterloo and gradually lost touch with him–more, it appears in retrospect, than he lost touch with me. In 1994, when the roof caved in on my academic life from one of the culture-war explosions that have rocked campuses across this continent, Henshel was not among the colleagues and friends I apprised of events and asked for help.
Nearly all those contacted responded with insight and kindness. A few faded into the woodwork. Henshel came out of the woodwork. Having heard second-hand about the trouble at Waterloo, he took upon himself to investigate it independently from all sides, at his own expense, then wrote a reasoned analysis and sent it as a letter to Waterloo President James Downey (who never replied) with copies to me and I don’t know who else (see Appendix One). The distinction between bystanders and rescuers is basic to the sociology of exclusion (as in Oliner & Oliner 1988; Bly 1996). In my case as in others, Henshel tried to be a rescuer.
In our last conversation at his home three days before his death, I told him I had been convicted again by Waterloo’s ethics tribunal, not for sexism this time but racism, and was to be punished further. Dick’s cancer had taken nearly all his breath and voice, but he managed to whisper, “Would it help if I wrote another letter?”
He managed also to repeat Pastor Martin Niemoeller’s words from half a century before, that when they came for the Jews, he, not being a Jew, did nothing, that when they came for the Catholics it was the same, and again when they came for the trade unionists, so that when they came for him, there was nobody left to speak up.
I was shocked to hear that classic quote from so secular a social scientist as Henshel. He did not wear ethics on his sleeve. He was not holier than thou. Hard-nosed, disinterested scholarship was what he taught and wrote and lived for. Hence, in his memory, I share and leave with you, recommend to you, the scholarly question that arose in our penultimate conversation, a month before his death. He had been reading Churchill’s memoirs, he told me, and been surprised to learn that for all his outrage at Chamberlain appeasing Hitler, Churchill was not opposed to appeasement in general, but in the main defended it.
I have since checked the memoirs and other of Churchill’s
works, and confirmed Henshel’s reading. From 1939 to 1945, Churchill made
a habit of appeasing a monstrous despot, Josef Stalin. “Allies in war,”
he wrote later, “are inclined to defer a great deal to each other’s
wishes; the flail of battle beats upon the front, and all kinds of expedients
are welcomed which in peace would be abhorrent” (1959, p. 191).
In the Commons after the war, Churchill was explicit: “Appeasement may be good or bad according to circumstances” (quoted in Peatling 2000). You know his famous line, “To jaw jaw is always better than to war war.” And this pungent one: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
The question then is under what conditions appeasement is wise and commendable, versus foolish and reprehensible.
This question is fundamental to world politics, today as in Churchill’s time, arising whenever a state oversteps the accepted limits of its power, as in Iraq invading Kuwait or Argentina the Falklands, Israel building settlements outside its borders, Yugoslavia suppressing the Kosovo Albanians, Afghanistan harboring international terrorists, or indeed, America encroaching on cultures around the globe via CNN, golden arches, Colonel Sanders, and Levi’s. Appeasement means acquiescing and accommodating to incursions like these that boggle the mind, gnaw at the gut, and rend the heart. Nonappeasement means acting somehow to turn the incursion back, to the point even of destroying the aggressor state.
The question is fundamental also to academic politics. Do you let it go when a colleague takes over “your” course, when a group of colleagues form themselves into a kangaroo court, when administrators expand freshman orientation into politically correct indoctrination, or when the diversity committee makes a rule that all courses must include an anti-oppression component?
Lots of people, left and right, have their backs up these days. The stiff-necked get air time. A certain brittleness is in season, reflected in the quote from Nellie McClung on a poster that used to hang on the door of the Women’s Studies office at Waterloo: “Never explain, never apologize, just get the thing done and let them howl.” What Churchill thought about appeasing Hitler is well-known, because it suits the temper of our time. His more complex estimation of appeasement in general is not well-known.
Yet without appeasement most of the time, peaceful coexistence is impossible and the Hobbesian nightmare comes true. Anybody who is married knows that in the microcosm of domestic life, unless you put up with unreasonable demands from your partner, incursions that make no sense, unless you forgive and are forgiven, you will soon be bowling alone. So in academic and world politics. Reciprocal tolerance of irrational insistences is the only way to get along (see Westhues 1998).
