Jack Stauder: a radical’s disillusionment

A professor of cultural anthropology named Jack Stauder made headlines last fall when he made a remarkable admission: he was no longer smitten with Marxism.

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Jack Stauder

Stauder, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told a website called The College Fix that he’d been a radical socialist ever since his undergraduate days at Harvard. The son of a Colorado and New Mexico rancher, Stauder had gone to Harvard, where he started off as an American history and literature major, direct from Las Cruces High School. He was not a typical Harvard boy, taking off a year after his freshman year to do construction work and serve in the Marine Corps reserves. Returning to Harvard, he studied under the great historian Perry Miller and completed his undergraduate degree in 1962.

stauder-bookHe then pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship. Having shifted his area of interest to cultural anthropology, he did several years of field work in Ethiopia, receiving a Ph.D. in 1968 with a dissertation about an Ethiopian tribe, the Majangir. He then returned to the U.S. to teach at his alma mater, where a course he taught, entitled “Radical Perspectives in Social Change,” engendered massive controversy. The year was 1969, and Marxist radicals had not yet taken over American college faculties. Stauder, in the words of a profile that appeared that year in the Harvard Crimson, had a very clear identity: he was “[t]he instructor with the radical course.” The course “split both the Soc Rel Department and the University community” and led to his arrest. Yet he kept his job, becoming one of the founders of what can now fairly be described as the ideological establishment that rules the humanities and social sciences in American universities.

stauder2Years after his season of scandal, however. Stauder actually began traveling to nations in which Marxism had been put into practice. The result? “I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines,” he told The College Fix. “I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc.” He added: “I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom….By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

In all, he visited scores of countries over the decades, Marxist and otherwise. And he also began to spend a great of time in his native Southwest, where a return to his roots “helped my transition away from the leftist ideology that exists in the intellectual atmosphere of university life….By spending my summers in the Southwest in the company of rural working people, farmers and ranchers, I developed perspectives on the real world very different from those that prevail in the academic world.” Stauder’s observations and conversations convinced him that human beings “feel the need to believe in something, and when intellectuals abandon traditional religion, as most have done, they tend to seek substitutes” – and, all too often, find them in virulent ideologies.

Well, he’s right there. Too bad he didn’t wake to all this decades ago. But better late than never. Congratulations on your awakening, professor, and may you spread your insights to many students in the years to come.

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