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In 1972, Mr UD, a graduating senior at Harvard, went to a party Martin Peretz threw for Social Studies concentrators. (Peretz was acting chair of Social Studies while Michael Walzer was on leave.)

“I remember having one conversation with Marty. I don’t remember what we talked about. What I remember is that a group of us got together at one point and cautioned each other not to try putting ketchup on our burgers anywhere near the Rembrandt.”

UD‘s only encounter with Peretz happened a few years ago, at the Harvard Club. Peretz gave a talk at the annual ACTA meeting there, and instead of the short polemical thing about the betrayal of the humanities UD expected, it was a rambling, self-indulgent, insider’s attack on various Harvard faculty members.

He seemed to me precisely the sort of person outsiders assume populate places like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – a clueless insular snob.

The reality is that very few people at these schools are like this. But Peretz seems to be.

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Peretz is currently in trouble for some remarkably ill-timed remarks, in The New Republic, about Muslims:

Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. …I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

“Privileges?” Mr UD said, reading this. “Marty thinks they’re privileges?”

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The timing thing involves these statements (Peretz has apologized for the First Amendment remark) coinciding with the announcement of a high-profile We love and honor Marty Peretz event at Harvard. Harvard has issued a We’re distressed of course but free speech thing; but Mr UD points out that you can honor free speech and withdraw your institutional association with an event at the same time…

Anyway. Having seen Peretz in action, UD can’t be surprised that this is his response to the situation.

Reached by phone, Peretz offered the following response to [critical] comments before hanging up: ‘The notion that after teaching 45 years at Harvard and people giving money in my honor that I have to defend myself – please.’

First note the simple illogic of this. People love me! They give money in my name! Plus I taught at Harvard for decades! Clearly I don’t have to defend myself when I dehumanize swathes of humanity.

And then notice his clueless indifference to the whole thing, the way his remark and his hanging up the phone conveys the very worst of this or any country’s smug elites.

As Jack Shafer writes, “The current furor will have no effect on Peretz, whose pride, wealth, and self-image as the big boss has made him deaf to his detractors.”

I’m sure he’s right. But Harvard’s still free to take a stand.

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UPDATE: People on the Social Studies Committee at Harvard have sent out a petition opposing the Peretz celebration, as well as the research fund being set up in his name.

One Social Studies concentrator points out that celebrating a person whose views on Muslims are largely indistinguishable from those of Glenn Beck isn’t very seemly.

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6 Responses to ““Be careful with the ketchup near the Rembrandt.””

  1. observer Says:

    While I can’t agree with Dr Peretz’s abrasive statements, it seems a tad illogical to cancel his proposed award for service unrelated to such statements. By that sort of reckoning perhaps Dr Peretz could redeem himself in the eyes of some at Harvard by demonstrating he’s funneled more money into the institution than the Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia.

  2. Rita Says:

    Since when do Glenn Beck’s opinions constitute a litmus test for acceptable public acknowledgment? If my opinions on taxes or entitlements or men’s fashion are largely indistinguishable from those of Glenn Beck, should public celebration of my unrelated achievements or service also be banned?

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    observer: But is it service unrelated? Peretz is being feted, presumably, for having been a professor of political science, a sponsor (through his magazine’s hiring of them as editors and writers) of many Harvard grads into the political cultural of that magazine… Peretz is and has always been a political animal, and the celebration seems to me to have a large political content to it (VP Gore, etc.). His service to the institution is directly related to such statements, as they informed the editorial policy of a magazine which has, again, been a profound friend and shaper of many Harvard grads.

    I don’t, by the way, find his statements abrasive. Abrasive is good — going against the grain, etc. That’s fine. His comments, as he acknowledges in his partial apology, are bigoted, reserving the First Amendment only for certain groups of people.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: As I say in my previous comment, in response to observer, I don’t agree that Peretz’s contributions to Harvard, and his lifelong political positions, are unrelated.

  5. University Diaries » The Robust Exchange of Money Says:

    […] situation. He begins by quoting Harvard’s defense of its celebration of Peretz (background here): “We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic […]

  6. University Diaries » The last time I saw Peretz… Says:

    […] Harvard Crimson reports that Marty Peretz’s name has been removed from that list. (Background here.) [A Social Studies] standing committee will report its conclusions today about [accepting an […]

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