I have no answer for the question Henshel and I discussed that winter’s day, but I would point the search for an answer in three directions.
First to the past, to the history of the apparent aggressor’s relation to others. “Fool me once, shame on you,” the saying goes, “Fool me twice, shame on me.” If the aggressor has a history of living and letting live, it is probably best to back off, cut some slack, move on, and look for a meeting of minds on some other issue. Contrariwise, if this incursion is the latest chapter of a long story of all take and no give, the common good may require throwing down some kind of gauntlet and bringing that story to a halt.
For discerning whether to appease or not, the second direction
to look is to the present: to the apparent aggressor’s explanation for
the aggressive act: mustering courage, as Churchill said, to sit down and listen.
Maybe what appears to you as another’s aggression is resistance to yours–or
idle bluster. Then again, maybe not. If the aggressor speaks fanaticism, hate,
intent to wipe you out, he just might mean it.
Third, we project to coming generations, imagine the future if the aggressor gets his way, versus the future if we say no. In which future is there less suffering, more joy, more room for the human journey to continue?
Questions like these, or the basic one of when to appease and when not, have no ironclad answers. Just raising them requires tolerance of ambiguity. We know there is a time to every purpose under heaven, but we are never sure which time is for what. To quote Churchill once more, “In the problems which the Almighty sets his humble servants things hardly ever happen the same way twice over, or if they seem to do so there is some variant which stultifies undue generalisation” (1959, p. 191).
Nor is the question I leave with you in Henshel’s memory the only important one. If you decide not to appease on some issue, the next question is what to do that might work: write a letter, file a complaint, organize a pressure group, invade, bomb? Courage is not enough. When you think of France in 1942, who is the better model, the nine hundred Canadian soldiers who died in the losing raid on Nazi forces at Dieppe, or the like number of unarmed villagers in Le Chambon (Hallie 1997) who outwitted the Nazis enough to rescue from death some thousands of mostly Jewish refugees? The laurels of history go not to the swift or strong or brave, much less to the victimized, but to risk-takers who by a combination of goodness and cleverness tailored to a specific circumstance, succeed in enhancing life.
Still, Henshel’s question comes first. Do you move over or somehow resist when you feel another’s elbow in your ribs, and you want to avoid feeling later the heel of his jackboot on your face?
May Dick Henshel rest in peace. Shalom alaychem.
Bly, Carol, 1996. Changing the Bully Who Rules the World.
Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Churchill, Winston S., 1948. The Gathering Storm. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Churchill, Winston S., 1959. Memoirs of the Second World War (single-volume edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hallie, Philip, 1997. Tales of Good and Evil, Help and Harm. New York: HarperCollins.
Kellogg, Alex P., 2002. “Actions Against Four Professors at Medaille College Raise Concerns Over Academic Freedom,” Chronicle of Higher Education (on-line edition), March 7.
Oliner, Samuel, and Pearl Oliner, 1988. The Altruistic Personality. New York: Free Press.
Peatling, Gary K., 2000. “Appeasement and Public History: Now and in the Future,” conference paper, Oxford University.
Westhues, Kenneth, 1998. “Building Relationships Where People Are Real,” Good Work News Issue 54.
Appendix One: Letter of Richard Henshel to James Downey, President of the University of Waterloo, April 21, 1994
I am writing to express my concern over the treatment accorded Professor Kenneth Westhues at your University.
I have known Ken Westhues for decades. He was at Western for several years before moving to Waterloo. Now, no one is perfect, but when I read the virulent denunciations of KW in the memo of the four I simply do not recognize him in there. That is not the KW I have known for twenty years.
My problem is that I like both KW and the other people I know in his department. I know many of them well. Over the past week, I have spoken personally to all sides. Disregarding the signers of the memo of the four, whom I do not know, and toward whom I developed an instant distaste due to obviously hyperbolic language, my sense of the essence of this tragic situation is as follows.
Ken Westhues defended a strongly disliked (even detested) graduate student because he thought the fellow was not being treated fairly. Gradually, the general dislike for this student shifted over to his ardent defender. This intensified when KW bawled out a professor for what he saw as especially unfair treatment. Now there was a demand for apology. There followed a mutual escalation of hostility, each side ratcheting up the tension a notch each time their “turn” came up. Eventually, an angry department slapped KW with an ill-considered (but humanly understandable) rebuke. The Chairman overreacted, and then...and then...AND THEN....
Now, while all this is humanly understandable, the decision of the Chair to impose truly draconian sanctions on KW cannot be allowed to stand. First of all, these sanctions are extreme. So far as I can tell, the only sin of KW was to bawl out, in intemperate language, another professor. Who has not done that on one occasion or another, over the years? Let him who is without this sin.... Of course, the various memos floating around mention KW’s “intimidations” on other earlier occasions, but when I ask about them, when I ask my old friends in the Department for specifics, I get nothing.
If these supposed other earlier occasions were genuine, then why were no sanctions ever imposed earlier? Isn’t it a good policy, when someone is repeatedly transgressing, to pass a motion, or to issue a warning advisory letter? And, why can I find no instance that anyone is willing to mention?
My feeling is that a lynch mob state of mind desperately
needs justification; and if need be produces it by retrospective reconstruction
of old events.
I apologize for the length of this letter. I urge you to intervene before further escalation can take place. There needs to be a moratorium on the production of memos, appeals, denunciations, motions, and so forth. The sanctions imposed by the Chair must not, in justice, be allowed to stand.
Dr. Richard L. Henshel
Appendix Two: Richard Henshel’s Main Publications
1969 (with A.-M. Henshel). “Black Studies Programs:
Promise and Pitfalls,” Journal of Negro Education 38, pp. 423-29.
1971. “Ability to Alter Skin Color: Some Implications for American Society,” American Journal of Sociology 76, pp. 734-42.
1971. “Sociology and Prediction,” The American Sociologist 6, pp. 213-220.
1973. (with A.-M. Henshel) Perspectives on Social Problems. Toronto: Longman. Second, revised edition 1983, Don Mills, ON: Academic Press.
1975. (co-edited with R. A. Silverman) Perception in Criminology. New York: Columbia University Press.
1976. On the Future of Social Prediction. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.
1976. Reacting to Social Problems. Don Mills, ON: Longman.
1979. “Will Police Disruptive Tactics Leave Only the Façade of Democracy?” Canadian Journal of Sociology 4, pp. 167-71.
1979. “Around the Disciplines: a Look at Dependency Theory,” Sociological Practice 3, pp. 83-88.
1981. “Evolution of Controversial Fields: Lessons from the Past for Futures,” Futures 13, pp. 401-412.
1982. “Sociology and Social Forecasting,” Annual Review of Sociology 8, pp. 57-79.
1982. “The Boundary of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and the Dilemma of Social Prediction,” British Journal of Sociology 33, pp. 511-528.
1983. Police Misconduct in Metropolitan Toronto: a Study of Formal Complaints. Downsview, ON: LaMarsh Research Program on Violence.
1987. (with W. A. Johnston) “The Emergence of Bandwagon Effects: a Theory,” Sociological Quarterly 28, pp. 493-511.
1990. Thinking About Social Problems. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
1992. (with E. Grabb) “Bandwagon Effects: a Rational Choice Explanation,” paper presented at meetings of the American Sociological Association.
1993. “Do Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Improve or Degrade Predictive Accuracy? How Sociology and Economics Can Disagree and Both Be Right,” Journal of Socio-Economics 22, pp. 85-104.
1994. [last year of entries for Richard Henshel in Sociological Abstracts] (with P. Maxim) “Can American Gun Conservatives Be Right? Gun Plenitude and Homicide Rates in Switzerland, Israel, and the U.S.A.,” paper presented at meetings of the International Sociological Association.
1994. [last year of entries for Richard Henshel in Sociological Abstracts] “Credibility Loops in Social Prediction: Explication, Illustrations, and Implications,” paper presented at meetings of the International Sociological Association.